John Robert Coates, Gunner
18th SOS, Da Nang and Nakhon Phanom, 1971-72
Elkridge, Maryland is where I was born in 1944. I graduated from Howard County Senior High School at Ellico, Maryland in 1961. I joined the U.S. Navy in October 1963 and served in the Navy until I entered the U.S. Air Force in December 1969 at Burbank, California. I joined the Air Force because I liked to travel, visit strange lands, and meet interesting people.
In 1970, I entered the Vietnam “pipeline” training in the AC-119K gunship at Lockbourne AFB, Ohio. I was assigned to the 18th SOS at Da Nang from March 1971 to September 1971. I was assigned to Crew #5 (aka Pollmann’s Pirates) as a gunner and left scanner. Other members of Pollmann’s Pirates were Terence Courtney, CP; Tad Berkebile, NOS; “Hack” G. Tremble, NAV; J. Lister, IO; N. Taylor, Frank Bartlett, and myself, Gunner. Our fearless leader was aircraft commander, “Dickie” Pollmann, I cannot remember the name of our FLIR. I was then reassigned to the 18th FOL at NKP, Thailand from September 1971 to March 1972.
My most exciting Stinger mission was one night in November 1971, somewhere over Laos, flying truck round-up between 0200/0400 hours local time. We found some movers and made our first pass on the target with no anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) fire. On our second pass, there was light inaccurate triple A. On our third pass, the sky lit up with 23mm and 37mm fire. It seemed like every triple A site in Laos was firing at us. One enemy gunner scored a “field goal” as his rounds passed our left side. Hack Tremble called to me (the left scanner) asking how many rounds of triple A had been shot at us. I replied, using a WAG, 1500 rounds of 23 and 37mm, highly accurate. Hack then called AC Pollmann on interphone, “Okay, Dickie, screw the heroics; let’s get the hell out of here!” With those words of wisdom, we departed the area. Thank you, Hack, for my very long life.
These were the finest men I’ve ever served with. Thank you 18th SOS for bringing me home alive. I hold it in the highest honor to be associated with such men.
I separated from the USAF in February 1974 and three months later joined the United States Navy (Aviation). I retired from the Navy in March 1984 as a Senior Chief Petty Officer (E-8) at Christ Church, New Zealand. During my last ten years in the Navy, I flew on C-130s as a Loadmaster. My wife, Nancy Melinda and I currently live in Knoxville, TN.