Bernard “Bernie” R. Knapic, Pilot
17th SOS, Nha Trang and Tan Son Nhut, 1969
Bernie Knapic was born June 2 1930 and died October 11, 1969 when his AC-119G Shadow crashed during takeoff on a combat mission after losing one of the recips right after liftoff near Gia Dinh at Ton Son Nhut Air Base, South Vietnam.
Bernie grew up in Youngstown, Ohio, graduating from Chaney High School, followed by Northwestern University under a Basketball Scholarship for one year, then a transfer to Ohio State University under a Football Scholarship, graduating in 1953.
Bernie was commissioned and entered the Air Force on 9 June 1954 through the ROTC program at Ohio State University, where he earned his degree in personnel management. After pilot training, he flew as a C-124 aircraft commander, with follow on SAC assignments in Germany. He entered AFIT and earned his Master’s Degree in Industrial Administration in 1963. Bernie was then assigned to Systems Command as a systems programming staff officer in Los Angeles, South Carolina, and the Pentagon until he entered the AC-119G “Shadow” program in November, 1968. He went to Vietnam and the 17th SOS on January, 1969.
Bernie’s family clearly remember that he joined because he was a person with a strong sense of right and wrong who had an enormous patriotic need to serve his country. That commitment rings true after reading Major General Richard Dent’s personal note congratulating then Lieutenant Knapic on his selection for a Regular Commission – not many Lts got that kind of personal attaboy from a Major General, one of those who recognized Bernie’s service commitment early in his career.
Happy Times (a Vietnam weekly) quoted Bernie on one of his most memorable missions:
SHADOW AID GROUND FORCES; MORNING SWEEP GIVES RESULTS
An AC-119 Shadow gunship of “B” Flight, 71st SOS part of the 14th SOW at Nha Trang AB, came to the aid of allied ground forces near Ban Me Thuot recently. Shadow, commanded by Maj. Bernard R. Knapic, brought her 7.62mm “miniguns” to bear against enemy forces about 29 miles from Ban Me Thuot in response to a call from an Army ground controller.
“The ground fire we saw from the cockpit ranged from light to moderate automatic weapons fire”, commented Major Knapic. “The ground controller said that our fire had caused six secondary explosions, and we saw two of them from the cockpit, they had reddish-yellow flames about 50 feet high. He also reported four other secondaries, but we didn’t see those. The ground controller also remarked that it was a fairly good-sized enemy force, probably about 40 or 50 of them, but that our fire was having ‘positive results’. After a while the enemy fire died off, but we saw more flare up and fired into the area and silenced that as well. Our fire was extremely accurate, especially considering the fact that we had to hit four different targets in the area. The ground controller said that a ground sweep of the area would be conducted the next day and he was really pleased with our firepower and accuracy.” concluded Knapic.
The ground sweep the following morning found seven NVA bodies riddled with 7.62mm rounds, 19 bunkers damaged, two bamboo structures damaged, and an ammo and food cache destroyed. Other members of the crew included Maj Gene Sue, the navigator; and Sgt. Thomas Perkins, one of the gunners. Then came the tragic night of October 11, 1969. As reported by an official spokesman, Six US airmen and a Vietnamese civilian were killed that Saturday night when an Air Force AC-119 “Shadow” gunship crashed shortly after takeoff from Tan Son Nhut Airbase and hit a house. Eight crewmen and two passengers, one a member of the Vietnamese Air Force, were aboard the twin-engined aircraft when it crashed. The four survivors were in good condition at 3rd Field Hospital. The aircraft went down barely 350 yards outside the airbase after clearing the runway at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, It crashed into a rice paddy and a Vietnamese home, killing the civilian. Transcribed from Stars and Stripes article, Oct 12, 1969.
Bernie Knapic is buried in Arlington Cemetery and is survived by his sons, Bob and Richard, daughter Karen, and wife Glenna.