Flying T-39s at Tan Son Nhu Air Base – Saigon, Vietnam

It’s a shame that wars can’t be decided by the side that sings the best songs! – Ashleigh Brilliant

We all have stories. Some are exciting, some are engaging, some are motivating, and some are boring. My book, Turning Final, A Life Complete, is a collection of stories (some of which are both motivating and boring at the same time!). The following is the story of how I ended up flying T-39s out of Saigon, and was actually given a CHOICE for a military assignment.


I had received an alert for a Vietnam assignment while stationed at McClellan AFB, so I wasn’t too surprised when I got a call from the Air Force personnel center. I was surprised at what happened after that. The voice on the other end said, “Major Reed, we need pilots in two separate assignments for Vietnam, and you are qualified for both. We couldn’t figure out the one that best fit, so we though we’d do something different and let you decide.”

I went into shock; this had never happened before. I covered the mouth piece and told Major Joe Skiera, sitting across the desk from me, what the Personnel Center had said. he suddenly got interested. I asked the voice on the other end what the two assignments were. He said one was in C-119 Gunships. There were few pilots around who had a C-119 background, and I was one. What was the other assignment? I couldn’t believe my ears when he said that the second assignment was flying T-39s out of Tan Son Nhut. I told Joe and he listened as I, in excitement, blurted out, “I’ll take the C-119 job!”

“No,” Joe Said. “You mean T-39s!”

“I mean T-39s, ” I shouted back into the phone.

An that’s how I got into SCATBACK. If Joe Skiera hadn’t been sitting there, I’d have wound up in C-119 Gunships. Not that that it would have been a bad assignment. I enjoyed flying the old C-119, but there were a lot more trips to Bangkok in the T-39. I found out later why they were in urgent need of T-39 pilots – several of them had been killed in a C-47 crash en-route to Hong Kong on an R&R flight.


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