My friend, Bob May, was an Airforce Navigator on a C-130 transport during the Viet Nam war years. Dripping with sarcasm, he says that in 1968 and 1969 he was, “honored to be part of two Tet Offenses.” These were two of the largest military campaigns of the war. January 1968 and again in February 1969. North Viet Nam coordinated with the Viet Cong and initiated major attacks against South Viet Nam and its allies.
But on this beautiful sunny day in 1968, Bob’s crew was assigned the vegetable and fruit run. Their mission was to pick up pallets of vegetables and fruit and deliver them to the various military bases for the American troops. It would be an all day trip that took them from Camranh Bay to Dalat Cam Li, a base halfway between Saigon and Camranh Bay, where they would load the pallets and then head to the various locations to deliver.
The weather was perfect. It had been a welcomed, uneventful day and they were heading south, down the coast to the Air Base at Quinhon, about 20 minutes from their home base of Camranh Bay. As they approached, they could see the base 3-5 miles out on the right side of the aircraft. Since the weather was good, the plans were to do a simple visual approach to land.
They would continue south of the base, make a right turn and land heading north because the wind was out of the north. They had been flying approximately 500 feet above the water. As they approached the Air Base, it suddenly was apparent that there were scattered clouds that covered the airstrip. Bob explained, “Anytime you cannot use VFR (Visual Flight Rules), you immediately go to instrument (IFR) approach. This will take the plane 1000 feet above the highest terrain in the area.” The highest terrain was a 2000-foot mountain southwest of the base.
There are four crew members in the cockpit of a C-130, three of which are responsible for knowing where the aircraft is at all times. These three are the Pilot, the Co-pilot and the Navigator. The fourth crewman is the Flight Engineer. The engineer is constantly looking at hundreds of lights above his head and making sure that none of them is signaling a negative event. They should all be green or yellow.
Flying at 500 feet, they had not made any altitude adjustment as they approached. They had turned west and stayed at 500 feet. As they were heading west through the clouds, the engineer turned toward Bob and said, “Hey nav, do you think we ought to climb?” Bob immediately reacted, “As soon as he said that, I screamed into the microphone, ‘Climb 2000 feet NOW!’” The pilot questioned his navigator because his command “came out of the blue.” “I immediately screamed it a second time,” Bob remembers. The pilot then pulled back and into the climb. Bob says, “I was standing directly behind the co-pilot and I looked out the window. 100 – 200 feet below us was the rocky, crags of the mountain top.” The co-pilot nonchalantly said, “Boy that water’s rough down there.” Bob solemnly remarked, “I realized then, though I was not a Christian at the time, that God had just spared our lives.” He continued, “The one guy in the cockpit who had no responsibility for where we were had been concerned and alerted me, the navigator. The rest of us just got careless.”
“I remember writing in my logbook words to the effect that the pilot and co-pilot didn’t believe me when I said, ‘We just missed a _____ mountain.’ And I realized that I was primarily responsible.” Bob remembers, “A year before, my drinking buddy and his crew flew into the side of a mountain and were killed. I remember wondering how that can happen. Now I know and I know that only by the grace of God we did not hit that mountain.”
At the time, Bob and Michele May had a baby girl. Emotionally, Bob choked out the words, “Our son and youngest daughter had not been born yet. Six of our eight grandchildren had not been born. None of them would have been born had it not been for the grace of God that day.” Emotionally and appreciative to the Lord, Bob said, “This was eight years before Michele and I surrendered to Christ. But He took care of me.”
Bob is an avid baseball fan and is known as “The Baseball Man” in local circles. He is an author and speaker and loving family man. Visit his website at www.honoringblackball.com