John Charles Michels, Maintenance
71st SOS, Nha Trang, 1968-69
Melrose, Minnesota was my birthplace in January 1944, but I consider Sauk Centre, Minnesota my home town as I pretty much grew up there. I graduated from San Diego High School in 1964. When I was 17, I joined the Navy and they stationed me in San Diego, California after my boot camp in Great Lakes, Illinois. I did that tour of duty in the Navy and returned to Minnesota.
I then became an Air Reserve Technician Position (ART) at Bakalar Air Force Base in Columbus, Indiana and worked as an aircraft mechanic for the 930th Tactical Airlift Group. We moved from Minneapolis to Columbus, Indiana. I worked there about eight months and then we got activated. I was in the 930th which was activated and redesigned to 71st. When we first got the designation, it was Air Commando Squadron, but they said Commandos were too aggressive sounding, so they changed it to Special Operations Squadron and that’s how it became the 71st. I worked in the wheel and tire shop there with Walt Peese as my immediate supervisor. We went to Columbus, Ohio at Lockbourne Air Force Base for the transition, where we took the planes that we had at that time, which was just a cargo C119, and transformed them into the AC-119. After a bit, we were sent to Nha Trang Air Base, Vietnam in 1968-69 where we set up a phase inspection dock. I worked nights with Walt Peese as the supervisor and I was his assistant. We had a real good crew – worked nights-from about six at night till six in the morning. We kept them flying.
One very exciting event that occurred on the Nha Trang flightline still sticks in my mind to this day. I was on the night shift and we were going out to service an aircraft in the line truck. Jack Studie was driving. All of a sudden we saw the blacktop in from of us just go flying into the air. Then, a little bit further down, again. Then right after that you heard the boom, but you saw the blacktop flying before you heard anything, so we all bailed out of the truck and ran to the revetment to take cover in the revetments. There were some aircraft flying, Spooky gunships I think, and they laid down fire on the enemy which took care of the mortar attack. The attack didn’t cause any more damage other than a few holes in the roadway, but it sure scared the heck out of us flight line guys. Jack had crawled under one of the revetment structures and had a hard time getting back out.
Another time Steve Michels and I were out on the flight line collecting live rounds out of the gunships. We were carrying the ammo can between us and it was about half full. Someone on the flight line hollered, “Incoming mortar!” We started running for a bunker carrying the can between us as we went. We looked at each other and said, “Why are we carrying this stupid can of live ammunition?” We dropped it and headed for the bunker. Come to find out, it wasn’t our base but another one being fired on.
We were there until June of 69 and then we came back to the states. I decided I wanted to go back to Minnesota and my wife had already moved back to MN, so when I got relieved from active duty I went back. Then we both worked in an ammunition plant and were making bullets for what we’d been shooting over in Vietnam. I went to the University of Minnesota and graduated in 1980. I separated from the USAF reserve at Minneapolis, St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1984.
I’ll always remember my service time at Nha Trang and the very close-knit group of people that were more like family.