Max C. Kennedy, Navigator
18th SOS, Da Nang and Udorn, 1970
I was born in rural Nebraska on July 14, 1935. My family made several moves while I was growing up. We settled in Omaha, Nebraska long enough for me to complete high school and earn a B.S. in Business Administration and Engineering at Omaha University (later the University of Nebraska at Omaha). In college, I enrolled in Air Force ROTC and was commissioned a second lieutenant upon graduating in 1958. I enjoyed a diverse 20-year Air Force career that permitted me to retire in 1978 as a Lieutenant Colonel.
My first assignment was as a B-52 Navigator stationed at Carswell AFB, Fort Worth, Texas. While at Carswell, I upgraded to Radar Navigator Bombardier (RN) before deploying TDY to Anderson AFB, Guam where I participated in some of the first Arc Light bombing missions in S.E.A. At Carswell, I also completed the AF Procurement Officer and Production Management correspondence courses and began work on an MBA through Texas Christian University. In 1965, I was selected for the ten- month AFIT Education With Industry program. My assignment was to the General Dynamics (Convair) plant co-located at Carswell AFB. The assignment permitted me to continue my MBA courses. From Carswell, I was assigned to the Air Force Plant Representative Office at Lockheed Missile and Space Company in Sunnyvale, CA. While assigned to AFPRO, I was awarded the Missileman Badge, twice named a USAF Outstanding Procurement Officer, and selected for promotion to major.
I was one of the first crewmembers assigned to the AC- 119K gunship program as a FLIR operator. AC-119K gunship conversion was slower than expected and the systems were not working properly. We reviewed the records of all our early crewmembers; many had come from Air Force Systems Command and most had engineering degrees. We assigned various systems to our crewmembers who began examining such things as the visual gun-sighting system and FLIR sighting system.
The FLIR was about one year behind schedule and we did not get our first ones installed until April of 1969. I traveled to Rome, New York, where Texas Instruments Corporation had developed the FLIR, and helped write our first procedures for in-flight operation. I also became a Stan/ Eval FLIR Examiner and Instructor along with my friend Thomas D. Hill. Over the next year, working with the manufacturers and installers, our cadre solved all the system integration problems and came up with a very effective gunship. I was part of the crew that flew to Hurlburt AFB where we performed a live-fire demonstration for some visiting congressmen. The AC-119K was working and in November 1969, we began deploying with our aircraft to Phan Rang AB, Vietnam.
On January 30, 1970 I joined our forward operating location at Da Nang. On February 19, 1970, we were returning from a night mission when we learned Da Nang AB was under an artillery attack. We circled the base until getting clearance to land. About two miles from landing, we ran out of fuel and all the engines quit. We crashed in a mined rice paddy field. The aircraft was destroyed. Both wings and our engines were torn off, the floor of the cargo bay was torn out, and the cockpit ripped open right above the front window. Everyone survived the crash. I was thrown out of the aircraft and suffered a broken kneecap. I was flown to the hospital at Cam Ranh Bay, where, after a short stay, I was transferred back to 18th SOS headquarters at Phan Rang. I returned to flying in late May 1970 at FOL-D at Udorn AB, Thailand.
In June, I received orders for an in-country transfer from the 18 SOS to the Vietnam Procurement Center at Headquarters 7th Air Force in Saigon. From 7th AF, I was assigned to a B-52H wing at Kincheloe AFB, MI, where after two years of crew duty I was reassigned to SAC Headquarters. After two years at SAC, I finally returned to AF procurement work where I remained until my retirement in 1978.
For the next approximately 20 years I worked for three nationwide construction firms as a human resources executive at their corporate headquarters in Omaha, Nebraska; Houston, Texas; and Wichita, Kansas. In 1997, my wife, Janeen, and I returned to our hometown of Omaha where we are enjoying retirement.