I was born in my hometown St. Louis, Missouri in 1949. After graduation from McClure Senior High School in 1967, I was faced with the reality of the Selective Service Draft in early 1968, so I enlisted in the U. S. Air Force at St. Louis. The main reason I selected the USAF was because my favorite uncle was career Air Force.
In November 1968, I was flown via commercial airliner from St. Louis Lambert International Airport to San Antonio, Texas for basic training at Lackland AFB. After completing basic, I was sent to Tech School at Lowry AFB, Colorado for weapons specialist training. While in class one day, I, along with some other trainees, were taken from class to view a “Classified” program on gunships and afterward, asked to volunteer. I volunteered! That was the beginning of many TDYs for me.
From Lowry, I reported to England AFB, Louisiana as a weapons specialist, 46230, until I received orders to become an aerial gunner assigned to the 17th Special Operations Squadron in Vietnam. Then I was sent TDY to Sheppard AFB, Texas for physiological training which included the Altitude Chamber and from Sheppard, I was sent to Fairchild AFB, Washington for survival training. After survival school, I reported for AC-119 gunship training at Lockbourne AFB, Ohio. Then it was off to the Philippines for jungle survival training at Clark AFB. In June 1970, I reported for duty with the 17th SOS at Phan Rang, Republic of Vietnam.
I served as an aerial gunner on AC-119G Shadow gunships, flying out of Phan Rang, Tan Son Nhut, Phu Cat, and Da Nang. My most exciting missions were flown out of Da Nang when we were flying two missions per night into Laos. We’d refuel and reload at Ubon, Thailand. They were vital missions of long hours and hard work supporting friendly ground troops under enemy attack. All the missions I flew over Cambodia were exciting for one reason or another. There were a few missions that made me wonder, especially when we landed with only one engine. While always remembering the thrill of flying combat missions, I will never forget the importance of those missions in supporting friendly ground forces. I earned the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal with eight Oak Leaf Clusters during my tour of Vietnam.
I departed Vietnam in June 1971 and was assigned to Hurlburt Field, Florida until May 1973 when I decided to separate from the service to re-enter civilian life.
From 1973 to 1987, I worked for the St. Louis County Police Department, attaining the rank of Sergeant before taking an early retirement to change careers. During my career as a police officer, I served in the Patrol Division, Tactical Unit, and 911 Call Center. During my time in the Patrol Division, I was a helicopter pilot and held a Commercial Rating, accumulating approximately 1500 hours. From 1974 to 1980, I attended classes through Northeast Missouri State University, graduating with a B.S. Degree. From 1987 to present, I have been employed by various companies as a HR and Safety Director/Manager in the trucking industry. My area of specialization is motor carrier safety and hazardous materials transportation by highway. My current employer is AIRGAS Southwest located in Houston, Texas where my wonderful wife, Mary and I call home.
Upon entering Vietnam in June 1970, I was teamed up with Michael Smith, an experienced gunner. Michael had six months flight experience as “Bravo” gunner. I came on board as his “Bravo” gunner and he was a great mentor. He taught me, among other things, that the pilot should never have to be without a loaded operational gun. He taught me fast loading techniques. This was important as our pilot, Major Charlie Meier, could fire extremely long bursts. According to Mike, he had witnessed Major Meier go through four guns, one at a time, in one burst. Therefore, it was important to load fast and keep the guns online.
Mike also taught me to carry spare parts on missions, including barrels. During several missions with Mike, guns broke and even exploded. He showed me how to remove, repair, reinstall and get the gun back online.
On one mission, my #1 gun blew up. It necessitated removing the gun from the pod, tearing it down, and replacing the bolts. We were reportedly taking ground fire so all the interior lights were off. I grabbed an empty 7.62 ammo can and used it as a make-shift workbench. After placing the gun on top of an “open” ammo can, I started to rebuild the gun.
During the process, I grabbed the drive motor and started to turn the gun over. The motor slipped out of my grease covered glove and pinned the tip of my right hand ring finger between the open lip of the ammo can and the drive motor. That REALLY hurt! I completed the repairs and reinstalled the gun and put it back in service.
On the flight back to Phan Rang, the injured finger started to throb. My pilot advised me to go to the dispensary. At the dispensary, there was an enlisted medic on duty, no doctors were on duty at that early hour. He examined the finger and said I’d probably lose the nail if he didn’t relieve the pressure. Even then, I’d probably lose the nail anyway. Up until now, the injured finger just throbbed with pain.
So the medic said, “Do you have a cigarette lighter?” I responded, “Yes”, and handed him my cigarette lighter. He picked up a paperclip, unfolded it and heated the paperclip with the flame from the lighter. Then he grabbed my hand and laid it flat on the table and with the hot end of the paperclip, bored a hole through my fingernail until blood shot out of the nail. The cure was worse than the injury on this one! Then, to add insult to injury, he removed me from flight status, (DNIF), for an indefinite time. I remember I had to return to the dispensary several times to plead with the flight surgeon to put me back on flight status. I did get an earlier than expected release to get back to flying combat missions.