It was my first combat tour flying Forward Air Control (FAC) missions with the 23rd TASS in little 2-seat Cessnas out of a tiny base in NE Thailand, Nakhon Phanom, NKP, "Naked Fanny". We worked over the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos. It was called "The Secret War" because nobody talked about it officially. I started flying on 28 Sep. By today, a Saturday 40 years ago I'd already logged 43 combat missions, 166 hours. In three months I had flown more than many other Combat Doc Photogs did their whole tour. Oh, there were others like me who loved flying, who felt the need to take it to the enemy. Some flew much more. They designed my camera equipment with telephoto lenses to work from safe altitudes . Safe and effective were two different things. So I became known as the Photog who got the intel in spite of the rules. I kept getting requested by pilots when they had a photo mission. That's what happened to me. The invitations kept coming. The other factor involved? Trust. To get the job done we bent a few rules of engagement. ROEs are deadly. Follow them at the wrong time and you are dead. I only had to go to upper brass twice on pilots I flew with. Those two were a danger to themselves and anyone flying with them. Both were given desk jobs and rotated home early. The rest, we respected each other. Today, 40 years ago I was in an airplane somewhere over Laos looking for bad guys. I was on my 2nd mission with Major Wolf. He was real good. He had the uncanny ability of sensing that something wasn't right. I learned from him. Coming back from the mission I remember we talked about Bob Hope coming to our base in a few days. He asked me if I could get Hope's autograph for him. (Hey, the perks of being a photographer were good.) I told him I would. Bob Hope was Christmas for many of us stationed away from home. I grew up watching the TV Specials about him visiting troops in battle zones. It hit me hard when Wolf asked me to get Bob Hope's autograph. "WTF, I'm really fighting a war!" I thought to myself. It wasn't the anti-aircraft fire and AK-47 fire we'd just had thrown up at us, it was knowing I would see Bob Hope in a few days that shook me. So, yes, I did get to meet Bob Hope and get his autograph. And, yes, my hand shook as I handed him my pen and some paper. Hell, they didn't shake that much when we were trading fire with the NVA. Yep, the show was wonderful. Bob Hope's words of thanks to everyone there were very genuine, I can still hear them. And, yes, the tears still flow. Then, on Christmas Eve, 24 December 68, my phone rang. I was off duty for a few days. I picked it up and heard the voice of the Duty Officer for the 23rd. One of our pilots was down and the FAC pilot going out on the SAR, Capt Decker, wanted me to fly with him. 15 minutes later I was gearing up and heading for the flight line. Flying out I remember thinking, praying, "Not on Christmas Eve, Lord. We can't lose him on Christmas Eve." I also remember being mad, very angry, really pissed. The adrenalin started to pump when we were about 10-minutes from the area and assumed command of the rescue. The pilot was down in an unforgiving area. There were NVA near him and more advancing into the area. The A-1s were working from the pilot outward to keep the a-holes away from him. We started working fast movers (F4s) on the troops moving into the area. The tracer fire coming up from the ground was incredible. God is the only one who knows why we were not hit that day. We could smell the tracers as they went by, they were that close. A fresh flight of A-1s from our base reported in with napalm. Hot DAMN!! I called them over to our area and we called them in on the bad guys. The A-1s came back and put down cluster bombs, then cannon fire on their last pass. It got real quiet. Then the Jolly Greens came in. Lead went down and extracted the pilot and headed home. We stayed and called in one last flight of Navy jets to drop whatever they had left on and around the crash site. Kind of a last , "Take this MFers." Christmas Eve, 1968...We gave ourselves a great Christmas present...We brought one of our own home... and alive. May God bless all of y'all, like he did us, Christmas, 40 years ago. Merry Christmas!