William “Bill” H. Woolard, Navigator
71st/17th SOS, Nha Trang, Da Nang, and Phan Rang, 1968-69
William Haynie “Bill” Woolard – Navigator, born on September 6, 1928 in Newnan, Cowetta County, Georgia, I started school in Miami, Florida in 1933, continuing elementary education in West Palm Beach and graduating from Sylvester High School, Georgia in May 1945. After attending North Georgia College in Dahlonega for 3 quarters, I joined the U.S. Army Infantry reporting at Fort Bragg, North Carolina in July 1946 and then volunteered for the U.S. Army Air Corps. I was on active duty when the Air Corps became a separate branch of service, the U.S. Air Force in 1947.
After separating from the USAF with an honorable discharge in 1949, I entered the University of Georgia and attended graduation ceremonies in June 1952. I had completed graduation requirements in March and entered active duty as a second lieutenant in April at Robins AFB, GA with the 1005th IG SIG. I had already received my officer’s commission in the USAF Reserve in 1951.
With no foreseeable openings available for pilot training, I applied for navigator school and attended Navigator training with the 3605th AOTG at Ellington AFB, TX, Class 56-16C from August 1955 to October 1956 and then Radar/Bombardier Navigator training at the Mather, AFB, CA from October ’56 to May ’57. My first assigned was to Pinecastle AFB, FL (later named McCoy AFB) as a B-47 crewmember. In 1959, I completed B-52 CCTS at Castle AFB, CA and was assigned to the 336th BOMRON (SAC) at Turner AFB, GA as a B-52 Radar/Bombardier Navigator.
In 1962, I was transferred to the 28th BOMRON and a later model B-52 at Homestead AFB, FL. In August 1966, I was assigned to the 636th CSG HQ, 13th AF (PACAF) at Clark AB, Philippine Islands as Group Chief Navigator C-47s, C-54s, C-118s, T-39s and Asst Flt. Ops Officer. The 636th provided R&R flights from Vietnam and operated Base Operations. It was a very interesting and fulfilling assignment, especially being instrumental in helping U.S. troops in Vietnam get a break and some R and R.
When my tour was up at Clark, P.I., I thought I was going to War College at Maxwell AFB, AL. Boy, was I wrong! I received orders to the 71st Special Operations Squadron, Nha Trang, RVN, flying AC-119s. I reported to Clinton County AF; Wilmington, Ohio to learn how to use the E-10 computer, sextant, and loran set, all of which I had been using extensively for the past two years. Then I went to Lockbourne AFB in Columbus for combat crew flight training in the AC-119G. I volunteered to ferry one of the airplanes from St. Augustine, FL to Nha Trang, RVN. I, the Navigator, was crewed with Maj. Richard E. Morgan, Pilot; Capt. William R. Casey, Co-Pilot; SSgt. Squires Riley, Flight Engineer, and SSgt. Paul Goen, Crew Chief. We departed on December 26, 1968 in aircraft number 52- 5942 and arrived at Nha Trang on January 20, 1969. We kept breaking down all along the way and sometimes had to wait for parts. Upon arrival, I was sent to Jungle Survival School (my second time) at Clark AB, P.I.
I served as Chief Navigator of the 71st SOS (later re- designated the 17th SOS) from Feb. ’69 to Oct. ’69. Most of the reserve troops of the 71st SOS (formerly 434th TAW) departed RVN for the states in June ’69. I left RVN in October ’69 due to my time in country while stationed at Clark. I was assigned to the 58th MAS at Robins AFB, GA flying C-141s. I retired from the USAF on December 1, 1970.
The following are some stories about flying AC-119 Shadow gunships in Southeast Asia. After my return to Nha Trang from a week at “Snake School” in the Philippines, I flew a couple of flights out of Nha Trang and Da Nang into Laos along the border of North Vietnam. I was then assigned to Crew #7 and we were sent to Phan Rang AB, RVN. The crew consisted of Lt. Col. William E. Long, Pilot and Detachment Commander; Lt. Col. Mathew (Mat) A. Boonstra, Co-Pilot; Lt. Col. William (Bill) H. Woolard (me), Navigator; Capt Michael R. Kiely, Navigator; SSgt. Richard L. Hupp, FE; SSgt. Leonard Swallom, IO; SSgt. Richard Williams, AG; and Sgt. James Tringle, AB.
Some of the most rewarding memories from flying Shadows was the association with the men from the original 71st SOS (434th TAW) troops. There were lots of really good men in the 71st and 17th and I thought very highly of all of them. Also, the “Thank You Shadow” and “God Bless You Shadow” radio calls that we received from the ground troops who we supported. I certainly did not envy our ground forces in the least.
On one occasion, an American and South Vietnamese patrol had gotten shot up pretty badly and had no water. We managed to stop the VC from attacking them and then we took all the water bottles (baby bottles) we had on board and dropped them to the patrols. We received the following message from them: “We don’t know what you look like or where you’re from, but we surely hope God will bless you.”
Another time, we were scrambled to defend an artillery outpost north of Saigon near Tay Ninh City. We encountered five enemy .51 caliber machine gun positions surrounding the outpost and numerous VC in the area. I asked Col. Long to drop down to a lower altitude and had the illuminator (white light) turned on momentarily to draw fire so I could get an exact pin point position on the VC .51 calibers. Even though we drew tremendous small arms fire and fire from the .51 caliber, we were able to pin point all five VC gun positions and destroy them and many of the VC foot soldiers. This saved the artillery outpost to continue their mission.
I also remember several occasions when our air base at Phan Rang came under attack from mortars and rockets. We Shadows would scramble to get in the air to attack those attacking us. Sometimes, Col. Long got the airplane engines started and was taxiing down the taxiway before me and other crewmembers were onboard the gunship. We had to run to catch up to the aircraft to be pulled onboard by fellow crewmembers. We were successful in breaking up mortar and rocket attacks on Phan Rang.
Before I left Vietnam and the 17th SOS, we had lost only one aircraft. I am not sure of all the names of the crewmembers, but my good friend and standout basketball player from Duke University, Major Bernard Knapic, was the pilot on that ill-fated flight. He had been sent from Phan Rang to Tan Son Nhut AB to help out with C Flight. His gunship crashed shortly after takeoff and he and most of his crew were killed.