Myth Makers, Catkillers Logo

Researched and compiled by Gene Wilson, Unit Historian

“When I first read Jim Hooper’s A HUNDRED FEET OVER HELL, I met a term, the “Myth Makers,” that was new to me. Who were the “Myth Makers”—and when, why and how did they get their name? After months of searching for all possible historical answers to these questions, I will tell you what I have been able to track.

Without much doubt, the “Myth Makers” were born and bred at Dong Ha with the 4th Platoon. The 2nd Platoon out Hue/Citadel continued to work with them out of Dong Ha south of the DMZ. Then the 1st Platoon moved from Quang Ngai to Phu Bai after Christmas 1967 and in early January was given the mission of reinforcing the 4th Platoon in support of the 3rd Marine Division and the 108th Artillery Group (Army) on their missions in the DMZ and Tally Ho into North Vietnam.

Retracing history a few months, our 4th Platoon returned to us in March 1967 from the 219th Aviation Company in Pleiku to take on a new mission with the US Air Force FACs in North Vietnam—and a new US Army battalion of 175mm guns that would be firing into and across the DMZ in counter-battery operations. Lloyd Oake and Steve Badger were among the first volunteer crew chiefs who departed Phu Bai on the “advance party” to build revetments and establish a position on the flight line for the new Catkiller element. Before the end of the month they were joined by four aircraft piloted by Larry “Bob” Freck, John Holihan and Mike Tommarchio, who had come from the 219th, and Bob Jermyn from the 2nd Platoon. The remaining members of the platoon were assigned throughout the company; but as I recall, Dennis O’Connor from our 2nd Platoon soon joined the group. When I visited with them in April and May to deliver the mail, just to let them know that their Headquarters had not forgotten them—or whatever—there were times when I was advised to not shut down my engine, but to stay “cool” with the fan running due to the unannounced artillery and rocket fire that rained frequently upon Dong Ha, even in those early days. The first days, nights and weeks of those pioneers, in a totally new flying and living environment, was also an experience that was to be learned, tested and passed on to all those who followed.

During July 4–9, 1967, the platoon was temporarily evacuated to Phu Bai when 24-hour operations were severely hampered by enemy artillery and rocket attacks. Then on August 14th the platoon was pulled down to Phu Bai when life at Dong Ha became almost untenable above ground level. In all probability, this was really when the Company Headquarters began to understand the intensity and rigor of the 4th Platoon mission. Larry Deibert, who had started his tour with the 1st Platoon at Quang Ngai, was pulled up to Phu Bai as the Assistant Operations/Intelligence and Security Officer, then later secured the position as 4th Platoon Leader. We have also learned that the 4th Platoon earned the recognition of a (Navy) Presidential Unit Citation, during the period 20 May–15 Sep 1967, for their support of the 3rd Marine Division in Northern I Corps.

When I first started looking for the origin of “Myth Makers,” I called George Woods, who was our XO in March 1967. He was also the pilot of “Spud 700,” the log bird “Otter,” who evacuated the platoon on the night of July 6th, and then became “Catkiller 6” in August. However, when he departed in October, he had never heard of the “Myth Makers.” I then contacted Larry Deibert who did not depart the 4th Platoon and the 220th until January 1968. He, too, had no knowledge of the “Myth Makers.” As I went back to Jim Hooper’s book, A HUNDRED FEET OVER HELL, where I first found the term or nick-name, my next contact was Charlie Finch. He related to me that when he arrived in Vietnam in July, he first heard about the exploits of the “Myth Makers” with the 220th up on the DMZ when he passed through the Headquarters 212th Combat Aviation Battalion in Da Nang. Now I at least had a bracket. Then I was able to narrow it further when I got hold of Jim Wisby and he told me that when he joined the 220th as Millard Pedersen’s XO in April, the “Myth Makers” were a known entity. Now we were getting somewhere.

As I continued my research, when I read Don Pepe’s “Welcome to the DMZ” in his One-Five Chapters on our Catkiller web site, I called him and he related that when he was in the 3rd Platoon at Marble Mountain in December 1967, there was no such name to his knowledge. However, when he moved to the 1st Platoon at Dong Ha in March, there were stories and tales about “Myth Makers” in both the 1st and 4th Platoons. When I asked if he had any idea how the name or term originated, he related that it could have been conjured up as “tongue in cheek” for some of the “antics” by members of the platoons at Dong Ha—and he might suspect Jim Hudson, or Glenn Strange, who was not a member of either of the platoons, but was close to the group as the Assistant Operations Officer back at Phu Bai. I have never been able to contact Jim, but I did talk with Glenn and he says that he knows nothing about the origin of the “Myth Makers.”

I had one more missing link during that time period—Gary Clark, the CO—who I finally located in March 2012 (a story in itself)—but he could not recall any knowledge of any “Myth Makers” during his command. Not one to give up easily—and COs are not necessarily “in” on all platoon “activities”—it certainly appeared that the “window” for the birth of the “Myth Makers” was open during February or March 1968, at least among the members of the platoons working out of Dong Ha. Then when I made my first contact with Mike Sharkey, the 4th Platoon Leader, the “Myths” began to come to light. Mike related some incidents that caused him and others to wonder how some of the pilots flying out of Dong Ha had survived to fly another day. He also noted that John “Bear” Kovac, who had initially brought the 1st Platoon from Quang Ngai to Dong Ha and the DMZ, but then became the Aircraft Maintenance Officer at Phu Bai, had later made more than a few passing comments about the “Myths” sending him plenty of bullet holes to be patched and repaired. I was also able to talk with John, but he could not recall anything more specific.

All said and done, there are probably a few or more happenings at or near Dong Ha that probably started the original existence of the “Myth Makers.” I have not been able to put actual dates on these “happenings,” but they are stuck away within the Catkiller web site and in the minds of those who were witnesses to the events.

  1. “Rik” Billings took a 50 cal hit that came through the floor between his feet and took the grip off the stick leaving him thinking that his right arm had been taken with it; and then it found its way under his flak vest creating a nice “beach scar” on his chest—and he survived.
  2. At the request of the Marines, “Rick” Johnson put a pair of rockets into a mountain of stockpiled ammunition (friendly) after the completion of an operation that had been impossible to recover which resulted in a massive explosion that he had little choice but fly through the blast and debris—and somehow survived.
  3. Ray Caryl had his left main gear taken off his aircraft when the explosion of an OH-13 that apparently was hit by enemy fire in close proximity put him in a rather precarious situation—but he managed to land with the two remaining wheels and walk away from it.
  4. And Don Pepe seemed to stay out longer in far away places, and in darkness and in some of the worst weather—more so, often out of contact with Dong Ha—and somehow managed to “milk” his way back home before the engine quit. These may be just some of the stories that appear to have created the “aura” from which the “Myth Makers” were born.
Of course, as time moved on, there were plenty of “hairy” experiences with bullet holes in aircraft that left many wondering why there were not a comparable number of Purple Hearts awarded. “Lady Luck” often played a part in the ability be a part of and to tell and hear stories and tales of which myths are made. I have a feeling that the 4th Platoon, the 1st Platoon, the 2nd Platoon and any other platoons that may have served in the northern areas of I Corps along the DMZ and possibly the border area of Laos, whether they realize it of not, may hold a repository of stories that we may never know. In June 1968 the 4th Platoon was folded into the 1st Platoon and the “Myth Makers” lived on in the 1st Platoon as A HUNDRED FEET OVER HELL tells its story. In September 1969 the 4th Platoon was reactivated and once again there were two platoons working the northern reaches of the I Corps TAOR. When Jack Bentley went back home and later named his spread in Arizona the Myth Maker Ranch, he may have been the last of that “era” with memories that will last forever.

NOTE: If anyone can add (or refute) anything to what I have related in my search for the origin of the “Myth Makers,” please do. Once again, as a volunteer historian I sometimes just latch on to some things—and it is often amazing what turns up.

Gene Wilson