Spectre Gunner by David M. Burns

David Burns joined the Navy in 1951 when he was fifteen years old. He served for sixteen years in the Navy, then joined the U.S. Air Force in 1967. His memoir, Spectre Gunner: The AC-130 Gunship (iUniverse, 138 pp., $23.95, hardcover; $13.95, paper), looks at Burns’s second, third, and fourth Vietnam War (1969-75) tours of duty as an aerial gunner on a modified C-130 nicknamed the “Spectre.”

During that time Burns flew 287 secret missions with the 16th Special Operations Squadron (SOS) out of Ubon Air Base in Thailand over Laos, North Vietnam, South Vietnam, and Cambodia—most of them designed to disrupt truck traffic on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The black-painted planes were fit out with four 20mm guns and four mini guns. “This was the most deadly gunship in the world!” Burns says.

Burns was injured during his second C-130 tour when a 20mm clip fell to the ground as he and others were loading them onto a plane. “I had shrapnel wounds on my chest and face,” Burns says. “My T-shirt was shredded, and I had a gaping hole in my left foot where a bunion had been! Other than that, I was alive!” He spent three weeks in the hospital, then returned to duty.

Then, in June of 1972, his C-130 barely escaped a direct hit from a missile that “went off about fifteen feet behind the aircraft,” he writes, “and lit up the inside of the aircraft when it exploded!”

“I could not breathe properly,” he says, and “suspected I had broken a rib or two. And my right wrist was useless… The doctor put a cast on my wrist, taped my ribs, and grounded me for three weeks.”

—Marc Leepson