WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — During Vietnam, the F-4 Phantom II served as the Air Force’s primary fighter aircraft, a plane veteran Phil Kuchinskas knows well.

“The F-4 Phantom Aircraft … that’s my airplane,” Kuchinskas said with a smile.

Kuchinskas joined the Air Force in 1968, also known as the bloodiest year of Vietnam.

After munitions and weapons training school at Lowry Air Force Base, Kuchinskas received the order to head to Thailand in 1970, beginning his first two tours in Southeast Asia.

Kuchinskas says he would load munitions on roughly six to eight F-4s per day.

“500 pounders, thousand pounders, 2,000 pounders, cluster bombs, napalm, rockets … depending on what the mission called for,” Kuchinskas said.

Kuchinskas led a four-man crew to secure each bomb, tend to the needs of three F-4 squadrons, and even work special operations to save shot-down pilots.

“We’d have like a max effort to support getting him out … you worked 24/7, you know, months at a time,” Kuchinskas said.

After a brief time at McConnell Air Force Base, and one month after he got married, Kuchinskas would head to Vietnam.

“I just, I’m gonna come home, I’m gonna make it, you know, I hope,” Kuchinskas said.

Kuchinskas’ base in Danang was under constant rocket fire.

“Some of the planes, you know, took direct hits … I distinctly remember, a, a, a JP-4 fuel truck, 5,000 gallons took a direct hit, and that just made a big fire,” Kuchinskas said. “We had our helmets and flak jackets and ducked into the revetments when we heard the sirens come off, go off.”

In 1972, the fall of Quang Tri and Hue resulted in the evacuation of Kuchinskas’ base.

“Once it started to close down, you know, it was, we kinda knew it was pretty much over,” Kuchinskas said.

Kuchinskas says while many questions remained in the aftermath of Vietnam, he’s grateful he played a part in saving soldiers’ lives.

“We wear the black hats, you know, ‘Vietnam Veteran,’ and when we see the black hats, we always welcome each other home, and you know, ‘When were you over there?’, and you know, ‘What branch, what service, you know, what’d you do?’, then I say, ‘Well, I was a weapons loader on an F-4 aircraft’, they go, ‘Oh thank you, you saved my platoon, when your, when we heard those aircraft coming in, we knew we had another day to live,’ so that’s, that means a lot to me,” Kuchinskas said.

Kuchinskas was discharged after his second tour. He went on to work for Cessna and Southwestern Bell.

If you would like to nominate a veteran for our Veteran Salute, email KSN reporter Hannah Adamson at hannah.adamson@ksn.com.