Don Wooten

Don Wooten points to enemy fire damage in a picture of his attack jet during the Vietnam War.

Don Wooten pulled a hat trick in the Vietnam War. He flew three different aircraft. But he remembers that one time in one of those planes when he needed help getting out.

His photo albums include a picture of him next to a tip tank with a big hole from enemy ground fire.

"After we landed we found out that I had taken some battle damage. It wasn't any big deal. They're self-sealing tanks."

The bigger deal was another mission in 1972 aboard his A-37 jet. Don says he and others in his squadron were swarmed by anti-aircraft fire.

"Why we got out of there as well as we did we'll never know. But once the airplane was stopped and I got to thinking about it, it was like, hey guys, take my helmet, take my parachute. Now get me out of here," Don says. "Occasionally you had a mission where you realize luck played a big part."

But there was also skill. Don would vary his air speed and altitude to throw off the North Vietnamese calculations. Then he swooped in low to hit the enemy -- and not friendlies nearby.

"The closer we could get to the ground the better, 'cause they couldn't see us," he explained. "Sometimes (friendly forces) were on one side of a road. Bad guys are on the other. So you were dropping napalm or CBU (cluster bombs) down one side of a road -- and literally at tree top level -- so it wouldn't spread."

On another tour, Don flew troops and supplies in a C-141 cargo jet. But on his first tour, he flew the EC-121 on reconnaissance missions around the Ho Chi Minh Trail. They monitored sensors other Air Force planes dropped along the enemy's main supply route.

"We identified trucks, convoys, personnel coming down, we would notify 7th Air Force, and they would call in air strikes.We were trying to give them early warning so to speak," Don says.

Speaking of early warning, there was Zipper the dog. Don's squadron adopted him at their base in Bien Hoa because he knew when enemy rockets were coming.

"Because they would hurt his ears way before the early warning system would pick them up. So when he started howling all the pilots headed for the bunker," Don explained, adding that Zipper was probably the only dog in North Vietnam that got to eat steaks and pork chops.

Don picked up several Distinguished Flying Crosses from his Vietnam tours, and says, "I'll readily admit there were times when I was glad to be back on the ground."

Don was the son of a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force who pinned Don's wings on him. Don says his dad also served during the Vietnam War, and the Korean War before that.

Don has lived the last few years on Lake Erling near Taylor, Arkansas.That's where his gunnery sergeant also lied. But Don will soon move back to Florida.

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