Rod Friese, IO
17th SOS, Phan Rang, 1970-71
Murphysboro, Illinois was my birthplace in 1949. I graduated in 1967 from Unity High School near my home town of Sidney, Illinois. I joined the Air Force at Indianapolis, Indiana on 25 July 1968. The Draft was sneaking up on me and higher education at the time was not my ‘bag’. So, I went to the Air Force recruiter, thinking somehow, I could get a flying job in Vietnam even though I had already lost two classmates to the war. One classmate was in the Army and the other in the Marine Corps.
Flying in Vietnam, one of the most memorable missions was a routine “Shadow Box” target, nothing specific even though Intel had numerous reports of enemy activity within the map coordinates. Box missions were usually boring, orbiting in the sky, looking for anything that moved. After an hour or so of boring holes in the sky, we came across a compound that our navigator had seen before on a previous search, but now they had what appeared to be a makeshift Red Cross on the roof of the building. We checked with Saigon control and they radioed back within minutes, saying the building had been reported as an enemy ammo storage building, not a medical facility by reconnaissance that day. They gave us permission to fire and we let them have it, first with one mini-gun which caused secondary explosions. Then we fired with all four mini-guns at the same time and the ensuing explosions lit up the countryside for miles around. In thirty minutes time, we had wiped out a large stockpile of enemy munitions.
Soon after I had arrived in country, I experienced a highly intense mission at Dak Seang, South Vietnam where enemy forces were about to overrun American troops. Besides the Shadow gunship, there were many types of U.S. aircraft flying in support of our ground troops. C-123 and C-130 aircraft made supply drops while U.S. Army helicopters attacked enemy troops and Air Force fighter jets dropped bombs and napalm on enemy locations before strafing. It was a very, very congested airspace and we had to keep a sharp eye out for the other aircraft as well as enemy ground fire. It was hard work, keeping the flares going, helping gunners drag cans of brass, and watching for anti-aircraft fire. Amid the sounds of our guns firing and the rushing wind outside the gunship while scanning below for enemy fire, I had to listen very closely on the intercom headset for commands from the pilot to launch flares. It took about five days and nights to drive off the enemy but we did it.
Flying missions over the Bolovens Plateau in Southern Laos, out of Phu Cat Air Base, Vietnam for three weeks in December 1970 was really exciting. There were lots of fireworks there. During those missions I experienced the most intense heat that I have ever felt from bomb explosions and napalm. We would hit the target areas in the Plateau, go Bingo Fuel and Winchester and have to land at Ubon, Thailand to regenerate. A couple of times we ended up staying overnight at Ubon. That was a nice break!
I remember the feelings I had and still have for every time we returned from a “Hot” mission. We accomplished exactly what we were tasked in a short amount of time; it always resulted in defeating “Charlie”. We whooped their ass! And they knew it!
One of my most unpleasant memories of the AC-119 concerns the choice of Ohio for combat crew training. It still seems ludicrous that we were expected to train for Southeast Asia by flying in the frigid Ohio winter in an aircraft with all the cargo compartment doors removed. Consequently, we got about one- half of our required training accomplished before they sent us to Vietnam.
I’ll always remember my 20th birthday at Phan Rang, getting rolled out of bed and trucked to the flight line Fire Department water tank for a dunk. Who at Phan Rang can forget nights at the outdoor theater? When someone had a ‘fini’ flight, we’d uncork the champagne, skip the chow hall, and go from there. On crew stand-by status or even a day off from flying, I’ll always remember the card games, the pranks, taking the officers to the NCO Club, and going with the officers to the O’ Club to see how long it took before we got kicked out of either.
The best friends I made while in Vietnam were gunners. I’ve kept up with these guys through our AC-119 Gunship website and finally made a reunion in Branson. Great friendships were bonded during my year in Vietnam and I’ll never forget that!
After twenty-two years’ service, I retired from the United States Air Force in May 1990 with the rank of Master Sergeant at Yokota Air Base, Japan.