I grew up in Fort Wayne, Indiana where I attended Central High School. I wanted to be an Air Force pilot so I enrolled in the Air Force ROTC program at Purdue University and was commissioned second lieutenant upon graduating from Purdue in June 1968.
After pilot training at Williams AFB, Arizona, I completed AC-119K combat crew training, then reported to the 18th Special Operations Squadron at Phan Rang, Vietnam. I was reassigned to a Forward Operating Location (FOL) “A” at Da Nang as a Stinger co-pilot.
My Vietnam service was from 31 March 1970 to 29 March 1971. During that time I flew 142 combat missions with 33 different aircraft commanders and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with three oak leaf clusters and the Air Medal with eleven oak leaf clusters.
My most memorable missions occurred in January and February 1971. On 4 January, while flying with the Operations Officer, we were struck in the right jet engine by a 23mm round that engulfed the engine in flames and riddled the wing with holes. We landed with the right jet and right recip shutdown and a full load of ammo. Only 12 days later, on 16 January, while flying with the FOL Commander, and with the Wing DO in the jump seat, we were struck in the belly with a 37mm round, continued the mission, and landed without hydraulics for the gear and flaps. On 18 February, we discovered a truck park with nearly 60 trucks. We attacked 46, destroying 25 and damaging 11 before running out of ammo.
The most gratifying event in my 18th SOS tour occurred in December 1970 when I learned my next assignment was to Moody AFB, Georgia as a T-37 instructor pilot. To the best of my knowledge, I was the first AC-119 pilot to get a UPT instructor assignment.
My 11-year active duty service included a staff tour at ATC Headquarters, a one-year internship at the Pentagon and an AFROTC assignment at the University of Texas, Austin. After leaving active duty I earned a law degree from Northwest School of Law, Portland, Oregon, and practiced law until retiring in 2005. I also served nearly 19 years in the Air Force Reserve where I was promoted to Colonel in June 1995 and retired in April 2000. My wife Susan and I make our home in Vancouver, Washington.
Fire-Spouting ‘Stinger’ Rips Laos Jungle – ‘Truck-Killers’ Support ARVN
By Sgt. John Mueller, Staff Correspondent, Pacific Stars and Stripes, Friday, March 19, 1971
OVER THE HO CHI MINH TRAIL IN LAOS – Capt. John Morris peered into his gunsight and squeezed the little red button on his stick. A burst of tracers spit from the lumbering gunship’s side toward an unseen enemy on the ground. Morris kept the droning plane in an arc and pressed the button again. Cannon fire erupted from the ship’s belly and streaked into the ground. Flashes popped on target. He fired again. Around and around the ship strained to keep on target.
An hour earlier Morris and Lt. Larry Juday had guided their converted “flying boxcar” plane “over the fence” into skies above Laos. Below them a South Vietnamese unit four miles inside Laos was surrounded and had called for help. The clumsy twin-engined gunship sank into the thin white, wispy clouds and emerged over an area speckled with fires. Bright moonlight outlined bomb craters and a river.
The AC-119K gunship carried 10 men and sophisticated sensing equipment and weapons designed for one purpose, “killing trucks,” the crewmen call it, on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. This night they were being diverted from that task to aid troops in contact. Ahead of them a forward air controller radioed instructions on the ARVN location. They were supposed to be flashing a strobe light, he said. Two flashes appeared from the moon-bathed earth. The crew followed the strobes until they disappeared. The FAC dropped markers and the gunship launched “Lulus”, red marking flares that would burn for 90 minutes on the ground – as they tried to mark the friendly position.
The Black Stinger – nickname of the gunship – droned through the moonlit sky. Morris dropped to a lower altitude (Alpha Altitude) – dangerously low – to get below the slight overcast.
Two hours earlier, the crewmen had stripped themselves of all identification that would be useful to the enemy if they were shot down and captured.
Antiaircraft fire – the crewmen call it “triple A” – burst in the distance like a Fourth of July celebration display. An F-4 Phantom escort streaked below the slower gunship. It was along to silence any antiaircraft fire that might pop up. There had been worse nights. Two weeks ago, they got 600 rounds of triple-A and two unguided missiles thrown at them near Tchepone, Sgt. Robert Rafferty recalled. He was one of the guys leaning out the side doors looking for the tell-tale streaks aimed for the ship.
“They can shoot at us all night long as long as they miss,” Juday had said before takeoff. “That means there’s less the next night.”
“You got that strobe, NOS?” Morris asked. “Got ‘im,” the NOS (night observation scope) operator said. Morris and Juday fought the 45-mile-an-hour east wind, trying to line up the ship and the gun sights. “Lost ‘em. Just went under,” the NOS called out. The scope is one of two sensors on the ship connected to a sophisticated computer. In the cockpit another man operates an infrared unit.
In the back of the ship three gunners readied the “sting” – four 7.62 miniguns, capable of firing 6,000 rounds a minute, and two 20mm cannons.
To the west a B-52 strike ripped open the sky and turned the white clouds into wave after wave of reddish-orange fire. It looked like a string of volcanoes. The crew turned back toward the target.
“Still can’t find that strobe,” the NOS operator said.
The Stinger circled again. The moon glistened off the river and water-filled bomb craters. The friendly position was somewhere along the road leading north of the river and near a large clearing. Still no strobe.
Morris circled still again. The FAC reported that the ARVN troops had heard trucks and tanks, but the infrared sensor operator couldn’t locate them. He said if they were there, they had probably gone into caves.
But a target had been pinpointed, and the FAC gave the okay to fire. They turned the plane around and lined up the sights. Morris fired a few bursts at the target near one of the marker flares. There was no indication he had hit anything. It wasn’t like the night they had killed 36 trucks – a squadron record. Already they had more than 100 trucks to their credit. “We usually fire a couple of bursts to give the guys on the ground confidence,” Morris said later. He didn’t necessarily like troops-in-contact missions, he said, especially when it took so long for the FAC to mark the target. They were truck killers.
After an hour and 20 minutes over the target, Morris headed for home base. He shut down the two jet assist engines to conserve fuel. It had not been a typical mission, Morris said later. No trucks. But there would be another night and another chance. And plenty of trucks.
Stinger Gunship Takes 37mm Belly Hit 16 January 1971
Shrapnel from the 37mm shell punctured the hydraulic fluid container on A deck; something we learned when we actuated the gear switch and fluid came running down on the crew strapped in on the left side of the aircraft. The FE had to hand pump the gear down and we did not get three-in- the-green until on 2 mile final. Shrapnel also destroyed one of the three M-16s we had standing up against the forward bulkhead. Even so, no one was injured.