John Robert “Bobby” Dydo, Pilot
18th SOS, Nahkon Phanom, Da Nang and Bien Hoa, 1972
I was born in 1944 in Manchester, New Hampshire and raised there. I graduated from Memorial High School in June, 1962. I attended the University of NH at Durham and graduated in June of 1966. I joined the USAF and started pilot training following graduation.
I’m now a retired Air Force officer. I spent 22 years in the Air Force. When I was about to go to Southeast Asia, I was a captain, a pilot, and a Standardization and Evaluation pilot flying T29s at Mather Air Force Base. I actually had a date of separation and I was going to go fly with the airlines, although throughout my entire history in the Air Force, whenever the airlines were hiring, I had a commitment, and when I didn’t have a commitment, the airlines were laying off. I was in one of those peculiar situations where I would have had to have gotten out of the Air Force without any security of being able to move on to the next possible employment opportunity. I thought it over very hard and after discussing it with my wife and everyone else, I decided that I was going to make a career out of the Air Force. Fortunately, I had a friend that could affect personnel actions and asked if my date of separation could be withdrawn, which it was, knowing full well that my next opportunity would be Southeast Asia.
When I received a telephone call from the Military Personnel Center in San Antonio, they asked me what I wanted to fly. My response to them was, “I want to be able to shoot back.” They said, “We have the perfect aircraft for you, an AC119K. Well, not knowing what the 119K was all about at the time, I said, “You know, that’s great. As long as it’s got guns I can shoot back at them, I’m perfectly happy.” As a captain in the Air Force at the time, I went through all the normal training, started to bump into some very talented and dedicated Air Force officers that were going to be flying with me in the combat zone. As we got closer and closer to that time when we departed the United States, we had actually grown into quite a close-knit little group. We had a great time with each other. We seemed to meld very well. We were some of the older guys and we had some of the younger guys that were just out of pilot training, and all in all it was working out.
We spent the next year together and during the course of that year, we went through many experiences, many of them, for a lack of a better word, were harrowing. If we hadn’t all done our job absolutely perfectly, we probably would not have come back from the war zone in the shape that we did come back. The memories of the folks and my experience with the 119 gunships that I brought back were special. The 119 was one of those aircraft that seems to perpetuate itself as it goes on and on from WWII through its gunship transition in the 60s and 70s. It brought together people of such dedication and such patriotism that it was an honor to serve with them. I think that, if anything else, the one thing that I found in that combat zone were people that I could trust, that trusted me. They become and still are my life-long friends. We went through many situations that were heroic, fun, scary, and they made us think twice about why we were there. You know, let’s get out of here as fast as we can because when you have almost three million rounds of triple A shot at you over the course of a year, it kind of gets your attention. You almost become apathetic to it at times and at other times it would just scare the hell out of you.
The tales that we have all boil down to one thing-the trust that we had in each other and the friendships that we melded from those bonds. You can’t know what it’s like to be back home in an atmosphere where people just don’t understand and cannot comprehend the special bond that comes among people that have been in life-threatening situations. I have managed to come through those situations by having to depend upon others and I don’t think that unless you were there, unless you could experience that type of bonding, you can ever really fully appreciate that type of friendship. I’m blessed and fortunate that I have a lot of friends that I consider closer than my family.
I can remember nights of rocket attacks of Bien Hoa and Da Nang when I was diving under the bed only to find Steve Meleen was already there; nights when Steve Mac Isaac was trying to hold the airplane altitude within limits while I was pulling on the yoke because of the adrenaline, trying to get the aircraft into a firing orbit on the target.
There was one night we were over the Mekong River. It was a cloudy, overcast night with a 3000-4000 foot ceiling. We had a gunner who wanted to learn how to launch flares, so the illuminator operator asked us if we couldn’t pick up an orbit and launch a flare. It was very quiet so I said, “Sure, might as well. There’s nothing else going on.” We went into an orbit and gave the order to kick out a flare. Gunner launched the flare. When the illumination flare popped open, we had 40 or 50 sampans on a Class A route in the river underneath us. We were too low for sensors to be able to feed correction into the gunsight, so we had to shoot manually. The only way we could do it was to fire the 20 mm until we could start seeing the splashes in the water and then kick a rudder and move it up onto the sampan. It then exploded and we continued on. Well, that night we wiped out 36 sampans that either burned or exploded. During the course of that time, there was a point where I was having difficulty hitting one sampan. I was leaning the aircraft further and further over. I must have been in 45-50-60 degrees of bank trying to shoot that sampan, kicking the rudders and pulling back on the yoke. Mac was just to the point where he was tired of fighting against me on the control, so he let go. The nose of the airplane went shooting up and I’d left my finger on the trigger. I threw a 20 mm out on the bank of the river which started a fire. We kept on going around in the circle and shooting more and more sampans. The fire kept on growing bigger and bigger. Finally, the fire walked down the road about a quarter of a mile and twelve hours later they were still getting secondaries out of the fire, so what was a mistake that turned into something pretty spectacular. They ran through F-4s with 500 pound bombs and everything else continually for the next twelve hours, to pound the area. Apparently they had been unloading ammunition and POL right after An Loc fell. We had recaptured it, but apparently they were going to make a second effort which we kind of broke up.
We had MIGs chasing us one night. We had SA7 missiles firing at us on other nights. We had a Sam 3 fired at us out of the A Shau Valley. We saved General Vang Pao on Skyline Ridge. I flipped a 119 over on its back avoiding AAA. And I gave Tommy Teal his check ride.
If someone was not looking over us and everyone had not done what they were supposed to do, things could have been disastrous. We were very fortunate to never have taken a hole in the airplane or getting a scratch in combat. Again the most important thing, I think, that came out of all of this for me were the friendships and the brotherhood that were fashioned out the situations and missions we were in.
During my AC 119K time in the 18th SOS, I was Chief Standboard at NKP, Da Nang, Bien Hoa; and Squadron Operations Officer at Da Nang. After SEA I was assigned to Randolph AFB 12 FTW/AFMPC 73-76, Barksdale AFB, LA 2 BW, 76-79; Pentagon Air Staff 79-81; and Office of the Secretary of Defense, 81-87. My Decorations and Awards include 2 DFCs and 6 Air Medals. I retired from USAF on 1 February 1987 and I currently live in Bradenton, FL.
Bottom line: the things that I will always remember about my time with AC-119 gunships are the friends I made. What else is there!