Can Tho, Vietnam
March, 1969

ALL SYSTEMS Go – Checking his overhead controls and radio frequencies, Major James M. Kraft, Phong Dinh Province Air Liaison Officer, completes the preflight inspection of his Cessna 0-1 reconnaissance aircraft. (IV Corps PIO Photo)

CAN THO – The “eyes” of the powerful fighter bombers that swoop down on Viet Cong encampments in the Delta to unleash their destructive ordnance are the Forward Air Controllers (FAC’s). These experienced USAF pilots locate, identify and mark the air targets from altitudes barely out of small arms fire range in tiny, one engine 0-1 Bird Dogs.

One such USAF pilot is Major James M. Kraft from Strongsville, Ohio. Operating from the Phong Dinh Province Tactical Air Control Party (TACP) in Can Tho, he doubles as the Province Air Liaison Officer (ALO) providing air support information to the U.S. Army and ARVN officials directly concerned with combat activities.

The Phong Dinh TACP, with seven USAF personnel, is responsible for all the tactical air activity within the entire province. With an $85,000 jeep transportable radio, package monitoring four different frequencies, the small team can receive and transmit messages up to 25 miles away.

After checking the daily mission log recently for his flight assignment at the TACP, Kraft drove the mile and a half to the Can Tho airfield. Not unlike many days before, he took off from the airfield early in the afternoon in the high wing, conventional landing gear airplane. The sky was filled with scattered clouds and visibility was about eight miles.

Kraft banked left after take off from the airfield. He headed due west for seven miles until he visually identified the “crows foot”, the apex of a Bassac River tributary that, at the village of Thoi Lai, branches out into three straight canals.

The target lay two miles south of Thoi Lai, a suspected Viet Cong concentration along the banks of the center canal. Quickly locating the target area, the veteran pilot scanned the linear tract with binoculars to further identify spot quarries. Circling the pre-planned target region, Kraft checked his eight white smoke rockets mounted on the underside of the O-1’s wings.

The A-37 twin engine fighter bombers, known in Air Force circles as “Tweety Birds”, shortly arrived on the scene and the FAC, through a prearranged radio frequency, talked them into the precise area until visual contact was made. Kraft then gave them the exact target identification, weather description, and miscellaneous reconnaissance information.

The small Bird Dog, flying at a speed slower than some state highway speed limits, controlled the entire air strike. Time and again Kraft cut the power of his aircraft, and falling into a nose dive, fired one of the white smoke rockets each time with the pin point accuracy expected of a professional. Spewing thick white smoke, the rocket marker was easily sighted by the pilots of the bomb-laden jets.

Approaching low and fast for the napalm drops, the A-37’s matched the FACs accuracy and demolished each target marked. In all, after eight passes, the U.S. fighter bombers destroyed eight Viet Cong structures and damaged three others.

Constant “coaching” by the alert FAC ensured the mission’s success. With the strafing runs completed and all the deliverable ordnance on target, Kraft circled the area surveying the results. He then released the jets to their home base. With the mission completed and the enemy ruins still smoldering the FAC headed for the Can Tho airfield, ready and responsive for another air support request.


 Narrative Supporting DFC
Awarded to:
Major James M. Kraft

Major James M. Kraft distinguished himself by extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight as a Forward AirController near Can Tho, RVN, on 24 August 1968. On that date, while piloting an 0-1 Bird Dog, Major Kraft played a significant role in lessening the immediate hostile threat to the major city of Can Tho. Local intelligence sources had reported elements of the Tay Do II Battalion not far from the city, while smaller units had infiltrated the outlying areas. These units were known to have sufficient artillery and heavy automatic weapons capability to seriously threaten the city defenses and probably had been responsible for shelling which Can Tho had undergone the previous few nights.. all part of the so called:”Viet Cong Third Phase Offensive”.

On the evening of the 24th, Major Kraft was alerted for possible air strikes on suspected V. C. firing positions. Upon arriving over the target area for pre-strike surveillance and target acquisition, he drew heavy ground fire from suspected positions. He responded by calling for fighter aircraft and flare ship support while remaining overhead to pinpoint the firing positions. Once radio contact was established and the aircraft were on station, he briefed the fighters on their target and the flare ship on the illumination requirements; Immediately after deployment of the flare and smoke-marking rocket, intense automatic ground fire erupted from several quadrants. Major Kraft quickly reassessed this new threat and, after the fighters had successfully completed their initial pass on the first position, he redirected the strike into the zone of heaviest fire. Despite the intensity of the .30 & .50 caliber fire Major Kraft repeatedly exposed himself to the fire in order to accurately mark the target for each pass by the fighters.

Thanks to his rapid analysis of the target situation and his pinpoint accuracy in plotting and marking the hostile positions, with complete disregard for his personal safety, he was able to efficiently and effectively employ the tactical fighter weapon he was controlling. Although target coverage and darkness prevented an accurate damage assessment, three heavy automatic weapons positions were silenced. A later report received from Vietnamese National Police credited the air strike with 50 V.C. killed, 70 wounded. These results provide substantial support for the role of tactical air power in SEA, particularly when controlled by a professional Forward Air Controller, such as Major Kraft. The professional competence, aerial skill and devotion to duty displayed by Major Kraft reflect great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.