James S. Craig, Navigator
17th SOS, Tan Son Nhut, 1970-71
Louisiana, Missouri was my birthplace in December 1941. My family moved to Kansas City, Missouri where I attended elementary and secondary school, graduating from Paseo High School in Kansas City in 1960. I attended the University of Missouri at Kansas City from 1960 to 1962 and then transferred to Baker University; Baldwin, Kansas where I graduated with a B.S. in Biology in 1964.
I enlisted in the U.S. Air Force on October 21, 1966 and was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant on January 4, 1967. After navigator training, I was assigned to the 17th Special Operations Squadron as a Shadow gunship navigator/NOS. I served in Vietnam from May 21, 1970 to May 21, 1971 (365 days on the nose). I flew 216 combat missions in the AC-119G during my tour of duty.
Some tid-bits from my tour: Angkor Wat, Cambodia – amazing place! Total number of 7.62mm rounds expended during my tour of 216 missions (an even 900 hours of gunship combat time) was approximately 2.5 million rounds. Many of them were in the very same hole every night while we were “not” in Cambodia according to “Tricky Dick”.
I still have the maps that I used to navigate the entire southern half of Vietnam and the map for Cambodia with divert routes north to Thailand.
My two most memorable missions: I flew on the night the Phnom Penh Airport came under sapper attack and the airport and most of the airplanes were burned to the ground, including a brand new Caravel jet liner. We thought an entire company of enemy had attacked; however, it turned out to be less than a dozen sappers that did it.
The daytime mission to Cambodia’s main seaport, Sihanoukville (Kompong Som) was wild when the fuel depot tanks were sabotaged and set ablaze. We experienced one of the largest fuel fires during the entire tour as flames rose to probably two thousand feet and the smoke was the real danger. We had to stay upwind of the fire to avoid choking to death.
Biggest mistake: On a night mission at Kompong Cham, Cambodia, I figured the wind and kicked out a flare that was a streamer. It went through the roof of a vacated Swedish Ambassador’s (some high roller) summer home. Burned it to the ground. OOPS
Biggest Farce: Capt. Sandy Shaw, along with other Shadows, were scheduled to be presented medals by then U.S. Vice-President Agnew at Tan Son Nhut AB. Shaw were nowhere to be found (come to find out he was in Hong Kong having a “good time”). I cannot remember who it was (I think it was Capt. Parkinson), but the decision was made to substitute a “like size” body in Shaw’s place with appropriate name tag for the ceremony and of course the medal was presented to Capt. Shaw as scheduled.
Biggest Downer: Christmas 1970 at Da Nang AB. Taking up the slack for the Stingers that could not get off the ground (for some reason). Da Nang “was alright by order of the base commander” stenciled on the exterior wall of one of the barracks in “Gunfighter Village”. Compared to Saigon and Tan Son Nhut, Da Nang was the “pits”. I knew immediately I was in the wrong place!!! At Da Nang, we flew over Laos every night, sometimes twice a night and sat alert for the “surprise raid at Son Tay”.
From June 1971 to July 1975, I had a long tour in Germany with the F-4 Phantom Air Superiority Squadron. From July 1975 to January1980, I was stationed at Homestead AFB, FL with the 31st TFW. In 1977, I earned a MA degree from the University of Northern Colorado at Greeley. In January 1980, I accepted a Reserve Officer Commission in the Kansas Air National Guard at McConnell AFB, Kansas. In May 1982, I was promoted to Chief of Safety, 184th TFW, Kansas ANG at McConnell AFB.
On April 29, 1987, I retired from military service with the grade of Lieutenant Colonel. I was hired by Boeing Military Airplanes in 1987 and retired from Boeing in December 2003. My wife, Suzanne and I live in Derby, Kansas.