My hometown is Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where I was born November 15, 1946. I graduated from Bishop Canevin High School in 1964. I graduated from Duquesne University and was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant through ROTC in January 1969. From pilot training at Williams AFB, AZ, I received an assignment to the AC-119K.
During my tour with the 18th SOS I flew as co-pilot and checked out as pilot. While at Da Nang (Sep 70 – Apr 70) I served as additional duty Moral Officer and Billeting Officer. I was reassigned to NKP RTAFB, Thailand (Apr 71 -Sep 71) where I also served as Assistant Safety Officer.
From the AC-119, I completed training in the B-52F then flew the B-52H with the 524th Bomb Squadron, Wurtsmith AFB, MI. I retired in April 1996 with over 27 years of active service. My decorations and awards include the Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross w/1 device, Meritorious Service Medal w/3 devices, and the Air Medal w/8 devices.
Following retirement I worked with the Joint War Fighter Center as an Air Operations Instructor/Controller. I am currently Deputy Chief B-52 Weapons System Team (Chief, Modernization and Sustainment).
One of my best memories from S.E.A. was getting to go home all three times I was there. One of my most memorable flights was when we engaged on target and took AAA from two sites. From both scanners we heard the ever calming, BREAK RIGHT! BREAK LEFT! While attempting to execute that particular maneuver, all hell broke loose. While in a rather interesting “right-left” break, and still in the middle of those colorful golf balls with tails, we heard a loud BANG and the roar of air coming in from somewhere it’s not supposed to come in from. The airplane began to shake, rattle and roll. I can still see our panels vibrating so fast the flight instruments were a blur. The pilot (Ben Collins) rolled level and started a climb. Someone shouted “We’re hit”. Ben and I looked at each other across the cockpit and mouthed the word all pilots use to calm themselves in tight spots. Shit! It worked!! Suddenly, the vibration stopped. The roaring wind was stilled. And a meek voice from the rear reported, “We’re OK, so-and-so (name removed to keep from being hunted the rest of my life) grabbed the cable and activated the smoke ejector doors.”
Once, while flying with a crew as stand-in copilot, we engaged a single truck. Soon we were getting hosed from all directions. We were on about our third or fourth break out of the orbit when I said to myself. “These people are nuts. Why are they trying to kill me over one lousy truck?” I decided to voice my learned opinion. I said something like, “Why are we trying to get ourselves killed over one truck.
What did this guy ever do to you?” Since I was the highest ranking Lt. on the aircraft, the pilot opted to ignore me. A few minutes later, the FLIR operator discovered that the “single” truck was just one of many. We hacked a bunch of trucks that night. I remember being very quiet on the way home. For the record, I am no longer the youngest Lt. around and I still think they were nuts!
There are scores of things I remember about my tour in Stinger gunships. But the most significant are the memories of how much I learned from each one of the men I served with.
I arrived as the youngest officer in the Da Nang Forward Operating Location. My first night there I was met and welcomed by a man I will always call Major Tom Wallbanger. He was remembered as the guy with a pair of Green Bay Packers season tickets and a moldy sausage hanging on the walls of his room. Back in a corner was a pair of low quarter shoes that had not been touched since the day he arrived in-country. From that evening on, I was befriended and mentored by some of the finest men I’ve ever met.
During that year, officers and enlisted alike taught me more about flying airplanes and what “airmanship” means than I learned in any three year period of my twenty-one years of active flying positions. Every student I ever flew with walked away from the airplane carrying something I learned while flying with those men. I took their examples of how to know when to follow and when to lead and applied them in every assignment I had. I can’t count how many times after being congratulated for something I managed to do right that I used the phrase, “I learned that from a guy I was with in Vietnam.”
I had a wonderful career as an Air Force pilot. I have the men of the 18th Special Operations Squadron to thank for setting that up for the lieutenant.
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