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Tue, April 23

Jim Benjamin, U.S. Air Force

Jim Benjamin

City of Residence: Prescott

Branch of Service: United States Air Force

Dates of Service: May 1966 - May 1974

Rank: Staff Sergeant E5

Decorations: Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal, Small Arms Expert Marksmanship Ribbon, Air Force Longevity Award, Vietnam Service Medal with 4 stars, National Defense Service medal, Air Force Good Conduct Medal, Air Force Outstanding Unit Award with 3 clusters, Air Force Presidential Unit Citation with 2 clusters. Senior Missileman badge.

I joined the Air Force in May of 1966 under the delayed enlistment program and started basic training at Lackland AFB in Texas in June of 1966. I chose the Air Force for its educational opportunities as my family had no money for college and I had no scholarship offers. After basic training in July of 1966 I was assigned to Lowry AFB in Denver, Colorado, to attend electronics school and aerial photographic systems school. In electronics school, I learned about vacuum tube technology as well as the new transistor technology where transistors were the size of a quarter. In February of 1967 I was assigned to Mountain Home AFB in Idaho and trained on aerial photographic systems on the Phantom RF-4C reconnaissance aircraft.

On Jan. 6, 1968, I arrived at Saigon Vietnam and was stationed at Ton Son Nhut AB with the 12th Reconnaissance Squadron working on the RF-4C aircraft. Our squadon flew reconnaissance missions over Vietnam utilizing unarmed RF-4C aircraft. We had various low and high altitude camera systems and a unique infrared detecting system. We also had a unique photo cartridge system that would launch cartridges that would explode providing illumination for nighttime photography. At the end of my first three weeks in Vietnam, the Tet Offensive of 1968 occurred. Numerous installations in South Vietnam were attacked on that day. When the attack started at 2 a.m. on Jan. 30, I was asleep in our hootch and within minutes there was a Huey helicopter above our hootch shooting their electric mini gun at the attacking VC with spent shells raining down on the tin roof of our hootch. All of us in the hootch were ordered to our hangar on the flightline. We all gathered in the avionics shop in the hangar with M-16's with orders to stay put unless events warranted us to join the fray. American and South Vietnamese forces secured the base by noon of Jan. 31. There were three more attacks that year while I was stationed there. At one point one of our hootches next to us was hit by a 122 mm Russian rocket and eight airmen were killed. The VC used rockets to attack the base from outside the perimeter on many occasions sometimes during the day but usually at night.

A lot of these attacks were for harassment plus trying to disrupt operations at the base and MACV Headquarters on the base. At one point there were snipers on the base. One shot at me one day while I was working on an aircraft. This guy, thankfully, was either a bad shot or was so far away with an inferior weapon that he didn't hit me. Once there was a sniper in a water tower who shot a few airmen as they walked out of the chow hall. Just going to eat or check mail was dangerous and we would wear our helmets and flack vests and would run from building to building. Eventually all the snipers were dealt with. In May of 1968 an attack came from right across the street from our main gate. At one point A1E Skyraiders, a prop-driven fighter/bomber flown by South Vietnamese airmen, dropped bombs on the buildings across the street. They would have to approach and drop their bombs over the barracks that some of our airmen were in. We would sit on the roof and watch the bombing. We could see the bombs and count the yellow rings on the nose of the bombs. One time around September of 1968 the VC were blowing up our aircraft with direct hits in their steel reventments on the flightline. After losing some aircraft we deployed our squadron to Udorn AFB in Thailand and flew missions from there for a while until they found out how their rocket attacks on our aircraft at Ton Son Nhut were so accurate. The VC had infiltrated a group that were contracted to pick up trash on the flightline. They discovered that the VC were pacing off the distances on the flightline to get an accurate distance for their rockets.

On Jan. 6, 1969, I boarded a Freedom flight headed back to the USA and everyone cheered as we went "wheels up" leaving Vietnam behind. Fourteen to 20 hours later, we encountered another attack as we got off the plane in California. There were protesters there protesting our role in the Vietnam War. Nothing is more demoralizing to a military man than to being spit at for defending your country. I have never forgotten that. I didn't develop policy, I just followed orders fulfilling my oath to defend our country.

In February of 1969 I arrived in Tucson, Arizona, to be stationed at Davis Monthan AFB. I was assigned to the 100th AMMS unit which supported pilotless drones and the U-2 in reconnaissance missions. I worked on the photographic systems used in the pilotless drones. The BQM-34 drones would contain either a low altitude or high altitude camera system and the drones were attached to pylons of a specially designed Hercules C-130 transport aircraft. The drones were launched from the C-130 outside of North Vietnam and would fly over North Vietnam taking pictures. Each drone was controlled by a preprogrammed computer tape with mission parameters programmed in. The drones could be controlled by MCGS, Microwave Command Guidance System, which could control the drone within 200 miles of the C-130. Once the drones completed their mission, they would fly to a predetermined area, dump their fuel and deploy a parachute and be captured out of the sky by CH-3 recovery helicopters. The drones were operated out of Bien Hoa AB in Vietnam with recovery operations being done out of Danang AB in Vietnam.

In 1970, drone deployment was moved to Utapao AB in Thailand and recovery was moved to Nakon Phanom (NKP) in Thailand. In 1972 I was cross-trained from photo to weapons because of the increased bombing in North Vietnam. The Air Force had a lot of new bomb troops but were short on experienced flightline supervisors. I was sent to Weapons school back to Lowry AFB in Denver. Upon returning to Davis Monthan AFB I was assigned to the 355 TFW at DM. I worked on the Weapons Release systems meaning bomb racks, rocket launchers and other weapons deployment systems. The aircraft used by the 355th was the Corsair A7-D. In 1973 I was on a six-month TDY (temporary duty assignment) to Korat AB in Thailand. Our squadron flew bombing missions over Vietnam using the A7-D aircraft. I was a flightline chief over crews maintaining the weapons release systems on the aircraft. While at Korat I was summoned to Headquarters and was asked to extend my current enlistment to take a remote 13-month tour to Malatya AB in Turkey to work on nuclear weapons. I asked for an assignment to Europe after I served the 13-month remote tour in Turkey but they said they couldn't guarantee that so I turned down the assignment and got out of the Air Force in 1974. I stayed in Tucson, Arizona, and in 1983 started working at Hughes Aircraft in Tucson, which is their Missile Division. In the 1990s, Hughes was bought by Raytheon and I retired from the IT department after 29 years in 2012. I moved to Prescott in April of 2012 because of the weather and the VA hospital, plus a friend of mine has a house here.


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