Thomas J. Honzik, Gunner
18th SOS, Nakhon Phanom and Da Nang, 1972-73
I was born and raised in Chicago, IL and graduated from Fenger High School in 1970. While in high school, I participated in ROTC and became interested in becoming a warrant officer. I entered the Air Force in September 1970, completed weapons mechanics school, and headed to England AFB, LA to maintain A-37 mini-guns. I volunteered for gunships. I reported to the 18th SOS at NKP in April 1971 and flew missions from NKP and during August and October from Bien Hoa, before being transferred to Da Nang in November 1972. In February 1973, the Air Force was transferring the AC-119K to the Vietnamese Air Force. I was on the second to last military aircraft to land at Da Nang before the war ended in January 1973. Because I was one of the last to leave Da Nang, paper work for my “End of Tour” Distinguished Flying Cross was never processed and was lost. Thus, I never received the DFC.
From gunships, I was assigned to B-52s in Michigan, but ended up loading bombs in Guam. I earned the Missileman Badge working on B52D and H models. I left active duty in February 1974, entered college and joined the Air National Guard. I graduated from Chicago State University and, in 1979, was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Army Guard, and retired a Major in January, 2000 after a variety of interesting assignments. In the Army, I served as a Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Warfare Specialist and Civil Affairs Officer. I was one of the first Army Reservists called to serve in Bosnia as a Civil Affairs Officer in 1995. I also served in Germany, Croatia, and Latvia during my stay in the Army.
One of my most exciting AC-119 missions occurred in October 1972 while I was scanning for AAA. A SAM-7 was fired at us. I yelled “SAM! SAM!” and fired my Very pistol (flare gun) and the pilot broke hard in the direction of the SAM. I suddenly found myself staring straight down at the ground. I had never seen an AC-119K bank as fast or as far. I heard the explosion and thought we were hit, but the copilot reported the SAM had locked onto my flare. A similarly hair-raising incident occurred one night on the trail when basketball-sized fireballs of AAA passed extremely close to the aircraft.
There are several things that always come to mind when I think about my time as a gunner in the AC-119K. The first concerns my parachute. Shortly after I began flying, I inspected my parachute and discovered a tag that read “CONDEMNED.” When I reported it to the equipment specialist, he looked at the tag and told me I was lucky because I had one of the newer chutes. I also remember mini-guns were difficult to maintain because the Air Force had few spare parts and they were hard to get. We were forced to swap parts from one gun to another and, on occasion, I went to downtown Da Nang to a local merchant who always had parts. Mostly, I remember the people I met. I still keep in touch with several of them.