Garrettson “Garry” Gourley, FE
17th SOS, Tan Son Nhut, 1970-71
I was born in Lexington Massachusetts on 19 July 1933. Shortly after my birth, my folks moved to Wakefield, Massachusetts so my dad, an Electrical Engineer, could be closer to his job with General Electric. After graduating from Wakefield High School, I realized there wasn’t that much going for twenty-year olds so I joined the U.S. Army in 1954.
After discharge in 1957 I enlisted in the Air Force because of my desire to fly. Because of distance perception vision problems, I wasn’t accepted into the Air Force Flight Training Program. I settled for Aircraft Maintenance/Flight Mechanic/Flight Engineer. I had USAF tours in Turkey; Andrews AFB, Azores; Dover AFB, Saudi Arabia, AFB, and the Military Advisory Group at Taipei, Taiwan.
I called Randolph in late 1969 to determine my status for assignment to Vietnam. The assignment NCO stated, “You’d better pack your bags.” He told me about “Palace Dragon” and AC-119G Gunships. I volunteered as a Flight Engineer. Upon arriving at Phan Rang AB in August 1970, I was offered an assignment to Tan Son Nhut. I had my FAA Airframe and Power Plant License and was hoping I might get a part-time job with either Air America or Continental Air Services after flying AC-119G missions. With the Flight Commander’s approval, I was hired part-time as an Airframe and Power Plant Mechanic by Continental Air Services (CAS).
Fellow Shadow FE Sergeant Elliott Williamson also worked part-time for CAS. I worked approximately 25 hours a week for CAS while flying 220 AC-119G Shadow gunship combat missions during my year in Vietnam.
After leaving Vietnam in August 1971, I was assigned to Holloman AFB, New Mexico and then was accepted for FE duty on the MAAG Ethiopia C-54 Aircraft in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in August 1972. That was a fantastic assignment to finish my military career, leaving Ethiopia and retiring as a Master Sergeant in June 1975 with 23 years of service. Included among my awards and decorations are the Distinguish Flying Cross, Joint Service Commendation Medal (Ethiopia) and the Air Medal with 10 Oak Leaf Clusters.
After the U.S. Air Force, I held numerous aviation jobs in Malta, Egypt, Germany, Turkey and Chad. The highlight of my civilian career (having earned my Commercial Twin- Engine Pilot’s License while in the USAF) was flying as Captain on DC-3s in Chad for Exxon Mobil Oil Company in 1976. During the last few years, I have been working as Director of Quality Control on a part-time aviation contract for AirServ International, a Nonprofit Humanitarian Air Relief Organization. I periodically go into Africa to do site surveys or to relieve personnel. In 1991, I graduated (better late than never) from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University with a Bachelor’s of Science Degree. Currently, I have earned 30 hrs of college credit towards my Master’s Degree in Aviation Maintenance and Safety.
I remember flying with lieutenant aircraft commanders who were primarily trained in jet aircraft. They looked to me as a father of reciprocating engines. I have fond memories of one lieutenant, good friend of mine, always asking me on take-off roll, “FE, explain torque to me. I still don’t understand.” We have had many laughs over that conversation over the years. On one of my many, many missions over Cambodia, I remember one morning I could see lines of black smoke rising up from the jungle and I made the statement to the pilot, “Sure looks like they are cooking their rice real early this morning.” As we flew closer to the line of smoke, we soon realized that the black smoke was not from cooking fires but trails of smoke from .57mm rockets being fired. The left turn we entered into was the sharpest and hardest turn that I ever experienced in an AC- 119G gunship. We all had a good laugh after that one!