Russell E. Steffensmeier, Gunner
17th SOS, Nha Trang and Tan Son Nhut, 1968-69
I was born on August 30, 1948 at Redwood Falls, Minnesota. I graduated from Morgan High School in May 1966. I was 17 when I enlisted in the Air Force.
Upon completing basic training, I attended weapons school at Lowry AFB, CO, then reported to Homestead AFB, FL to work on F-104s with the 319th Fighter Interceptor Squadron. That job involved considerable TDY.
In August 1968, I received orders to Lockbourne AFB, OH where I trained as an aerial gunner assigned to the 71st SOS at Nha Trang AB, RVN. I reported to the 71st on December 21, 1968. Then on January 17, I transferred to Tan Son Nhut AB as a gunner on Major Thomas Cougill’s crew. Lt. Col. Paul Maxwell was the co-pilot. Navigators on the crew were Captains William McGary and James Davis. The Flight Engineer was SSgt. Thomas Newbold.
I was reassigned to the 17th SOS in June 1969 when the 71st SOS was released from active duty. Lt. Col. Buckley became my new aircraft commander. I flew 124 combat missions in the AC-119G Shadow gunship and had a total of 469.3 flight hours.
After completing my tour in gunships, I reported to the 33rd TAC Fighter Wing at Eglin AFB, FL. Two weeks later, I was reassigned to the 16th TAC Fighter Wing at Eglin. Both squadrons had F-4s. On August 24, 1970, I was released from active duty having attained the rank of Sergeant. I currently live in Morgan, Minnesota. My awards and decorations include the Distinguished Flying Cross with one oak leaf cluster and the Air Medal with six oak leaf clusters.
Landing Zone Jamie
One of my most memorable combat missions occurred 12 May 1969. We were scrambled for a TIC near Tay Ninh City, RVN, where the enemy was overrunning Landing Zone Jamie. The controller was White Scalp 2 Mike. We were using flares to illuminate the landing zone. With only twelve flares remaining, the aircraft commander decided to illuminate the target area using our white light. When the light went on we immediately starting taking ground fire from two .51 caliber anti-aircraft positions. The aircraft commander had me put more guns on the line; we were firing multiple guns at high speed. It was demanding work keeping the guns loaded and operating.
We experienced several gun malfunctions, including rounds jammed in the pod partitions and broken feeder pins. We silenced the gun sites, but the enemy ground forces had advanced to the landing zone perimeter fence. We redirected our fire to the perimeter in an effort to hold them back. White Scalp 2 Mike then redirected us to two bunkers inside the landing zone that were occupied by enemy forces. We again came under heavy ground fire – this time from small arms and automatic weapons. Even so, I was able to keep four guns on the line at all times, providing 90 minutes of continuous firepower.
We kept the enemy pinned down and prevented their further advance. We ran out of ammo, so I helped the illuminator operator launch flares until daybreak when we were forced to leave due to low fuel. I was exhausted, but satisfied that our crew did everything we could to help the team. As a result of our work at Landing Zone Jamie, each member of my Shadow 78 was recommended for the Distinguished Flying Cross.