Lloyd B. Hopkins, Gunner
71st and 17th SOS, Nha Trang and Tan Son Nhut, 1968-1970
I’m a Navy guy first and went over to the Air Force. I started off as what they call an AOT, an Aviation Ordinance Turrets man. That’s a gunner on a P2V, a Neptune Aircraft. I flew many, many hours-patrols-in that. I started off as a gunner on the P2V and as soon as I got into the squadron in Hawaii, they started sending the planes back to the states, and when they came back, they didn’t have guns on them. That was a big change for us, so they just took the T off of us and made us just ordinance men. We made sure that when we went on patrol, the weapons were armed in the aircraft. We were air group. We dispensed smoke lights, sonar-buoys and things like that. We chased submarines all over the world.
I actually went to Vietnam when I was in the Navy in P2Vs in the early phases of Vietnam and all over the Pacific just about every place you could land a plane. After that, they transferred me to another aircraft, a seaplane, a P5M. It’s a long range, patrol bomber for the Navy, but it was a seaplane version.
After that, I came back to the States and went to Weapons Systems Test where I flew as a crew member in many, many types of aircraft-A-6s, F-4s, A-4s-and we did weapons’ systems tests. We tested bomb, guns, everything you could think of. I primarily was the P3 representative as the aviation ordinance man, but flew on many different types of airplanes.
Then I got experience in F-4s, back when we had the enlisted people in the F-4s. Then I was on a carrier. You never saw your family, so I got out of the Navy and joined the Air Force. I heard that the Air Force had nice, plush jobs. The next thing I know is I’m heading for Lcokbourne Air Force Base. We got there before the airplanes. Being an active duty person who had flown a lot, and finding out I was going to a reserve outfit, boy, it was a little scary at first. These reserve guys don’t fly enough to know how to fly an airplane. Well, I found out they sure do. Those guys could really fly those airplanes.
We went to the 119. I was there at Lockbourne in the first six crews. There was one through six that graduated. I was the gunner in one of those crews before we went to Vietnam. When we went over there, we were the first batch to get over there. I was with the group from the original start.
Some of the problems we had with the airplane at first, a lot of people don’t know that they were too heavy to carry any ammo, so they had to go back to Fairchild-Hiller and get some of the armored plate taken off of it to make the plane a little lighter so it could carry ammunition along with fuel and crew.
I deployed to Vietnam with the 71st. I went into Nha Trang. We flew a lot of missions there. We were all over the place, on the Ho Chi Min Trail, all over Vietnam, Cambodia. Eventually they started up what they called a C flight at Tan Son Nhut Air Force Base. It’s down in Saigon. I was deployed down there with our crew and so I flew out of there. Being a small flight, I think we had four to six airplanes. Everybody had an additional duty. My additional duty was as the Non-Commissioned Officer In Charge (NCOIC) of the Gunshop. Somebody might have been driver; somebody might have been safety NCO. Everybody had an additional job besides the 12 on, 12 off flying they were doing.
One of the funnier missions we had happened when we landed in Pleiku just to get ammo. We were on a target near there. We ran out of ammo and they wanted us back to shoot again, so we landed. As we were landing, they started taking in rockets, so we taxied off onto the taxiway. We shut down, parked the brakes, and shut down the engines. Everybody abandoned the aircraft. We went out and there were these little dugouts, little shelters where you could jump down into a place lined with sandbags. I was the first person in and right in front of me there was a German Shepherd about two inches from my nose. Thank goodness the security policeman had a good hard rein on him. We did not know he was in there. The next thing you know our navigator jumped on top of me. It was a rather exciting time, but then they blew the all-clear and we got out and went on our way.
Including my Navy, I have 7552 logged flying hours – that’s a lot. Back then, when I was flying the P2Vs our missions were 12-14-16 hours. When we took off, we had unprepared wraps in the food, and we cooked and just stayed in that plane for a long, long time.
I can remember looking down at a target, shooting at a target. You know what snow looks like coming down, well, think tracers coming back up. You’ve got to understand every fifth bullet is a tracer. I can remember looking down and seeing that many tracers coming back up at us. In one mission in particular, our crew was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. It was in the Mekong Delta. There was a big pulse of the Viet Cong coming across bringing supplies. We intercepted them and all hell broke loose. They had their anti-aircraft set up in the rice paddies. The paddies were really full of water, but they’d set up their guns on these little islands. That actually made it an easy target for us and we really got a lot of secondary explosions that night. In other words, when we hit something it would blow up. These little islands, you’d shoot down into them and you could stop their triple A real quick because all you had to do was hit this little island, probably no bigger than this room; and you know with a mini-gun you can put a bullet every 7 square inches of a football field in 15 seconds. That’s a lot of fire power when you’ve got those mini-guns that can fire up to 3,000 rounds a minute. Of course, there’s only so much ammo you can carry before you have to go back and get more ammo.
Most of the time I was there Colonel Campbell was my Air Craft Commander.