In every war there are often lesser known experiences floating about beyond the typical tales of fighting and heroism. Here in the background of all of the conflict and death often lurk outlandish accounts of something strange going on, something perhaps even more frightening than the enemy. The Vietnam War, also known as the Second Indochina War, fought between the years of 1955 and 1975, officially between North Vietnam and South Vietnam, but as most know America being pulled into it starting from 1964, also has such otherworldly tales. One aspect of the Vietnam War that has long slipped under the radar of the mainstream consciousness is that amongst the fighting and violence the conflict was absolutely rife with reports of strange things in the sky that defied conventional explanation. Reading like something out of a science fiction story or alien invasion flick, these frightening accounts of encounters with UFOs during the Vietnam War suggest that it was not only the North Vietnamese forces that were the spookiest things out there, but also decidedly more otherworldly forces as well.
By all accounts it seems that troops in the Vietnam War were absolutely plagued by UFO activity, and some of the most spectacular reports of alien encounters during the Vietnam War have to do with actual military engagements with UFOs. One such incident allegedly occurred on June 15, 1968, along the demilitarized zone (DMZ) between North and South Vietnam, where a patrol boat known as PCF-12, commanded by a Lieutenant Pete Snyder, was on a routine night patrol near Cua Viet. At 12:30AM, PCF-12 reportedly received a frantic distress call from another patrol boat in the vicinity, PCF-19, claiming that they were being attacked by unidentified lights they were calling “enemy helicopters,” which seemed odd because the North Vietnamese enemy were not known to utilize combat helicopters at the time.
Snyder ordered the PCF-12 to head for PCF-19’s position to offer assistance, and they as they closed in reported spotting in the sky two circular bright lights immersed in a “strange glow” hovering over PCF-19’s position. As they approached, one of the strange lights reportedly emitted a bright flash of light, after which PCF-19 exploded in a cascade of water and flying debris. Directly after the destruction of PCF-19, the two enigmatic lights were described as rapidly accelerating away towards the sea as PCF-12 scouted the area for any possible survivors of the carnage they had just witnessed. Two wounded men were found and recalled that the two UFOs had been trailing them for miles along the river. The survivors then claimed that they had decided to fire upon the threatening, mysterious objects, and that was when one of them had issued a piercing blast of light to obliterate the boat. At first it was thought by officials that the PCF-12 had been the victim of an enemy missile fired from shore, but a later AP dispatch from Saigon would quote a military spokesman as having attributed the loss of PCF-19 to an “unidentified object,” and not enemy coastal batteries or missiles.
The PCF-12 continued its patrol up the river and were soon approached by the same two unidentified lights, which took up positions hovering on the port and starboard sides around 300 yards away and 100 feet above the water. PCF-12 called in to headquarters to try and get an idea of what they were dealing with, but were met with the response that there were no aircraft in the area at the time. Realizing that these craft were not friendly, Snyder ordered his men to open fire on the lights, which apparently did little to faze or even slow them down, and PCF-12 began to retreat at full speed as the two mysterious aircraft tailed and stalked them, flickering in the night the whole time. Second engine man Jim Steffes would later claim that he got a good look at the craft and described them as having “a rounded front like an observation helo,” and what looked like “two crewman sitting side by side.”
Strangely, although no weapons could be seen mounted on the unidentified aircraft, PCF-12 nevertheless found itself being fired upon. Steffes remembered seeing tracer rounds piercing up into the night from the nearby base Point Dume, with their targets being what he said were other far-off blinking circular lights whizzing about in the sky above. Eventually, a group of Phantom F4 fighter jets arrived to converge upon and chase off the strange lights that were plaguing PCF-12 out to sea, leaving the crew to wonder what in the hell had just happened.
At roughly the same time, another very strange incident was unfolding out in the South China Sea with an Allied ship of the Royal Australian Navy, the HMAS Hobart, which was patrolling near Tiger Island, about 20kms off Cap Lay and reported sighting up to 30 unidentified slow-moving lights hovering in the night sky near their ship, which were at first thought to be Russian-built M-14 ‘Hound’ helicopters, but upon closer inspection it could be seen that they were not. US 7th Air Force Phantom fighter-bombers were sent to engage, supported by generous anti-aircraft fire from the ground. The lights flew out to sea as they were pursued by the fighters, which fired upon them mercilessly along with several other military ships in the area, which unfortunately contributed to the friendly fire incident in which a U.S. swift boat was sunk by missiles, killing 5 of the 7 crew.
The HMAS Hobart was prepped for battle when the radar room detected an incoming unidentified aircraft coming in fast with no identification number to mark it as friend or foe. Word soon came in that the craft was “friendly,” but it was then that a missile struck the ship to kill one and injure two others, followed by a barrage of two more missiles. Whatever the craft was swiftly fled the scene before it could be shot down. In the meantime, F4 jets scrambled about firing upon the lights, joined by a hail of anti-aircraft fire from the ground, with attempts to communicate with whoever was onboard the mystery craft going unanswered. Eventually, the lights floated off and the fighter pilots were ordered back to base. The following morning, a complete search of the area turned up not a single shred of wreckage of an enemy helicopter, or any other enemy aircraft for that matter, despite the intense fighting that had occurred. The complete and utter lack of any wreckage of any aircraft was baffling considering that these enemies had come under such resistance and been met with so much concerted, relentless fire. The Royal Australian Navy News would later confirm:
No physical evidence of helicopters destroyed has been discovered in the area of activity nor has extensive reconnaissance produced any evidence of enemy helicopter operations in or near the DMZ.
There was little confidence among the men engaged in the incident that the aggressors had been “enemy helicopters” as was at first claimed. After all, if that were the case they should have been decimated by the potent retaliatory force displayed upon their arrival and attacks. There was also no trace whatsoever of helicopters at the time in the area before or during the incident and no wreckage afterwards. A skipper aboard the Hobart during the baffling engagement would later claim that it was certainly not enemy helicopters, expressing his doubt of such a theory by saying:
Neither before nor after the incident … was there any report by any of the ships of a helicopter being there [around Tiger Island]. Now having said that, the captain of one of the American ships told me later at Subic Bay that he thought there were helicopters there, but the fact is he didn’t report, and if he believed there was a helicopter … it was his duty to report it at the time, but there was no report.
Whatever the lights were that caused so much chaos continued to be sighted sporadically for months afterwards along the DMZ, furtively skirting around the area, wandering back and forth over the line, and baffling those who saw them. They were often sighted by radar roaming up and down the coast, and apparently no one could quite figure out what they were. They appeared on radar to be low, slow moving objects just like helicopters, but often there would be no visible confirmation or they would not look at all like helicopters. They were also prone to just disappearing into thin air, and jets scrambled to intercept the objects would arrive to find nothing there. Troops on the ground would sometimes witness the lights appear and disappear out of nowhere, and in one such case American artillerymen reported seeing a group of mysterious lights along the Ben Hai River, but when they had opened fire on them the objects had suddenly vanished as if they had never been there at all. At no point did anyone report seeing an actual helicopter, and the strange objects were always described as moving lights, often hovering erratically or moving in sudden bursts of speed inconsistent with a helicopter.
The origin of the strange lights remains unknown to this day. There were theories at the time that somehow a misreading of radar signals had occurred, which had then made other friendly vessels appear to be slow moving flying blips, or that the North Vietnamese had more helicopter power than had been previously assumed. In the end the official explanation was that it was all due to atmospheric disturbances or possible enemy helicopter activity, coupled with panicked friendly fire, and there have also been theories that it was all due to bird flocks or even insect swarms, but does any of this really match up to what occurred? Would trained Navy and fighter jet personnel go to engage such mundane phenomena? What hit the Hobart? Indeed what attacked the PCF 12 and 19 at precisely the same time? If there were enemy helicopters involved where was all the wreckage, why were they never successfully shot down, and wouldn’t these trained men know helicopters when they saw them? It is also strange that an enemy helicopter would so brazenly venture over the heavily defended DMZ, and it would be strange that they should fly around with their lights on all of the time for hours on end. In the case of the Hobart it seems obvious that this was some sort of concerted attack, but by who or what remains open to debate and speculation.
It is interesting that these reports make mention of “enemy helicopters,” as this was a term used so often to describe any unidentified lights in the sky in Vietnam that it became sort of a code word for “UFO,” regardless of any relation the object had to an actual helicopter, becoming sort of a catch-all phrase for anything weird in the sky. The fact that the Viet Cong were not known to use helicopters made it a perfect way to explain discreetly when men were seeing something in the sky that shouldn’t be there. On October 16, 1973, the USAF Chief of Staff, General George S. Brown, gave a press conference in Illinois where he addressed this terminology to some extent when asked about UFOs in Vietnam, saying:
I don’t know whether this story has ever been told or not. They weren’t called UFOs. They were called enemy helicopters. And they were only seen at night and they were only seen in certain places. They were seen up around the DMZ [demilitarized zone] in the early summer of ’68. And this resulted in quite a little battle. And in the course of this, an Australian destroyer took a hit and we never found any enemy, we only found ourselves when this had all been sorted out. And this caused some shooting there, and there was no enemy at all involved but we always reacted. Always after dark.
Another comment on the matter was made by a patrol boat captain by the name of Bill Cooper, who served in Vietnam from 1967 to 1969. During a UFO conference in Los Angeles in 1989, Cooper would say of his own experiences:
After about five months I was sent up north to the DMZ, to a place called Qua Vieaf [perhaps Qua Viet] on the Tacan [sic] river …. It was while there that I discovered that there was a tremendous amount of UFO and alien activity in Vietnam. It was always reported in official messages as ‘enemy helicopters’. Now any of you who know anything about the Vietnam war know that the North Vietnamese did not have any helicopters especially after our first couple of air raids into North Vietnam [during 1965]. Even if they had, they would not have been so foolish as to bring them over the DMZ, because that would have ensured their demise.
Another American ship was not directly attacked, but nevertheless allegedly had a very intimidating and threatening encounter with an Unidentified Underwater Submersible, or USO. In 1974 the ammunitions ship the USS Kilauea was operating in the Indian Ocean along with a destroyer and a carrier, and the witness claims that one evening at around 9PM he had been on deck with two friends looking up at the brilliant array of stars in the night sky. Their attention was drawn to the eerie beauty of the shifting light trails formed by phosphorus algae in the wake of the ship in formation in front of them, yet as they watched this light display of nature something else began glowing in the depths, becoming brighter and brighter until it became a blinding orange/yellow ball just under the surface. The mysterious blazing orb then spectacularly burst forth from the water to arch right over the top of the destroyer, just missing smashing into it, before crashing back into the ocean on the other side and sinking back into the dark depths. The witness would say of the puzzling, frightening incident:
We all just stared at each other with our mouths open. We could not believe what we saw, but I asked friends of mine who were on watch on the bridge if they saw it and they all did. There was nothing ever reported that I know of though and we just quit talking about it. I bet the destroyer got a good look at it. It went right over the bridge of that ship and it was big. Maybe 150 to 200 feet in diameter. That was my big encounter.
It is all a very intriguing peek into some of the more mysterious aspects of this conflict. Such tales lurk beyond the known history of the Vietnam War, hiding in the cracks and shadows and invisible, lost to the mists of time save for the few who are willing to share their bizarre tales. What went on out there in the skies above all of the fighting? What were these troopers dealing with? Were these cases some sort of experimental aircraft, the stresses of combat playing tricks on the imagination, or something altogether more bizarre? The true answers have been buried by history and lost to the mists of time.