Richard F. Hay, Pilot
18th SOS, Da Nang, 1969-70

I was born in Philadelphia, PA in 1945. My dad, 2nd Lt. Frank L. Hay, was flying C-47s overseas at the time. My dad worked for Coca-Cola and moved around a lot when I was young. I graduated from Haddon Heights High School, Haddon Heights, NJ, in 1963. Then it was on to Penn State in the fall of 1963 where I graduated with a degree in Marketing in 1967 and, subsequently earned an MBA in 1976.

From college I was immediately eligible for the draft. The draft board continued to pursue me even though I had been selected to enter Air Force Officers Training School (OTS) in January of 1968. To assure my place at OTS and avoid being drafted by the Army, the Air Force recruiter enlisted me. I entered training at Lackland AFB, TX where, on the morning of graduation, after 29 days of basic training, I received orders to OTS.

After OTS, I completed pilot training at Williams AFB, AZ and in May 1968 reported to Hurlburt Field, FL for C-123 training. On the first day of class, three of us 2nd lieutenants were told of a classified message we needed to read. The message reassigned us to the AC-119K gunship program at Lockbourne AFB, OH via Clinton County AFB, as the first group of lieutenants and non-aircraft commanders to enter the program.

After leaving the 18th SOS, I flew C-9s and the C-141. I ended my career as Chief of the Evaluation Division at 21AF, retiring from the Air Force in 1987 as a Major. I then flew for both Pan Am and United Airlines prior to medically retiring in 2004. Currently, I am an author whose work is, in large part, directly inspired by experiences that occurred during the June 6, 1970 emergency bailout that claimed the life of our Illuminator Operator, TSgt. Clyde D. Alloway.

To me, Stinger missions were much closer to an “art form” than the simple application of skill and technical know- how. Successful missions flown at vulnerable altitudes in hostile territory demanded an extremely high degree of crew coordination and dedication. As a crew, we acted as one, almost as if we were all of a “single mind.” As such, I have the greatest respect, admiration and gratitude for anyone whoever manned a Stinger crew position on a combat mission.

Even though I flew the last few months of combat as an aircraft commander, I treasure my time in the right seat as AC-119K copilot. I have to admit that this is true mostly because of the nature of the crew position. If the copilot did his job correctly everything else would pretty much fall into place. On the other hand, if the copilot wasn’t up to speed, there was no way the AC could consistently put rounds on the trucks. In the firing-circle, with the AC’s head glued to the gunsight, the copilot – who held altitude, called bank for the AC, rpm settings for the FE, and distance and DME for the Gunfighters’ escorts flying cover – was absolutely critical to mission success.

In all humility (though it certainly won’t sound like it), I often said that I would likely never be able to say, “I am the best that ever lived” at anything. But I probably came as close as I ever will as an AC-119K gunship copilot. In this regard, I approached the job with a mentality of true apprenticeship. I wasn’t just putting in time as a copilot until I became an AC. I gave it everything I had, not only as a matter of survival, but out of a deep sense of personal duty, pride and loyalty to fellow crewmembers. The proof of the pudding was that I could fly with different crews, or different aircraft commanders on our crew, and we would still manage to get trucks. In fact, this got to the point where I was sometimes used as a substitute on crews that were having trouble getting trucks to help them over the hump. This is why an upgrade to aircraft commander 3 months prior to DEROS, though in itself quite an honor, never made much sense to me from a purely operational standpoint. On that side of the ledger, and in the interests of restoring some degree of personal humility, I don’t remember getting many trucks as an AC. On the other hand, I do remember flinching in the firing circle once or twice with the AAA coming out of the center of the gunsight like some kind of deadly flower.

Stinger Bailout Over South China Sea
It was the night of June 6, 1970. We had taken off from Da Nang AB, RVN on an AC-119K Stinger gunship mission to the Ho Chi Minh Trail. I had flown nearly 40 combat missions since arriving in Vietnam as a copilot with the 18th Special Operations Squadron. As we leveled off at 10,000 feet, the propeller on the number one engine ran away and became uncontrollable. All attempts to slow down or feather the propeller failed. The aircraft began vibrating severely and was barely controllable. The propeller reached supersonic speed with a sound I have always described as a banshee out of hell. (Just take the highest pitch sound and vibration you can imagine, double it and you’ll come close to what it both sounded and felt like). It quickly became obvious we would have to abandon the aircraft.

My initial perception was one of classic denial: This isn’t happening to me. I must be dreaming. When am I going to wake up? Then I started observing to myself: Yep, there goes the first signal to prepare for bail-out, three short rings of the alarm bell. There goes the second signal, the bail-out signal of one long ring of the alarm bell. Oh no! He’s actually given the bailout command! This can’t really be happening. Maybe I’m still dreaming. I was almost in a trance, highly alert and attentive, but pretty much mentally disengaged and disassociated.

Captain Warren Kwiecinski, the aircraft commander, then looked over at me with a quizzical look, as I was still strapped in my seat doing pretty much nothing. Then Warren, flashing a big grin shouted, “Get the F… out of here!” Well, that snapped me out of it.

My first obstacle was to get out of the seat, a cumbersome process at best, even with the seat released and pushed fully back from the control column, as pilots wore a parachute, survival vest and helmet while flying. In this regard, I distinctly remember getting out of the seat without moving it back or catching my parachute on any of the switches. It almost seemed as if I had dematerialized and then rematerialized behind the seat. Suffice it to say, I was operating at a level of focused, present-minded awareness I had not encountered before or since.

Although I considered using the Bailout Chute located behind the pilot’s seat, I felt it more dangerous than going out the back. So I turned to the cockpit ladder several feet away, grabbed the top rung, swung out into the cargo compartment and landed a good distance back on the cargo deck 5 or so feet below.

After tripping over a “butt pack” (a clip-on survival kit and raft that I definitely should have picked up) and reaching the rear of the aircraft, I saw the IO had already jettisoned the flare launcher. I also noticed that seven crewmembers still remained in the vicinity of the bailout door and, as they still seemed to be deciding whether to jump, I stepped to the front of the line.

Not that I was any braver than my fellow crewmembers. I was just that as the copilot I knew how bad things were up front and that bailing out was far safer than staying on board with a runaway prop – a prop that could, at any moment, fail structurally, separate from the engine, fly into the cockpit and throw the aircraft into an uncontrollable spin. So there really wasn’t any choice at all.

Stepping onto the jump platform, I experienced total life recall. Everything I associated with jumping out of airplanes immediately flashed into my mind. Stuff from survival school (seven months earlier), from pilot training (a year earlier) and childhood (wondering if I’d have the nerve to jump and shout “Geronimo” like they did in movies). It was all instantly there, and a lot more. It was just like being in a mental grocery store in which the entire inventory of the store was spread out before me and I was free to choose whatever I needed, while events themselves unfolded in super-slow motion. All the while simultaneously wondering, “What will jumping be like? Can I do it? Is it really safer out there than in here”?

When the time came, however, I just jumped and found myself floating in space, flat on my back, watching my aircraft fly away — a surreal sensation. I then started going through bailout procedures in my mind. At this point, that involved stabilizing my fall in a facedown position by spread-eagling my arms and pulling the ripcord.

Unfortunately, when I did get around to pulling the ripcord the “T-Handle” only came out about a foot and the chute failed to deploy. Well, if my life hadn’t already flashed before my eyes before, it certainly would have at that point. Suddenly, chute deployment and not correct body position was of paramount concern.

I clawed at the cord with both hands and somehow got the “T-Handle” all the way out. Unfortunately, I was falling face-up at the time – the worst possible position – when the chute shot from the backpack. Both the drag chute and main chute bundles opened below me and smashed into the back of my head. Talk about seeing stars! I started to blackout. I have a definite recollection that the part of me that was watching me said, “If you pass out, you’ll die!” With this I literally willed myself to stay conscious (something I had practiced while standing at attention in very hot Texas weather, after locking my knees, during Basic Training parades).

As the opening parachute shot past me, I found myself falling through the risers and tearing out several panels. In fact, the force of the risers was so great that I later found deep, black bruises on the outside of each arm from elbow to shoulder that looked like someone had painted them black. However, I had no time to contemplate the damage at the time and went back to reviewing that grocery store inventory of procedures necessary to prepare for water landing.

Once my parachute successfully opened the next task was to establish radio contact with other crewmen. The procedure required each of us to check-in using our radio call sign (can you believe it was Lemon?) and crew position number, then to maintain radio discipline and silence. I was Lemon 2. I turned my survival radio on and discovered all hell seemed to break lose. The emergency frequency was absolutely jammed with chatter from U.S. Marine helicopters. In this regard, I later learned that the flare launcher we jettisoned landed somewhere on Marine Monkey Mountain NAS and caused a huge explosion. The explosion was interpreted to be a rocket attack and triggered the launching of all the helicopters on the base.

The next task was to prepare for a water landing: helmet secure, face-shield down, life-preserver unit (LPU) bladders inflated, parachute release latches open, thumbs in the release rings. When I finally hit the water (everything was still in super slow motion) it seemed like I was on my way to the bottom of the ocean, even though it was probably only 15 to 20 feet or so. Although I had tried to release my parachute upon entering the water, I found I was well below the surface before I was able to react. With the LPU bladders inflated I popped to the surface like a cork.

Once at the surface, I began surveying my surroundings. The sky seemed full of lights, primarily from the Marine helicopters. The sea was also full of lights from the numerous fishing boats that were typical for that time of year. My initial impulse was to hail one of the boats and get out of the water as soon as possible. I was not a particularly good swimmer and realized there could be sharks in the area. About that time, I began going into shock, started shaking uncontrollably and experienced a deep sense of panic.

Well, with that, it became quite clear that if I didn’t get a hold of myself, I wasn’t going to make it. There was a choice to make. I had pretty much lived my life with a rather bad attitude that might be summed something like: “life sucked and dying might not be such a bad deal.” After all, if “life was a tale told by an idiot full of sound and fury signifying nothing,” as Shakespeare suggested, death might be the quickest way to minimize one’s suffering and misery. However, at this point the little voice I spoke of earlier came back on-line for the last time and said something to the effect, “Okay, smart ass. You always said you don’t care if you live or die, so choose!” Clearly, anything other than survival was out of the question. With that decision behind me, the shock, shakes, fear and panic all instantly and almost, miraculously ceased. I also experienced a strange sense of peace and calm come over me, as I came back to myself.

Twice, helicopters flew nearby and twice I popped signal flares trying to get their attention. Although procedure called for radio contact and flares only on the command of the Search and Rescue (SAR) aircraft, I was pretty excited and figured that they would be able to spot them with the black backdrop of the open water. What I didn’t realize, however, was that they weren’t all rescue helicopters; some were the Marine helicopters that evacuated after our “flare launcher” attack. Shit, I pretty much wasted my flares.

Next, I considered hailing one of the numerous boats I saw around me, but I quickly realized this was probably not a good idea as they might be hostile. After all, I was only two miles from my own base and ending up in the Hanoi Hilton because I was in too much of a hurry to get out of the water would not be smart. So I figured a helicopter was the only guaranteed friendly in this neighborhood. Luckily, I remembered I had a strobe light in my survival vest and pulled it out. Although the strobe had a directional blue filter to keep the flash from being mistaken for gunfire, under the circumstances and in the middle of the water, the brighter the better, so I turned it on. This turned out to be a great idea as another AC-119K was circling overhead as part of the rescue effort and the NOS operator detected the strobe almost immediately.

The gunship immediately vectored a Jolly Green Giant rescue helicopter right to my position. As the Jolly hovered 20’ or 30’ above me, a para-rescue jumper (PJ) dropped into the water nearby. His first action, however, was to take out the largest survival knife I had ever seen and punctured the LPU air bladder under my left arm. Knowing I would surely drown without them, I had formed a considerable fondness for those air bladders and was none too happy about losing one. The reason they do this is so the bladders won’t get hung up on the doorway and impede helicopter boarding. Whether I convinced him not to puncture the second one or not, I don’t remember, but I sure wasn’t happy about his puncturing the first.

Anyway, the rescue team lowered a jungle penetrator with a floatation collar and the PJ helped me get on. Up I went with the rotor wash churning the sea below me. As I reached the top, a second PJ pulled me in the door. For the first time in nearly two or three hours I knew I was going to survive. The first thing the PJ asked me, after I sat down and pulled off my gear, was whether I wanted a cigarette. Having quit smoking only 3 days earlier, I knew I would never want one more and remembered thinking to myself (or was it that little voice again), “If you turn this one down, you will never have trouble turning one down again.” I said no. From that point on I was little more than a passenger as the rescue crew continued searching for other crewmembers.

Within a half-hour, we picked up our navigator, Captain Merle Williams. The next hour or so was then spent attempting to locate and pick up our illuminator operator, TSgt. Clyde D. Alloway, who was on the radio, having problems (probably a chute entanglement) and asking for help. After a half-hour or so, however, the radio transmissions stopped and we never heard from him again.

Although we all hoped and prayed for the best, we also felt it was likely that TSgt. Alloway had been pulled under as a result of parachute entanglement. As late as 1982, I was still under the impression that he was being carried as a MIA. During a POW/MIA rally on the 4th of July at which I was invited to speak, I asked a friend in the Veteran’s Administration to check TSgt. Alloway’s then current status. The response I received was that his status had been changed from KIA to MIA six months after the bailout. On the occasion of the aforementioned speaking engagement and in memory of TSgt. Alloway, whom I considered to be both a comrade in arms and friend, I wrote and dedicated the following poem:

To One Left Behind
To the one left behind,
Who lives on in my mind;
To the one left behind,
Beyond worry and care;
Who lives on in my heart,
And from whom I can’t part,
Though not with me here,
He has nothing to fear,
His duty is done,
And mine only begun;
For though gone from my sight,
I’ll still carry his light;
Nor forget what he’s done,
As a true, faithful son.

Collectively, the trauma of the bailout, the loss of a valued crewmember, and the knowledge that I was responsible for killing who knows how many of the enemy, resulted in a significant emotional struggle for a number of years after Vietnam. However, with time, the books eventually balanced. I learned to live with the fact I was simply doing my duty, and that if I hadn’t taken the actions I took, the people we were supporting might have died instead. Interestingly, it wasn’t until 1984 or 1985, while watching a Vietnam Vets forum on TV, that I realized the emotions being expressed were the very same ones I had experienced in the late 1970s and early 1980s. In this regard, and with respect to TSgt. Alloway’s sacrifice, I have to admit feeling a bit like Private Ryan felt at the end of “Saving Private Ryan” with respect to the life I have been blessed to live since that long ago night when our crew went down and one of us didn’t make it home.