Charles Milton “Chuck” James, Pilot
17th SOS, Nha Trang, Tuy Hoa, and Phu Cat, 1969-70
Born at Rantoul, Champaign County, Illinois June 2, 1925, as the fourth child of John William James (b. 09/28/1867) and Anna Elizabeth Wallen James (b. 05/27/1898). Graduated Rantoul Township High School in Class of 1943 on May 28, 1943.
On March 18, 1943, after successfully passing physical and written exams, enlisted as an aviation student for the Army Air Force Aviation Cadet Program. He entered active duty on June 17, 1943, received his pilot wings with Class 44-I on November 20, 1944, and served on continuous active duty until retiring on March 1, 1974. He retired as a Regular Lieutenant Colonel, Command Pilot, date of rank June 25, 1964, with 8,800 hours as pilot in military aircraft. He flew a variety of aircraft during his military career, namely training aircraft PT-19, BT-13 and AT-6; operational aircraft were the C-45, C-46, C-47, C-54, C-118, AC-119G, C-131A and B, T-29 all versions, B-25 and CG-4A Cargo Glider.
Chuck served ten of almost 31 years active duty in permanent overseas locations. The assignments included Japan (1946-1949), Asmara, Eritrea (Ethiopia) (1953-1955), Tripoli, Libya (1955-1956), Germany (1961-1964) and Vietnam (1969-1970). He also traveled extensively on TDY to many overseas locations and had visited, in one way or the other, 46 nations at the time he retired. His travels included Europe, the Mediterranean, Scandinavia, the Middle East, Africa, Southeast Asia, Far East, Southwest Asia, South Pacific, the Far North, Caribbean, and Central and South America. He also saw the islands of Guam, Wake, Kwajalien and Johnston Atoll.
Duties were generally in operations and involved training command, troop carrier, special activities, special air missions, medical air-evac, flight test and special operations. His experience with special operations was with AC-119G aircraft in Vietnam where he flew 179 night gunship missions as aircraft commander and logged 650 pilot combat flying hours. In recognition for “being there” during his military career, he earned the Distinguished Flying Cross, Meritorious Service Medal, Air Medal w/ 8 OLCs, Air Force Commendation Medal, Presidential Unit Citation, Air Force Outstanding Unit Award w/2 OLCs, Army Good Conduct Medal, World War II American Theater Medal, World War II Victory Medal, Armed Forces Occupation Medal (Japan), Defense Service Medal s/Star, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, Vietnam Campaign Medal s/4 Battle Stars, Air Force Longevity Ribbon w/ Clusters, Air Force Reserve Medal, Expert Marksmanship Medal, Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry w/Palm and Vietnam Service Medal.
The assignment with special operations, though too late in his military career to be beneficial career-wise, was a challenging and rewarding experience. He served at Nha Trang, Tuy Hoa and Phu Cat. Night combat missions in the AC-119 were always most interesting. Serving additional duty as Operations Officer, “A” Flight during his tour of duty of June 1969-May 1970 filled in the time between missions.
And how can a person not remember:
The night that Lieutenant Colonel Russ O’Connell, Flight Commander of “A” Flight, aborted a night take-off at Nha Trang after the aircraft actually became airborne. He put the aircraft back on the ground, stomped the brakes, and was the first one who bounded out of the aircraft to use a fire extinguisher on the brakes. In reenacting his action, he was at a loss as to how he exited the aircraft so quickly.
The incident of an AC-119G of “A” Flight hitting a pile of dirt on the overrun at Chu Lai that caused the collapse of the left landing gear. The story of the event is covered elsewhere in this document.
The night that Captain John Hope, as aircraft commander, after landing at Phu Cat, ended up blowing both main landing gear tires. The fighter jocks who operated the air patch were upset, to say the least, that the runway was closed to aircraft, and that they had to divert their returning fighters to other airfields. They had a valid complaint. I was assured at the scene of the aircraft that night that should another such incident occur, they would use a bulldozer to clear the runway.
The night mission in the Central Highlands that a flare hung up in the flare launcher. Major Guido Cemini, NOS, gunner Staff Sergeant Walter L. Hamm, the second gunner and illuminator operator Bob Mikolowski struggled to eject the hung flare. They at last succeeded but the flare “blew” as it left the launcher slamming Walt Hamm’s arm back against the aircraft. He lost his watch and injury to his arm grounded him for a short time.
The food provided to our Shadow aircrews when they regenerated at Chu Lai; until we could no longer regenerate at that location following the collapsed landing gear incident. Marine Sergeant Don Turner, Mess Sergeant, always saw to it that we were fed the best in his mess hall and, if we could not leave the aircraft, he provided us with fruit, sandwiches and the works to take with us on the follow-on mission.
And the tragic episode of our commander’s son, Robert, an Army jungle fighter, being killed in action in an air strike. Lieutenant Colonel Russ O’Connell, very unsettled that his son had joined the Army, was able to talk to his son by radio occasionally when flying a mission in his area. His son, Robert, visited our “A” Flight not too long before he lost his life. Russ was devastated with the loss of his son. He escorted his son’s body along with others back to the States and thus terminated his assignment in Vietnam.
At the first gunship reunion in 2000, Chuck was elected as the first president of the soon-to-be designated AC-119 Gunship Association. He served as the driving force to establish a successful association including the writing of by-laws.
He is a graduate of Command and Staff College, Class of 1961. He is also a member of The National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution through a great, great, great grandfather who served in the military during the conflict.
Article taken from the Air Force News May 20 1970. Shadow Crew Kills 100 NVA Troops:
PHU CAT — An AC-119G Shadow gunship crew of the 17th Special Operations Squadron recently killed 100 North Vietnamese Army soldiers after being scrambled from alert here in support of the Republic of Vietnam Civilian Irregular Defense Group camp, Dak Pek.
Crewmembers on the mission were Lt. Col. Charles M. James; Maj. Phillip A. Diehl; 1st Lt. Stanley J. Cooper; 1st Lt. Robert Allen; Technical Sergeants Robert H. Spencer, Robert E. Barham, John W. Newhouse and A1C Jon D. Jacobson were the remaining crewmen.
The mission was launched early in the morning to provide coverage for the Dak Seang area when it was diverted to a troops-in-contact mission at Dak Pek, 13 miles north of Dak Seang.
“As the action progressed, Lieutenant Cooper, using a night observation sensor, was able to pick up the enemy gun positions and aid the pilot in successfully silencing them,” reported Colonel James.
As the morning wore on, the Shadow Gunship also acted as a radio relay to obtain much-needed supplies and information for the ground troops. Illumination for the target had become a problem due to the smoke resulting from the incoming rounds the camp was taking. There were moments when the target was completely obscured, and the enemy could barely be detected in the blanket of ground smoke caused by the automatic weapons’ tracer fire. “The sun was up before we departed the target,” said Major Diehl. Once again, the Shadow has effectively earned its motto, “Deny Him the Dark.”