Frank Bartlett, Gunner
18th SOS, Da Nang, Nakhon Phanom, Bien Hoa, and Pleiku, 1971-1972
Not wanting to complete our tour at NKP (pace and life was far too slow), Dan McDuffie and I volunteered our services with the 18th SOS, at Det 1, Da Nang AB. Upon arrival, we were both assigned to the same AC-119K gunner crew. Sometimes we would watch from the second floor of the barracks and knew Lt. Col. Teal was flying a TIC mission 8-10 miles south of Da Nang. We could always tell because he would have all the mini-guns on-line at the same time and held the trigger until all the ammo was expended. The barrels got so hot you could see the tracer rounds going through the barrels, and that’s hot.
We were assigned to Capt Dick Pollmann’s crew, called Pollmann’s Pirates, and after we had flown a few missions with him, Dan and I decided to make up names for each crew position. Some were interesting.
In-line with our determination to keep as busy as possible we volunteered our services to work in the squadron orderly room when we learned that the clerk was going PCS and was not going to be replaced (can you believe that). We worked for (then) Lt. Col. Fred Blum for about 10 months doing all the orderly functions in the OJT (On the Job Training) mode.
I also maintained the mission tape recorders that required some TLC maintenance caused by old equipment that ate tapes, cleaning the spindles, and repairing fixable broken parts. That was a job in itself.
The squadron was located on the opposite side of the runway from where the AC-119Ks were parked, and at one point the squadron had to contact the motor pool for transportation of flight crews to and from the aircraft. Well, Dan and I were determined to put an end to that. Somehow we were able to “get hold of” a large step-van that was out of funds to repair (according to the AF calculations), but it did sorta run. We somehow located spare parts to keep the engine running, etc (etc being classified) from the ol’ “bone yard” and had it in an up and running mode of transportation for the flight crews in short order. We decided to make up a Battle Damage Assessment (BDA) sign and we mounted it to the side of the crew-van.
To keep our minds occupied, we also maintained and logged rocket attacks, including the number of explosions. Our log from 13 April 1972 through 23 Aug 1972 included this entry: “received 331 rounds of 122 mm rockets”. We had a few holes in our barracks room walls and locker, but we usually sought cover under our bunks; and having our footlockers between us and the falling rockets seemed to work.
One of the best missions appeared in the July 22, 1972 issue of Stars and Stripes. The mission occurred on the night of July 13, 1972. Our crew was awarded the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with the Silver Star for the Officers, and the Bronze Star for the enlisted, for which the crew had Congressional approval to wear, which was especially gratifying.
This was my most rewarding assignment in my 27 year career. I’d do it again today, if it weren’t for my age. But then again, what is age?