I was raised three blocks east of Chicago Midway Airport. By the age of 13, I had a student pilots’ license and in the ensuing years I flew all sorts of aircraft from the small, light Mooney Mite to the huge, heavy B-52. Prior to my Vietnam tour, I flew B-47s with the Strategic Air Command, then flew WB-47s for Air Weather Service as a Typhoon Chaser/Hurricane Hunter. I flew as Aircraft Commander, Instructor Pilot and Flight Evaluator while assigned to the 54th Weather Recon Squadron on Guam and the 57th Weather Recon Squadron at Clark Air Base in the Philippines.
In mid-1969, we were advised that the WB-47 was being phased out and that all aircrew members and their families at Clark AB were being reassigned to the States. My stateside orders were to Clinton County AFB, Wilmington, Ohio for C-119 transition training. Transitioning from a craft with six engines to a twin engine piston driven aircraft was a tough adjustment for me. On one of our training flights an engine began backfiring, forcing us to abort the mission and land immediately. By contrast, in the B-47, I literally lost an engine (the engine and pod fell off into the ocean) and continued flying.
After combat crew training at Lockbourne AFB, I was off to Vietnam. On 10 May 1970, I reported to the 17th Special Operations Squadron FOL at Phu Cat Air Base, Vietnam to fly the AC-119G Shadow. We flew interdiction missions and CAP (combat air patrol) missions all over Vietnam and into Cambodia and Laos even though our government insisted that we were restricted to flying in South Vietnam.
While at Phu Cat, I was temporarily assigned to Tan Son Nhut Air Base at Saigon, where we basically operated into Cambodia near the towns of Kampong Cham on the Mekong River, Kampong Chanang on a tributary of Lake Tonle Sap and Siem Reap, a town near the ancient ruins of Angkor Wat just north of Lake Tonle Sap. We also flew interdiction missions over Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia and armed recon missions up and down the Mekong River. We communicated with the ground commanders mostly in French. As a result, we sometimes carried a French interpreter along on missions where we had to deal with friendly Cambodians on the ground by FM radio. Most civilian or military folks on the ground spoke French even though some also spoke English. (Remember, Cambodia was once known as French Indo China).
After six months of combat I realized I was getting too old for shooting and being shot at. As luck would have it, as a field grade officer with in-country experience, I was qualified for an immediate opening at the 14th Special Operations Wing Headquarters at Phan Rang AB. The job entailed scheduling and controlling all 14 SOW fixed-wing gunships in Southeast Asia based on operational requirements and emergency situations. In addition, I was required to brief the Command Staff every morning concerning the previous night’s activities and the schedule for the upcoming day. So I spent the rest of my tour controlling or “fragging” the firepower out there with an occasional flight of my own just to keep up to speed on what was happening out in the jungle. When my tour was over I was presented with a plaque on which was inscribed:
Fastest Friggin Fragger In SEA
Major John F. Windsor, Jr.
14th Special Operations Wing
10 Nov 1970—10 May 1971
During my tour I was submitted for a Bronze Star medal but apparently the nomination got lost in the shuffle. Many records got shredded and burned to keep them from falling into unfriendly hands as we abandoned Vietnam. I figure that’s what happened to my approved medal application. It didn’t matter because all I wanted out of Vietnam was me, and I accomplished that.
When I left Vietnam, I had orders assigning me back into the Strategic Air Command with a stop enroute to Castle AFB near Merced, California to attend B-52 upgrade training. During B-52 training, SAC headquarters changed my assignment from SAC Headquarters to McCoy AFB in Orlando, Florida where they wanted me to be Wing Standardization Section Chief. However, the Wing was heavily engaged in bombing Vietnam and the plan was to assign me to Standboard detachment and send me back to Vietnam for an indefinite period. THAT DID IT! Right then and there I told the Operations Officer I wasn’t about to go back to Vietnam! I just came from there where those folks were seriously trying day and night to kill my ass.
He thought I was kidding until I took off my wings and told him, “I quit!” They didn’t know what to do with me. That’s how I ended up spending my final assignment in the Wing command post and flying the T-29. One result of my mutiny, however, was that I didn’t get promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and eventually retired as a Major. But I remain alive!
On 1 January 1976, I retired in Orlando, Florida and still live in the same house. I am proud of my military service and I would do it all again in a heartbeat. A bitchin’ outfit is a happy outfit!
Engine Fire on Takeoff
On one nighttime takeoff as I broke ground and called for gear up, the tower called me and said my right engine was on fire. I knew a fully loaded AC-119G would not fly on one engine. I decided to leave the engine running. I declared an emergency and stated my intention to return and land. Right then and there I earned my flight pay.
In the meantime, my flight engineer was attempting to shut down the burning engine – just like the good book says. I kept slapping his hands away from the controls. (I would like to be able to apologize to this young man someday if possible.) When I got things under control, I asked the engineer if the engine was still producing power and he confirmed it was producing about 70 percent. I told him to let it run; we were going to need every bit of power to make the runway.
The burning engine was sitting in the middle of a wing that contained a fuel tank full of aviation gasoline. As I proceeded with the flight pattern the engine continued burning to beat hell and getting closer and closer to the fuel tank. When I knew I had the runway made, and that the landing gear was down and locked, I told the engineer to shut down the engine and hit the fire extinguisher. He did and the fire went out. The engine was shot. Lots of melted pieces and parts. We landed, went to the backup gunship and flew our mission.
Technical Order 1C-119G-1 states that the proper action for an engine fire is to shut down the engine.
However, the T.O. also states that “Instructions in this manual are for a crew inexperienced in the operation of this aircraft. This manual provides the best possible operating instructions under most circumstances, but is a poor substitute for sound judgment. Multiple emergencies, adverse weather, terrain, etc., may require modification of the procedures.” In other words there is no substitute for common sense. Blindly following printed procedures can kill you! There is no substitute for sound judgment and experience.
Life-Changing Near Miss
On one of my last missions flying out of Tan Son Nhut, we were on station near Kampong Cham, Cambodia talking to a FAC who claimed he was working about 10 miles north of us. Suddenly an OV-10 filled our windscreen. He crossed directly in front of us from left to right, and at our same altitude. He was flying with his exterior light off and was so close I could actually read his instrument panel, which was lit up with red lights. To this day, I don’t know how we didn’t hit him with our right propeller. We were flying toward him at 180 mph. This clown drove right across our nose at our altitude. My co-pilot Lt. Don Craig also saw him; we just looked at each other without saying a word.
We reported this near miss after landing. It turned out that this Forward Air Controller was illegally flying in an area and at an altitude that was reserved for us. I learned later the FAC got zapped by the powers that be and was shipped out. I believe no one has ever come that close to a mid-air collision and lived to tell about it. More than anything else, this near miss really scared me and has haunted me to this day. We were over the most hostile territory in the world, flying in a country that our President claimed we were not in. Had we collided and survived, nobody would have come looking for us. Add to that, the North Vietnamese had classified us “air pirates” and had a price on our heads. Bad Karma!