Charles H. Vellines, Navigator
17th SOS, Phan Rang, 1969-1970
My name is Charles H. Vellines. I was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1929. I joined the Air Force in 1951. At that time, I was living in Baltimore. I was about to get drafted so I joined the Air Force because I had a couple of buddies in the Air Force who thought it was great. I took my basic training at Samson Air Force Base up in Geneva, New York. That was a Navy base at one time and they converted it to an Air Force Base. I was an Airman Basic when I got an opportunity to go to Cadets. I got my first stripe at Sampson Air Force Base. After Basic Training, I got assigned to B-26s at Langley Air Force Base. The Korean War was still on, but they called a truce there. From there we stopped the combat crew training and I was sent to Ardmore Air Force Base in C-119s. I spent four years in troop carrier at Ardmore dropping paratroopers and heavy equipment into all the major paratrooper bases, Benning, Fort Bragg and Campbell, Kentucky. After that, I was reassigned to the KB-50 tanker outfit in Albany, Georgia and I flew KB-50 tankers for years as a navigator. When the tankers closed down, I went into the 4440th aircraft delivery group at Langley and we moved aircraft over to Vietnam and everywhere. From that position, I was called up to go to Vietnam. I did my training at Lockbourne Air Force Base and Wilmington, Ohio. Then we went over to Phan Rang where I started my Vietnam tour the latter part of 1969 and stayed there until 1970 when I was returned home.
I flew as a table navigator and as a NOS operator and interchanged doing that. We flew mostly over South Vietnam. We got a couple of missions over the border in Laos, and I flew way down mostly in II Corps and we got to I Corps a couple times, and down in the Delta. Most of the missions were at night. I flew a couple missions in the daytime.
One mission was pretty interesting. I was flying somewhere around Dalat. An OV-10 started marking targets and he fired a rocket into a tree line where they thought the VC were and there was a monstrous explosion. He had hit an ammo dump and that was pretty interesting to see that thing. We had a good shot there.
We had a lot of missions up in BooPrang which is in the northeast corner of II Corps. Most of those were TICs. We were usually assigned a box to fly in initially in the night and from there we were usually assigned a TIC somewhere.
I had a couple of interesting TICs. One was around Dalat again. There was a bunch of ARVN and US forces were stationed at a bridge and the VC attacked them at night. They had a lot of wounded and there was a Dustoff Chopper that was going to pick up the wounded, but it was afraid to go in because of all the ground fire. We got him in by coordinating with him. The infrared light we had on board. At his call, we turned the light on the area where the pickup was to be made. As he hit the ground, he hollered, “Turn it off,” which we did. He picked up a couple of wounded people and it was pretty rewarding.
BooPrang was pretty hot because it was pretty close to the border. We did go across into Laos a couple times at night on special missions. We came back one night to Phan Rang and went to get something to eat at the Officers’ Club, but a rocket had taken a part of the club out and the barber shop so we didn’t get any supper at the club that night.
While I was at Phan Rang, the VC would pretty routinely drop a couple rockets on Sunday around 9:00 in the morning just to let us know they were there. We had one other incident of note while I was there that I can recall. We were told not to go downtown at night and especially not to come back to base if you did stay out. We were supposed to wait until morning and come down the one road leading into Phan Rang with your arms up until somebody came and got you. We had a Tech Sergeant that went downtown and he tried to get back through the wire and he was killed. There was a big to-do on the base about that so we all had to go and get debriefed on that situation.
We had one rocket go off when I was in bed one day, and it killed about six guys that were building a revetment on the base. That was the greatest tragedy on that base while I was there. One time they caught a VC and he turned out to be one of the barbers on the base. A rocket killed a Vietnamese civilian on Sunday. That was about all the real tragic things that happened to us.
I ended my tour and went home without any fanfare like everybody else did because people weren’t too happy about us GIs at that time.
From there I had an assignment to go Texas in C-130s. They had a mission that went down to South America and I had never been to South America before. We flew a lot of cargo back and forth. They changed my orders and assigned me as an instructor at Lockbourne again I was instructor navigator there for about a year until they moved the whole outfit down to Hurlburt Field in Florida. I stayed there and we transitioned to the AC-119Ks, with two J-85 jet engines that made the aircraft a lot safer.
Which reminds me; I had a couple AC-119G single engines mishaps while I was in Vietnam. We were at Vung Tao on a mission and we lost one engine and flew it all the way back to Phan Rang at about 120 knots with one engine. It was pretty nerve racking, but we got back safely. Another time, just after take-off one night, we had a run-away prop on one engine. They got the run-away feathered and got back safely. That got my attention.
Back to Hurlburt Field, we had one AC-130 gunship there and I flew there as a navigator too and a little light television operator for a few years and then as an instructor. Then I retired in 1975.