Red Marker was the radio call sign of the Forward Air Controllers who directed close air support for the Vietnamese Airborne from 1962 to early 1973. Red Markers worked closely with the U.S. Army advisors of MACV Advisory Team 162 attached to the Airborne. These army advisors, who used the call sign Red Hat, and the air force detachment each adopted the camouflage uniform and insignia of the Vietnamese Airborne along with its distinctive red beret.
This history begins with the assignment of the first Air Liaison Officer to work with the Airborne in 1962. Without an aircraft, he joined the Airborne in its operations and directed air support from the ground. As American involvement in the war increased, the Red Marker unit grew to a peak of 36 officers and enlisted men with a dozen aircraft in 1969. By early 1971, however, the Vietnamese Air Force assumed responsibility for the forward air control mission. The Red Marker unit returned to its earlier status as a single Air Liaison Officer until withdrawal of all American forces in February 1973. The history ends with the final defeat of the South Vietnamese forces in April 1975.
Fewer than 175 men served with the Red Markers and five died in combat. Seventy-six American and Vietnamese veterans contributed personal information for Red Markers. Their stories are woven into the chronology extracted from official unit histories to bring this history to life, making it a multi-person memoir.
Gary N. Willis is a native of Shreveport, LA, and a 1967 graduate of the USAF Academy. Following graduation and commissioning as a 2nd Lieutenant, he completed an MBA at UCLA and pilot training at Craig AFB, Selma, AL. Willis was assigned an O-1 Bird Dog aircraft after pilot training. He went to Vietnam where he served with the Red Marker FACs from December 1969 till July 1970. After Vietnam, Willis became an instructor pilot teaching Vietnamese students at Keesler AFB, Biloxi, MS, until his resignation from the service in June 1973.
Willis returned to Shreveport and went to work for United Gas Pipe Line Company, which moved to Houston in 1975. He became an officer of United, its successor companies and two engineering firms prior to retiring from the energy industry in 2007. Upon retirement, Willis began investigating the history of the Red Markers and tracking down the men who had served with the unit. He identified every officer and most of the enlisted men who served. Many contributed their personal stories for inclusion in this book.
Willis is married to the former Robin E. Rankin of Shreveport, a semi-retired attorney who ruthlessly edited his prose. They have two sons. The eldest is pictured in the book prior to Willis’s departure for Vietnam; the younger designed the cover and the maps included in the history. Both sons and their families live in Austin. The senior Willises anticipate relocating there soon.
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