Ray Edward Meckstroth, IO
71st and 17th SOS, Nha Trang and Phan Rang, 1969
I was born in my home town, New Bremen, Ohio on April 5, 1941 and graduated from New Bremen High School in May 1958. I entered the USAF on 13 August 1958 at Columbus, Ohio because I wanted to make the Air Force a career, taking after a cousin, a career aircraft mechanic, who I always looked up to. I retired from the Air Force in 1981 at Elmendorf AFB, Alaska at the rank of Senior Master Sergeant.
I was first assigned to the 71st SOS, then the 17th SOS at Nha Trang, then Phan Rang as an Illuminator Operator Instructor, and then as IO Stan-Eval. All Shadow gunship missions were exciting but some were more rewarding than others, especially the ones in which we were able to help long range patrols from being overrun. When you know there are only 5 or 6 guys down there and they have to whisper when they transmit over the radio for your support and you hear the next day that they all survived because of your firing around them; now, that makes you feel good.
On one mission we were firing around a platoon of Army guys who were in a night defense position. We required them to turn on strobe lights at each end of their position to verify they were in a straight line. Their leader wanted our fire brought closer, so we had them accept responsibility and to again confirm their formation. We fired where they requested and hit some friendlies. When they yelled for us to stop firing, they found out that they were actually in an arc formation rather than a straight line. The next morning our aircraft commander and the navigators were called in to TOC and confronted by an Army Colonel, and he was hot! But when he was told that we had it on tape, he only had to hear a little and he said we were cleared. It still made us feel bad but when the guys on the ground say to shoot, what can you do?
The thing I remember about my time in AC-119 gunships is the great crewmembers that I flew with and the downright good and experienced people of the reserve unit. It was a long year, but a most rewarding year of combat duty.