I entered the USAF in Jan 1969 and was trained as a Weapons Technician. Arriving at my first base of Homestead, Florida, I began training on F-4’s when a bulletin came out in Jan 1970 asking for Weapon Technicians to become gunners for AC-119’s. By July 1970 I found myself heading to Vietnam to fly on AC-119Ks. I flew 134 combat missions over Cambodia and Laos during the next year and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) and 9 Air Medals.
Upon return to Shaw AFB, South Carolina, I again volunteered to fly on AU-24s and AU-25s, short takeoff and landing (STOL) aircraft comprised of Helio-Stallions and Pilatus Porters, that were being outfitted with a three barrel 20mm gatling gun and being tested at Hulbert Field, Florida for deployment to Vietnam and Thailand.
I was discharged in Jan 1973 obtaining the rank of Staff Sergeant.
Many missions flown seem to blend as one but, the one that sticks out was just a “ferry” mission made on Christmas Day 1970. I was stationed at Da Nang when on Christmas morning I was notified that I would be going to Nakhon Phanom (NKP), Thailand for a week or so of TDY due to a shortage of gunners at NKP. The crew that was going to take us was a crew that had been stationed at NKP and was coming back from Phan Rang after picking up an AC-119K that had come back from corrosion control. During the briefing the navigator had mentioned that he would have to check with local flyover rules when I mentioned to him that it was a heading of 270 degrees for 30 miles. I figured that since it was a daytime flight we would want to head towards the Bolovens Plateau area of Laos which meant taking up an additional heading of 290 degrees. The Plateau area was not as heavily defended as the rest of “Steel Tiger,” the area where the Ho Chi Minh Trail traversed through central Laos.
On board was an Instructor Pilot (IP) who was giving the Pilot a “check-ride”. As we approached the 30 mile mark, the navigator came over the intercom and asked “Navigator to Gunner, what is that heading?” When I replied, “290”, the IP interrupted and asked “Who’s navigating this plane?” They decided to take the more direct route to NKP. I was sitting in the NOS door located in the rear when I saw the area known as “The Bra” come into view. It got its name from where the Mekong River made two bulges. This was always a heavily defended area and before I could say anything several 37mm anti-aircraft guns started firing at us.
We were flying at 10,000 feet at 175 knots when the rounds came up. Several rounds actually passed between the booms in the rear and exploded overhead. I quickly advised the pilot that we were over “The Bra” and taking rounds. Their first question was, “What’s The Bra?” I quickly advised them and the pilots immediately put full power to the engines and headed south away from “The Bra”. After landing at NKP, the IP came up to me and said “I guess we should have listened to you!”