Donald Ray Williams, Pilot
18th SOS, Nakhon Phanom, Da Nang, and Bien Hoa, 1972-73
Donald Ray Williams was born in St. Louis, Missouri on September 24, 1946.
Don grew up in the farming community near Mexico, Missouri. He graduated from Community R-6 High School in Laddonia, Missouri in 1964 and entered Parks College, St. Louis University where he graduated with a B.S. in Aeronautics and an Air Force Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) commission in 1968.
Second Lieutenant Williams entered active duty in October 1968 and was assigned to Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT) Class 70-C (Cobra Class) of the 3516th Pilot Training Squadron at Randolph AFB, Texas. Upon completion of flight training in T-41, T-37, and T-38 aircraft without one pink slip, Lieutenant Williams earned his silver wings on November 11, 1969.
From Randolph, Williams hit the road to Travis AFB, California to fly C-133s until the end of 1971 when he was selected to fly AC-119K Stinger gunships in SEA. With C-119 training at Clinton County AFB, Ohio, Don completed AC-119K gunship training at Lockbourne AFB, Ohio. Within weeks, Captain Williams shipped out for Vietnam on a Travis “flying cattle car” via Clark AFB, Philippines for Jungle Survival “Snake” School. After arriving at the 18th SOS Forward Operations Location (FOL) Nakhon Phnom Royal Thai Air Base (NKP), Thailand in January 1972, he was almost immediately checked-out as aircraft commander. Williams logged 850 hours flying time on 128 combat missions flown in the Barrel Roll of northern Laos, over the Ho Chi Minh Trail, in the Steel Tiger of southern Laos and in South Vietnam, specifically at An Loc.
William’s most exciting mission was on a dark night in the Barrel Roll while attacking enemy supply columns. Williams and his crew suddenly found themselves flying inverted when their Stinger rolled on her back, not once but twice, during evasive maneuvering to avoid being hit by heavy triple-A fire. Williams flew the gunship back to level flight both times to continue attacking enemy trucks without taking any hits, causing any crew injuries, or damaging the aircraft.
Don was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and Air Medal with seven oak leaf clusters for combat action in Southeast Asia. He returned stateside in December 1972 for his next assignment at Travis AFB, flying the C-5A from January 1973 to October 1976. Captain Williams separated from the USAF on January 10, 1976, having served eight years, one month, and one day.
Williams was employed by Delta Air Lines on January 12, 1977. During his 26 ½ years with Delta, Don flew the following passenger aircraft: B727, B737, DC-8, L1011, B757 and B767. Delta Captain Don R. Williams retired on September 1, 2003.
Fascinated since childhood with trains, Don has traveled the rails all over the world including Russia and China. As a hobby, he owns and rents vintage passenger railcars while farming on-the-side at the family farm near Mexico, Missouri. Don currently lives in Conyers, Georgia.
On my way to fly AC-119K Stinger gunships in Southeast Asia, I attended Jungle Survival Training, better known as “Snake School,” in the jungles of the Philippine Islands. My “survival” partner and I had successfully completed all the Boy Scout exercises for the day including construction of our overnight shelters which were about 30 feet apart. We were ready to spend our first night in the jungle. It was getting dark so we turned in early, since there was nothing much to do in the jungle at night. We were lying in our shelters, looking up at the jungle canopy as darkness erased the last tint of light, and the place became alive (much like Daktari). After a while, my partner John said, “There is something over here. I can see its eyes.” I said, “Don’t worry; it will probably go away in a little while.” A few minutes later, John said, “I can’t sleep with something looking at me. I have to do something about it.” So, he took his survival axe and started chopping the heck out of the “thing” right through his mosquito net and all. After John was satisfied that the “thing” had departed the area or better yet killed, he settled down and went to sleep. And I was laying there wide awake, thinking whatever that “thing” was, it must really be pissed-off now. I was glad John had taken care of the “thing” but still wondered if it was still around. At least John was relieved of the problem because he was sound asleep. The “thing”, whatever it was, was now my responsibility. Finally, I put the “thing” out of my mind and went to sleep. The next morning, I walked over to see what John had killed. He was standing there with his chopped-up Seiko watch in his hands. He had seen the luminous dial. John said, “I can’t believe I did this, don’t tell anyone.” So, I told and still tell everyone that we were attacked by the dreaded killer jungle Seiko and my trusty partner, John, saved us.
After landing at Da Nang one night, I was taxiing the Stinger at my usual 50 mph to the parking area to avoid the possibility of getting caught by a rocket attack. Sitting in the plane was not the safest place to be when attacked. The enemy liked to target the flight line. Well, I didn’t quite make it this time. Rockets started flying in, exploding everywhere. I immediately stopped and shutdown the aircraft and was out of my seat like a flash, way before my copilot. I raced toward the back exit to get out of the gunship. In the darkness, I stepped for the exit ladder which was not there. The crew in the back had not put it out in their haste to evacuate the aircraft. I fell on the ground face down with my parachute still on my back and it knocked the wind out of me. My copilot, Lt. Barry (a big fellow) was close behind me. I knew he would land on top of me so I was trying to crawl out of the way when his boots hit the ground beside my face. He stooped down, took one look at me and left. I wasn’t able to talk with the breath knocked out of me and I could barely move a muscle. After the rocket attack was over, I had recovered and the crew regrouped. I asked Lt. Barry, “Why didn’t you at least drag me away from the airplane?” He answered, “Your face looked like it was covered with blood. I thought you were dead.”
During one night mission over An Loc, I was shooting for an American ground trooper. He was dug in across the street from a Chinese school house. He confirmed over the radio, “The bad guys are in the school house.” I fired a short burst and he said, “That’s it, pulverize the place!” We started laying down the rounds and he radioed, “Keep it coming. They are yelling and screaming.” I could hear our rounds hitting the target through his microphone. At one point in the orbit, I hit my own wake and threw some rounds over him. I quickly called to him, “Are you OK?” He answered, “Oh, yeah, I don’t sweat the 20 mike mike. An F-4 dropped a 500-pounder (bomb) on me this afternoon, my ears are still ringing.”
At Bien Hoa Air Base one night, I was asleep in my room dreaming that I was in a metal box and someone was beating on it with a hammer. I endured it for a while (I can take a joke) but enough is enough. I woke up and to my surprise, we were under a rocket attack. (That’s what the noise was all about.) I dove out of the top bunk and got under the bottom bunk. I saw my roommate, Pete Mangum, hiding under the bottom bunk across the room. I shouted, “Damn Pete, why didn’t you wake me up?” Pete answered, “What, you slept through that, I thought you were dead!” Now that’s the second time someone thought I was dead.
After completing a predawn mission over An Loc, my crew and I were walking up the hill to our barracks at Bien Hoa. The Operations Officer came running up the hill to catch me and stated, “They are turning you around for an early morning flight back to An Loc.” I said, “What about this letter that says no more day flights up there?” He said, “Oh, that’s been rescinded.” I kept walking up the hill and he said, “General Clay is ordering you to takeoff. You will be court-marshaled if you don’t.” I got the crew together and we launched. It was about 0900 hours and the morning was clear with An Loc in sight 30 miles ahead. We could see Strella missiles (shoulder-fired) flying up around the city. An F-4 was shot down on our way up. My navigator reported to the airborne command and control center (ACCC) that we were inbound. After receiving directives from ACCC, the Nav reported over intercom, “They want us to sneak up on two AAA guns (37mm) west of the city and knock them out, because they are giving the fast movers a hard time.” I told the Nav, “Tell them to send the fast movers in on the guns and we’ll take their target.” The Nav reported their answer, “No, they want us on the guns.” So I said to the Nav, “Tell them we have to go bore-sight our guns,” which he did. I flew the gunship about 40 miles northeast of An Loc and started shooting at a road sign. Then I announced over intercom, “If anyone wants to shoot the guns, go to the NOS station and he will show you how to track the target and use the consent button as the trigger. I will let you know when I am ready for you to shoot.” Everyone that wanted shot the guns. It wasn’t long until the Lead Gunner reported that we were out of ammo. I said, “Well Nav, radio command and tell them we are Winchester and RTB.” The Nav made the call and we headed back to Bien Hoa. I knew then, and still know, that the General and his commanders had no idea what I had done. They didn’t have a clue as to the capabilities of the gunship or the vulnerability of the Stinger dueling with 37mm anti-aircraft guns while flying in circles above enemy missiles in broad daylight.