Douglas D. McDaniel, Navigator
18th SOS, Da Nang, 1969-70
I was born in Robinson, Illinois in October 1940 and claim Champaign, Illinois as my home town. I am a graduate of Champaign High School (1958), the University of Illinois (1963), and the University of Oregon (1972).
I joined the Air Force to fly airplanes and to travel the world. While associated with the 18th SOS, I was assigned to Da Nang AB from 1969-70. My most exciting AC-119 mission was providing air support for a forward observation team on a hilltop on the Cambodian Border. We stopped the “bad guys” advance literally yards away from overwhelming our ground team. I will never forget the fear in the voice of our ground contact when I expressed my worry about firing so close to his position. His answer was: “We will be dead either way, but at least if you fire, we have a chance of surviving!” His screams of joy as he encouraged us, “Keep firing. You are blowing them off the hill!” will always echo in my memory. Then, after the firefight was over, he didn’t want to lose contact with his “angels in the sky” and tried to keep our conversations going well past our Bingo Fuel time.
Additionally, I’ll always remember straining to get off the ground with a full load on a hot, muggy tropical night and being ordered to fly in the middle of a typhoon with no chance of helping anyone, even though it placed the plane and crew in danger. The folks in command wanted us to “burn up” allotted flying hours so we would not lose them in the next year’s budget! I have vivid memories of watching the tracers from enemy AAA arcing gracefully up at our circling plane. We could feel the concussion of the blasts dangerously close as the cries of our on-board scanners/observers came across the intercom: “BREAK RIGHT!” or “BREAK LEFT!” Sadly, another memory is watching helplessly as our F-4 cover plane exploded and burned on the ground after failing to pull up from a firing run in our defense! I also recall trying to sleep while on night STANDBY, in case we needed to launch, and, failing that, getting launched just before dawn!!
I’ll never forget watching the ground explosion patterns of the unannounced ARC LIGHT bombing raids tearing up the jungle. The real shock came when we realized in horror that those bombs exploding below us were being dropped from B-52s above us! Another vivid recollection is the way it all looked so different and “up close” when I accompanied the Marine patrols at night in Da Nang and at Tan Son Nhut!!
From another perspective, I learned many memorable lessons from teaching English classes to the Vietnamese on base and the field trips they invited me on. Additional “lessons” came from helping at the Protestant Orphanage and the Catholic Orphanage in my spare time! Still today, I recall listening to the men, who were close to completing their tour and returning stateside, on the bus after a mission. They solemnly pledged that “things would be different when they got home”. They talked about how much time they planned to spend with their wives and families and “never take them for granted again!” Finally, I remember listening to our cleaning girls as they chattered in an unintelligible language. I wondered what they really thought and what their life was like when they left the base after their work.
I retired from the Air Force in 1985 at McChord AFB, Washington. I currently live in Sedona, Arizona.