Jerry Lee Hester, IO
18th SOS, Nha Trang, Da Nang, Nakhon Phanom & Bien Hoa, 1970-72
I was born in Louisville KY in 1948. In 1966, I graduated from Shepherdsville High School in my home town of Shepherdsville, KY. After entering the U. S. Air Force (29 Feb 68) in Louisville, I reported to Amarillo, TX for basic training. I volunteered for service because I had always wanted to be a part of the military. From Amarillo, my next stop was Shepherd AFB, Texas for training as a reciprocating aircraft mechanic. My first duty assignment was to the 375th Consolidated Aircraft Maintenance Squadron (MAC) at Scott AFB, IL. After a short 10 months, I headed for Vietnam and the 537th Tactical Airlift Squadron at Phu Cat AB. I returned to McChord AFB, WA (Feb 70) for only eight months. Again on the move, I left McChord (Oct 1970), stopped by Fairchild AFB, WA for a little survival training and reported to the 18th Special Operations Squadron at Lockbourne AFB, OH (Dec 70) as they were deploying the AC-119K.
I served with the 18th SOS as an Illuminator Operator (IO) from December 1970 to July 1972. Since we were short of IOs, my original tour was involuntarily extended the night before I was scheduled to return. I really didn’t care because I loved the squadron and the job we were doing. I have always worn the flag on my chest. My tour was divided among the AC-119K Stinger bases at Phan Rang, Da Nang, Bien Hoa, and Nakhon Phanom.”
I remember two combat missions that could be called my most exciting. The first one was a mission in the Plaine de Jars (PDJ) near Ban Ban, Laos. We received a radio warning about an enemy plane coming in from the north. Our cap (F-4s) had just left us to refuel so we had no cover. We continued our mission because we were firing on some trucks while the crew in the flight deck continued to monitor the radios. Well… the enemy plane kept flying toward us. Our pilot decided to take us down to tree top level. It got quite hairy for a while because our F-4 air cover had not returned from refueling. I believe the enemy plane was about five miles away and searching for us. The pilot told the gunners to put the guns at “B” altitude setting – if need be, we were going to fight back! The North Vietnamese Mig continued flying towards us and I was starting to be very concerned. About the time we were thinking we would have to fight back, our F-4 cap returned, the Mig bugged out, and we returned to base safe and sound again.
Another mission that stands out was the Camp Fuller mission near the Demilitarized Zone. We were briefed that the camp, a forward fire base with 105 and 155 howitzers, had been overrun by the North Vietnamese Army. Our job was to destroy the camp so Charlie couldn’t use the guns. Camp Fuller was up on top of a mountain. I don’t know how many missions were flown against the target but I was the IO on the last mission that was scheduled. We had fired lots of mini-gun and 20 mm rounds against the ammo bunkers on the base. The engineer had called “bingo fuel” so the pilot finished the last pass and came back across the camp. Dawn had just started to show in the eastern sky and I was scanning out the right side of the aircraft. As we arrived over the top of the camp, the whole top of the mountain erupted. We must have gotten some rounds in the ammo dump and caused the explosion. When we arrived back at our base, we had the maintainers check the belly of our aircraft for shrapnel holes, but I didn’t hear of any damage. Bottom line – another mission completed and we were home safe again.
My return home, another short one, was to the 380th Organizational Maintenance Squadron (OMS) (SAC) Plattsburgh AFB, NY (Jul 72-Feb 73). Once again, I packed up for Southeast Asia and Detachment 1 of the 56th SOWG, Udorn, Thailand (Feb 73-Jul 75). We were working with Laotian and Cambodian crews on how to fight with and to maintain the T-28 Trojans. The return assignment from Thailand sent me to the 438th OMS (MAC) McGuire AFB, NJ (Jul 75-Dec 78). This was one of my best assignments because I met my beautiful wife.
We were married at Ft. Dix in Wrightstown, NJ. On the move again, our next base was Osan AB, Korea (Dec 78-Jan 80). From Osan, we moved to the bitter cold of the 410th OMS (SAC) at K.I. Sawyer AFB, MI (Jan 80-Jan 85). My final assignment was to the Eighth Air Force (SAC) Barksdale AFB, LA (Jan 85-Oct 89). I retired in October 1989. We moved to Sacramento, CA and then to San Antonio, TX in 1991.