Charles “Chick” Freund, III, Pilot
18th SOS, Nakhon Phanom, Bien Hoa and Da Nang, 1972-73
I was born in Columbus, Georgia (Muscogee City) on January 16, 1947. I was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the United States Air Force through the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) upon graduation 13 June 1970 from Miami University (the REAL one – in Oxford, Ohio). Keynote speaker was Neil Armstrong, 11 months after his historic moon landing and walk. He also administered our Commissioning Oath.
My active duty service started in August 1970 reporting to Laughlin AFB, Texas for Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT). After successful training in T-41, T-37, and T-38 aircraft, I graduated from UPT in October 1971. Assigned to the 18th Special Operations Squadron for AC-119 gunship training, I entered the “Vietnam Pipeline”; first attending Water Survival School at Homestead AFB, Florida in October 1971 followed by Basic Survival Training at Fairchild AFB, Washington, C-119 training at Lockbourne AFB, Ohio, AC-119K training at Hurlburt Field, Florida, and Jungle Survival School at Clark AB, Philippines. On 10 April 1972, I arrived in country and reported for Stinger gunship duty at Nakhon Phanom (NKP) Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand. During my tour, I experienced the usual side trips to Bien Hoa and Da Nang including a 130 day rotation to Da Nang.
I separated from Active Duty in January 1980 as a Captain while at Beale (Northern California was a tough assignment but we roughed it out. We had a DO there who had come to Beale as a Captain and was still there as an O-6). We stayed in California five more years and then moved to the Atlanta area in 1985. We’re still here.
Awards and Decorations from Southeast Asia duty include the Distinguished Flying Cross (for support of troops being overrun by Viet Cong) and 6 Air Medals (106 combat missions).
• Aug 70 – Oct 71: UPT, Laughlin AFB, TX
• Apr 72 – Jan 73: AC-119K copilot, 18th SOS, NKP, Thailand, Da Nang and Bien Hoa AB, RVN
• Feb 73 – Jul 75: KC-135A copilot, Wright-Patterson AFB, OH
Flight Info 2500 hours USAF total, 1900 hours KC-135A and Q; 370 hours AC-119K, 40 hours a-119G
Promotion Dates 2Lt. 13 Jun 1970, 1Lt. 13 Jun 1972, Cpt 13 Feb 1975, Maj 01 Jan 1989, Ltc 01 Jan 1996
Active Duty: Aug 1970 – Jan 1980, Reserves: Jan 1988 – Jul 1998
Fully Retired: (i.e., retirement pay started) Jan 2007
I well remember details of my second day at Da Nang and my first rocket attack. I had been issued a flack vest and helmet and was told to put them under my bed in case of attack. When I finally realized that we were under rocket attack, I went to get under my bed as previously instructed; however, there were lots of dust bunnies under there, so I pulled out my vest and helmet from under the bed, put them on, and went to a cleaner spot by a wall and covered up further with my laundry bag. As the saying goes, “What you can’t see won’t hurt you!” The newly renovated swimming pool was hit, as well as the building next to mine. One of our aircraft commanders, Tom Hamman, who I had not yet met, was just leaving that building on his way to fly a mission. I remember his left arm being torn horribly and another piece of rocket shrapnel had pierced his checklist, which was in a lower leg pocket. He subsequently died.
On a more pleasant side I also remember that the local BX ran out of toothpaste but had a 20 year supply of Poligrip on hand. I don’t recall ever meeting anyone in SEA that wore dentures…. Go figure-. Also, the local “diner” in Gunfighter Village, the so-called “No Hab Kitchen” was an experience. I once tried to order a hamburger. “No hab hamburger; only hab cheeseburger.” “OK, give me cheeseburger, no cheese.” “OK, G.I.”
Breaking out a bag of RTB candy was a mini-tradition in the Stingers after a mission was over and we were flying back in “safe” territory. However, the BX at Bien Hoa had run out of M&Ms during one of my rotations there. Also, we ran out of chalk for the pool cues in the BOQ. Oh, the hardships we suffered!
Since Lieutenant Colonels outnumbered us First Lieutenants in our unit, I occasionally pulled duty as the Duty Officer (I was in charge of the Department of Redundancy). While on duty one time, I remember calling a local eatery for dinner, a hamburger and a Coke. The Coke came in a rubber banded sandwich bag with a straw sticking out.
I still remember, as I am sure all of us do, while I was a pilot in SEA, the picture on the front page of the Pacific Stars and Stripes of “The Bitch,” as she is known in our circle, in Hanoi looking up the barrel of a triple-A gun. ’Nuff said about that.
While at NKP, I discovered that some guys had their wives living in Bangkok, so my wife, Andrea, came over in early July 1972. I remember catching a hop on the C-130 shuttle to Bangkok to meet her when she arrived. Somehow my B4 bag had been left on the tarmac at NKP, so when my wife arrived after a 3-month absence, all I had was the “green bag” that I had traveled in. I had a two-day beard and no clean clothing. Andrea had a bad case of food poisoning that she’d contracted on the last leg of her flight. What a romantic reunion! Fortunately, my B4 bag with shaving kit and clean underwear arrived at Bangkok International the next morning and my wife recovered quickly. We stayed in the Florida Hotel (w/o a “girl”) the first night and got a room at the Chaophya Hotel for the next few nights. We both remember being careful to honor Thai customs and not to do anything overtly sexual in public, like holding hands.
My wife subsequently got an apartment in Bangkok, complete with a maid, Som Roum, who did cleaning, laundry (by hand in a tin washtub on the back porch), shopping, fixing meals, etc. She was more expensive than some other maids because she spoke English. $35 a month; such a deal! My wife got a job teaching at International School Bangkok (ISB). She was paid 13,600 baht per month (that was about $680). ISB took care of visas for her, so it was no longer necessary for her to take a bus trip to Cambodia every thirty days to satisfy visa requirements.
My wife and I toured extensively in Bangkok and visited Pattaya Beach and Hong Kong. I was in Bien Hoa when Bob Hope made what was to be his final SEA Christmas tour (Thanks for the memories – my father-in-law had seen Bob during WWII). The powers-that-be managed to get a number of buses together to take those of us at Bien Hoa that wanted to go to Saigon to see his show. Intel reports said that we could expect a 100% chance of getting shot at either on the 12-mile trip over or back. We were never shot at; so much for intel. (and I’m not talking “chips”).
Most of my wife’s and my personal memories of the war in SEA are pleasant ones. Since she was in country, we talked on the phone daily when I was at NKP, so she was spared the agony of watching stateside news reports and wondering if I’d been on the receiving end of any of the action that day. I have been interviewed several times in past years, as I am sure many of my fellow servicemen have been, by students studying the war in Vietnam in school. I have given them the “War in Vietnam According to Chick Freund” view which, since it usually included some of the above stories, may perhaps have been slightly skewed from the version they learned in school.
My tour was due to end in April 1973, but since my wife was teaching and the school year was not over until June, I tried to extend my tour by a couple of months. However, Henry Kissinger (“Henry the K”) managed to “negotiate a cessation of hostilities” and, since I was in a combat unit, I got sent home early. As I tell people around here, the Vietnam saga had been going on for years until I got there. Then, within a few months, Henry the K was able to do his job, since (apparently) I had been doing mine so well; therefore, I take credit for ending the war in Vietnam (Cause/effect logic works for me)! I had volunteered via the Form 90 “Dream Sheet” to extend in SEA, for assignment anywhere in Europe, or South America, anywhere but back to the U.S.A. So, in its infinite wisdom and accommodation, Personnel Center assigned me back to the States. Not only that, but I got Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. Let’s see, now – went to school in Ohio, was stationed there for some interim training, and now on to Dayton. Join the Air Force and see the world!
Returning stateside, I reported in February 1973 to Castle AFB, California for KC-135A co-pilot training. Training was completed in May.
Many of the guys I knew from SEA wound up going thru Castle (SAC had major pilot needs, apparently) about the same time. We would be in a classroom, or a restaurant, or wherever, and hear the whoomp sound of closing doors, somebody dropping something heavy, or whatever would make that sound – the sound of a rocket impact. Each one of us would react by ducking under the desk or table before realizing where we were and that it was not another rocket attack. Then we would catch each other’s eyes and smile knowingly as we regained our seats. Other students, perhaps just out of UPT or UNT, or other restaurant customers, including any wives or girlfriends, as the case might have been – who had not gone through the experience – would just stare at us, sometimes laughing – not derisively, just more out of curiosity. The experienced wives would smile compassionately, not knowing what it had been like to experience rocket attacks but realizing that we did.