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Recollections of a Marine Attack Pilot

Recollections of a Marine Attack Pilot

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Recollections of a Marine Attack Pilot

5/5 (1 évaluation)
309 pages
4 heures
Jul 10, 2012


I can honestly say that Mr. Gibsons stories have held my interest and broadened my perspectives more than any novel I have ever read. And I am a serious reader. Marie Gordon, Instructor of Drama and Speech, East Mississippi Community College
These narratives present in vivid and lively detail many of the incidents and experiences encountered by Major Gibson during his military career. The stories are sometimes poignant and sometimes humorous; but each story presents some insightful lesson Gibson learned about life even in the midst of war. William Yount, Instructor of History and Philosophy, East Mississippi Community College
From the Marine Corps recruiting office to the challenges of Officer Candidate School; from stateside training as a new Marine attack pilot to harrowing combat experiences during two combat tours of duty in Vietnam; from 3500 hours of jet flight instructor duty to three and a half years as a staff officer at Headquarters, Marine Corps; from nearly passing out while running a sub-three hour marathon to looking back on it all after years of retirement, Major Gibsons recollections continue to rivet the readers attention.
The stories are absent of technical jargon and yet put the reader into the cockpit during moments of triumph as well as those of momentary fear. Possessing an easy-going and comfortable writing style, the author easily holds the readers attention while relating a wide variety of experiences. The stories provide a valuable insight into the world of a junior officer serving as a combat attack pilot as well as assignment as an Air Liaison Officer to a battalion of Marines in the jungles of Vietnam.
Jul 10, 2012

À propos de l'auteur

Larry Gibson was reared in the hills of eastern Kentucky. He accumulated 250 missions flying the A-4 Skyhawk in Vietnam. Other assignments included flight instructor duty and a tour at Headquarters, Marine Corps. Larry has taught math and physics since retirement and lives with his wife Grace in DeKalb, Mississippi.

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Recollections of a Marine Attack Pilot - Larry R. Gibson


© 2012 Larry R. Gibson. All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means without the written permission of the author.

Published by AuthorHouse 05/24/2016

ISBN: 978-1-4685-7996-3 (sc)

ISBN: 978-1-4685-7997-0 (hc)

ISBN: 978-1-4685-7998-7 (e)

Library of Congress Control Number: 2012906497

Any people depicted in stock imagery provided by Thinkstock are models,

and such images are being used for illustrative purposes only.

Certain stock imagery © Thinkstock.

Because of the dynamic nature of the Internet, any web addresses or links contained in this book may have changed since publication and may no longer be valid. The views expressed in this work are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher, and the publisher hereby disclaims any responsibility for them.



1. The Marine Corps Lucks Out

2. Failing The Flight Physical

3. My First Military Flight

4. The Cuban Missile Crisis

5. Failing The Flight Physical Again

6. Obstacle Course At Quantico

7. The All-Night War

8. A Serious Interruption

9. The Pre-Solo Check Flight

10. Take It To Another Field

11. The Assassination Of Jfk

12. Hitting The Boat

13. The Grumman Iron Works

14. My Last Bad Landing

15. Losing A Friend

16. They Call Me Slick

17. You Shouda’ Been In Th’ Cockpit

18. Two Hundred Feet At Six O’clock

19. Climbing Through Thirty Feet

20. Remember To Pull Out

21. Sam Site In The Dmz

22. The Day I Was Scared

23. A Moment In Time

24. Getting It Right The Second Time

25. I’m Really Tired Tonight

26. The Official Opening Of Runway 31 Right

27. Not A Very Good Takeoff

28. I Can’t Believe I’m In Vietnam

29. Assignment To A Battalion

30. An Unexpected Enmity

31. A Dark And Rainy Night

32. Christmas Of 1966

33. Lying In A Rice Paddy

34. A Letter From Home

35. Midnight Medevac

36. Going By The Book

37. Hospital Patient Over North Vietnam

38. Ho Chi Minh Was A Fool

39. Tailwheeler Checkout

40. I Wouldn’t Do It Again

41. Building An Airplane

42. Flying The Hummer

43. The Great Santini

44. A Terrible Crash

45. U. S. Naval Test Pilot School

46. The Rio Flies The Plane

47. Looping The Taylorcraft

48. Colonel Don Anderson

49. I’m Not Asking You What You Think, Major

50. A Flight Student Wearing Glasses

51. Launch The Sergeants

52. Random Memories

53. The Boston Marathon And Rosie Ruiz

54. Breaking Three Hours

55. Leaving A Ghost Behind

56. The Praying Dentist

57. Final Final

58. What Might Have Been

I Wanted Wings, Too

Wrong Side Of The World


C-Ration Menus

This book is

dedicated to my wonderful parents, Jay Parnell and Jeanne Pauline Gibson


THIS IS NOT A NARRATIVE of my military career. Instead, it consists of fifty-eight separate stories, as I call them, presented in the order in which they occurred. Each story stands alone as an anecdote or description of some event that I consider reasonably interesting or noteworthy.

These events occurred between thirty and fifty years ago. I had no written notes and have depended upon my memory for the contents and details of these stories. All of the events occurred as I have described them, or at least as I best remember them. At the same time, they are subject to occasional minor inaccuracies due to the passage of time, or due to my inability to describe them with the accuracy that they deserve.

Occasionally the description of some event, airborne or otherwise, might contain some unintentional small error. My view is that such an error in detail, although undesirable, is not particularly important if the overall effect of the story is maintained. If some of my conclusions seem inaccurate to the reader, I emphasize that they reflect my own personal opinion or how I remember viewing the events at the time. These opinions and observations would not necessarily have been shared by others.

I have worked alone and have viewed it as something to do primarily for myself and my family. I want to emphasize that I do not consider any of my contributions to have been heroic. Compared to what others endured, in whatever war you may consider, my combat experiences were miniscule, whether in intensity, danger, duration, or in degree of deprivation. And I have nothing but admiration, respect, and appreciation for all who have made greater efforts and sacrifices than the ones I have described.

A flippant saying I heard several times during my years in Vietnam was, It's not much of a war, but it's the only war we have. Obviously, mankind would be better off if war were never forced upon any nation. But what would be worse than war would be for a nation to have its freedoms and life's blood taken without putting up a struggle.

Each generation is given its own challenges and responsibilities. I am glad that I can look back on my small role during the period of my service, knowing that I stepped forward with a willingness to serve. And I am thankful to have survived the experience.

Friends of mine who did not survive, giving their all, each flying his last flight much too soon, included Jim Buckelew, Al Hayes, Bill Arbogast, Norm Bundy, Tom Hawking, Jim Villeponteaux, Gene Kimmel, Phil Ducat, Dave Muschna, Bob Pixley, Jim Piehl, Bob Stone, Fred Daniloff, Bob Lovett, Bill Wilson, and Jot Eve.

Larry Selmer and John Roederer, ground officer friends with whom I served, also did not survive. John Roederer and Phil Ducat, listed previously, were fellow officer candidates in my OCS platoon at Quantico in the fall of 1962.

Our nation owes each of them, and all others who have given their lives or suffered wounds for this country, a tremendous debt of gratitude. Our freedoms rest upon their shoulders.

Larry Gibson

26 November 2011

The author on his 1948 Indian Chief motorcycle in 1960.


IT WAS SEPTEMBER OF 1960 and I knew I would receive my BS degree in Mechanical Engineering at the end of the coming school year at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. But something had been tugging at my mind for the last few months. For some reason I had always loved airplanes. Some young people want to become doctors; others want to become lawyers, etc. I had loved airplanes. Absolutely none of my friends had any interest in them, whatsoever. Where it had come from I do not know. But I had loved them since I was a small child.

Although I had not been aware of it, I believe the desire to become a military pilot had been gradually coming to a head as I approached the end of my education. I could never have predicted when it would happen, or even that it would, but on that September day I made the firm decision to do something about my desire to be a military pilot. And just as there is a time for the baby to begin its move toward the outside world, such was the desire within my mind as it burst forth that afternoon.

I still remember having the specific thought as I left the university campus to drive back to the hospital where I worked for room and board. It was, Well, I either have to do something about this desire to fly or forget it forever. I had always lived in Kentucky. If someone from there had thought of military aviation, it would have been natural to have thought of the Air Force. No other branch of service would have even come to mind. So I was off to the Air Force Recruiting Office as I got into the 1952 Chevrolet my father had bought for my use a few years earlier.

I knew where the recruiting office was although I had never been there. It was on the north side of Main Street right about in the center of town. The university, however, was on the south side of town. For some reason I ended up crossing Main Street and approached the recruiting office along the street one block north of Main. When I arrived at the correct block I parked the car, got out, and walked to the nearest corner. All I had to do now was walk one block south to Main, turn left, and be there in less than a minute.

Little did I know as I parked my car on the street that afternoon that the location of the parking place would determine the path for the remainder of my life. It would determine what branch of the military I would enter, where I would be trained, what types of planes I would fly, the number and types of combat missions I would fly, who I would marry, what children I would father, and every other aspect of my life, including possibly how long I would live.

If I had parked on the south side of Main Street or if the parking place had been closer to the other end of the street, I would have been in the Air Force instead of the Marine Corps for those twenty years. Thankfully, God kept all of that hidden from me. I don’t think I could have stepped from the car if I had known so much was riding on such a mundane decision as where I chose to park.

The reason this was such a fateful decision is that as I walked toward Main Street, lo and behold, I walked right by the Marine Corps Recruiting Office! And they had pictures of young pilots standing beside jet planes in their windows. I did what any other red-blooded American boy would probably have done. I thought, What the heck! Let’s go inside and see what they have to say about it. So I opened the door and walked in.

I’m sure I made the recruiter’s day just by walking through the door. I suppose they had a quota to meet for the different types of positions they needed to fill. He would not have immediately known I was a potential pilot candidate, but I’m sure he observed that I was a reasonably well-built and seemingly intelligent young man and that as I approached him I looked him in the eye as I inquired about the Marine Corps flight training program.

I was probably manna from heaven to him as he found out I was a senior in engineering at the university and was interested in becoming a pilot. After I had answered a few questions he asked me to take some examinations. So for the next hour and a half I was engrossed in filling out two multiple-choice exams. I don’t remember much about their contents from those fifty-one years ago, but I’m sure they contained mathematics and science and I would have done well considering my major in school. They contained a lot of questions about other general topics in life as well. When I had completed the exams, he asked me to come back within a day or so for the results.

When I returned he was really pleased that I had done so well on the exams. He told me I had made a score of eight-eight which I interpreted as being perhaps 8.8 out of a possible ten. It was another forty years before I found out that those grades were in the Stanine grading system. In that system a score of eight means the person being tested is in the upper eleven percent of those who have taken the exam.

My scores of eights were obviously far above the minimum acceptable score of five for each test. Still, the grades didn’t mean much to me beyond having passed the exams. The next step was to be flown to the Anacostia Naval Air Station at Washington, D. C. for a flight physical exam. What was really important was that I had commenced my journey to the skies. I knew I was finally on my way. I was going to fly jets for the U.S. Marine Corps!

The U. S. Air Force went to sleep that night having no idea they had just lost a future pilot. By the sheer luck of the location of the Marine Recruiting Office, and by the good break of a parking space being closer to their end of the block, the Marine Corps had lucked out in acquiring a future jet pilot. It was a good day for the Corps!


AFTER DOING WELL ON THE qualifying exams at the Marine Corps Recruiting Office in Lexington, I was flown to Washington, D.C. for a flight physical exam by qualified naval medical personnel. The plane left the civilian airport at Lexington, Kentucky for a non-stop flight to D.C. I had been fascinated by airplanes nearly all of my life and of course knew the type of plane I was on. It was a Lockheed Super Constellation, a beautiful four-engine plane having three vertical stabilizers at the rear, an icon of long-distance passenger flight in its day. I couldn’t have known at the time, but ten years later I would watch one crash into the tops of hangars at the Danang Air Base in Vietnam.

We didn’t fly very high, perhaps seven or eight thousand feet at the most. I had been in an airplane only twice before and one of those times was when I was only eight years old. Our family lived in Cumberland, Kentucky for the first ten years of my life. After the end of the Second World War, some enterprising young veterans had established an airport a few miles up the river toward Pine Mountain. It wasn’t much of an airport, just a long cleared field paralleling the road with perhaps a rough building and a wooden hangar.

There were perhaps five or six small airplanes there, with probably all of them being Piper Cubs, Aeronca Champs, and perhaps a Taylorcraft. Little did I know that some twenty-five years later I would fly them all, and would own a Taylorcraft for nearly forty years.

My father had also been enchanted with airplanes and would take the family up to the airport occasionally on summer Sunday afternoons to watch the planes fly. I remember the thrilling day when he gathered me and my nearly four-year old sister and helped place the two of us into the back seat of an Aeronca. Within minutes we had lifted off and were climbing over the hills and valleys of the area. I still remember looking down and seeing how small the cars appeared to be.

I even remember who the pilot was. His name was Eddie Dobos. He was a young man, the older brother of Patricia Dobos, one of my classmates at St. Stephens School where I attended until the family moved away in 1948. I must have been a reasonably aggressive young aviator because I remember asking him to do a loop. He declined, saying it was because of my younger sister Carol, strapped in the seat beside me.

The story I was later told is that my mother suddenly realized we were no longer around and that she asked my father if he knew where we were. He pointed at the little yellow plane in the sky overhead and she was surprised to learn that two of her three children were having their first airplane ride. And too soon we returned to the ground. I would not fly again until I was twenty-one years old when I was taken for a short ride in a Cessna 172.

Jay Parnell and Jeanne Pauline Gibson and their children; the author, brother J. Don, and sister Carol Jean in 1951.

And now, for the first time, I was on a big airplane that was actually going somewhere. It was a really great thrill to me and I looked out of the window at the ground all the way to DC, like a country boy on his first flight, which I suppose I was for all practical purposes. A meal was served and I was so naive that when it was offered I initially turned it down because I had next to no money for such unexpected expense. Fortunately, my seat-mate was more experienced and informed me that it was included in the purchase of the ticket. So I was able to enjoy the meal after all.

Some way I made my way to Naval Air Station Anacostia, right on the Potomac River, and spent the night awaiting my physical exam the next day. The exam went well for a long time as they prodded me, took a blood sample, and probably did other unkind things to my body. I even passed the eye examination, which was highly noteworthy.

And then I was checked for hernia–and I failed! I couldn’t believe it. I wasn’t expecting any health issue problems. But the doctor assured me that I had failed the physical exam. When observing the degree of my disconsolation, he tried to console me by saying, Only about two percent of our nation’s young men can qualify to become military pilots and that I shouldn’t feel so badly.

I later considered what he had said. Look at the requirements: college education, height between 5’6 and 6’4, appropriate weight, perfect vision, be able to pass a background check, and on and on. As those who can’t meet each of these individual requirements are removed from consideration, the number that is qualified for training becomes less and less. After all, the perfect vision requirement alone would probably kick out at least seventy-five percent of the population. Still, I felt badly.

My only consolation was that at least my shortcoming was correctable. I therefore planned to have a hernia operation at the end of the school year and to attend Officer Candidate School in the fall of 1961. I related this to the recruiter when I returned to Lexington. He was pleased that I still planned to enter the Marine Corps for flight training, even though I had failed the physical on the first attempt.

He then suggested that I enroll in the Marine Corps Reserves at that time. He tried to explain that it would be beneficial to me for pay purposes after I entered active duty. I was probably too suspicious and didn’t want to obligate myself at that point and declined his offer.

That was a mistake! I was later to learn that the bulk of military pay is determined basically by two things: rank and what is called the pay entry base date. By declining to sign at that time, I lost a whole year of credit regarding this special date. It effectively postponed my qualification for a higher pay check by one year for the duration of my military career. Failure to take his suggestion probably cost me thousands of dollars over my career.

I received my BS degree on a June day in 1961 and entered the hospital for hernia surgery the next day. To do something with my time before entering the Marine Corps in the fall, I commenced graduate school. Then, after much consideration, I decided to complete my master’s degree before entering the Corps. The recruiter was fine with it, particularly since I passed my physical exam when flown to Washington a second time.

And this time I signed the papers upon return to join the Marine Corps Reserves in August of 1961. Establishing my pay entry base date of 8-14-61 gave me one whole year of extra credit for pay purposes during my military career. Now all I had to do was get through graduate school and be ready to join the Marine Corps in the fall of 1962. That is what happened, and getting my master’s degree before entering the military was one of the best decisions I ever made.


AFTER CONVALESCING FROM MY HERNIA surgery during the summer of 1961 I was flown for a second time to Naval Air Station Anacostia in Washington, D.C. And I found myself once again passing through the same halls and rooms I had traversed the previous fall. But this time I passed the flight physical.

I don’t remember details from that day of over fifty years ago, but the exam must have been conducted on a Saturday. The reason is that Naval Reserve aircrews arrived at the field that evening for portions of their drill requirements. And these requirements involved flying, night-flying in this instance.

I had meandered over to the flight operations area, looked at the various planes and entered one of the buildings. That is where I observed several reserve aircrew personnel as they prepared for their evening of training. They had separated into groups of four members each, and one officer, having only three members in his group, looked over at me and asked, Would you like to go with us? I was totally ignorant of what was going on and what was involved. But at the same time, I was innocently interested and eager to get to ride in a real Navy airplane. So I responded in the affirmative and was now part of a four-member aircrew!

Within minutes I followed my three fellow crewmembers out to a twin-engine plane designated as an S2F. I later learned that the plane was affectionately called a Stoof, in typical Navy and Marine Corps fashion. It turned out that the official designation of many aircraft could be similarly altered to come up with some catchy and possibly descriptive title. Another fighter plane of the era, the F4D, was obviously called a Ford by its pilots, and so on.

After preflighting the aircraft, the pilot and copilot entered the plane first and took the front seats as dusk descended upon the airfield. I was directed to the left seat in the rear compartment and the fourth member sat in the seat to my right. I put on the helmet that I had been provided and figured out how to strap myself into the seat. Later, I responded when a communications check was made to the crewmembers by the lead pilot. Soon I could hear the pilots going through their checklists as the

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