Ronald Lee Gilbert, Gunner
18th SOS, Phan Rang, Da Nang and Udorn, 1969-70
Neosho, Missouri was my birthplace in 1946 and my home town. I graduated from Neosho High School in 1964. On 9 June 1964, I entered the USAF at San Antonio, Texas, thus getting off the family farm and out of small town Neosho.
I served with the 18th Special Operations Squadron from March 1969 to December 1970 at Lockbourne AFB, Ohio, Da Nang Air Base and Phan Rang Air Base in the Republic of Vietnam, and at Udorn Air Base, Thailand. I also served with the 415th Special Operations Training Squadron at Hurlburt Field, Florida.
I vividly remember a Stinger interdiction mission in Steel Tiger East (Southern Laos), and flying across the border into the A Shau Valley of South Vietnam. We were firing on three trucks when a B-52 dropped its bomb load on OUR targets. Our flight engineer brought our jets to 100% power and our pilot, Captain Ron Dean, pulled right away from the target area while screaming at our “new” navigator, who was waiting for Guard Channel to announce the B-52 strike. Target coordinates for the B-52 strike were briefed at the Squadron Intel pre-mission briefing because the target area was in-county Vietnam; therefore, the strike warning was not to be sent over Guard Channel.
I can just imagine the VC on the ground hearing our AC- 119K tooling around, firing our 20mm cannons and then all of a sudden, the earth is shaking around them from the impact of 105 (750 lb.) bombs. Captain Dean would not let us pull the mission tape for fear that Stinger Operations would find out what a screw-up we had made.
Things I remember about my tour of duty in Southeast Asia were that my crew ate together, lived together, and fought together. There was just no time to relax. At Da Nang, we would fly a hot mission, taking anti-aircraft fire and RTB, only to be hit by a mortar or rocket attack once on the ground. We lived with enemy fire in the air and on the ground.
Well, I obviously survived that most unforgettable tour of war and made the Air Force my career. In June 1994, I retired from the USAF at Nellis AFB, Nevada, after 30 years, 21 days of military service.