Estel “Wade” Dunn, Gunner
71st and 17th SOS, Nha Trang and Phan Rang, 1968-69
Kentucky was my birthplace in 1945. My family moved from Middlesboro, KY to St. Louis, Missouri when I was eight years old. I graduated from John O’Fallon Technical High School in St. Louis in 1963. On 5 May 1966, I entered USAF Basic Training at Amarillo, Texas. I worked at McDonnell-Douglas Aircraft prior to enlisting in St. Louis. I wanted to travel and see the world; not in my wildest dreams did I ever think that I would see some of the world from the cargo bay of an AC-119 gunship.
When I volunteered for gunship duty, I was assigned to the 29th Fighter Interceptor Squadron at Malmstrom AFB, Great Falls, Montana. I was in the original mix with all of you; combat crew training at Lockbourne, jungle survival at Clark, in-country Vietnam at Nha Trang and Phan Rang.
To be perfectly honest, after all these years, the Shadow missions I flew have pretty much blended together. One mission that remains clear occurred on 14 May and 15 May 1969 near Chu Lai. We had an Army patrol pinned down and taking murderous incoming fire. When we got into the firing circle, Sgt. Roberts and I put down the entire ammo load in just under 20 minutes! To the best of my knowledge, we hold the record for most ammo fired in the shortest period of time. But more importantly, we saved the Army patrol.
Some of the “special” memories that I have are: My first mission over the “Trail” and first time to see 23mm and 37mm fire coming up too close for comfort; flying at 2 o’clock in the morning with beautiful white fog in the valleys and millions of stars in the sky; touching down on the runway tarmac at sunrise, feeling dog-tired after flying a double sortie defending a Special Forces camp; watching a B-52 “arc light” strike in the distance while on a mission over Laos; looking down on the sampan fishing fleet off the coast of Phan Rang as my crew heads out on a 6-1 mission; and finally, feeling the wheels touch the runway at Phan Rang on my last combat mission with some of the finest and bravest men that I have ever known.
I separated from the United States Air Force in December 1969. I graduated from St. Louis Community College in 1984 and attended Washington University in St. Louis. I live in St. Lois suburb – St. Ann, Missouri.