WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — One Kansas veteran began flying planes when he was still a teenager and ended up being able to put his skills to good use in the skies over southeast Asia.
At age seven, Bob Goree decided he would one day become an Air Force pilot. As a high schooler, he worked at his local airport and traded labor for flight lessons (he would obtain his private license at seventeen years of age). After graduating from college, he joined the Air Force in 1969 with the hopes of becoming a fighter pilot. However, he says one of his flight instructors gave him a life-changing piece of advice.
“One of my instructors had flown two tours in Vietnam: One as a fighter pilot and one as a forward air controller,” Goree said. “He told me, he said, ‘You need to be a forward air controller.’ He said, ‘It’s a lot more satisfying, and it will mean more to you.’ And he was right.”
It wasn’t long after receiving these words of wisdom Goree would find himself in Saigon for his first assignment.
“I arrived in Vietnam and went to a briefing, and a guy walked in, and he said, ‘Who wants to volunteer for a top-secret mission?’ And I held up my hand,” Goree said.
Goree says that’s how he became a forward air controller (the same position his instructor had recommended) for a covert air campaign over Cambodia. The mission: To spot and stop enemy traffic down the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
“I would fly low and slow and talk to the guys on the ground of what they are seeing, and if we found a cache of supply goods or companies or people, or whatever it was, then I would call in and get clearance and put in air strikes on them,” Goree said.
Goree says many of his missions were conducted under the cover of darkness.
“In that part of the world at night, it was very dark—there are no external lights other than fires on the ground, and so, you’d see trucks with their lights dimmed, but you could see them, and so we would take out a lot of truck traffic,” Goree said.
In March 1972, Goree’s squadron (called the Sundogs) was redirected to take part in the Easter Offensive: The last major offensive of the Vietnam War.
“We would take off, we carried 14 white phosphorous muck rockets … we’d put in 14 airstrikes, go back home, put more fuel in, more rockets and go back, and we did that day in after day,” Goree said.
The Sundogs supported a small area surrounded by an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 enemy soldiers.
“This little burb was taking anywhere from 2,000 to 3,000 incoming rounds a day,” Goree said.
The offensive took a devastating toll on the Sundogs.
“May the 11th, 1972 … we lost four in a matter of just a couple hours. We lost half of our squadron,” Goree said.
Goree would fly 260 mission days during Vietnam. In his last three to four months in Vietnam, he averaged two flights a day.
“Vietnam was probably the most significant part of life other than the birth of my children … I’m very proud of my service,” Goree said.
Goree would spend just over 12 months in Vietnam before returning to the states. He would go on to fly KC-135s around the world and was actually one of the few First Lieutenant aircraft commanders. He would retire as an Air Force Captain after seven years.
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