Born in 1936 at Glasgow, Pennsylvania, I grew up and attended public school in Portage, PA. I graduated from Portage Joint High School in May 1954. I enlisted in the United States Air Force in Pittsburg, PA on June 8, 1954. The reason I joined was the opportunity for adventure. As a child who grew up during WWII, I was instilled with a love of my country so I had a strong sense of patriotism.
I reported to Sampson AFB, NY for Basic Training. Then I was sent to Tech School at Sheppard AFB, TX for B-36 Heavy Bomber training.
I was assigned to the 18th Special Operations Squadron as a Flight Engineer (FE) at Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Base in Thailand from January to September 1971 and at Da Nang Air Base in South Vietnam from September 1971 to January 1972.
I had two missions as a member of the 18th SOS that I’ll never forget. The first and most demanding for me was on the night of March 5, 1971 when our Stinger gunship experienced failure of the #2 recip engine. The aircraft would not maintain altitude on the remaining three engines. All loose equipment was jettisoned and after crossing the Mekong River, all crewmembers except the pilot, copilot and me (the FE) bailed out. Upon landing, NOS Major Warner sustained a spine injury and IO SSgt. Johnson broke his right pelvic bone. The pilot, copilot and flight engineer successfully landed the aircraft at NKP. Read the AC-119 gunship war story, “Bailout! Bailout! Bailout!” to learn more about the Stinger (tail #879) mission and the subsequent controlled bailout near NKP.
The second and perhaps the most rewarding mission was flown in late June or early July of 1971. Captain John Morgan was the Aircraft Commander of our Crew 6. We had completed our assigned mission (The Dawn Patrol Frag), Bingo’d, and were heading back to NKP when we heard a call from the Airborne Command Post that a Lima Site near our flight path was about to be overrun by a large enemy force, estimated to be in at least Battalion strength. Captain Morgan asked if we had enough fuel for one or two passes at the target. After my experience of March 5, I just happened to have a few pounds of “reserve” fuel and advised the Aircraft Commander of that fact. All six guns were put online and two passes were made at the target. The Lima Site did not get overrun. I’m not sure of the Lima Site’s radio call sign; it was either “Rose Bud” or “Poppy.” I do know that very evening Captain Morgan had dinner with General Vang Pao, Commander of the Hmong Forces in Laos. Shortly thereafter, Captain Morgan became the Detachment Tactics Officer! We must have done something right
The thing that I will always remember about my time flying AC-119 gunships is the Esprit de Corps and sense of common purpose and brotherhood among the crew. I arrived at NKP without a crew and was made to feel a vital part of a tight knit group. I particularly enjoyed my time with Crew #6, under the command of Captain John Morgan and Copilot Pat McGillis, later upgraded to Aircraft Commander.
Captain McGillis was AC on Dec. 24-25, 1971, the night I flew my last combat mission out of Da Nang. The Distinguished Flying Cross and Air Medal with 11 OLCs are among the decorations I earned during my tour.
I graduated from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University with a Bachelor of Science degree in 1980 and a Master’s degree in Aviation Management/Aeronautical Science in 1982.
I proudly retired from the USAF at the rank of Master Sergeant on 1 July 1982 at Pope AFB, NC. After retiring, I worked for Lockheed Support Systems as a Field Team Leader at Ft. Bragg, NC from 1984 to 1986 and then as Supervisor Over and Above Contracts Administration at Lockheed Aero Mod located in Greenville, SC from 1986 to 1991. From 1996-2004, I worked as a Day Care Licensing Inspector for South Carolina DSS until I retired in 2004.
Currently, I am the President of Shannon Lake, Inc., Greenville, SC and a volunteer for Meals on Wheels. My wonderful wife of 45 years, Catherine, and I currently live in Simpsonville, South Carolina. We have lots of fun with our 10 grandchildren here on the lake.