I was born in 1935 at St. Petersburg, Florida. After graduating from St. Petersburg High School in 1953, I enlisted in the United States Air Force on July 7, 1953 at St. Petersburg, even though I had planned to attend the University of Florida. At that time, the selective service was still drafting young men for the Korean War.
Upon completion of basic training at Lackland and tech school at Keesler AFB, I was assigned in early 1954 to the 99th Air Transport Squadron (C-54) at Haneda AB (Tokyo International Airport), Japan. I had been assigned to the squadron as a radio operator but was changed to the 1503rd ATW when all the Radio Operators were replaced by crystal controlled radios. While cross training, word came down that aircrew and Ops people might be interested in being detailed to retired General Claire Chennault’s Civil Air Transport (CAT) for some “less than public” work in Southeast Asia. I guess CAT was the beginning of Air America. I was nineteen at the time, so of course, I was first in line.
We found out that we would be involved in the evacuation of the French Foreign Legion from a place called Dien Ben Phu. The operation called “Wounded Warrior” required that we set up airlift from Vietnam to Algeria. I did very little flying as a crewmember, usually helping out with the radios. The planes we flew were either C-46s or C-119s. So, you can see that C-119s, Vietnam and I go back a long way. It’s always seemed odd to me that 18 years later, I came back to the same country, flying the same aircraft, fighting the same damned war.
In 1960, I was assigned to Donaldson AFB, South Carolina and then assigned to Harmon AFB, Canada in 1961. I applied for Officer Candidate School (OCS) at Lackland and was accepted in 1961. I was commissioned a second lieutenant and sent to James Connelly AFB, Texas for navigator school. Subsequent assignments as a navigator include: Dover AFB in 1962, Yokota Air Base, Japan as a controller, and lots of schools.
I was assigned to the 18th Special Operations Squadron at NKP as a navigator/sensor operator in 1972 and thus began another adventure to Vietnam and SEA. Probably my most exciting AC-119 Stinger combat mission was the night we were trolling over the ‘M’ in the Mekong River. I had never seen so much AAA fire in my life. I am still indebted to our flight engineer who, in a moment of sheer brilliance, developed sufficient power from engine troubles to get us out of there.
The two years spent between NKP, Da Nang, and Bien Hoa garnered several medals that, although much appreciated, do not define our mission or our efforts. A couple things learned: “Stingers” were much more effective on TIC missions than hunting trucks. The secondary explosions were exciting, but the calls from the guys on the ground about our accuracy meant much more. Also, don’t get involved in a shooting war where the targets can run into a “shrine” where you are not supposed to shoot. And above all else, remember the quote of Hawkeye Pierce: “War is not Hell, Hell is Hell. There are no innocent bystanders in Hell.”