Claude Mark Blum, Maintenance
18th SOS, Phan Rang, Phu Cat, Udorn, and Nakhon Phanom, 1969-71
My birthplace is Vernon, Texas and I was born in 1948. I graduated from El Dorado High School, Kansas in 1967 and joined the Air Force in March 1968 at Wichita, Kansas to keep from getting drafted into the Army. My basic training was completed at Amarillo AFB, Texas in 1968.
I was assigned to the 18th Special Operations Squadron at Lockbourne AFB in April 1968 and then was sent to Phan Rang AB, Vietnam in October 1969. From the end of December 1969 to March 1970, I was assigned to Phu Cat AB, Vietnam and then reassigned to Udorn AB, Thailand from March to October 1970. In November, 1970, I PCS’d to Travis AFB, California, then returned TDY to the 18th SOS in February 1971 as a Crew Chief at NKP, Thailand.
In all of my 27 years in the Air Force, I was never assigned to another unit that was as closely knit as the 18th SOS. The AC-119 Gunship units were like a family. I retired from the Air Force at McConnell AFB, Kansas in December 1995 as a Master Sergeant.
My most exciting events in Southeast Asia started after I left Phan Rang. On or about 29 December 1969, FOL B was formed and moved to Phu Cat. Our AC-119K’s started flying missions from Phu Cat soon after New Years 1970. In mid-January 1970, the night shift supervisor along with two other crew chiefs and I were in the flight line van, parked at the end of the Perforated Steel Planking (PSP) in front of the revetments. We were watching and waiting for the first aircraft to land. Sitting and looking out the van windshield, TSgt. Cole suddenly yelled, “In coming!” A 122mm rocket hit a foot or two off the side of the PSP and 30 yards from the front of our van. Cole saw the rocket launch off the side of one of the mountains that overlooked Phu Cat.
Two weeks after the rocket hit the flight line, A1C Israel Bobe and I were working on a small oil leak on the outboard side of the #2 recip engine. After our first mission aircraft returned to base, at about 2300 hours, Bobe and I heard a loud crack pass over our heads. We jumped off the top of the B-5 maintenance stand and TSgt. Cole drove up and told us to get under cover because Viet Cong snipers were near the F-4 trim pad, which was 400 yards straight to our revetments. Bobe and I headed for cover.
In mid-March at Phu Cat, five night shift crew chiefs and I were standing in front of the revetments. The first of three-mission aircraft had returned to base and was being readied for the next day. At about 0300 hours, we were talking and smoking with the security cops that walked our revetments when one of them got a radio call about movement along the base outer fence. As the security cop moved off the PSP toward the taxiway, he told us to get out of the light because some nasty “stuff” was coming down. A short time later, the VC started a fire fight on the north end of the runway. My fellow crew chiefs and I were still standing in front of the aircraft watching tracers fly back and forth across the runway. Then a trip-flare went off along the outer fence about 100 yards up and across from our revetments. The guard tower, located straight across from where we were standing, opened fire with a M60 on the fence line. The tracers from the guard tower gun started swinging around toward our position. That’s when we all determined it was time to find cover because we couldn’t defend ourselves, since we crew chiefs were not allowed to have weapons. The next morning, we found out that twenty-two VC sappers with explosive charges came through the wire where the trip flare went off. All but one of the sappers was killed. The captured VC told security that the sappers were to hit the gunships, our ops building, and our air and ground crew barracks.
I’ll never forget when FOL B at Phu Cat was changed to FOL D and moved to Udorn, Thailand. Instead of going to Udorn with everyone else, crew chief Jim “Pick” Pickalshimer (Sp?) and I were sent to Da Nang. When Pick and I arrived at Da Nang, we found out that the FOL at Da Nang not only didn’t need us, but did not have a room for us in the barracks. We would have to “Hot Bunk” with two of the Da Nang crew chiefs. So, CMSgt. Texara called headquarters at Phan Rang to straighten-out the situation. The next morning, Pick and I hitched a ride on an AC-119K Stinger that was passing through Da Nang on its way to Udorn. What Pick and I didn’t know at the time was that one of the Da Nang Stingers had experienced a runaway prop on a mission the night before and had landed at a remote U.S. Marine air strip, somewhere in South Vietnam not far from the Laos border. We were to land at the air strip and off load a prop sling and prop tools.
During landing and roll out on the PSP runway, the aircrew and we passengers immediately noticed the burned-up carcasses of an F-100 and an F-4 Phantom, both lying on their sides along the runway. We also took notice of the fact that all the buildings were underground except for a foot or so at top which had firing ports. Our aircraft commander told the IO and us over the intercom to get ready to ‘kick-off’ the prop sling and tools when he stopped the aircraft. He was not going to shut down engines because he didn’t want to get caught on the ground in case the air strip started taking enemy fire, mortars, or rockets. It was not a friendly place. With the prop sling and tools off-loaded in minimum time, we safely took off and flew to Udorn.