Stephen J. Zolock, Pilot
17th SOS, Tan Son Nhut, 1970
I grew up in Pensacola, FL; graduated from Florida State University with a B.A. in Asian Studies; and completed a year of graduate work in Int’l Affairs. After 5 years of study I was burned out so I walked down the street to the USAF Recruiting Office, took and passed the OTS entrance exam, and received my orders in a couple of weeks. After graduation and commissioning I completed UPT at Craig AFB, in Selma, AL where I received an AC-119G assignment.
After completion of jungle survival training in the Philippines, I arrived at Tan Son Nhut AB via Phan Rang AB in January 1970. Over the next 11 months I flew 170 missions, mostly in 3 and 4 Corps with a few in Cambodia. The worst moment was not in combat, but the night I was awakened by the Duty NCO and told that Shadow 78 had just gone in off the end of the runway with the death of all but two crewmembers, including my two best friends in the left and right seats.
After upgrading to Aircraft Commander, I was given a brand new 2nd Lt. and former football player as my co-pilot. On his first night mission with me with targets in the U Minh forest I explained our tactics to him as we drove to the target. I could see he was getting nervous. We had no latrine on board, it having been removed for weight savings, but he needed one. One of the gunners in the back dumped the flares out of a can and put it down for him. The edges, however, were razor sharp and the gunner said, “Hold her steady pilot”. After a minute or two a big hee haw from the back came up over intercom with, “he missed!” After landing the enlisted crew informed the unfortunate CP that “Sir, we ain’t cleaning up this mess”.
Things were gearing down in the war and I received a one month roll back on my tour, departing in November, 1970. I had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Silver Star, and Air Medal with 7 OLCs.
After my gunship tour in RVN I flew C-141s at Charleston AFB, SC; served an intel officer tour on Okinawa AB, Japan; flew C-5As at Dover AFB, DE; and became Director of Intel at the newly formed 23rd AF at Scott AFB. I then became Deputy J2 for intelligence at the Joint Special Ops Command (JSOC) at Ft Bragg and finished as the American Site Commander at a Russian ICBM plant treaty verification site in the Ural Mountains under the newly signed Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty.
I retired as a Lt Colonel in 1993, then began and retired from a career as a Contractor, with my wife Irina and daughter Melanie.