Walter Eugene Gunster III, Navigator
18th SOS, Da Nang and Nakhon Phanom, 1971-72
I was born an Army brat at Fort Sill, Oklahoma in 1942. Eighteen years later, I graduated from Fort Greeley High School at Fort Greeley, Alaska. I graduated from the University of North Carolina, Charlottesville in 1964 and entered the United States Air Force the same year at James Connally AFB, Texas. I had to join; it was a family tradition.
I was assigned to the 18th Special Operations Squadron as a Navigator/Sensor Operator at Da Nang Air Base, Republic of Vietnam from June 1971 until March 1972. I was then sent to Nakhon Phanom (NKP) Air Base, Thailand where I served until my DEROS in June 1972.
My most exciting AC-119 Mission in S.E.A. was when I was the NOS on the last big truck mission in Vietnam. We had been out over southern Laos and were returning to Da Nang and the other sensors were doing paperwork as we neared the border. I saw a light on the ground and directed the pilot to the spot. The FLIR could not see anything and the pilots saw nothing but darkness. The pilot asked me to designate the target. He fired on the pip and the ground below lit up with secondary explosions. We stayed in the firing circle until we fired all the 20mm ammunition. We then called in two F-4s that were near the DMZ. Our pilot directed them to the target and they released their bombs, getting more secondary explosions. We finally reached bingo fuel and returned to Da Nang. The next night, we passed over the area and it was still burning. Daylight reconnaissance found the remains of a large truck park (I don’t remember the exact number of trucks burning, but I think it was near 125).
I’ll never forget when my wife was pregnant. The Red Cross said that it would be at least a week before I was notified of my daughter’s birth, unless something went wrong. I was getting ready to go on a mission on December 4, 1971 and the Duty Officer came to the aircraft and told me that my daughter was born on December 3. It worried me the whole mission. I found out the next day that everything was A-OK! My wife’s doctor knew the system. When he left the delivery room, he sent the notification by the fastest means possible, reducing the time to only 12 hours.
I will always remember my time with AC-119 gunships in Southeast Asia. It was noise and dust everywhere.
I retired from the USAF at Rhein Main Air Base, Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) in 1984. My wife and I currently live in Christiana, Tennessee.