James Edward Mattison, Gunner
71st and 17th SOS, Nha Trang and Phan Rang, 1968-69
I was born on November 8, 1947 in Glens Falls, New York. I enlisted in the United States Air Force in January 1967 and reported for basic training at Lackland AFB, Texas. My first assignment was to the USAF Technical School at Lowry AFB, Colorado as an AF Specialty 462X0-04 Interceptor Weapons
In September 1967, I was stationed at Logan Field in Billings, Montana with the 29th Fighter Interceptor Squadron (FIS). I served there until January 1968 when I was sent to Minot AFB, North Dakota for duty as a weapons mechanic with the 5th Fighter Interceptor Squadron.
I received orders in September 1968 for AC-119 gunship training with the 4413th Combat Crew Training Squadron at Lockbourne AFB, Ohio as an aerial gunner. Upon completion of gunship training in December, I departed CONUS for Southeast Asia and a one year Tour of Duty in Vietnam with the 71st Special Operations Squadron (SOS) at Nha Trang Air Base, Republic of Vietnam (RVN). When the 17th SOS assumed operational responsibilities for AC-119Gs from the 71st SOS in June 1969, I was officially transferred to the 17th SOS headquartered at Phan Rang AB.
While assigned to the 71st and 17th Special Operations Squadrons, I flew as an Aerial Gunner (AG). I was part of the initial deployment of the AC-119G Shadow gunship. I was a member of Major Richard Morgan’s crew until the 71st rotated back to the USA. The remainder of my tour was spent as part of the gunner pool, assigned to crews as needed. I trained with Sergeant Gregory Terral and we usually flew together until the latter part of my tour. At that time, we were split up and each of us had a “green-guy” to train.
I only performed aircrew duties in the AC-119G; however, while assigned to the 129th ARRS I was a certified as a search and rescue scanner. As an Aerial Gunner, I flew approximately 140 missions and 700+ combat hours. I was awarded two Distinguished Flying Crosses and eight Air Medals.
One of the more memorable missions with Major Morgan was flying three sorties in one night. We expended 88,000 rounds of 7.62mm and 72 flares. We did turnarounds at Da Nang and Chu Lai. The results of our efforts were 80 secondary explosions and numerous sustained fires. It was truly a “dusk to dawn” mission.
A regularly scheduled mission out of Nha Trang was known as the ‘UFO Box’; patrolling for suspected enemy aerial operations. One night, we were patrolling a UFO Box when our NOS detected four individual beacons. For hours the NOS tracked the beacons moving in distinct patterns up and down a ridgeline. We awaited clearance to fire on the targets but clearance was never given. The sun was starting to come up and we were directed to break engagement and RTB.
The most memorable mission that I flew was the night Major Morgan’s crew supported a major engagement at the Black Virgin Mountain, Tay Ninh Province. The enemy surrounded the mountain. Huey gunships were attacking at low level. Artillery was firing all around the mountain. We were tasked with destroying the .51 cal AAA in the area. We had engaged and silenced a couple of the AAA sites and were rolling in on another target when we were hit by a burst of very accurate enemy fire. Just prior to being hit, I had put #1 gun online. The Aircraft Commander (AC) called back that he needed a gun. I leaned forward to check the gun’s status, when at that moment I saw Terry (Sgt. Terral) fly backwards from the #3 gun. He struck the right (starboard) side of the cargo compartment and slumped to the floor. I came up on intercom and notified the AC that we must have had a gun blow up and Terry was down; condition unknown. Don (SSgt. Donald Brogan), our IO, rushed to Terry’s aid and determined that he had been wounded, but not severely. Our AC elected to break engagement and recover at Tan Son Nhut Air Base in Saigon to seek medical attention for Terry.
While Terry was taken to the Medical Center at Tan Son Nhut, the remainder of the crew stayed with the aircraft and inspected her for damage. We counted at least 20 hits in the aircraft, starting just aft of the NOS position and ending at the vertical fin. SSgt. Squire Riley, our Flight Engineer, also inspected the wings and fuel tanks. At least one round had exited the aircraft through the top of the right wing. We also discovered that, had I not leaned forward to check the #1 gun, I would have been another casualty. One of the rounds had gone through my half of the gunner’s station, exiting an inch above the gun control panel. Moments before, I had been standing upright at the gun control panel, switching #1 gun online. Sergeant Terral eventually recovered from his wounds. He was awarded the Purple Heart.
On the lighter side of things, during my stay at Phan Rang, enlisted aircrew quarters were Quonset huts out in no-man’s land. We had struck a close friendship with the Aussies who were part of an RAAF Canberra squadron. Whenever there was an Australian USO band playing the clubs, they always came to our Quonset hut after performances for a jam session. Our Quonset hut was so far from the rest of ‘civilization’ that the Aussies could party till the wee hours. I am still in contact with Jim Drever, one of our “Australian Brothers.”
In December 1969, I was assigned to the 475th MMS at Misawa Air Base, Japan where I served until June 1971.
My wife, Lynn, and I currently live in Rohnert Park, California.