“The Gift Part Two: The Air Force Years: 1965 – 1970” covers my Air Force years from October 1966 to April 1970. It begins where my first book “The Gift” left off. I have just left home for U.S. Air Force Undergraduate Pilot Training and am on my way to my assignment in C-141 Jet Transport Aircraft.
Would you begin at the beginning — where you grew up, school, going into the military, etc?
I grew up in a small East Texas town, and after graduating West Orange High School, I attended college at Ole Miss and The University of Texas. I graduated from Texas. I participated in the USAF ROTC Program in college, and got my Commission as a Second Lieutenant in the Air Force after graduation.
Where were you trained?
I actually started my flight training while I was still in high school. I was driving by the local airport one day and saw a small airplane near the parking lot. I stopped in asked the pilots standing by the airplane if they offered rides in it. They did, so I took one. About ten seconds after we left the ground, I knew I wanted to do this for the rest of my life. I was fifteen years old at the time.
With my parent’s permission, I started taking flying lessons one week later, and continued to fly through high school and college. After I got my Air Force Commission, I went to USAF Undergraduate Pilot Training. I was a member of Class 67-C, and was based at Webb AFB in Big Spring, Texas. UPT was a one-year course.
Can you tell me about your experience with flight school?
In my civilian training, where I worked my way up to Commercial Pilot with Single and Multi-Engine Ratings, I was taught by the Feuge Brothers, Clarence and Edward. Both men were fine pilots and I learned a lot from them. I started flying in July 1957, soloed on my 16th birthday in January 1958. Had my Private Pilot Certificate when I was 17, and was achieved my Commercial Pilot Rating at the age of twenty-one. I got my Multi-Engine Rating the same year I got my Commercial.
My year at Webb, in UPT, was without a doubt the best year of my life. I had 650 hours of flight time before I even reported for Air Force training, so I had a good jump on the program. Consequently, it was just a very exciting and fun school for me. I graduated high enough in my class to qualify for fighters, but I elected to fly C-141 jet transports instead.
What’s the best piece of advice you ever received about flying?
An old Captain once told me, “If your mind is not always five minutes ahead of the airplane, you are in trouble.”
Can you tell me about your Vietnam experience?
I had been flying the C-141, around the world, for two years. During that time I made two or three trips into Vietnam every month, supporting the war effort by bringing supplies in, and the wounded, and unfortunately, dead, personnel out. We got shot at a lot during our approaches and departures in Vietnam, and we were hit a time or two.
In December 1968, I was reassigned to Vietnam, flying the AC-47 “Spooky” Gunship. I was happy to be flying something that had the capability of shooting back. I flew “Spooky” from April 69 to December 69, when we turned that mission over to the South Vietnam Air Force. I was reassigned to the 362nd Electronics Warfare Squadron, where I flew the EC-47 aircraft until the end of my tour in April 70.
It would be impossible to tell about my entire Vietnam experience in one answer to your questionnaire, but I will say that the highlight of that tour was being assigned as a Flight Commander in the 4th Air Commando Squadron. I had the privilege of leading a great group of Officers and Enlisted Men in a mission that was vital to the safety of our ground troops. We provided night close air support, and were called in when those troops were under attack. We never lost an outpost!
As a Vietnam veteran, and because of the anti-war sentiment that prevailed when I got home, I never heard any praise for my work in Vietnam. BUT, I have heard from a lot of ground troops who said they lived to come home because of us. Most of them started off by saying, “Spooky” saved my ass one night… and then they would tell me their story. That was all the thanks I needed.
Which plane did you want to fly—but never got the chance to try out?
The F-100 Super Sabre was the airplane I could have, and should have flown, but for some reason I decided to fly transports and see the world instead. It’s a shame though, because I flew transports (airliners) most of my career, and the ONLY opportunity I would have had to fly the F-100 was while I was still in the Air Force. Big regret!
What did you think of the planes you flew during the war?
Well, the C-141 was not very glamorous as a war bird, but it performed a vital mission, and it was a fantastic airplane to fly. When I was flying it, it was the most modern jet transport in the Air Force inventory.
Conversely, the C-47 was the oldest transport aircraft in the Air Force, and in the gunship version it was a magnificent airplane. We carried three 7.62mm Minigun Machine Guns and were capable of firing at a rate of 6000 rounds per minute, per gun. The AC-47 was the “Proof of Concept” for side firing gunnery, and it led to the development of the AC-130 Gunships which are used to this day. As a little homage to the AC-47, the modern AC-130 uses our old call sign – “Spooky!”
What was your most hair-raising experience?
I flew for forty-five years before I retired, in Civilian, Air Force, and Airline flying, and there were quite a few “hair-raising” experiences. But, the one that immediately comes to mind was the day that I got caught above an overcast and had to fly around for four hours to find a hole to go down through to get below the clouds. I was a relatively new pilot at the time, and not instrument rated at the time, and penetrating those clouds could have been fatal.
Do you believe it was safer in the air than on the ground?
Statistically it is safer in the air. I was blessed to have a career that included over twenty thousand hours in flight, and I came away from it never hurting a passenger, bending an airplane, or violating a Federal Air Regulation.
What was your initial experience with the Viet-cong?
I went to war against them. They shot at me and I shot back at them.
Returning to America how do you feel when you look back on the war?
Well, when I returned there was a lot of Anti-War sentiment in America, so I decided to just forget about it and get on with my life. I honestly naver gave it much thought.
Now that nearly fifty years has gone by, I look back on my job as a “Spooky” Gunship pilot with pride, and that is validated when I meet veterans who say, “The only reason I am home today, is because of Spooky!”
I read THE GIFT. It was spellbinding. I was so sure that I would not like the THE GIFT PART TWO THE AIR FORCE YEARS, however, I bought the book. Was I ever wrong! THE GIFT-PART TWO-THE AIR FORCE YEARS was as spellbinding as the first book, THE GIFT.
Some friends and I were at the beach for a few days. I was reading THE GIFT PART TWO and telling my friends about the first book. One of my friends bought the book on Amazon and enjoyed it so much. She knew several people who were mentioned. I left the part two book with her when I came home. The other friend was reading the first book and waiting for part two. They both found the books spellbinding. We never turned the television on for three days.
Mike, I am waiting for THE GIFT PART THREE. Thanks for sharing your life experiences with us!