Owen Haddock wanted to fly ever since he took a plane ride as a young boy. He grew up in Tennessee, where his father worked construction on nuclear plants, including at Oak Ridge. He applied for admittance into the Air Force Academy, but ended up completing ROTC at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. He enjoyed his ROTC experience, and learned a great deal from his instructors, all WWII combat veterans who taught him with a practical sense of purpose. After graduating, he completed pilot training at Webb Air Force Base in Texas, finding the school academically and physically challenging. His first assignment was at Hamilton Air Force Base in California. After joining the 41st Rescue Squadron and learning to fly the C-130E and the SA-16 flying boat, he conducted search and rescue operations. When he deployed to Southeast Asia in January 1967, he was assigned to the 14th Air Commando Wing and joined the 5th Air Commando Squadron, flying the U-10 Helio Courier, a STOL (Short Take Off and Landing) plane. The U-10 required as little as 100 feet to get airborne, and the pilots regularly trained to get into and out of tight spots. His plane was “armed” with loud speakers, and he played Psyops (Psychological Operations) messages to enemy Soldiers, encouraging them to defect and promising good treatment if they did. He broadcast messages in three dialects of Vietnamese (southern, Hue, and northern), and his messages were frequently successful in turning enemy Soldiers. When he was flying over Army units he sometimes played songs, like selections from the New Christie Minstrels, or “Colonel Bogey’s March.” He found that playing bugle calls motivated American Soldiers while simultaneously disorienting the enemy long enough to create a momentum shift in a battle. After his deployment ended in January 1968, he flew C-141s, shuttling troops and supplies into Vietnam and bringing Soldiers home at the end of their tour. For a period, his C-141 operated as an Air Ambulance bringing home seriously wounded Soldiers, and a point of pride was that he never lost a Soldier on one of his flights. After he left the Air Force, he felt that he needed a mission in service of something higher than himself, and ended up working in Foster Care.
In this interview, he talks about his childhood, his college experiences, and his love for flying. He describes several missions in Vietnam, including one at Bồng Sơn, where they were trying to flush NVA out of villages. He is very proud of his actions that day, protecting civilians who were too close to the action. He also describes finding and marking the crew of a helicopter that ditched in the sea. One of the more harrowing experiences he recalls was flying into an Arc Light strike as bombs started falling on either side of his aircraft. He notes that “everyone was cheating in that war,” crossing borders to harass the enemy. He also mentions flying with the Seawolves, attack helicopters from the Navy. Finally, he reflects on his service in the Air Force and in Vietnam, stating that it taught him that he could do more than he thought he could. Describing risk takers in the military, he states, “They won’t throw their lives away, but they’ll risk it for the right reasons.”