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OV-1 Mohawk Memories
by Mark Persons 

Mohawker Newsletter Article
From the July-August 2008 Issue

The memories are there every day even though Vietnam was a long time ago and a long way away.   I was one of the "older" enlisted men serving abroad in the U. S. Army in 1968 and 1969.  Fort Monmouth, NJ, prepared me to repair weapon-support radar.  I taught electronics there as well.  At that time, I also knew something about aircraft and aircraft radios because I had an Amateur Radio license and my father was a private pilot.  He flew a Cessna 172 with me aboard, in the second seat, on many trips.  He was also a Major in the U. S. Army Signal Corps in WWII. 

For oversees duty, I was not deployed with a unit.  Instead, I was a replacement.  My arrival in Vietnam coincided with my 21st birthday and there was really no one to celebrate it with.  I sat on a pile of sand bags wondering what this world was coming to.  It wasn't until a few days later that I arrived at the 73rd Aviation Company at Vung Tau.  Things started looking up as I was introduced around to other members of the Avionics maintenance unit.  Before long, I was working 12 hours a day repairing radios and pulling guard duty. 

We were all young and handsome back then.  What I liked about Vietnam was the Army let us do what needed to be done without the hassle of marching drills and other nonsense that we would have done stateside.  Being from Minnesota, the tropical climate there certainly was different.  I remember many times being soaked to the skin by rain and dry in an hour, at least as dry as anyone can be in a tropical climate.   

What was this ugly airplane, the OV-1 Mohawk, that I was working on?  It was made by the Grumman "iron works" and could not have been more unusual.  I never saw one before and I never expected to see one again in civilian life.  Well, it wormed its way into my heart.

Mine was the day shift and I remember Hawks taking off and landing in the middle of the night while I was trying to sleep.  Most Hawks returned to go out again.  Some did not.  One in particular almost did not make it back.  It landed with two huge holes about 4 feet behind the pilot�s seat.  They were large enough to put your arm through.  The entrance hole wasn't too bad, but the enemy round went square through a 3-inch diameter wiring-bundle before exiting on the top of the aircraft.  What a mess.

To this day, I have nightmare dreams about Mohawks over hostile territory.  I wasn't my job, but knowing that servicemen were risking their lives to do missions in harms way is a chilling reminder of how dangerous it was.    

I did R&R in Japan just to see what the Japanese people were doing to make them an industrial nation selling televisions and stereo radios to the United States and the rest of the world.  I found them very regimented, like the military.  Regardless, I was glad to return to duties at the 73rd ,  to, "Keep the Mohawks flying."

The drinking water tasted awful and the anti-malaria pills made me sick.  Warm beer helped some.  The pit toilets and cold showers were better than what some soldiers had to put up with.  The rainy monsoon season came and went as did a lot of good people.   I was just a small cog in a big wheel.      

When my year in-country was up, I remember leaving Vietnam on a plane filled with soldiers.  A big cheer erupted shortly after takeoff.  On the final leg to Minneapolis, I was the last one aboard a commercial airline and got a first-class seat on a military stand-by ticket.  All I wanted was an Aspirin for a terrible headache.  Passengers shook me awake at the destination.  

I spent the next ten years wondering what had happened.  No one wanted to talk about the war.  It took a while to integrate back into society while memories of Vietnam and the Mohawk lingered.  Fortunately that has changed for soldiers nowadays.   

In 1998, there was an air show in Brainerd, MN.  I was totally shocked and amazed to see an OV-1 Mohawk parked for visitors to inspect.  Well, one thing led to another and soon I was a member of the Mohawk Association and have attended three annual reunions since.  At one of them, I came across Bill Anderson, who was the observer on the flight that took the battle damage behind the pilot.  We had drinks, dinner, and shared the memory.  Neither of us could remember the pilot�s name.   

Interestingly, there was an air show in Duluth, MN, in July, 2006.  As you might suspect, I spent most of my time standing next to and admiring a Mohawk.  No less than six people asked me what this "strange airplane" is.  Somehow the look in my eyes led them to understand that I knew the answers.  Well, this was my chance to tell the story of the OV-1 while trying, sometimes unsuccessfully, not to shed a tear in the process.

One of the cities I work in is Wadena, MN.  On the south side of town there is a modest housing development with a Mohawk Street.  I frequently go out of my way just to drive through and remember my days with the Mohawk.  The street is not paved, but has a nicely maintained gravel surface that a Mohawk could land and takeoff from in wartime on an IR or SLAR mission.  Going east to west and with a westerly wind, it is just long enough and wide enough to be negotiated by a skilled pilot.  I am glad to report seeing an American flag proudly flying there for everyone to admire. 

Yes, the OV-1 Mohawk will always be a part of me.  Most of the rest of the world doesn't have a clue about the mission of this war bird.   I, and the others who served with this gallant aircraft, know its job was very important.  All that in spite of its ugly-duckling appearance.  

Maybe your memories are different.  My goal was to keep the Mohawks flying no-matter-what in that distant place and time.      

Editor's note:  Mark Persons, Mohawk Association member number 888, is now a radio broadcast engineer living in Brainerd, MN, with his wife Paula

Back then and now.

See you further down the road.  I'll leave the soldering iron on for you.

     Questions?  Email Mark Persons:       

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