Anthony (Tony) G. Pakutinski, Gunner
18th SOS, Nakhon Phanom, Bien Hoa, and Da Nang, 1972-73
I was born in Northampton, MA, in 1952. For me, high school was from 67-70, and Vietnam was what I watched on television, for years! I decided in my sophomore year that I was going to join the Air Force and fly. In 1971, with one year of college under my belt, I enlisted into the USAF and was proudly re-born as a Weapons Mechanic (46230). Just after getting to my first duty assignment (Myrtle Beach, S.C.) I volunteered for the Gunship Program. I started AC-119K Ariel Gunner Class at Hurlburt Field, FL in July 72. Lt. Col. Dick Ring was my class leader. After completion of the stateside schools, I completed Jungle Survival at Clark AB in October 72. Next stop, Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai AB, Thailand. The first words I heard were “What are you doing here”? As it turns out, the majority of my class was re- assigned enroute, because of the progressing peace talks and the inevitable end of the war.
Words can’t express what this 20-year-old, Airman First Class felt like as he walked through the door at the 18th SOS hootch. I truly felt like the only virgin at the prom! Being new is tough, being new in the company of the distinguished combat veterans of the 18th was inspiring. At this point in time, most of the $1.19s and personnel were in Bien Hoa. So I languished for a few days before going TDY to Vietnam. I just missed the opportunity to get qualified on the Trail, a few guys who got there earlier, had that experience. I was destined to fly AB defense at Bien Hoa through during Linebacker II. I quickly learned that a broken B-52 on the ramp meant rockets at night, that tomato juice and a PBR at 0815 is not bad, and somebody has to process/preload the ammo for the crews.
On 26 November 1972, I was the ‘last in-country qualified gunner’, during a 2.5 hour mission. God bless Leroy Jackson! I was fortunate to experience some of the action, but not at the level of those that came before me. December 72 marked the inactivation of the 18th SOS. These were great times for me. Amazing people and the strongest of friendships were the norm.
In January 73, we PCSd to Da Nang and were re-assigned to the 6498th Base Defense Division, flying SPs, and proud of it! Something called ‘Giant Voice’ thankfully gave us a heads up on incoming, which provided just a touch of rockets and mortars stories to tell the grand children about. Cleaning up the left behind side arms in the 18th dorm was an adventure, funny that none of the weapons I found were issued? I left Da Nang in February 73, a little older and somewhat wiser. Flying the Stinger Gunship, and experiencing a little of the $1.19 legend has been with me for over 35 years, I appreciate every minute and all the memories.