OF REDLANDS, CALIFORNIA  - Founded 24 January 1895

4:00 P.M.

May 9, 2002

The Vietnam Conflict -
A Personal Account

Stuck02.jpg (174207 bytes)

by Monte Stuck

Assembly Room, A. K. Smiley Public Library


This paper records selected experiences of Monte L. Stuck during a one-year tour of duty with the United States Air Force in Southeast Asia from October, 1968 to October, 1969.   The experiences described include both those of training and the 184 combat missions that he flew as a weapons systems operator in the back seat of F-4 Phantom fighter jet aircraft, flying out of Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base at Udon Thani, Thailand while assigned to the 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron, the “Panther Pack.”

The Vietnam Conflict - A Personal Account

What is significant about the Vietnam conflict, which ended over 25 years ago, and why is it necessary to review today?

Not because it was America’s longest war. “It was the longest counting from 1950 when the United States began paying 80 percent of France’s cost in its war against Vietnamese insurgents, the Vietminh. It was the longest counting from 1960 when President Kennedy began increasing U.S. military advisors from several hundred to several thousand. And it was the longest war counting from 1965, when the first American ground combat divisions together with their support units began arriving.” [1]

Not because it is a war that will “not go away.” The Vietnam conflict still makes headlines: Time magazine, April 30, 1990: “Still a Killing Field. Cambodia remains a pawn in the regional power game…and the slaughter continues.” Time magazine, October 5, 1992: “The Wound That Would Not Heal. Vietnam changed Lewis B. Puller, Jr’s. life 26 years ago…and led to his suicide last week.” Time magazine October 17, 1994: “The Americans Left Behind. As the nation’s last Vietnam POW is declared dead, fresh details emerge on a failed effort to save captured servicemen.”

Just last April former U.S. Senator and Governor of Nebraska Bob Kerrey made headlines by stating to the press that a raid he led in the MeKong Delta 32 years ago—and for which he received the Bronze Star—was not as the award citation states. He said, “when the firing stopped, we found that we had killed only women, children and older men. It was not a military victory. It was a tragedy and I had ordered it.” [2]

And a review of the Vietnam conflict is not warranted by the sheer military effort expended: As of May of this last year, the names of 58,218 men and eight women appear on “the wall” in Washington D.C., memorializing those who died in Vietnam. Other statistics are equally overwhelming: There were 316,616 U.S. military wounded. Because of the use of booby traps and mines, over 10,000 U.S. servicemen lost at least one limb—more than all those in WWII and Korea combined. And the total tonnage of bombs dropped over North Vietnam, South Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos came to about 8 million—about 4 times the tonnage used in all of World War II. [3]

No, this review is because it was my war. I was there in 1968/1969, and I wanted to know what it was all about. In the 60’s in the United States we were being introduced to the drug revolution, free love, mini skirts, rock-and-roll, the birth control pill, a man on the moon, black power, and the Vietnam War. David Oshinsky writes in the New York Times Magazine about the 1960’s,

“The decade was not just culturally transformative—it was an intensely moralistic decade, and in so being, it raised the stakes of the game. Many young people marked their identities—not just for the moment but for the rest of their lives—by the stands they took on the grand issues of poverty, war, free speech and human rights. Unlike previous eras, moreover, the ‘60’s offered multiple, often conflicting, avenues of sacrifice. One could choose to fight in the Vietnam War or to oppose it. One could do battle with campus administrators or with Southern segregationists. The greatest sin, in retrospect, was to have passed through the decade with an empty slate.” [4]

Even folksinger Pete Seeger still entertains with the “Draft-Doger Rag.” He sings of what he says to the local draft board:

I’m only 18, I’ve got a rupture spleen,

and I always carry a purse,

I got eyes like a bat, and my feet are flat,

and my asthma’s getting worse.

Think of my career, my sweetheart dear,

and my poor old invalid aunt—

Besides I ain’t no fool, I’m going to school,

and I’m working in a defense plant. [5]

The books written on the Vietnam conflict—and there are hundreds—can be sorted into four major categories. First, the “Prelude,” explaining how we got there, such as Weldon A. Brown’s “Prelude to Disaster, America’s Role in Vietnam, 1940-1963. These books are interesting reading, and generally present very little disagreement on the statement of the early events.

Second, the massive volume of books regarding the history of the conflict itself, now rife with different points of view. President Richard Nixon in his book, “No More Vietnams,” wrote, “No event in American history is more misunderstood than the Vietnam War. It was misreported then, and it is misremembered now. Rarely have so many people been so wrong about so much. Never have the consequences of their misunderstanding been so tragic.” [6] In this book, President Nixon’s bottom line is, “We won the war in Vietnam, but we lost the peace. All that we had achieved in twelve years of fighting was thrown away in a spasm of congressional irresponsibility.” [7]

… Among the history books are countless statements of “Monday morning quarterbacking,” including some failing to learn Sunday’s lesson on a Monday. For example, Admiral Ulysses Grant Sharp, Jr., American Air Commander in the Pacific, stated that the United States should have “hit the enemy where it hurt—in the heartland of North Vietnam before Hanoi’s Soviet and Chinese patrons constructed powerful air defenses,” [8] and Admiral Thomas H. Moorer, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the latter part of the Vietnam War, claimed in 1987 that without restrictions on bombing “we could have polished those clowns off in six months.’” [9]

In his book “Vietnam, The Necessary War,” author Michael Lind quoted Eliot Cohen’s explanation of how the type of war in Vietnam evolved in time. “In 1965, American troops engaged a Vietnamese enemy predominantly organized and equipped for guerrilla warfare; in 1972, it helped fight a much more conventionally organized foe; and in 1975, its hapless South Vietnamese ally succumbed to a thoroughly conventional invasion, spearheaded by armored columns.” [10] Robert K. Brigham, co-author of “Argument Without End, In Search of Answers to the Vietnam Tragedy,” expressed a similar position,

“…the U.S. forces arrived in Vietnam prepared to turn back an invasion of South Vietnam by North Vietnam. If that had been the nature of the problem, the United States might have been successful. But what they encountered, and what some analysts still find it impossible to accept, is a war in the South that was fundamentally a war among southerners. Each side had a more powerful patron—the NLF (National Liberation Front) was allied to Hanoi and the South Vietnamese government to the United States. And in this kind of war, the United States, along with its uninspired and hapless South Vietnamese allies, did not “know the territory.’” [11]

This book, co-authored by Robert S. McNamera, concluded in it’s listing of “fundamental failures” by the U.S., that “…American ignorance of Asia was such that we did not know what we did not know.” [12] The authors’ final conclusion was “the failure to acknowledge that some problems in International Affairs have no solution, particularly no military solution…we created the entity called South Vietnam and created a president…our ‘solutions’ became the problem.” [13]

The third grouping of Vietnam books are those with the word “defeat” or “tragedy” in their title, and universally discuss our withdrawal from Vietnam with liberal amount of political spin. Such books include President Nixon’s “No More Vietnams,” and Robert S. McNamara’s “In Retrospect, the Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam.”

The last category of Vietnam books are the personal memoirs. They are countless, such as Paul G. Hensler’s “Don’t Cry, It’s Only Thunder; One man’s rescue of the children of the war in Southeast Asia.” And Larry Hughes’ “You Can See a Lot Standing Under a Flare in the Republic of Vietnam: My Year at War.” And particularly gripping are the POW memoirs, such as Jeremiah A Denton, Jr’s. “When Hell was in Session,” and Everett Alvarez’s “Chained Eagle” describing his eight and one-half years as a POW—the first American pilot in captivity. But of course, no personal memoir is more interesting than my own.

When I first heard that U.S. troops were being used in Vietnam, I was an Air Force captain assigned to the navigator position on a B-52 crew at Westover Air Force Base, Springfield, Mass. Soon thereafter, I was upgraded to the more prestigious radar bombardier position of this strategic nuclear bomber, and content that I would not become involved with the Vietnam business. After all, B-52s were reserved for the “big one,” and Vietnam would only involve fighter support at most, an aircraft that I certainly would not be flying. I was wrong on both counts. The B-52 eventually saw a lot of action in Vietnam as a “conventional” hard bomb weapons platform. In fact, the very aircraft I was flying at Westover were those converted from their nuclear configuration and flown in Southeast Asia. But I wouldn’t be in them; I would be flying fighters instead.

I was released from B-52s in the late summer of 1966 upon special selection to attend the University of Southern California to obtain a Masters degree in motion picture production under the Air Force’s Armed Forces Institute of Technology program. I was delighted with the assignment, since only one Air Force officer per year was selected for this degree program while still receiving full military pay and benefits.

The 18 months at USC, preparing me for subsequent assignment making training films for the Air Force, was a wonderful experience. I met actors such as David Niven on set; I worked a weekend with a film crew with Raymond Burr, and met many of the working Hollywood technicians. Most noteworthy was the fact that George Lucas was also a fellow student, and I worked on one of his student productions with him, a film named “THX,” which he subsequently remade in 35mm and released to theaters after graduating. That was before he made “American Graffiti,” and the “Star Wars” series.

Before graduating from USC in January, 1968, and hearing that I would be assigned to a flying position, I volunteered for Southeast Asia as a photo officer. After 18 months of concentrated study of photographic techniques and processes, I was ready to take on any photo job, large or small. I was absolutely stunned when I received orders to report to Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, for F-4 flying training. I didn’t even know F-4s had two seats, let alone the fact that they could use a navigator. I found out that not only did they have two seats, but that the back seat was fully instrumented, and complete with stick and throttles. The Air Force version of the F-4 had always previously used two pilots, but since Vietnam had now escalated to the point that pilots who had not yet served a tour was fast becoming rare, the Air Force decided to “experiment” with navigators in the back seat of this high performance aircraft.

The F-4 jet fighter, a no-nonsense-looking aircraft nicknamed the "Phantom," while not “state of the art," was the most advanced aircraft of any significant number the Air Force then had. The pilot, or aircraft commander (regardless of the rank of the individual in the back seat) sat in front. The "guy in back" sitting in tandem, was usually called just that: a "GIB." On occasion he was also called a "Whiz-0" (for WSO, for weapons systems operator), because in addition to sharing the flying duties, he also operated the inertial navigation system and radar system. Originally developed by the Navy for carrier operations, the F-4 was a fairly large fighter: 48' in length with a 38' (foldable) wingspan, and built tough. Although a Mach-2 fighter, without its two powerful engines developing 33,000 pounds of thrust, its glide path without engine power was nearly straight down. It was one of the first tactical aircraft to possess an inertial navigation system, so even after hours of high speed, high-g combat, the navigation read-out would always tell you where you were; a miracle for us navigators who knew what it was to determine one's position in the world from ground-mapping radar or celestial observations.

The orders to Nellis were subsequently changed to 6 weeks at Davis-Monthan AFB, Tucson, Arizona, for F-4 ground school, followed by 5 months of flying training at MacDill AFB, Tampa, Florida. Ground school at Davis-Monthan was uneventful. Flying training at MacDill was just the opposite.

Shortly after arriving at MacDill, I caught the flu; the kind that hung on for weeks. My first flight was with an instructor in the front seat. This first flight was known as "the dollar ride," as the back-seater's only requirement was to ride along and become familiar with the aircraft. The mission profile: maximum performance climb (that’s straight up), supersonic flight (Mach 2), high-g maneuvers, slow flight, stall characteristics (dirty and clean…”dirty” is with gear and flaps full down) and landing. For a navigator fighting off the effects of the flu, and one who had not flown anything that banked more that 45 degrees, the F-4 was a new experience.

My second flight was with Captain Wayne Pearson, a student pilot who was "soloing" in the F-4 for the first time (he had had four previous flights with an instructor). Mission profile: Get the plane safely into the air, fly it around awhile, and land safely. Since Wayne had been an instructor pilot in the T-37 trainer, I felt fortunate to have been paired with him for our training at MacDill. We found out on that first flight, however, that the F-4 did not fly like the T-37. Once off the ground and into the practice area, we proceeded to lose control of our aircraft on the very first chandelle maneuver. Basically, we had allowed the aircraft to stall with its nose straight up. Luckily, we had started our maneuver at approximately 20,000 feet; but it was interesting sitting there watching the altimeter rapidly unwind as we fell straight down, tail first. Eventually, the nose fell over and we were able to pull out at 4,000 feet. The flight surgeon thought my continued symptoms of the flu were imagined. I began to wonder myself.

We learned to fly the airplane as a team through all the phases of training: combat maneuvers, including all the "dog-fight" maneuvers, and counter-maneuvers; aerial gunnery; and ground weapons delivery, including gun, bombs and rockets--some thirty flights in all. Night bombing range missions were probably the most difficult. The pilot was generally "pressing" to get a good score for his class standings. (Pressing is releasing the weapon from the aircraft during the dive at a lower altitude than previously agreed during mission planning with the GIB.) Aircraft recovering (pulling out) at less than 1,000 feet were fouled by the range officer and directed to return to base to explain to the mission instructor upon his return. Considering a dive rate of approximately 700 feet per second, a recovery under 1,000 feet did not represent a whole lot of time before ground impact. I was fouled twice during range missions: once with Wayne and once with another pilot due to a faulty airspeed indicating system.

During one night bombing mission on the range, Wayne and I almost stalled out again. The night was foggy, and the light from the instructors parachute flare turned the range into a "milk bowl" effect, with no visual up or down, only a circle of light around the flare. Straining to look back through the fog to see our bomb impacts, we were not attentive to our recovery air speed following the first bombing pass. We practically flew into the next county on the deck to gain enough air speed to recover. During this time we turned off our rotating beacon so the airborne instructor circling the range could not see us. Upon return to the range we popped back into our position between two other students before turning our beacon back on. At mission debrief, the pilot we had sandwiched in front of remarked, "Boy that was murky out there. On the second pass I didn't see you, and then all of the sudden you were right in front of me."

Generally, our training was configured in flights of four, which was standard combat configuration. One day the cloud cover was solid at about 5,000 feet over southern Florida, so our four-ship was headed to the bombing range in loose formation (approximately three plane widths apart) just below the clouds so we could maintain visual contact with one another and with the ground. The four-ship just ahead of us, now returning from the range back to MacDill were flying at the same altitude. Somehow, the two formations of eight aircraft passed through each other. I was to be a participant in a repeat of this pass-through maneuver in Southeast Asia, when our combat loaded aircraft met a flight of Navy F-4s returning to their carrier during monsoon weather. No casualties in either incident, but in both cases a scary occurrence.

Training was not over with the MacDill, experience. Next was sea-survival training at Homestead AFB, Florida. This included such learning experiences as: gliding blindfolded down a cable from a tall tower into the water to simulate parachuting into the water; being dragged behind a motor launch to practice parachute release techniques; and spending a full half day floating in the ocean in a one-man raft, to practice floating in the ocean in a one-man raft.

Next stop: Clark AFB in the Philippines. Clark was the location for a week's jungle survival training, because its flora most nearly matched that of Vietnam. We learned (and practiced) what plants to eat, how to escape and evade, and all the procedures associated with helicopter rescue.

One exercise in evasion pitted our ability to hide in the jungle at night to avoid being caught by the local Negretto, the native indian of the Philippines. The arrangement was that we could hide anywhere in a designated three-mile square area in the jungle. We were each given three metal tokens: two painted white and one red. A white token was to be given to the Negretto if you were "found," and was worth a pound of rice to him upon redemption. The red token was to be given if you were in trouble or hurt, and its redemption value was worth considerably more if turned in and help was sought immediately. We were turned loose to hide approximately two hours prior to dark; and what dark it was on that moonless night below a solid jungle canopy! I hid below the ground cover with the snakes at the very edge of a shear cliff over-looking a deep canyon. Impossible to find. Later that night I heard animated talking from a long way off. The Negrettoes. As they got closer their shouts were occasionally punctuated by racous laughter. Obviously enjoying themselves. Closer still, and I concluded that they must be drunk to be having what sounded like such a good time. I pressed deeper into the undergrowth, face down, unmoving, as I detected their lights coming. And then a tap on the shoulder. I turned to see the happiest, toothless smile of an old indian man wearing a miner's hard hat, complete with a light on the front. We both laughed together. I realized that for him, this night was as easy as strolling in his back yard.

Without leaving the airport in Bangkok, it was obvious that Thailand had a different look, a different smell, and different values. I transferred to a C-47 shuttle aircraft for the flight north to Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base, at Udon Thani, just miles from the Laos border.

The base was typical: rows of two-story, screened barracks and officer hootches on one side of the runway, and operational units on the other. A beat-up blue Air Force bus with a Thai driver made the trip back and forth every 20 minutes. Our base had: a fighter-reconnaissance wing (the 432nd) consisting of two F-4E fighter squadrons (the 35th and the 555th) and an F-4C reconnaissance squadron; a Thai army unit (occasionally seen "in camp" with outdoor cooking fires tended by their wives) and one Air America squadron, (one of the CIA fronts at the time) primarily flying old WWII prop fighters literally dripping with armament. At the very end of the runway was an old, abandoned wooden hanger built and used by the Japanese--a reminder of days past.

For aircrews, day-to-day living could be extremely comfortable. All aircrew hootches (two-man units) had closeable windows and window air conditioning units which ran night and day. No ground crew quarters had air conditioning. While others sweltered in the oppressive humidity of Thailand, I slept under an army blanket on a steel-spring cot. Mosquitoes, however, were horrific.

On the second day I checked out of supply a large mosquito net (actually a large tent liner), and spanned it over my bed with a rope--not unlike a king's canopy bed. The hootch maid said nothing, but I found out later she showed it to all the other maids. The maids were hired and paid by the aircrews to keep the hootch clean and do the laundry. While cleaning the room generally only involved making the bed (clean sheets twice a week), the laundry task took the most effort, and was the most appreciated. The job included finding the dirty clothes (often for party-going young flyers not as easy as one might suspect), washing, ironing (everything was ironed, including the flight suit that was often sweated out before getting to the aircraft), folding the laundry, and arranging it neatly into the metal locker. The maids were extremely shy, hardworking, and treated with exceptional courtesy by the aircrews. They also wept openly when their crewmember packed to leave at the end of his tour.

I was assigned to the 35th Tactical Fighter Sqdn, the "Panther Pack," and for a number of months I would be the only navigator back-seater in the squadron. All the rest were young pilots. Pearson, who was my pilot during training at MacDill, was assigned to the Wing's other fighter squadron, the 555th, or "Triple Nickel," so I never flew with him again. He was shot down four months later, on Washington's birthday, in the Plain of Jars area of Laos, just 150 miles north of Udorn. His back-seater, who was rescued amidst heavy ground fire, stated that he believed Wayne never ejected.

The week I arrived at Udorn the Pentagon changed the rules for the length of tour from the traditional 100 combat missions to a one year tour. As a result, I flew 184 combat missions, 20 over North Vietnam, and the remaining 164 over Laos. Our primary mission was one of interdiction--stopping trucks/troops/supplies coming down the Ho Chi Minh Trail from North Vietnam into South Vietnam. In 1968, only a very small portion of Laos was under actual control of the Laotian government recognized by the United States; Pathet Lao forces, supported by the Chinese, Russians and North Vietnamese, owned most of the real estate. As far as aircrews were concerned, flying over Laos was like flying over North Vietnam, except for the surface-to-air missiles (SAMs).

For the first seven months of my tour, my pilot was Major Bill Anderson, perhaps one of the nicest fellows in the squadron and extremely levelheaded. I hated to see him go when he rotated back to the States the following May. We worked well together. On my fourth mission we escorted a reconnaissance F-4 across North Vietnam, and on my sixth mission Bill and I were designated as mission leads. We led 90 percent of all our flights from that time on--either two ship, or four ship, whatever the "frag" called for. The missions varied somewhat according to the target, but primarily we carried hard bombs and/or rockets and/or CBUs (cluster bomb units ) whose case opened in midair and released hundreds of hand grenade-type bomblets in a widespread pattern for use against personnel. The CBUs were effective, as this message from Seventh Air Force Headquarters assessing one of our flights reported:



Since most of the truck traffic on the trail moved under the cover of darkness, our air war was at night. Rarely did we fly during the day. The major difficulty in flying at night, especially in the marginal weather often present in Southeast Asia, was the problem of keeping track of which way was up. While in weather when it was necessary to fly in tight formation with the lead and not able to monitor one’s

own instruments, vertigo would often set in. The GIB could help the pilot shake his false sense by position by reading the instruments and on interphone keep a patter going of "we're straight and level.....we're starting a slight left turn ... still turning.... etc."

Another concern, not often experienced but usually fatal when it happened, was the loss of orientation during the bombing run. When circling the target at night, the aerodynamically quickest way to begin the dive to the target ( and to keep the target in sight at all times), is to roll inverted, pull the nose down while keeping the target oriented within the electronic pipper display, and then roll back right side up while still diving. What with the GIB calling out on interphone such things as, "you're shallow, we'll hold the pickle 500," and calling the altitudes every 1,000 feet, and advising on airspeed, and with distracting ground fire, occasionally the crew forgets to roll back from their initial inverted position. The big surprise comes after bomb release and pulling back on the stick to climb instead increases the dive angle from 45 degrees to straight down. A navigator friend of mine in the squadron, Major Jim Dennany, and his pilot did that one night. The remainder of the flight knew immediately what happened when they saw a large fireball explosion short of the target, and then bombs hitting the target a split second later.

While it took considerable more piloting skill to fly combat at night, the night also hid us from the antiaircraft gunners--for the most part. As lead, it was our practice to leave our rotating beacon on to the target area to aid the remainder of the flight in knowing our position.

One night in the Tchepone area on our first pass the antiaircraft fire was extremely heavy, and uncomfortably close. The white-hot tracers were lighting up the cockpit like midday. Our wing man advised us just prior to release, "Lead, you've got your beacon on!"

Most often we worked with a forward air controller (FAC) in the area of the target. These pilots usually flew slow-moving prop aircraft that could linger in the target area for hours, and usually high enough above the action to keep from getting shot down. Being familar with the ground activity in his sector, the FAC was an invaluable link in the effective bombing team; especially when working some of the more distant targets when fighter fuel was low. One day our flight (call sign of Boswell) received the following letter of appreciation from one of these FACS, with the call sign of Nail 02:

On 4 April 1969, 0745Z, Boswell Flight rendezvoused with Nail 02 over target number 136, a truck park and storage area. The weather in the area was marginal: ceiling: 8000 feet, visibility 3 miles in rain, and thunderstorms associated with a squall line. The target area was defended with ZPU and 23mm antiaircraft artillery. Although a previous flight of fighter aircraft declined to enter the area, Boswell penetrated the weather and completed the rendezvous by homing on the UHF transmissions of Nail 02. After identifying the target, Boswell lead and his wing man made several very accurate attacks. These attacks were accomplished in the face of concentrated enemy fire as evidenced by numerous tracers around each attacking aircraft. Although no direct results were observed, Nail 02 did note that all enemy fire ceased subsequent to the attack. Nail 02 was impressed by the aggressiveness displayed by Boswell on this occasion.

I saved this letter, as it was rare to get a commendation like this from a FAC, a person who daily worked with a lot of fighter flights. As the days and weeks passed, we got very good at what we did. Since I had so much experience as a "lead GIB," I was often scheduled to fly with new pilots coming into the squadron on their first flight. On one particular flight with a new pilot, since we were "blue four" (number four aircraft in a four-ship), he was gracious to let me "have the stick" to the tanker, to the target and back home again. I even got in some practice flying formation in the pattern over the base. After the flight I was completing the paperwork by logging our flight time, and entered into the log, "nav." He blurted out, "A navigator? ... gees, I let you fly the pattern!" The other six guys in the flight just smiled. It made my day.

Tired of waiting for the bus to shuttle back and forth between the hootch and the squadron, I purchased an old motorcycle from another officer who was ending his tour. I never rode it into town, because although the road was paved (in most places), the traffic was horrendous and the quality of the drivers, worse. I did, however, have to go off-base occasionally to get gasoline.

About to turn into the gas station across the on-coming traffic, I slowed and waited for an opening. I noticed in my rear view mirror a large black automobile bearing down on me from behind. Rarely does one use arm motions to signal a turn on the roads in Thailand, but I did

then because I wasn't sure the car behind was paying the proper attention. I watched in the rear view mirror until he was too close to either stop or swing around me, and grabbed both handlebars for the impact.

That old hulky motorcycle immediately became airborne and began to execute a slow roll to the right. When it was 90 degrees to the road, I pushed off, and skidded for an interminable distance on two points: the side of my helmet and my right elbow, folded under my stomach. I remember watching the yellow centerline of the road going by under my visor, and recall looking ahead to see just who was going to run over me. I was certain someone would as I continued skidding. Finally I stopped and scrambled on hands and knees to the ditch at the edge of the road to seek refuge.

I tried to stand, but as I did, the day began to black out. I was aware that five or six Thai army soldiers had piled out of the black car that hit me. Two were helping me stand, while others were trying to bend the motorcycle back in shape and get it started again. I put my head down and things began to clear.

Then, it was definitely an American woman's voice: "May I help you?" I looked up and into focus came a young, beautiful, blonde hanging out the window of an automobile that had stopped beside me. My response was, "What?" I was stunned. This was not real. I had not seen an American woman for months. Am I in heaven?

It turned out that she was the wife of an Air America pilot and had happened along at just the right time. As shabby as I looked (right leg of the flight suit ripped down from the waist and right sleeve bloody), she gave me a ride back to the base. The Thai soldiers helped another American gentleman (who were all these people on this little narrow road in this unknown place in the world?) load the motorcycle into his station wagon to haul back to the base. The guys just hooted when they saw me pushing that old motorcycle back to the hootch, with one leg of the flight suit trailing behind. I told the flight surgeon after he swabbed the asphalt out of my elbow that I was a member of the 555th and not scheduled to fly that night. I flew that night with the 35th, and winced every time we pulled g's.

I had three respites from flying combat during the year. The first was to fly one of the squadron's F-4s back to Clark AFB in the Philippines to test fire both a Falcon and a Sidewinder missile from the plane. The mission was two-fold: to give the crew experience in expending these weapons which we carried on every mission for air-to-air defense; and to check that the aircraft systems for these missiles were still in good working order. My radar-directed Falcon worked like a charm. The heat-seeking Sidewinder system needed three days of repair, during which time I enjoyed the swimming pool and eating facilities of the Clark officers club. In contrast to food out of a can at Udorn, the Clark escargot and every evening of big bands will never be forgotten.

The second vacation was just that: 3 weeks leave to go back to Michigan. In three days I had hitched military rides back to Hawaii before getting bogged down there and had to pay for a commercial flight to Michigan. The time home was terrific, and the trip back to Udorn uneventful. The last leg was interesting, however. I flew on a KC-135 tanker on an actual mission across Vietnam--North Vietnam, that is. Unarmed and unescorted. They would only say that they were there in case "a special mission needs refueling." Fine with me, I figured they must know what they were doing; and the fare was right.

The third respite: near the end of my tour I had built up enough seniority to get the R & R (rest and recuperation) trip of my choice: Australia. My wife, Nelda, flew out from Michigan, toured New Zealand on the way, and met me in Sydney. What a contrast to go from the hot, humid climate of Thailand to ski in the Great Snowy mountains south of Sydney. We took the tours the military had lined up for us, plus some of our own, both fell dead asleep at the theater while watching a Shakespearean play, and generally had a wonderful time, light years away from the war.

Seeing Nelda in Australia heightened my anticipation of the last flight. Finally it came, and it was over. I enjoyed the traditional "hosing down" after that last flight, and the glass of champagne. Later, sitting alone in the hotel restaurant in Bangkok waiting for my flight to the States I felt guilty leaving my friends to fly without me. But I didn't ask for an extension, as a few others had. The Air Force awarded me the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Bronze Star, and ten Air Medals. That one year was enough, I had done my bit.

What did you citizens pay out in taxes for my 1-year tour? The direct costs of the 2-man F-4 crew, in 1968 dollars, are simple to calculate:

Ordnance $1.00/pound

12 x 250 lb/mission x 184 ………$ 552,000

Fuel $0.15/gallon

12,000-15,000# /hour cruise

45,000# = 5400 gals x 0.15 x 184…149,000

Maint $500/flight hour

3 hrs x 184 x $500……………..…..276,000

Salary Two officers……………………50,000

TOTAL                                         $ 1,027,000

(This does not include aircraft depreciation, or staff support costs)


What did this effort cost the enemy?

Enemy trucks                     $4000 each x 30  $ 120,000

AAA sites                         $5000 each x 20    100,000

Road Repair                     $ 100/crater x 100     10,000

People               no direct cost

TOTAL                                                           $230,000

Cost/benefit ratio: 4.6:1


So, do I have any regrets having spent the year in Vietnam? No

Do I believe it was a mistake for the U.S. to have been there?No

Were there mistakes made in conducting the conflict?  Yes

Could we have not made these mistakes?  Probably not

Have we learned from these mistakes?  Absolutely

You have seen in Desert Storm and now in Afghanistan--and will continue to see—ever increasing reliance on the use of advanced technology in conducting future conflicts. What took us dozens of missions to accomplish in Vietnam can be accomplished today by a single plane on a single mission. At the same time, the use of overwhelming firepower will often preempt finesse. Ground forces will be smaller, they will be more lethal, and they will be more expensive.  Air forces will count computers as some of its better pilots. And with a computer in the front seat, the Guy In the Back will be an extra fuel tank.

Footnote References:

1Gibson, James Wilson, The Perfect War, Technowar in Vietnam,” (Boston/New York: The Atlantic  Monthly Press, 1986), p. 8.

[2]Associated Press newswire, Wednesday, April 25, 2001. (  Article 406824839).

[3]Bowman, John S.,  The Vietnam War, Day by Day, (New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 2001), p. 220.

[4]Oshinsky, David, “’60s: You Had to be There, Man,” New York Times Magazine, reprinted in the Riverside Press Enterprise, August 5, 2001, p.D3.

[5]“Draft Doger Rag,” sung by Pete Seeger, recorded at the “Great Hudson River Revival, June 18-19, 2000, Croton Point Park, Croton, New York.

[6]Nixon, Richard, No More Vietnams, (New York: Arbor House, 1985), p. 9.

[7]ibid, p. 165.

[8]Lind, Michael, Vietnam, The Necessary War: a reinterpretation of America’s most disasterous military conflict, (New York: Free Press, 1999), p. 90.

[9]ibid, p.90

[10]ibid, p.95.

[11]McNamara, Robert S., Blight, James G. and Brigham, Robert K., Argument Without End, In Search of Answers to the Vietnam Tragedy, (New York: Public Affairs Press), p. 418.

[12]ibid, p. 377.

[13] ibid, p.395.


      Stuck1.jpg (21255 bytes)

    Captain Monte L. Stuck, ready for flight

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         F-4E Phantom II

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      F-4E rear cockpit views

Left - F-4E rear cockpit instrument panel is shown with   centrally-located flight instrumentation, radar scope, ECM panel, and bombing timer control panel. Rear cockpit has full set of flight controls. Twin rearview mirrors are mounted on canopy frame.

Right Upper - F-4E rear cockpit left console accomodates the throttle quadrant, intercom, radar, communication, navigation and oxygen/cabin altimeter panel, along with the anti-g suit control valve and TISEO control panel on selected aircraft.

Right Lower - Right rear cockpit console accomodates inertial navigation system controls, antenna control handle, weapons release computer controls, and weapons delivery control panel. Weapons system opertor oxygen hose connect can be seen lower left.

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          The last flight: unstrapping from OC 731, October 17, 1969

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 The last flight: last look back at 184-mission “cockpit home”

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Champagne and congratulations from the squadron duty officer, Major Dubois

Background of the Author:

Monte L. Stuck completed a career of 26 years in the United States Air Force. He entered the service in July, 1959, having graduated from Michigan State University with a degree in Technical writing and a commission to second lieutenant through the Reserve Officer Training Program (AFROTC). He served as a navigator and later as a radar bombardier in B-52 aircraft, and weapons system operator in F-4 Phantoms. He was the commander of a photo documentation squadron with the mission to photograph the Air Force activities worldwide. His assignments also included: Wing Chief of Plans; Chief, Command Post; Assistant for Film in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Pentagon; and the Deputy Director for Operations, Defense Audiovisual Agency, at Norton Air Force Base, California. He retired as a Lieutenant Colonel in 1985.

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