I began training to become a Stinger Pilot in late December 1970. My journey started at Clinton County AFB, Ohio where I learned about the venerable C-119 from the Air Guard group. The gunship training followed at Lockbourne AFB, Columbus, Ohio. Our class arrived in-country in May of 1971. I remember very little of our first stop – orientation at Phan Rang AB. From Phan Rang, we went to Da Nang AB where we started training to become combat pilots. Since it was the monsoon season, the first few months were very slow. However, I distinctly remember seeing AAA for the first time and getting the very uncomfortable feeling about being shot at.
Rocket attacks on Da Nang were an occasional event. A significant attack occurred on the 4 July 1971. A nearby barracks was hit and several airmen were killed in the attack. I remember walking to the squadron area the next day and encountering a partially dressed airman who had lost most of his personal stuff in the ensuing fire.
On one of our more memorable nights we lost a recip engine while starting to orbit Khe Sanh. Thank heavens for the jet engines! We ramped them up to full power and began dumping fuel and ammunition. Those actions got us back to Da Nang safely where I managed to brake so hard that I started a brake fire on one of the main gear. Four members of our class stayed together for the duration of the year’s assignment: Dick Pollmann, Bill Kleinhenz, Al Barreras, and myself. We started at Da Nang and finished out our one-year tour at NKP.
My scariest moment wasn’t in combat but with the hijinks we played on each other. When we started looking for follow-on assignments, I took the opportunity to make up a fake one for Bill Kleinhenz. He was a former C-141 driver and was looking to return to MAC. In fact, all of us were former C-141 pilots and we had an intense desire to remain free of the clutches of SAC. I got a form from Base Personnel that was used to notify folks of their next assignment. I made up an assignment for Bill to the SAC Bomb Wing at Minot AFB, North Dakota as a B-52 pilot. After slipping the assignment into his mail box, I stood back as the stuff hit the fan. When he determined that the assignment was bogus and that I had made it up, he was so mad that he wanted to “hurt me bad”. Well, I’m glad his anger eventually passed.
Maybe our toughest time came late in the tour. Several of us were sent to Bien Hoa in May 1972 to assist in the fight that was going on at An Loc. This was one of the first times that we flew daytime missions. My crew had one daytime mission over An Loc and I can still remember walking gun fire down a row of homes with red tile roofs and watching the roofs shatter from the 20 mm bullets. Unfortunately, Terry Courtney got shot down the next day during a daytime flight. Apparently the Viet Cong had brought in a 37-mm antiaircraft gun to defend the area and Terry was in the wrong place at the wrong time. The three-crew members lost in the shoot down were the only members that the squadron lost in its time in country.
We were again flying over An Loc on the next night and were directed to hold fire while an airdrop was scheduled. While holding overhead, we picked up the inbound C-130. To our horror, we saw it hit the trees, roll over on its back, and crash into the ground in a large fire ball.