My name is Yia Kha; I was born on July 9, 1950. My dad is Yong Koua Kha, and my mother is Xong Vue. I have five sisters and one brother. My younger brother only lived for three days, and then my mother passed away a month later after giving birth to him. My second oldest sister died due to illness then several years later my father passed away when I was nine years old. My 3rd oldest sister died in Thailand, and my 5th oldest sister died in Laos, both due to illness.
After my father passed away, my Uncle took my sisters and me to live with him and his family. I started school when I was ten years old in 1960 and during this time the Vietnam War began, and my family had to constantly move to avoid enemy attack. We finally settled in Long Tieng, Laos in 1962.
In 1962 I started school again and graduated high school in June 1968. I could not attend college due to financial hardship. After graduation, I wanted to settle down, find a good job and start a family but there was no job anywhere. The only way to get money was to join the military. In November of 1968, my cousin who was already in the military registered my name to the military office. In December of 1968, my name was officially registered to a special group of 19 men. We were the first group sent to Udorn, Thailand to learn English the course FAC (forward air control) paid by the CIA. We started class in January of 1969 and completed the 9-month course and graduated on September 30, 1969. After graduation, we returned home to Long Tieng, Laos, and then On October 14, 1969, four men were chosen to be backseaters for the Raven’s which included me, Tou Houa Xiong, Kia Tou Thao and Bee Vang. We were able to choose our own Robin number. I chose Robin 09. Tou Houa Xiong, Robin 05, Kia Tou Thao, Robin 08 and Bee Vang, Robin 07.
On October 15, 1969, my first mission flight was with Raven 42, Smokey Green. I was sick the entire 3-hour ride. My second mission with Raven 42, I was still getting sick, finally, on my third mission with Raven 42, I was feeling.
I was flying with the Raven’s for fifteen months, and we were flying 3 to 4 combat missions a day. I logged 1,350 sorties. We had many bad days being attacked and shot by the enemy, but we also had good days. I remember one mission with Raven 26 we got shot by the enemy, and it put four holes in the body of our aircraft. One bullet missed me by 3 inches. During the mid-1970’s Raven 26 was shot down and killed.
Another sorti, with another Raven, our plane was hit in the right gas tank. The fuel was flowing out over the wing. On November 1970 I flew a mission with Raven 40 headed to PDJ we were looking for enemy tanks from Phonsavan to Lat Houang to Xieng Kouang. From Lat Houang (LS) 09 we flew straight for Sheep Mountain. I advised “Do not fly over Sheep Mountain there is 12.7 on top of Sheep Mountain they might shoot us down” he did not listen to me and kept flying overtop, and then we were hit in the engine compartment, and the left magneto was destroyed. We were low, over enemy territory, descending fast, and preparing to make an off field landing on the PDJ. We jettisoned our rockets and called "May Day" on guard channel. When we got to the tree-top level, he switched to the Rt magneto and restored adequate power to climb slowly. We landed safely at Long Tieng.
One mission I was with Park Bunker, Raven 23, we left Long Tieng heading to the PDJ. The weather was bad and cloudy; Raven 23 tried to cross over the mountain but was flying too low. I warned him two times to turn around and fly higher before he tried to cross the mountain. He thought he could make it over, but due to the bad weather and turbulence he could not turn around, and we hit the mountain. The two front wheels hit the side of the mountain first, and then the plane flipped upside down on top of the hill. I passed out for a few seconds, and then I woke up and realized we were upside down. The door was already open, and I loosened my seat belt, dropped down and crawled out. I ran about 60 feet away from the airplane and turned back to look at the plane and saw Raven 23 still stuck inside the plane; I was also afraid the plane would catch on fire that I had to run back and help him. He was still hanging upside down, so I had to loosen his seat belt, and he dropped down, and I pulled him out with all my strength. I was able to get him out, and we ran 100 feet away from the plane, and then I realized he was severely injured on his left hand, blood was everywhere. I immediately took his bandage from his survival kit and tied his hand to stop the bleeding. I also took his radio from his survival kit; turned it on for him and he called for help. We were very close to enemy territory I had to keep an eye on the enemy while he was calling for help. At this time it was very cloudy, one Hmong T28 pilot came to look for us, but he could not see us. We had to wait around 30 minutes and then an Air American helicopter flew very low and slow and came to pick us up to fly back to Long Tieng.
Another rescue mission with Craig Duehring, Raven 27 we went to help rescue an F-4 pilot that got shot and could not make it to Thailand, he parachuted out of his plane. He was close to ( LS ) 46 Muang Mor. We found him and called for help. The jolly green giant helicopter came to rescue him, while he was there trying to rescue the pilot, the helicopter was hovering over top of the pilot. The helicopter was taking hits. Six holes punched through the plane, so the helicopter had to leave immediately and land at a friendly location to check for any damage. Raven 27 called to American air force base in Thailand that we need white phosphorus bombs to mask the extraction. So they sent two sky raiders, had the needed munition and dropped them in the area. The helicopter was able to retrieve the downed pilot safely.
We headed back home and I was called for another rescue mission. Another Raven and I headed to PDJ to rescue Park Bunker who was shot down with Robin 05. When we got there we found them and talked to Park Bunker through the radio, he was injured but nothing serious, he ran south about 200 feet and sat under a big tree. I asked about Robin 05; he stated he didn’t see him, Robin 05 left the plane before him, so he did not know where he was. We could not call for any help because we were in a danger zone, there was a 37-millimeter anti-aircraft gun a mile away. I saw the enemy coming closer to him and warned him on the radio that the enemy was coming to him and he said he would fight them; he will not let them catch him alive, then we heard him shoot his AR-15 for two clips, 40 rounds. We tried to call him back, and there was no answer, his radio was still on; we tried several more times, and he never answered back. We could see him beneath the tree without any movement. We called 2 F-4’s to drop CBU’s around him, I saw the enemy use the same 37-millimeter anti-craft gun to try to shoot the F-4’s from behind, five bullets exploded and almost hit them, but they were too fast. It was getting dark, and we headed home and felt angry and sad because we lost two good friends.
During the 15 months that I flew with the Raven’s we had good times and bad times, many times I had to argue with the Raven pilots about decisions they were making such as flying too low or going in the direction I did not feel safe for us because they were holding my life in their hands.
Seven out of twelve Robin’s had no gun, no pistol just a map, pencil and paper. I thank God we made it through the Vietnam War safely, and for the ones, we lost we miss them and thank them for their sacrifice and bravery so we can live in peace and freedom.
There were 12 Robins in my time:
Robin 01 – Bee Yang
Robin 02 – Moua Lee
Robin 03 – Scar (Wa Ger Chang)
Robin 04 – Wa Lee Moua
Robin 05 – Tou Houa Xiong
Robin 06 – Francis Vang
Robin 07 – Bee Vang
Robin 08 – Kia Tou Thao
Robin 09 – Yia Kha
Robin 10 – Xeng Lee
Robin 11 – Yee Yang
Robin 12 – Teng Lee
General Vang Pao and the CIA sent a group of 7 men including myself back to Udon, Thailand to learn more English and we waited for the Civil Aviation Training center to open for the next class in Bangkok, Thailand. The class opened at the end of September of 1971, and we started ground school on October 1, 1971. We learned about airplane and weather for three months. After three months they sent us to Houa Hin, Thailand to start flying the T6 Airtourer small aircraft, the training course for this airplane was for 45 hours to complete, but after only 8 hours I was able to fly solo.
In the morning my instructor and I briefed me about the sorti. Once on the flight line, I inspected the airplane as the instructor watched me closely. I started the engine, and I called the tower for taxi and take off, the tower cleared us, and we taxed to the runner-up, I increased the power and checked the engine, the airplane was ok, I called the tower, “ready for takeoff” I was cleared for takeoff. I taxied onto the runway with full power and took off. When we came back, I had a smooth landing, and the instructor told me to taxi to the parking lot. I parked the airplane but he did not allow me to turn off the engine, he touched my shoulder, and said, “You hold your life in your hands and don’t let it go, I know you will be ok” he got out and told me to fly solo. I was very nervous on my first solo flight, it was a very difficult time and most challenging experience in my life, I knew if I made any mistakes this would be the end of my life. I called the tower for taxi and take off; I was cleared for takeoff. I had to make three touch and go; all three went very smoothly. I was very happy I made it. After 45 hours we all graduated and got our private pilot license. We all returned to Long Tieng, Laos in March in 1972
The Royal Lao Armed Forces wanted us to return to school at Phong Kein Vientiane, to learn more English at Laos Army administration school. In March of 1973 I was given my first English test I passed with a 78% the requirement was 75%. I had a chance now to go to Udon, Thailand to train flying on the T-28. At the end of March they sent me to Udorn, Thailand, Det. 1 56th Special Operation Wing.
John Gunn was my instructor to train me to fly T-28. After 14 hour flight time John Gunn let me fly solo. I was the first one in my group to fly solo. My first solo flight was at Nam Phong airport and then came back to Udorn and all my instructors and friends were waiting for me at the door. They picked me up by legs hands and feet and brought me over to a pond that was 100 feet away, and they threw me into the pond. I never swam with my flight suit on, my pockets and boots filled with water and I could not swim, I started to drown, I yelled for help! The group leader and another friend who were Lao jumped in to save me and pulled me out.
Through all my training in T-28, I had two accidents. My first accident, I was flying with a Lao instructor, he taught me my first upside-down flight. He asked me to roll the plane with no power, but the manual stated I needed to add power, so I asked him if I need more power and he said “no’ just roll. According to my manual book you have to add R P M and add power and descend to get speed to 210 mph and pull and roll onto the left, we did not do this, so when we were upside down we did not have enough power, and the plane dropped. All I know was to pull the airplane up, and it made a loop at low altitude. I had to pull 5.5 G’s. The instructor passed out and could not help me with anything. By the time I got the plane to recover back up, the propeller had cut the treetops; leaves were flying everywhere. Then the instructor woke up. He said, “what’s going on?” I yelled at him, “because of you, we almost died!” When we got back, the mechanic had to take the plane to the hanger for an over G inspection.
My second accident was with my instructor John Gunn. John was in the front I was in the back. We flew instrument, and the engine red light came on, I called him, and he took over the plane, and he did; for a minute the engine caught fire and lots of flames came out of the exhaust on both sides. The engine and plane began to shake and vibrate, and we could not see or hear anything. He turned the gas off, and the fires stopped. I heard John screaming but could not hear or understand what he was saying, we were headed to Nam Phong airport only about 1 mile away, I knew he could make an emergency landing, my hand was still on the Yankee seat handle, so when the plane landed belly first then my hand pulled the Yankee handle by accident and the rocket pulled me up, I got a cut on my chin and needed six stitches. My instructor was ok, later on, I found out that John was trying to tell me to parachute out, but I could not hear him, and he could not parachute unless I parachute first, so he had to no choice but to try and land the plane. I thank God we both made it safely.
There was one incident when my instructor got mad at me because I could not hold my formation in place. I know he was trying his best to help me to become the best student that I can be. The next flight I did much better, and after that, I did very well. John Gunn also taught me acrobatics and dogfight in the air; I did very well in these areas. He also taught me how to aim and target bombs and rocket shooting. At the end of the bomb competition, I got second place for rocket and bomb. I thank John Gunn for being a good instructor; he taught me a lot of things and how to become a good and safe pilot. I graduated and got my certificate and also received my reward for earning second place in the bomb and rocket competition.
I return to Long Tieng in October of 1973. When we got home, the war was over. The commander of Long Tieng Air Force selected me to fly T-41 to transport high ranking officers anywhere in Laos. Toward the end 1974, I was selected to become a personal pilot for General Vang Pao for six months; I flew his airplane, the Cessna 180 taildragger to transport him to Vientiane, Laos, and Thailand.
At the end of 1974, communist Vietnam came and invaded our country. They broke the peace agreement, and General Vang Pao ordered us to bomb the enemy again. From January 1975 until March we dropped a lot of bombs to the communist. We ended up losing the war.
We lost the war and left Long Tieng on May 14, 1975, to go to Thailand to become refugees.
I have two surviving sisters and myself living in the United States. I got married in 1975 and lived in a refugee camp in Thailand, and in 1978 we came to the United States. I have five children and eight grandchildren.
~ This is my story ~ Yia Kha, Hmong T-28 pilot
Robin FAC, T-28D Pilot