In 1971, I was a MSgt. performing duties in Launch Analysis on the Minuteman missile at Vandenberg AFB, California. Having over 20 years of active duty at the time, I was not eligible to be involuntarily retrained. However, I learned that there was a need for flight engineers in SEA. I volunteered for gunship duty and was on my way to CCTS in less than two weeks. I was immediately eligible because I served as a flight engineer on C-47s and had approximately 2500 hours of flight time and 6.5 years on flying status.
I arrived in SEA in June 1972. On June 25 I flew a mission that earned me my first Air Medal. We encountered a large group of hostile barges that were trying to infiltrate the Mekong Delta area; we destroyed seven and damaged eighteen. I also received the Distinguished Flying Cross for a mission flown on November 2, 1972. On that night, a friendly outpost was being overrun. One Special Forces Tech Sergeant and 50 RVN were holed-up in a bunker. We were the first air support on site and prevented the overrun. It took three nights and four days for the friendlies to be rescued.
At the beginning of Vietnamization in December 1972, I was selected as NCOIC of the detachment designated to train the VNAF on the AC-119K Stinger gunship at Da Nang. I had the privilege of being the instructor flight engineer on the first training flight. There were three USAF on the flight: Maj Bob Krueger (IP); SSgt. Bill Isham, (IO); and SSgt. Chuck Leach (IG). The students were the VNAF commander, Maj Nuoi Hoang (P), their operations officer, Capt Son Nguyen (CP), MSgt. Tuan (FE), and MSgt. Dinh Nguyen (IO). The training program terminated prematurely following the March 1, 1973 loss of Stinger 839. All five USAF instructors and all eight VNAF students bailed out over the South China Sea. The VNAF flight engineer was MSgt. Tuan. I had just signed him off and he was on his first solo flight. Many years later, I learned that MSgt. Tuan was killed during the last airborne defense of Saigon when his Stinger was hit with a SAM.
I returned to Vandenberg AFB following my SEA tour and was eventually reassigned to Minot AFB where I served as a maintenance superintendent in a Minuteman missile maintenance squadron. I retired from the USAF in the rank of SMSgt. on February 1, 1979, having served 27 years, 2 months, and 17 days. I now reside near Vandenberg AFB.