Racconti di Guerra

A Reluctant Warrior

Un altro racconto di guerra; questa volta l’utente TuskenRaiders scrive:

Not my story, but shared with permission from the author. Taken from an AC-119 facebook page that I'm a member of.


In 1967 I had joined the USAF, as my college endeavors had seriously run aground and I was reclassified 1A (prime candidate to carry a rifle in Southeast Asia).

I had grown up as an Air Force Brat and therefore,had a smattering of knowledge about the Air Force. One thing I knew, after talking with my Dad, who was a career AF NCO, WWII Vet (ground pounder) and Korean War Vet (USAF radar man); I saw no future as a ground pounder.

There was a lot of the anti war attitude going around the Riverside, California area. It was, after all, home to UC Riverside and Riverside City College. Learning institutions fully populated by draft age students and of course the obligatory agitators. I was not really sure of my stance on the War; other than it seemed that bad things were happening to the men that were called to participate. This pretty much solidified my choice to join the USAF. The USAF had airplanes and that was a good thing; I loved airplanes.

I had envisioned myself graduating college and becoming a fighter pilot. Well, that 1A reclassification brought that plan to an abrupt halt. I didn't have enough college credits to apply for any USAF programs. The only programs I was able to apply for were the delayed enlistment program (depart 90 days after you enlist) and the Buddy program. A high school chum named Tom Heaston and I agreed to commit to the dismal opportunities before us. We proudly arrived at the Air Force recruiter's office, ready to raise our right hands. The buddy program's only benefit was you would go to basic training with your “buddy”.

Sidebar note: I was really clever in my choice of AF career preference. My number one choice was ICBM Missile Maintenance. Ha! that'll be a good one. I'll not be subject to a Vietnam Tour because we don't have ICBM's in theater; clever boy, what!

I don't recall seeing much of Tom in basic training. I think we were in different flights. Regardless, I made it through basic training at Lackland AFB, Texas and eagerly awaited my orders for ICBM Missile Maintenance training. Well, as often is the case, the military has a warped sense of humor. The manpower personnel (perhaps the clanky old IBM computer) picked my name out of the hat; based on the word “missile”, I was selected to got to Lowry AFB, Colorado for Weapons Maintenance Technician School. When I asked the First Sergeant what that had to do with ICBMs, he responded that ICBMs were weapons, and weapons maintenance school also had missiles. I think he may have also said “you're gonna love it kid” as he ushered me out of his office.

To overly simplify for laymen, Weapons Maintenance was essentially handling missiles, guns, bullets and bombs (including nuclear weapons). Not exactly what I had hoped for, but at this time, I had no choice in the matter; my fate had been sealed.

As I began my training in Weapons, I was selected for training in Interceptor Weapons. In very short order, I breathed a sigh of relief as almost all of the interceptors I would be working on were based in the USA. Whew, a sigh of relief there; I concluded that this might work out okay, all things considered.

I was an honor student, scoring near the top of my class. I was feeling confident and eagerly awaited my first active duty assignment. My first choice was Oxnard AB, California; just down the road from Riverside. Things were looking up for me.

When the orders for me and my classmates came down, (remember my comment about military sense of humor?) I had to do a double take. My orders were for 29FIS, Logan Field, Montana. What? What happened to Oxnard? I know where Montana is; where is this place they are sending me? I'm a Southern California boy; I belong where it's warm with pretty girls languishing on the beaches.

Fast forward a year later, around September 1968. I had gone from Billings, Montana to Minot AFB, ND; and I was not looking forward to another winter in the Plutonic Ice Fields of North Dakota. While stationed at Minot, I had been contacted by my High School Alumni Association; and for a number of months I was receiving a newsletter in the mail; bringing a little touch of home to my life.

My Air Force career wasn't really all that bad. I had to deal with snow,ice and wind; but other than that it wasn't too bad.
Once my Background Investigation was completed, I would be able to perform more tasks on airplanes. At Minot, I had been introduced to my absolute favorite AF fighter, the F-106. Things were looking up. At least I wasn't one of those guys that got drafted or joined the Army/Marines. Most of those guys got sent to Vietnam; you know that place where bad things happen.

One day, I returned to my barracks with the day's mail. Included was an a Norte Vista Alumni Association Newsletter. I looked forward to reading about the kids I went to High School with.

Sometimes things happen that have a profound affect on your life. I was reading the Norte Vista HS Alumni letter and one of the articles was about the Alumni that were serving in Vietnam. Almost in shock, I read the report that Zack Earp had been seriously injured in Vietnam; and that he may be paralyzed. I did not know Zack well, but we shared a PE class or two and I remembered him as a good guy. The War had hit home to me.

I felt uneasy about having a pretty safe life here in North Dakota while people that I knew were really suffering in the War. I went about my daily routines, trying to not let it affect me; but it did.

One day, a Sergeant from personnel came to the Weapons Shop and made a pitch for weapons people to volunteer for a Special Project called Combat Hornet, Palace Gun. I believe pretty much everyone in the shop submitted their names on the list; I know I did. I determined that if selected, this may be a way for me to contribute to the war effort and make a small difference.

I had asked some of the older guys in the shop what could be the nature of the Project; as it wasn't divulged at the time. They said it might be to work on those Puff the Magic Dragon airplanes or maybe even fly in them. My eyes lit up and thought “wow, I might be able to fly in the AF after all”.

About a week or two later my shop chief directed me to report to the Personnel Office for special instructions. When I arrived at Personnel I was asked to take a seat and a Staff Sergeant proceeded to advise me that I had been selected as a Combat Airman and if I accepted, I would need to sign the appropriate paperwork. I was to become an Aircrew Member assigned to the Combat Hornet Project. I eagerly signed the paperwork and was given instructions regarding round trip travel to Ellsworth AFB, SD for altitude chamber training.

HooHee! I was off to the races. As it turned out, I was the only one in the shop selected. This provided a bit of short-lived notoriety. Once I completed my altitude chamber training, I received orders to report to the 4413 Combat Crew training Squadron, Lockbourne AFB, Ohio (Columbus).

In no time flat, I was walking out to the flightline being introduced to the ugliest, most ungainly looking airplane I had ever seen. We walked past the AC-47 Spookies (AKA Puff the magic dragon) and as we arrived at the AC-119 I asked, “we're going to fly in that old bucket of bolts”? I was seriously reconsidering my judgement.

After training completion I was assigned to the 71st Special Operations Squadron nee 71st Air Commando Squadron for duty. For a few months our crew flew proficiency flights; and then in late December we received deployment orders and the entire Squadron began our movement to Southeast Asia as a Combat Squadron.

And so began, the greatest adventure of my life.