Robert F, McGarry, Gunner
17th SOS, Tuy Hoa, 1969-70
I was born January 17, 1947, Boston, Massachusetts and graduated from Boston Technical High School in June 1965. I volunteered for the Air Force in November 1965, and finally received orders for basic training in April 1966. After basic, I completed weapons specialist training at Lowry AFB, Colorado before being assigned as a weapons loader on B-52s with the 416th Bomb Wing (SAC), 56th Munitions Maintenance Squadron, at Griffiss AFB, New York.
My load instructor at Griffiss AFB was William Scoville. Bill and I became instant friends. We both decided to volunteer for Vietnam duty. Bill received orders as Aerial Gunner with the 4th Air Commando Squadron at Nha Tang AB, RVN, while my orders were as an F-4C Phantom weapons loader with the 12th TAC Fighter Wing, 557th TAC Fighter Squadron at Cam Ranh Bay AB. In early October 1967, I caught a hop to Nha Trang to visit Bill. At Nha Tang I was informed Bill had been killed in action. That loss of a close friend was forever etched in my mind.
From Vietnam, I was assigned to the 96th Strategic Aerospace Wing (SAC), 42nd Munitions Weapons Squadron at Dyess AFB, Texas, where I immediately volunteered to return to Vietnam as an aerial gunner. Forty- five days later I had orders for AC-47 Aerial Gunner School. My brief return to SAC was just long enough to earn a promotion to Staff Sergeant.
It was as an AC-47 gunner that I eventually ended up in the AC-119G Shadow. In March 1969, I reported to the 14th SOW at Nha Trang AB, RVN, where I was assigned as a gunner with the 3rd SOS, “D” Flight, at Binh Tuy AB in the southern Delta region near Can Tho. After 10 missions, I was awarded the Aircrew Member Badge.
In July 1969, the 3rd SOS was deactivated. My fellow crewmembers were reassigned to Bien Hoa AB, but I was sent back to Nha Trang to await further orders. I had my choice of going to Bien Hoa or to Da Nang; I chose Da Nang. While still at Nha Trang awaiting my orders to Da Nang, I learned that my former crewmembers at Bien Hoa were on an AC-47 that was shot down. There were no survivors. My mind flashed back to my good friend, Bill Scoville, who was shot down in 1967. If I had chosen to go to Bien Hoa instead of Da Nang, I could have been on that gunship. It was the last USAF AC-47 Gunship shot down in the Vietnam War.
In October 1969, after two months at Da Nang, I volunteered for a 75-day TDY flying out of Udorn RTAB, Thailand. At Udorn, I lived downtown in an air- conditioned hotel – pure luxury after Da Nang. But, after only a month, all the AC-47 troops were ordered back to Da Nang for reassignment. I flew my last mission on November 29, 1969 and was expecting a 90-day rollback of my DEROS and a reassignment back to the States.
Everyone got the rollback except GUNNERS. With only 90 days left on my tour, I was reassigned to AC-119G Shadow Gunships, 17th Special Operations Squadron. After a quick checkout at Phan Rang AB, my fellow gunner, Jack Doyle, was sent to Tan Son Nhut AB and I was reassigned to Tuy Hoa AB. At Tuy Hoa, I was surprised to discover that the Flight Commander was my former Flight Commander from the AC-47 unit at Binh Tuy. While at Binh Tuy, he had expressed concern about being assigned to the AC-47 gunships because he was a highly experienced C-119 pilot. Well, he got his wish; he was back in the 119, except it was the attack version.
My first AC-119G combat mission was on Christmas night, 25 December 1969. Flying on the AC-119s was a real experience, to say the least. I was always amazed at how the airplane could take-off and land without the tail boom striking the runway. Not that it didn’t, I just couldn’t hear or feel it with all the rattling and vibration. I flew my last Shadow combat mission on 3 February 1970, recording 4.1 hours and 18,000 rounds of ammo. My Air Force flying career was cut short when I developed kidney stones and was no longer eligible to fly. I left Vietnam on 24 March 1970, and was discharged upon returning to the States.
I had the honor of flying as a gunner on both the AC-47D “Spooky” and the AC-119G “Shadow”. On the AC-47, I flew out of four different air bases and in both the 3rd and 4th Special Operations Squadrons. I flew over 70 missions, more than 270 combat hours, dropping several hundred flares and expending over 867,000 rounds of 7.62mm ammunition on enemy targets. On the Shadow, I flew over 30 missions, more than 120 hours of combat and several hundred flares and expended over 170,000 rounds of 7.62mm ammunition. And, I got promoted to Tech Sergeant in minimum time. I loved flying as an aerial gunner and appreciated becoming a permanent flight crewmember and being classified as gunner for either fixed wing or helicopter. Awards and decorations received during my memorable time in the Air Force included the Combat Aircrew Wings, Missileman Badge, Vietnam Service Medal with 1 Silver Service Star, Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross W/Palm, Presidential Unit Citation, Air Force Outstanding Unit Award w/”V” Device and 2 Bronze Oak Leaf Clusters, Air Medal with 4 Bronze Oak Leaf Clusters and Air Force Good Conduct Medal.
After being discharged, I attended Northeastern University, Boston, for Aviation Technology, while earning my private pilot’s license. In 1973, I had surgery for my kidney stones and made a complete recovery. After some temporary jobs, I joined the Boston Police Department where I was promoted to Detective in 1985. I spent six years as a Boston Police Ballistics Expert, attended the FBI Academy at Quantico, Virginia for Bombing Crime Scene Investigation, and the ATF Academy at Glynco, Georgia, for Advanced Explosives Investigative Techniques. I received several citations and awards and retired on August 1, 1995.
ince retiring from the Police Department, I have devoted my time to Disabled Sports Programs, serving as a member of the Board of Directors for the New England Wheelchair Athletic Association (NEWAA), the American Amputee Hockey Association (AAHA), the New England Bruins Sled Hockey and the Boston Blades Sled Hockey. I reside in Canton, Massachusetts with my wife, Kathleen O’Connor.