ABOUT OPERATION RANCH HAND VIETNAM
SOUTHEAST ASIA 1961-1971

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Herbicides

Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, Gen. William C. Westmoreland. Eventually, the time between request and mission execution was reduced to about 75 days.
    Ranch Hand crews were sent to Vietnam on temporary duty, and this became the preferred practice for years. The temporary duty process was vital for training. When the Ranch Hand crews rotated back to the United States - first to Langley AFB, Va., and later to Hurlburt Field, Fla.- they brought with them the latest information on how to execute the mission. After spending a short period training new crews, veteran personnel would go back to South Vietnam for another tour. Many of crews accumulated several hundred combat missions, and the store of knowledge they built up turned Ranch Hand into a superbly disciplined unit in the air.


Fighter Support
   As the Ranch Hand unit improved its capability, the Viet Cong improved their defenses. By late 1963, Ranch Handers saw a marked in-crease in ground fire. Fighter es-corts became an absolute necessity. In April 1964, Maj. Gen. Joseph H. Moore, commander of 2nd Air Divi-sion, launched an experimental mission to test the effectiveness of fighter support - in this case four South Vietnamese air force A-1 fighters and four VNAF T-28s. The target was a canal south of Tan Son Nhut, a site of Communist anti-aircraft activity.
  Two Ranch Hand aircraft flew down the canal. Capt. Charles Hag-erty was in the lead airplane on the left. Capt. Eugene D. Stammer was in command of the No. 2 airplane on the right. Intense .50-caliber machine gun fire riddled Hagerty's airplane, knocking out one engine. Feathering the propeller and dumping his load ofherbicide, Hagerty climbed through another burst that tore up the cock-pit. The VNAF airplanes attacked the machine gun sites as Hagerty limped to an emergency landing at Soc Trang. His airpl'ane had taken more than 40 hits. Ranch Hand crews adapted to in-

Colored Drums

      Ranch Hand used common agricultural chemicals widely used within the United States. These herbicides were shipped to Vietnam in distinctive color-coded drums. This was the origin of the names "Agent Or-ange," "Agent Blue," "Agent White," and so forth. Despite popular belief to the contrary, Agent Orange did not create an orange-tinged haze when delivered.
   The correct amount of coverage was about three gallons of herbicide per acre. The first signs of leaf kill could be seen in as little as four days. A definite color change would take place within two weeks. After two to four months, a sprayed area would appear barren. Forward Air Controllers said vertical visibility improved by as much as 70 percent, permitting them to keep much closer tabs on enemy activity.
    As the self-training process went on, so did the evaluation at the highest levels, with Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara monitoring op-erations and constantly inquiring as to the effect that the defoliants had on both vegetation and operations.
     On Feb. 2, 1962, the Air Force lost its first aircraft in Vietnam. It was a Ranch Hand C-123, flown by Capt. Fergus C. Groves II, Capt. Robert D. Larson, and SSgt. Milo B. Coghill. All three died in a still-unexplained crash near Route 15. Soon, Ranch Hand suffered its second loss, in a landing accident. The crew survived, however, and the tempo of spraying operations began to pick up.

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    All military evaluations of Ranch Hand were positive, and demands for defoliation missions increased as the number of US forces steadily grew. Perimeter areas of fortified camps were studded with mines and barbed wire, but the quick regrowth of jungle vegetation allowed easy infiltration by the Viet Cong. To the US soldiers in the camps, aerial spraying was life insurance, pure and simple, for both offensive and defensive missions.
     Ranch Hand would increase its flexibility by expanding operations from its main base - at first it was Tan Son Nhut and then Bien Hoa. Units also flew from Da Nang, Phan Rang, and Nha Trang. The specialized mountainous terrain missions were flown out of Da Nang by crews sent on temporary duty for two weeks at a time.
   As the United States committed more and more of its resources to the Vietnam War, worry about the pro-gram increased. Protests caused the top leaders to exercise even more authority over target selection and approval. Extremely rigid controls were established, with the result that many months elapsed between the time a province chief or a field commander made a request for a defoliation mission and the date of execution.
  Then suddenly, almost offhandedly,' Washington stepped aside, granting approval authority to Saigon. Approval for even the most sensitive of the missions, crop  destruction, now was in the hands of the new US ambassador, Maxwell D. Taylor, and the commander of