I was an Artillery guy, and was a Battery Commander of B Battery, 1st Artillery BN, 4th Regiment, 4th Division as a 1st LT. Then I got out ranked, and was moved to BN S-2 (Intelligence Officer). I had always wanted to fly, so I volunteered to go to flight school. I graduated from flight school in January 1964, went of leave, and then got to Vietnam in March 1964. I was assigned to the 52nd Combat Aviation Battalion in Pleiku, at Camp Holloway. I got there, and they immediately sent me back to Saigon as the BN Liaison officer, to meet the incoming troops for the BN, and find them housing, and transportation to Pleiku. I did the reverse for the outgoing troops. It was good duty, but not much flying.
I got my flight time while in Saigon with the UTT (Utility Tactical Transport Company). It was the first Huey gunship company in Vietnam. General "Jumping" Joe Stilwell started the company. I flew some combat assault missions with them, and some "ash and trash" missions. I kept griping about not getting a lot of flying, and wanting to go up to Pleiku. After four months, they told me to come up to Pleiku, and they assigned me as Asst. S-4 (Supply). I designed some defensive bunkers for the perimeter, and they were constructed to my specifications. I guess they had found out that I had studied engineering, and worked as a Highway engineer for awhile. I kept griping that I wanted to do more flying, so after another four months, they gave me command of the HQ Provisional Platoon. That lasted about two months and then a Capt that outranked me came in.
Our BN CO then was Lt. Col. John "Corn Cob" Hughes. He at that time was the most highly decorated soldier in the Army, except for the Medal of Honor. I would have done anything for him. He was the soldiers soldier. He backed me to the hilt several times. He created the COC (Combat Operations Center) and put me in charge. I was promoted to Captain about then. My job, with one Sgt. was to compile available ships for the next day, and compile and assign the missions for the units. During the day, I would do a recall of everyone, if a impromptu mission was called. I worked long hours and got to sleep in.
One night, on Feb 6th, 1965, I had gone to bed early, and about 8 PM, I woke up, as I thought I heard mortar rounds being fired. Being an S-2, I had trained infantry mortar Forward Observers. I jumped out of bed, and struggled to find my gear. I jumped in the nearest foxhole, and waited for help and the mortar rounds to arrive. Nothing happened.
I went back to bed, and organized my gear this time. At 2 AM on the 7th, a NV Company launched about 100 rounds of mortar fire on us. They also walked past our perimeter guards and satchel charged most of our Hueys. Two of our gunships got airborne, and one crashed. I directed the search for the attackers, but they were impossible to find. Out of 140 people on the base, 100 were wounded, some seriously, and 5 killed. I spent the night compiling a log of the activity, and directing the evacuation of the most seriously wounded to Nha Trang to our Hospital.
While I was doing this, Reporter Bill Mauldin, Bruce's son, came in and wanted a weapon. I gave him my prized M2 Carbine, and he came back in and while picking up and carrying wounded, he laid it down and lost it. I gave him a 12 Ga. Same story! So I unstrapped my personal LW Colt Commander .45 and threatened his life if he lost it. I still have it! I love to shoot it. It is SN 709 LW, which is a very early one.
In the light of day, it was a mess. Of course, Saigon wanted in the action, so they sent a plane load of reporters to see what had happened. Col Hughes had me brief them.
We got our sister company at Quin Nhon to send Hueys to us, and the S-3 Major Joe Palastra calculated how and where the attackers had gone, and we mounted an assault. We found them, and killed several, including the Company Commander. We captured his pack and his diary. They had been sent down from North Vietnam especially to attack us. Palastra was a brilliant officer, and he eventually ended up as a four star General. He called me about a year ago.
I extended my tour six months, and stayed as the Asst S-3 until I left in end of August 1965. I was supposed to go to Advanced Artillery School, but told the Pentagon that I did not want to go to the Missile School. I loved the tube artillery too much. So they sent me to Ft. Wolters to the be a flight instructor at the Primary Helicopter School. I taught several classes, and Vietnam was really cranking up, and they needed Student Check Pilots, so I volunteered. I ended up as the Asst. Chief of Flight Evaluation, running the student check pilot section with 25 of us giving check rides. We rode 3 to 4 check rides per day. I had to interview the failing students, and make my recommendation as to what should happen to them, and have three secretaries type up my report to the Elimination Board. I did that until I got out of the Army in April, 1967. In the meantime, I met a cute Texas girl in her first year out of college, teaching school. We have been married 50 years this last April.
I got out, and started applying to every airline in the US, and got accepted by United Airlines. I flew them for nearly 30 years, retiring as a Captain on the B757/767 fleet. I flew DC-6, DC-8, DC-10, B727, B737, B757, B767, and every version of the B747. I flew for ten years to the Pacific, and some to Paris. I was supposed to fly to London, and I had my 4th and 5th back surgery, and got grounded, and retired. I never got to fly into London except as a passenger. Good career!
I currently work at our Historic Aviation Memorial Museum, here in Tyler, TX restoring the old war birds. Mostly do the painting. We just finished a F9F Cougar that was heading for the scrap heap when we saved it. I painted it exactly as it was when it was assigned to the USS Essex. The photo of the Cougar on the front cover of the book about them is the exact airplane that we have. You can see it on my Facebook photos.
So that is more than you probably ever wanted to know.
Cheers, and hoist a Single Malt for me! My fathers family is from Balmungie Farm, Rosemarkie, Ross and Cromarty, on the Black Isle. It's my preferred libation!
John D Mustard