Rogers Craig Stevens, Jr., Pilot
18th SOS, Nakhon Phanom and Da Nang, 1971-72
I was born September 7, 1940, in Washington D.C. My hometown is Bethesda, Maryland where I graduated from Walter Johnson Senior High School in 1958. I was commissioned through the AFROTC program at the University of Maryland in 1965. Six years later, I earned an advanced degree from Phillips University.
After pilot training at Vance AFB, Enid, OK, I was selected to return to Vance as a T-37 instructor pilot with the 3575th Flying Wing. Oh, how undergraduate student pilots can enliven and terrorize one’s life at the same time. I eventually became an Academic Instructor and taught UPT classroom academics.
I was a volunteer for Vietnam, so in the fall of 1970, I was shocked to learn I was being processed for a Vietnam assignment as a non-volunteer. The aircraft selection for non-volunteers consisted mostly of helicopters and trash haulers – no F-105s or A-37s. I successfully convinced MPC to process me as a volunteer and was delighted with my assignment to the AC-119K.
After learning the intricacies of flying an aircraft with twin piston-driven radial engines with variable speed propellers, I reported to the 4413th CCTS for combat crew training. I was proud to become a multi-engine pilot. I arrived at 18th SOS Headquarters at Phan Rang AB in June 1970, only to discover that all the aircraft were deployed to NKP and Da Nang. I was reassigned to NKP where I initially flew as a co-pilot before checking out as aircraft commander.
I flew 56 combat missions. Of those 56 combat missions, one stands out. My Stinger gunship was stalked, hunted, and then chased by a Soviet-made North Vietnam Air Force Mig fighter in the Barrel Roll of Northern Laos. We rapidly descended to dangerously low altitudes, hiding in the jungle mountain valleys, hoping to get lost in ground clutter on the Mig’s radar. I had a plan to defend us if the Mig attacked.
In December 1971, I was selected to become an Air Operations Officer at 7th Air Force Headquarters at Tan Son Nhut AB, Saigon, RVN. My specific duties were to schedule (frag) AC-119K Stinger Gunships, AC-130 Spectre Gunships, Fighter Escorts (two escorts for Stingers, three escorts for Spectres), and KC-135 Tankers for refueling the escorts. Additionally, I scheduled EB-66 ECM (electronic counter-measures) aircraft, EC-47 propaganda leaflet aircraft, Commando Vault missions (15,000 pound bomb instant landing zone mission on the Ho Chi Minh Trail), and helicopter escort missions for ship convoys transporting supplies to Phnom Penh, Cambodia via the Mekong River. It was also my daily duty to change all the authentication codes in Southeast Asia to ensure we were working with the “good guys”. I also gave the General Staff a daily briefing on the battle damage assessments for all gunship missions flown the previous night. The job was very demanding, but I relished every task assigned to me. I learned to fully respect and appreciate efficient and effective Air Force level leadership in the command and control of assets.
From gunships I was assigned duty as an AFROTC Instructor at Davis and Elkins College in Elkins, West Virginia. During my annual flight physical the flight surgeon determined I had a condition that resulted in my automatic grounding from flying and that subsequently rendered me 100% disabled. Consequently, I was medically retired and separated from the Air Force on January 24, 1974.
My awards and decorations include the Bronze Star, Air Force Commendation Medal, and the Air Medal with five Oak Leaf Clusters. I have never forgotten, nor will forget, the friendships I made during my years in the Air Force and the excitement and challenge of my assignments, especially in Southeast Asia.