Fred M. Blum, Navigator
18th SOS, Nakhon Phanom and Da Nang, 1972

I got my draft notice when I was going to the University of Illinois in 1951. Rather than go in the army, my dad said, “You’re not going in the army. I fought in the trenches in WW1 and you don’t want to do that. You’re going in the Air Force or the Navy, so I went in the Air Force. I enlisted on the tenth of January, ’51, and went to basic training at Lack land for six weeks. I graduated from there and went to Wichita Falls and went through A and E School, aircraft mechanic in B36 specialty. My first assignment was to Travis Air Force Base in Periodic Maintenance for B36s. I got there and drew my tool box and went out to the flight line and went to work.

The first day I was out there, the line chief came out and said, “I’m looking for somebody who can type. Can you type?” I said to myself, “I don’t want to stand out here in the rain all winter. Yes, I can type.” He said, “You really sure?” I said, “Yes. I took it in college.” “You been to college. You’re my man,” so he hired me to be a clerk in the maintenance office. I was there two days, and he fired the chief clerk and made me the chief clerk, so I spent about not even a year there and I applied for aviation cadets to go to pilot training and got selected. In the fall of ’52 I went to pilot training in Marana. I got there and they said, “We got too many in the class. We’re going to hold you for six weeks as a casual and then send you to Lackland for the first class of preflight.”

I went down to preflight and the last week of preflight they called me and said, “Your eyes are too bad. You can’t fly.” I didn’t know anything was wrong with my eyes, but it turned they had too many people and they were just eliminating some, so I went back to Travis and went to see the eye doctor. He said, “There is nothing wrong with your eyes.” I then reapplied and went back to Nav Training. I was afraid I’d get that same guy and they’d kick me out again, so I got commissioned in “54 in October and went to Castle Air Force Base to fly 124s with SAC. I was there a little over a year and I went home and we got married and I went back. We were there six more months and we went to Florida and flew 124s there until ’61. I then went to Bermuda and flew with the Hurricane Hunters which was an interesting assignment. We also did the air sampling for the Air Force at that time up in the northern-when the Russians would shoot off an A-bomb or something we’d go and fly in to pick up the count to see how good their weapons were.

In ’64 I went to Travis and flew in 133s for about seven years. It was a DO’s exec for the last year or two and then got an assignment to go to Vietnam. I ended up going through C-119s with a few other people that had probably been on there, mainly your father (Mac Isaac). We started out in September going through Survival School, and then down to Hurlburt, and then down to Jungle School. I got to Vietnam early in January of ’72; spent the whole year of ‘72 there-a really good assignment-lots of great guys. That’s how I got in 119s. It was kind of a different operation over there compared to flying the line in the United States or in SAC or wherever. We had two lieutenant colonels and about two or three major pilots and we had some 20 some lieutenant colonel navigators cause all the old navigators were getting shipped out to go over there by that time. In our crew there was a captain and a second lieutenant and then three lieutenant colonel navigators, so that was interesting.

Then the end of the tour, Steve wanted to be an aircraft commander and we all talked it over and the squadron commander said, “Well, who’s going to fly with him?” and we said, “We’ll fly with him. We’ll just put him in the same group as an AC,” so that’s how I flew with Steve Mac Isaac.

We got rid of the airplanes in November; we came home in December of ’72 and we went to Wright Patterson, Dayton, Ohio, and I was grounded; no more flying, not physically, but they said, “You’ve got enough hours and we need people to fly a desk for a while,” so I was there as an exec in Engineering. I made 06 while we were there. I got picked by the commander there at ESD to be the chief of personnel so that’s how I got into personnel for three more years there.

Then we went to Defense Logistics Agency in Washington. I was Director of Military Personnel there for three years, and then we went to Hawaii for our last three and a half years. I was the Base Commander of Hickam Air Force Base. Then I had to retire-forced retirement-30 year’s commission.

Since then, that’s 24 years ago this month that I’ve been retired, it’s been a lot of fun, because we play golf, we travel, and no work.

I can remember two missions real well. We were flying a recce mission just south of Da Nang, maybe 18-20 miles, looking for rocket teams. They’d been shooting rockets into Da Nang, the bad guys. We had two Army choppers with us. One was flying at 50 feet, one flying at 1500 feet. The lower one was bait, trying to get people down there to fire at him with their rifles, submachine guns, or whatever they had-AK47s. Sure enough, somebody started shooting at us, so we put a smoke in (it was real dark). We turned on the Illuminator and put some flares out. We could see them down there. There were 20 or 30 of them, setting up these 100mm rockets that they had. We started shooting at them. Pretty well, there wasn’t anybody moving when we got done. We ran out of ammo and went back to Da Nang which was only 10 minutes or so, and then another one came down. The next day, the ARVN wouldn’t go out at night, they had to wait until it was daylight to go out, to see what had happened. We had gotten the team! As we were shooting at the rockets, one of them went off. The bullets from the mini-guns hit the powder in the rocket, but the fins weren’t on it, so it just took off and it just swirled all over. We didn’t know where it was going, which is a dangerous way to be, but it didn’t hit anything. It was interesting to see a rocket instead of going on a straight trajectory was just coming up doing cork screws, loops, and all sorts of things. The next morning after they went out there, they found an AK47 out there with about ten hits in the stock of the gun. That’s what good patterns our mini-guns would fire, that tight when they hit the ground. That was a very rewarding mission. A few days later, the ARVN had the whole crew go up to their headquarters, and they gave us all a medal.

The other one I remember was a mission over the Trail, south and west of the A Shau Valley. We were trolling on the trail there looking for trucks or tanks; they said there were some tanks up there. We didn’t find them, but while we were trolling, this guy came on guard saying they were being attacked in their bunker. It was an advisor to an army group up there at this fire base. He wanted to know if there was anybody in the area that could come down and give them support. We said, “Yes, we could get there.” He told us where he was so we flew over there. They had a big bunker that was above ground and also one below ground. They had a short runway and then it was completely fenced all the way around the bunker and the runway. They were trying to come over the fence at the one end of the field, so he said, “I want you to shoot down to the south end of the field.” We put on all our mini-guns and fired a few bursts. We told him to come back up out of the bunker where he had been because we wouldn’t fire while he was still on top. He said, “Well, there’s still some movement down there so shoot some more,” so we did. We wiped them out. The army advisor and the armored guys over there were really appreciative because if we hadn’t gotten in there, they would have overrun them. That’s kind of heartwarming when you can do something good for somebody else. Those were the two missions that stood out in my mind. Other ones were pretty routine. You shoot at them; they shoot at you. It was an interesting tour.