I was born Feb 12, 1950 in South Bend, IN; graduating from Washington High School in 1968. Then, I was being drafted, so I joined the Air Force in 1970 at Indianapolis, IN. I did not want to be in the Army and felt my chances of staying out of Vietnam were better. Little did I know at the time that at some point I would be volunteering for gunship duty in Vietnam!
Exciting events in SEA: Not sure how “exciting”, but surely un-nerving were the Rocket Attacks @ Da Nang. My most Memorable Event with AC-119s was 2 May 1972, flying out of Bien Hoa, on a mission over An Loc, RVN….DAYLIGHT MISSION! I was scanning out of left rear door, calling AAA. The problem was that the AAA tracers were near invisible, because of the day light conditions. By the time I could see it, the AAA was “crackling” as it went by. Hearing it go by the aircraft is way too late to take any defensive measures. I repeatedly reported to the pilot (Capt Donnie Williams) and our co-pilot (Lt. Wayne Laessig) that I could hear it going by, but I could not see it because of the daylight. More than once, Wayne made comments that the AAA was going by his side of the cockpit. Needless to say, it was THE most harrowing mission I participated in, and feel extremely lucky that we were not hit. As we egressed the target area, I still remember to this day that the Navigator was relaying to the next Stinger coming into the target area, replacing us, that the AAA was extremely heavy and close. As it turned out, that aircraft replacing us was Capt. Terry Courtney’s crew on Stinger 41. By the time we landed and debriefed the mission, we were told that Stinger 41 had been shot down and that rescue efforts were underway. To this day, I will never forget that mission, and I remember like it happened yesterday. I’ll never be able to explain why WE were not the aircraft that was shot down on that day. Perhaps a bit of luck or the grace of God. All daylight missions after Stinger 41 were cancelled. I guess the higher ups figured we were flying out of our element. I would say that was a bit of an understatement. Big black airplane … bright blue sky … low and slow with no way of seeing the AAA coming up at you and making a defensive break maneuver …. Yea, I would say so. My feeling still is that the gunner on the ground used us as a boresight and had us tweaked in, to the point when Stinger 41 arrived in the target area, they did not have much of a chance.
My most memorable persons in SEA are Gunners John Wolff and Joe Grushinski. We went through all of our training together including survival schools and served together in SEA. Also, my AC Capt Donnie Williams and Copilot Lt. Wayne Laessig that I flew the majority of my missions with, were two of the best, in my opinion, that were responsible for my survival on the 100+ missions that I was credited with.
Some humorous events in SEA were the Baht buses and the taxis to the city of NKP….they MAY have been more treacherous than flying a combat mission. Also: the tennis ball cannons that we would build out of beer cans – single barrel, double barrel, even a QUAD barrel cannon. We would either have a war between different hootches or we would all combine all of our fire power on the hornet’s nest that sat on top of the speaker pole behind our hootch! If we fragged the nest, we would all scatter with the hornets hot on our trail.
I separated from the Air Force in 1974 at Grand Forks AFB, North Dakota as an E-5, having received the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal (7 Oak Leaf Clusters), and Vietnam Cross of Gallantry. I am a Retired Electrician (37 years), enjoying life with my wife Theresa, children Lisa and Eric, and grandchildren Alexandra and Conor.