Earl W. Wall, Crew Chief
71st SOS, Nha Trang and Phan Rang, 1969
I was born on April 26, 1942 in Indianapolis, Indiana where I was raised and educated. While working at U.S. Naval Avionics Facility in Indianapolis, I joined the Air Force Reserve at Bakalar AFB, Columbus, IN in 1963.
An announcement on April 11, 1968 by then President Lyndon B. Johnson activated our Reserve Unit at Bakalar AFB. I reported for active duty on May 13, 1968 at Bakalar AFB. The Unit was re-designated from 930th to 71st Special Operations Squadron (SOS) on July 8, 1968. On November 27, 1968, the Deputy Defense Secretary approved deployment of the 71st SOS to Southeast Asia. We were now an active duty AC-119G Gunship unit.
I was assigned to ferry crew #3 as Crew Chief with Pilots Lt. Col. Lawrence Shinnick and Lt. Col. Loman Miller, Navigator Maj Spencer Nichols, and Flight Engineer SSgt. John Strubbe to ferry aircraft #52-5892 to Vietnam. We departed Lockbourne AFB on January 29, 1969. Our ferry route was to Florida, Arizona, California, Washington, Alaska, Adak Island, Midway Island, Wake Island, Guam, Philippines, and arriving at Nha Trang, Vietnam on March 2, 1969.
One of my most exciting flights/events occurred during the ferry mission from Anchorage, Alaska in route to Adak Island. We had been snowed in for seven (7) days at Anchorage. On the day we left it was 34 degrees Fahrenheit – below zero. We had to preheat our engine nacelles 4 hours, just to crank the engines. It was so cold that snow crunched under our feet. We had to abort during our 1st takeoff roll attempt (low power). We slid off the end of the runway into a snow bank – couldn’t stop in time. We had to be pulled out of the snow by a tug. We made it off on our 2nd takeoff roll and headed out for Adak Island. Just past the “Flight Point of No Return” we ran into an ice/sleet storm. Air speed began dropping off; we had to put all available heat into the propellers and leading edge of wings to eliminate ice buildup. This didn’t solve the ice buildup problem. Ice continued to build on the propeller domes like an ice cycle and on the leading edge of the wings. The propeller dome ice cycle would build straight forward to approximately 2-3 feet and then break off and slam into the side of cockpit fuselage – sounded like being shot with a 12-guage shotgun! It dented the side of the aircraft. Airspeed still dropping off – pilot instructed me to get survival gear ready for ‘ditching’. On pilot’s command I would kick out survival rafts/gear. We would circle back and bail out over the survival gear as we had only 2 minutes to get into the rafts and zip inside before being overcome by hypothermia due to frigid temperatures. Approximately 30 seconds before pilot was planning to ‘ditch’ the aircraft, we flew out of the storm and were able to maintain enough air speed to continue on. We flew on to Adak Island. We were flying low altitude and passed close to Russian Naval ships. We could see Russian soldiers on the deck. When we landed at Adak Island, the wind was blowing very strong. We taxied to our park spot and were immediately anchored from the wing eyebolts down to the tarmac. This kept the wind from damaging or turning the aircraft over. This was when I was convinced that Adak Island is the “Birthplace of Wind on Earth”. We went into the transient barracks for blankets and pillows for the night. As we walked in the door here was a soldier sitting on the floor with ankles shackled to the wall. I knew then that this was an interesting place to be. The next morning, I was able to view/tour the “Adak National Forest” before takeoff. The forest was very cool as it consisted of an area approximately 12 feet square lined with railroad ties stacked four high and filled with dirt. There was one lonely pine tree in the center and a sign that read Adak National Forest. Adak Island is a volcanic rock.
We continued on our mission and after arriving at Nha Trang I was assigned to the Flight Line Maintenance Crew. On February 13, 1969 I was reassigned to a Forward Operating Location (FOL) at Phan Rang where I spent the remainder of my tour of duty.
I will always remember the very close friendships developed during my tour of duty in Vietnam. One in particular was with SSgt. Jim Alvis. We are still best friends to this day.
Following our return home to Indiana on June 6, 1969, I returned to the civilian workforce at Allison Engine Company/GM. My wife, Dixie, and I started our family, and the rest is history.
Well, that’s all for now. I have many other memories for another time.