He took part in ‘McNamara’s Last Chance’ over Vietnam in 1967

Sgt. Ed Schuppenhouer works a radio while training to become a counter-insurgency expert with the 553rd Reconnaissance Wing in Vietnam in 1967. Photo provided

Sgt. Ed Schuppenhouer was part of what was called, “McNamara’s Last Chance” when he served as a counter-insurgency specialist aboard an EC-121R four-engine Super Constellation in Vietnam in 1967-68.

“We were involved in placing censors across Vietnam to create an electronic fence. These sensors would pick up the Vietcong or North Vietnam Army talking to each other. We had another sensor that picked up vehicular traffic. And a third censor was a couple of pounds of C-4 explosive,” the 65-year-old North Port man who served with the 553rd Reconnaissance Wing recalled.

Most of the time the 18-man crew of the constellation flew a circular route over the battlefield monitoring everything happening on the ground and relaying this information to a ground based communications center somewhere else in Vietnam.

“One thing I never understood, we flew our route at 18,000 to 20,000 feet over the battlefield and lots of ‘SAMS’ and Triple-A (antiaircraft guns) locked on to our plane on every mission, but for some reason they never fired on us,” Schuppenhouer said. “Initial estimates were that we were suppose to take 50 percent casualties.

“We became active the third week in November 1967, just in time for the attack on the Marine base at Khe Sanh by several North Vietnamese Army Divisions including artillery. We stayed with it until the siege was over some time in March. The best estimate is that the NVA lost 15,000 to 20,000 hard core troops at Khe Sanh.

“We were flying overhead intercepting the enemy’s communications and retransmitting them to our command bunker on the ground where they had state-of-the-art computers in the ‘Spook Center.’

“I flew 86 combat missions in Vietnam. For every mission you had to be in ‘Crew Rest’ for eight hours before the briefing. We’d go to briefings that were extremely interesting. They not only told you where you were going and what you were doing, but we also got to see the film taken by the F-100s and F-104s (fighters) with their nose and tail aerial cameras. You’d kinda get pumped up over what you just saw on film.

This is the crew of the EC-121R four-engine Super Constellation reconnaissance plane Sgt. Schuppenhouer flew in during his tour in Vietnam in 1967-68. He’s the airman in the back row in the center with the Ray-ban glass on. Photo provided.

“We flew out of a base at Korat, Thailand. At the time there were 32 Super Constellations in the air over Vietnam. We had three aircraft in the air on station 24-7,” he explained.

“On our third combat mission, we were on route to Khe Sanh, when we developed engine trouble and lost one of our four engines. It’s no big deal with a Super Constellation to lose one engine,” Schuppenhouer said. “Then number-three engine caught fire. We put on our parachutes and were ready to jump out the back door of the plane.

“Then the aircraft commander Col. Gerald Parshall got on the intercom and told us, ‘I think I can make it back to base.’ He was right.

“We came in on direct emergency approach because we were down two engines and one was on fire. What nobody has ever explained to me: As we lost altitude the engine flames diminished? By the time we landed it was out.”

Following the longest flight they ever made, some 20 hours or more, they flew into the base at Da Nang and Schuppenhouer stood guard with a South Vietnamese soldier to protect the top secret equipment aboard the big airplane.

“My orders were to guard the plane. And if the South Vietnamese soldier made any move toward the aircraft I was to kill him,” he said.

Schuppenhouer didn’t have to waste any ammunition that night.

After serving a year-long tour in Vietnam he returned to the States and married Kathleen, the girl he met at a dance at Otis Air Force Base in Cape Cod, Mass. before he went to war. They have two children: Stephanie and Gianna Marie.

The couple moved to their current home in North Port six years ago. For 38 years, until he retired, Schuppenhouer worked for the U.S. Post Office. One of his last assignments was Postmaster in Bonita Springs. Currently he is a professor at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg.

Schuppenhouer’s File

Name: Ed Schuppenhouer
D.O.B: 6 June 1946
Hometown: Oak Park, Illinois
Currently: North Port, Florida
Entered Service: 1 Aug. 1968
Discharged: 17 April 1972
Commendations: Air Medal W/3 Oak Leaf Clusters, Silver Wings, Vietnam Service Medal W/3 Bronze Stars, Vietnam Cross of Gallantry, Vietnam Campaign Medal, Good Conduct Medal, Base Airman of the Month, Air Force Commendation Medal, Presidential Unit Citation

This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, April 30, 2012 and is republished with permission.

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