Leonard L. Barnett, Gunner
18th SOS, Da Nang and Bien Hoa, 1972

I was an aerial gunner on the AC-119K Stinger gunship in 1972, flying combat in South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. I flew missions that included troops-in-contact, interdiction, and fire- suppression support in hot areas such as the Barrel Roll, Plain of Jars, and An Loc.

All Stinger missions were exciting but I clearly remember blowing up barges on the Mekong River near Kampong Cham, Cambodia; fighting against an enemy ground gunner at An Loc, and flying under a gunner’s moon while watching AAA fire red dots at us.

Some incidents that seem funny now weren’t so funny when they happened. One of those incidents was when I was flying out of Bien Hoa and we had been launching flares during our mission. Several flares were launched with no problems, but then one flare stuck half way out of the launcher. The pilot tried several flying maneuvers to take the strain off the flare so we could knock it out with a wood stick we carried onboard for just that purpose. Everyone in the gun compartment had their turn at beating on the end of that flare. Finally, it was my turn to work the stick. As I was hitting it, I could see it move a little. I had tuned everything out and was totally focused on hitting that flare. I don’t remember anyone saying anything or trying to stop me. Suddenly, the flare let go and started burning. The flare with its parachute open, floated down to an area near the BX where pallets of beer were stored. These flares burned at 2 million candle power; in other words, they were extremely HOT. Well, the flare landed on the beer and the beer got hot and exploded into a gigantic beer burst. When the Marines found out that a Stinger had burned up the beer, they came to our hootch to find out who was responsible. I’m glad nobody told on me.

We were around the Kontum area one night while flying out of Bien Hoa. I think we were curious as to why they would not turn on their TACAN. We were shooting at something and got a nice secondary explosion. We worked the area for a while until we were bingo fuel. Instead of going back to Bien Hoa, we landed at Pleiku. There was only one round eye on the whole base and he was in the tower. It was a real spooky place. As we assembled to leave, the AC was talking to the Vietnamese ground crew. He told everyone to get on board and told the co-pilot and FE to get an engine started with the internal batteries because we were not connected to an MD-3 for external power. When the engine was starting, it was turning so slow that I thought it wouldn’t start. We might have to spend the night there. I recall that the other engine was started while taxiing. Pleiku had a short runway, 6000 ft I think. As we were taking off, I was watching the 1000 ft markers go by. They were going by very fast and we still had not rotated. I knew we were going to slide down that mountainside when the nose lifted up and we jumped off the runway. We flew back to Kontum and picked up where we left off. It was the only time I ever flew 2 missions in 1 night. Later we found out that when we landed at Pleiku to refuel, they attempted to charge us for the gas.

We were flying daylight missions out of Bien Hoa in support of An Loc. It was also during that time that we were being introduced to the SA-7 Strella. The only defense we had was a handheld flare pistols. I think we also had to break into the missile so the wings could help shield the heat of the engines. We were flying straight and level and the left scanner wanted to be relieved so I took his position. Under normal situations the scanner that just hooked up would say, “Pilot, this is the left or right scanner. How do you read sir?” The pilot would answer to verify two-way communications. I guess I was too far out into the wind stream. Because when I checked in the aircraft broke hard left and I saw the flare the IO had just fired from his flare pistol. I just hung on. The aircraft leveled out and after a minute the normal conversations started up again and no one talked about what had just happened. When we got down the FE told me that when I checked in, it was like someone had thrown a snake in the cockpit. What everyone heard was “Missile, missile, missile” and that I was the left scanner. No one was hurt. Just a lot of pucker power.

Joliet was an Army Major who was working with the South Vietnamese as an advisor someplace down in the Delta. Joliet called for gunship support while being overrun by the bad guys. When we got there Joliet and the rest of his people were inside an underground bunker. He told us to shoot his position. The bad guys were on top of his bunker trying to get in. After shooting thousands of minigun rounds, things got real quiet. Joliet opened the door after a while and told us that all he could see were dead bodies and body parts. When Joliet was on his way from the Delta to a new assignment, he came through our base and discovered that it was home to the Stinger gunships that saved his life. I never personally met him, but he left a bunch of money at the Stinger hootch and we partied on his money for a while.