Robert B. Cocke, Jr.

I am a Native Texan, born May 1936 in the city of San Antonio, location of the Alamo. My family has a long military history. My great grandfather fought in the civil war with the 5th Alabama Infantry, which was part of the army of Northern Virginia under Robert E. Lee. My father was a career service man and served with the Army Air Corp during WW II, and my youngest son now serves on active duty in the Air Force as an electronic warfare officer in a B-52.

My military life began with the Marine Corp Reserve in 1957. I completed “boot camp” at M.C.R.D. San Diego, Combat Training at Camp Pendleton, California, and the first portion of Advanced Combat Training. I stayed in the Marine Corp Reserve until 18 August 1958.

On 18 August 1958, I was sworn in on active duty in the U.S.A.F. as an Aviation Cadet. I completed Aviation Cadet training and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant and awarded pilot wings on 25 November 1959. I flew the T-34, T-37, and T-33 during training. I was then trained in all weather fighter/interceptors at Moody A.F.B., Georgia flying the F-86L.

On completion of F-86L training I was trained as a co-pilot in the B-52G heavy bomber. Strategic Air Command (S.A.C.) had a shortage of pilots and co-pilots. My B-52 training included: Survival training, Weapons training, Aircraft/Mission specific ground training, and flight training. I was assigned to the 97th Bomb Wing, 340th Bomb Squadron at Blytheville A.F.B., Arkansas. While at Blytheville, I married for the wrong reasons to the wrong person. During my tour at Blytheville A.F.B. I completed Squadron Officer School and I received promotions to 1st Lt. (May 1961) and Captain (May 1964). It was during this period of the mid 1960’s that the Vietnam War began to accelerate in intensity.

In 1966 I volunteered for a tour in Vietnam to fly any one of Five (5) different fighter aircraft. I was selected to be a class “A” Forward Air Controller (F.A.C.) during the spring of 1967.

F.A.C.’s in South Vietnam were either class “A” or class “B.” A class “A” F.A.C. was a pilot qualified in ordinance delivery in a current operational fighter before being qualified to supervise all aspects of close air support for troops actively engaged in a firefight with enemy forces. Close air support by class “A” F.A.C.’s were specifically designated for “American & Free World Forces” in Vietnam (Americans, Australians, and/or South Koreans). A pilot who was a class “B” or “Sector F.A.C.”, on the other hand, was not required to be qualified in ordinance delivery in current operational fighters for supervising close air support. The gist of this is that unless a serious emergency arose, a class “B” F.A.C. could only supervise close air support for South Vietnamese forces.

As part of my training for Vietnam I qualified in an operational U.S.A.F. fighter. Before this qualification I received single engine refamiliarization in the T-33 at McDill, A.F.B., Florida. I then was sent to Luke A.F.B., Arizona to qualify in the F-100 Super Sabre. My qualification training in the F-100 included firing 20mm cannon and 2.75” aerial rockets and dropping bombs and napalm. On completion of F-100 qualification I was qualified as a F.A.C. in the O-1 Bird dog. I completed O-1/F.A.C. qualification in early December 1967 and in mid-December departed the U.S. for overseas. I boarded my departure flight at Travis A.F.B., California bound for Clark A.B., Philippine Islands. From Clark I went through a short course on Jungle Survival held in the Philippine Jungle. The course familiarized me with the jungle and sought to teach me how to survive in jungle settings and how to evade capture if I were shot down and how to escape and avoid recapture if that case arose. I departed Clark on 27 December and landed in Saigon at Tan Son Nhut the same day.

From Tan Son Nhut, I was bussed to Bien Hoa. From Bien Hoa, I was sent to Bien Thuy to undergo in country orientation in the O-1 (We called this unit the Forward Air Controller University or F.A.C.U.). After a few days I received assignment to 1st Brigade 101st Airborne division. My transport to the 101st arrived a few days later and my tour in Vietnam as a F.A.C. began on 12 January 1968.

The 1st Brigade 101st Airborne was operating out of a base camp at Song Be in northern III Corps. After orientation to the area and to the 101st operations I was qualified to put in air strikes as necessary. Needless to say, the Tet offensive, which occurred shortly thereafter, was a surprise to all Americans.

When the Vietcong and N.V.A. staged the Tet offensive M.A.C.V. pulled our three combat battalions out of the field and used them to counter the communist attacks on Bien Hoa and Saigon. We were left with what the C.G. called “brigade rear.” When we were told we were soon to be relocated in I Corps we sent one F.A.C. and his support to Hue Phu Bai to prepare for our imminent move. We remaining F.A.C.’s became heavily involved in V.R. (Visual Reconnaissance) to help the 101st (brigade rear) at Song Be to detect any would be incursions by the V.C./N.V.A. The brigade completed the move to I Corps by late February 1968.

In I Corps the 1/101st was used as a blocking force to prevent the N.V.A. from bringing armor into the old Imperial Capital of Hue while the Marines retook the city. It was at this time that our A.L.O. (Air Liaison Officer - the person in charge of the Air Force contingent attached to an army unit to provide close air support - sort of a “Super F.A.C.”) was transferred to Phan Rang. His replacement was a disaster waiting to happen. The new A.L.O. was inept at best and cowardly at worst. I particularly noticed his shortcomings since our requirements for active close air support increased many fold.

In March I flew over 78 hours and directed over 40 TAC Air strikes, most of which were for “troops in contact.” Our new A.L.O. had flown barely 28 hours and put in no (Zero) air strikes - he didn’t even know how to get out to our A.O. without help.

I knew that I needed a change and, on April 13th, I flew to Nha Trang to see what could be done. After I checked in with my squadron (the 21st Tactical Air Support Squadron [21st T.A.S.S.]) I was presented my long awaited regular commission and sworn in as a regular officer. I also approached my squadron commander and volunteered for new assignment. He said that there just happened to be an assignment open in Detachment B-52, 5th S.F.G. (Project Delta). I accepted the assignment gratefully.

I returned the 101st‘s O-1 on the 17th and flew more missions on the 17th, 18th, and 19th. I departed Hue Phu Bai on the 20th and arrived at Nha Trang on the 21st and checked in with 5th S.F.G. On the 22nd I left for Phan Rang and finished the required qualification into the O-2A on 27 April.

On returning to the squadron I was offered some “free time off.” I departed Viet Nam via C-123 on 30 April bound for Taiwan. After several days “free time off” in Taiwan I returned to Viet Nam (via Naha A.B., Okinawa) and landed at Danang on 6 May (I wasn’t able to get to Nha Trang to collect my gear and uniforms.). I finally got a flight to Phu Bai on the 8th of May to join Delta in the field. I had to borrow flying gear, uniforms, and weapons since all I had were my civvies. I flew my first two missions for Delta on that same day. I flew many other missions during the balance of Delta’s operation in I Corps. Delta’s mission in I Corps was complete on May 19th and we returned to Nha Trang on the 20th.

During stand down at Nha Trang our strike force (the Vietnamese 81st Airborne Rangers) was pulled to quell a disturbance in Cholon (the southern district of Saigon).

On June 17th I was “farmed out” (temporarily attached) to Detachment B-50 (Omega Project), operating out of Ban Me Thuot East. My temporary assignment to Omega was to last only until the Rangers were reunited with Delta. The operation with Omega involved flying to small “A” Camps along the Cambodian border and pulling strip alert for much of the day. If a call were received from a S.F. soldier with a montagnard company for T.A.C. Air I was to launch and provide whatever resources were available. The “A” Camps I supported were Duc Lap, Duc Co, Ban Don, and “The Oasis.” My job also included F.A.C. support for inserting S.F. teams up to 50 clicks (kilometers) into Cambodia. Much of Omega’s thrust was to monitor the Ho Chi Minh trail for infiltration traffic by the N.V.A.

I stayed with Omega until 10 July, when I returned to Delta. I had received word that the Rangers would be reunited with Delta and a mission would be forthcoming. So, after getting recurrent in the O-1 I found, sadly, that there was no sign of the Rangers so I was farmed out again - this time to the 173rd Airborne Brigade operating out of L.Z. English just north of Qui Nhon. I stayed with them until the 25th returning to Nha Trang because of a bird with a faulty flap drive cable.

At Nha Trang, I flew several missions in borrowed aircraft for the Recondo School and taught a short class on F.A.C. procedures to those assigned by the Recondo School.

When my O-1 was ready I returned to Omega on August 4th. I was back at Nha Trang again on August 8th. I flew for Recondo a few times while waiting for my R & R.

On return from R & R, I found that Delta finally was reunited with the Rangers and given a new operation. The new operation was near Quan Loi, which was located 20 to 25 miles west southwest of Song Be. John Fasick (another Delta F.A.C.) and I flew there in our trusty 0-1 on August 30th. On the way there we decided to go for an “altitude record” in the old Birddog. We reached 10,300’ before a combination of lack of power and cloud cover beneath us forced us to congratulate each other on a job well done and to descend below the clouds to pinpoint our location. Another one of my memories of this operation was when Sgt. Wagner and one Vietnamese from his team were separated from the rest of team 12 on September 22nd. They did not have the radio, merely colored panels, signal mirror, etc. The separation occurred on the evening of the 22nd so any attempt to find and extract them had to wait until the next day. On the 23rd, the weather was particularly lousy with a capital “L.” I launched first to do a V.R. (visual reconnaissance) of the area where the separation occurred in hopes to get a visual on Sgt. Wagner and his Vietnamese team member. I had been trying to fly visual while avoiding the clouds when I flew into a fog bank and became disoriented. I had vertigo big time. I felt that I was climbing to the right. My O-1 instruments (which weren’t the most reliable in the world), however, told me that I was descending and in a left turn. I trusted my instruments above “the seat of my pants” and took appropriate action. When I broke out on top of the clouds at around 3000’ I was thankful that my training had taken over and had overruled my gut level feelings. After tooling around for some time and getting low on fuel, I came back and landed. I never found Sgt. Wagner while I was up, but John Fasick had launched just as I was landing and the weather was improving. John spotted Sgt. Wagner and his Vietnamese team member within a short time and was able to direct a chopper (helicopter) to them and effect a successful extraction. The mission at Quan Loi ended on the 29th. Then all of Delta sat by the runway two days awaiting transportation back to Nha Trang - what a way to end a mission.

The next mission of Delta was out of An Hoa in I Corps, it was a short one from October 25th through November 14th. I have a number of distinct memories of this operation. In one instance a team was compromised and had to be extracted by McGuire rig since no suitable L.Z.’s (landing zones) were available for the choppers. The pickup area was in a small valley across the river to the west of An Hoa and ringed by low hills. Two choppers were used and the six team members were extracted O.K. There was one problem, however. The clouds were closing in and the tops of all the hills were covered. There was just one way out, a saddleback where you could stay V.F.R. and slip through to the other side of the hills. To complicate this matter the weather seemed to be getting worse. The problem was to get the choppers and the troops they had just extracted home safely before the weather closed in completely. The choppers had to get through the saddleback first and soon. Each chopper needed more clearance than I did - each was carrying three troopers dangling many feet below on McGuire rigs. When they were safely through the saddleback, I would be able to fly through myself. As I approached the saddle in the O-2 the weather continued to deteriorate. This is where the pucker factor went up. The O-2 was not designed as a F.A.C. aircraft. It was a civilian design which was adopted by the Air Force and adapted for use as a stopgap until the OV-10 (a twin engine turboprop specifically designed with the F.A.C. mission in mind) could be produced in such quantities that we could replace the 0-2. One big drawback on the 0-2 was forward visibility. When flying into the rising or setting sun or flying in a rain shower much or all of your forward visibility is lost. In my case I was at tree top level just coming through the saddle when the rainsquall hit. I lost all forward visibility. The only thing I could do was to look out the side window to gauge my height above the jungle as I flew pell-mell down the backside of the saddle toward the river, which was at the bottom. I also knew that the river was wide enough that when I caught a glimpse of it approaching out of my side window I could bank the O-2 sharply enough to stay roughly in the center of the river. I also knew that the river ended in the South China Sea. My only problem would be if there was shipping in the river. You see I was flying at about 110 knots (126 M.P.H.) and just above the water, probably at an altitude of 20’ to 25’. I wanted desperately to avoid a sampan with a tall mast!!! I had to stay at this altitude in order to maintain V.F.R. I decided to keep on with my plan and continued on just above the river as I flew toward the South China Sea. I radioed An Hoa and found that the choppers had made it in safely. I relayed that I wasn’t able to return to land right away as called for in my original plan. I was really relieved a few minutes later when I popped out of the rainsquall and was able to dodge clouds and return and land at An Hoa.

My last flying job with Delta was at Dong Xoai in III Corps. I flew to Dong Xoai on November 20th. I found Dong Xoai memorable for a number of reasons. For one thing, our runway was the road, which passed through the tiny hamlet of Dong Xoai. For another, there were simply no (zip, zero, zilch) takeoff and landing controls. On takeoff, I gauged which direction the wind was from and took off in the direction, which gave me the best component of head wind. For landing, I would usually drop a smoke can off to the side of the runway to find out the prevailing wind. Then I would fly just above the runway at about five feet (5’) off the ground in the opposite direction in which I was to land. This was to scare any legs off before I landed (Legs refers to army troops not qualified as airborne. At Dong Xoai we had an army unit [I don’t remember their name.] which shared the site with Delta for our operation there.). Then I would do my best to roll the O-1 up into a simulated fighter pitch before reversing direction to land and taxi in. My D.E.R.O.S. was scheduled for 15 December 1968. My squadron commander flew down and picked me up to return to Nha Trang several days early to complete out-processing. Thus ended my tour in Vietnam and my privilege of being attached to Delta Project.

From Vietnam my military life took me to Reese A.F.B., Lubbock, Texas where I was assigned from January 1969 until February 1974. I worked first as O.I.C. of the wing command post, flying the T-37. From January 1970 through January 1973 after qualifying as a T-38 instructor pilot, I held the following positions: Instructor Pilot, Assistant Flight Commander, Flight Commander, Chief of the Student Branch (in charge of student military training), and Section Commander (In charge of section 1 which was comprised of ˝ of the squadron.). Each flying training squadron consisted of two sections and each section was composed of four flights. The flights were the ones which provided flight instruction to assigned officer students. I received promotion to Major while at Reese.

January 1973 brought a year of permissive T.D.Y. (temporary duty) to complete my bachelor degree at Park College, Parkville, Missouri. I was awarded a B.A. Degree in Psychology (Summa Cum Laude) in December 1973.

I returned to Reese A.F.B. in mid January 1974. My divorce had been granted on 10 January 1974. In late February 1974 I was re-assigned to S.A.C. to fly B-52’s again.

After re-qualifying in the B-52, I proceeded to my new assignment at Loring A.F.B., Maine. At Loring I qualified as Aircraft Commander (with a bomber crew of six). I assumed the position as Chief of Standardization and Evaluation (referred to as “Stan Evil”) and was responsible for all bomber and tanker aircrews being able to perform their wartime mission. I had 40+ instructor personnel under my command. Before retiring I assumed the duties of Chief of Safety. My staff provided flying safety, nuclear safety, driving safety, sports safety, and every other aspect of ground safety for approximately six thousand military and civilian personnel. While at Loring, I was promoted to Lt. Colonel with a date of rank in 1975.

Also while at Loring I married Eileen Kelly - the right woman, for the right reasons. As a regular officer, I could have stayed on active duty until reaching 30 years of service. Instead, I decided to retire. I retired on July 1st, 1978 with over 21 years of service.

On retirement, my wife, my family, and I traveled to Ireland. We lived there while I completed a second Bachelor degree and a Master’s degree in Applied Psychology from University College Cork - a unit of the National University of Ireland. While in Cork we ran our own counseling business.

We returned to Allen, Texas - just north Dallas in 1980 and then, in 1983, to San Antonio. By 1989 my wife and I had decided to return to Ireland to finish raising our youngest child.

On returning to Ireland, we opened our own counseling business again. We were also involved as tutors in The Open University in Milton Keynes, England. This distant learning program was operated by The University of Limerick, in Ireland (also part of the National University of Ireland).

My familiarity with distance learning led me to a distant learning program from Jacksonville Theological Seminary, Jacksonville, Florida. I studied in their department of Theology and was awarded a Th.D (Doctor of Theology) shortly before returning to the States.

Our youngest son, Michael, completed secondary school (high school) and his first two years of University studies in Ireland. In 1997 we returned to Texas, because Michael wanted to enter an Air Force R.O.T.C. program in order to fly for the Air Force. We bought a home in Spring Branch in the Texas Hill Country, just north of San Antonio and have lived there since our return.

My wife and I opened a small non-denominational church in Spring Branch. We named it The Gospel of Grace Church and, for over five years I pastored it, until I retired in September 2004. I was here wondering how I would adjust to retirement when Steve Adams located me.
 

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