Lt. Col. Ron Dudley of Venice, Fla. flew C-130 transport on 3 tours during Vietnam War

This is Lt. Col. Ron Dudley’s C-130A transport crew when he was flying secret missions from the Royal Thai Air Force base in Thailand in 1967 during one of his three deployments to Vietnam. He’s the fellow in the center squatting with dark hair. Photo provided

Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Ron Dudley of Waterford subdivision in Venice, Fla. flew a “Hercules,” C-130A, four-engine transport plane full of troops or supplies on hazards missions to the front lines during three Vietnam War tours.

Much of the time, from 1966 to ’69, he served with the 41st Tactical Airlift Squadron, 345th Air Wing flying out of Okinawa in the Pacific near the Japanese home islands.

“Twenty-one days a month my five man crew and I would fly into Southeast Asia in my C-130A. It was the best airplane I ever flew, it was superb,” the 78-year-old retired lieutenant colonel said. “Our general mission in Vietnam was to resupply and support our ground troops.

“We could handle 100 paratroopers combat loaded or 74 people if you put them in seats. Sometimes I’d fly in small tanks or armored personnel carriers. I put one personnel carrier into a 1,900-foot strip and three months later I went back in and flew it out,” Dudley said with satisfaction.

“I had some missions over North Vietnam, but most of my missions were over Laos as a forward air controller. We flew in at night dropping flairs at 1,500 feet so out bombers could see the targets.

“We took part in some secret missions in Laos flying out of the Royal Thai Airbase in Thailand,” he said. “At night we’d fly down Highway 1 in Laos and North Vietnam looking for targets of opportunity to bomb.

“If we found a target we’d call in an air strike. On an average night you would take 100 rounds of 37mm antiaircraft fire from VC (Vietcong) gunners. On the worst night we took just short of 1,000 rounds.

“Sgt. Don Brant, our loadmaster, came up with a name for our plane: ‘Super Dud and the Do-lighters.’ This became our call sign until the VC caught on,” Dudley explained. “The fighter planes we worked with would call in and I’d say, ‘Good Evening. You’re about to be entertained by Super Dud and the Do-lighters.’

“I had to stop using that call sign because the VC, the bad guys, would call on our frequency and say: ‘Super Dud, good to see you. We’re gonna have fun tonight.”‘

During one secret mission over Laos one night the VC antiaircraft unit set up a flak trap. They were waiting specifically for Dudley and his C-130 to arrive. The enemy somehow already had the secret frequency he was given just before taking off from the base in Thailand.

“When we flew into the area the VC radio welcomed us by saying, ‘Super Dud you have just moved to the top of the money chart. There is now a $250,000 bounty on your heads.

“‘We have imported several Number-10 (top) gunners. Tonight is your last night. I’m gonna be rich tomorrow,’ the VC announcer told us over the enemy radio.

“The VC radio voice said, ‘We had a little problem at the original sight so we moved it eight clicks up the road.'”

He flew over the designated area and was beginning his decent to 1,500 feet where he would begin to patrol the area for the next six hours.

“All of a sudden there was a flicker on the ground. I realized immediately what had happened. The VC had lured me into a trap,” Dudley said. “They opened up on us with five 37mm guns.

“Lucky for me I was at 8,000 feet when they started shooting at us. If they had waited until I got down to 1,500 feet I would have been a dead duck,” he said. “I only had to climb 5,000 to 6,000 feet to get out of the range of their guns.

“It seemed like it took us 20 hours to get out of range. In reality it was only two or three minutes. But during those minutes we could hear stuff from what the enemy was firing at us hitting our plane.

“We finally made it back to base at 3 a.m. I had just gotten to bed when an aide to Col. Drummond, our squadron commander, knocked on my door and said he wanted to see me right away. I got dressed and the aide drove me out to the flight line where the commander was waiting.

“‘What happened to you all tonight?’ the colonel inquired.

“I told him, ‘I got stuck in a flak trap and got shot up.’

“‘You got 97 holes in the airplane,’ the commander said incredulously.

“‘Yea, but nobody got hurt,’ I replied.

“The next night I was right back up their flying.

“When I checked in on the radio the same oriental VC voice on the ground said to me, ‘Did you have fun last night?’

“I told him, ‘You can take your radio and stick it where the sun won’t hit it.'”

A C-130 transport plane makes a low altitude drop at 180 mph of a skid full of supplies to the U.S. Marine base at Khe Sanh surrounded and under siege by the North Vietnamese Army and the Vietcong in 1967. Photo provided

In 1967 Dudley and his C-130 was taking part in a test program in Vietnam to perfect a low altitude extraction system for equipment they were trying to drop off while under fire or in areas where there was insufficient landing space.

“I dropped the first extraction under fire at a little Army outpost along the Cambodian Border called Cam Duc,” he said. “Another plane had flown into the base before me and got all shot up by quad .50 caliber machine-guns the VC had at the end of the runway.

“I came down through a hole in the clouds too steep to escape the enemy machine-guns. Because I was too steep the balled up parachute that was suppose to pull the loaded pallet out the back of the airplane dropped back inside the plane.

“I had to come around a second time. On the second pass Sgt. Brant, my loadmaster, went back behind the hot load that was ready to go, picked up the parachute and tossed it out. Then he stood in the wall of the plane when the pallet was dragged out after the chute opened. The skid went out the back of the plane that was flying 180 mph just above the ground and skidded to a stop within a few feet of the waiting soldiers.”

For their efforts Dudley and Brant were both awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

A short time later, Dudley’s C-130 crew and a number of other transport pilots perfected this drop off method on numerous occasions while supplying the beleaguered Marines under siege by the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and the VC at their base at Khe Sahn near the Demilitarized Zone.

After returning from Vietnam in 1969, he went to work at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico testing Maverick Missiles. This was a new missile system with a special guidance system that would knock out enemy tanks and other armored equipment. it was a self-guided missile that automatically hit its target.

By the time the 1970s arrived, Dudley was sent to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio to work in the Aeronautical Systems Division on an air-to-air small tactical nuclear missile that could wipe out the Soviets air defense system. After a year’s work the program was shut down.

In February 1974 Dudley had 21 years in the Air Force and decided to call it quits. He retired as a lieutenant colonel and immediately went to work for a civilian contractor that made the controls for the F-16 “Falcon” jet fighter plane.

“After five years of civilian employment, I decided to do something different. I’d spent the last 26 years of my life traveling all over the world away from home 50 percent of the time. I moved to Englewood and planned to fish and play golf for the rest of my life,” he said.

That lasted six weeks. He went to work as general manager for a local home builder. Eventually, when the building business fell off, Dudley and his wife, Gae Stewart, went into the real estate business in 1983. For almost three decades they’ve sold property for Re-max Alliance Reality in Venice.

He has three grown children: Kevin, Wendell and Rebecca.

Dudley’s File

Name: Ronald Edward Dudley
D.O.B: 28 Jan 1934
Hometown: Roanoke, Ala.
Currently: Venice, Fla.
Entered Service: 29 April 1955
Discharged: 4 Sept. 1971
Rank: Lt. Col.
Unit: 41st Tactical Airlift Squadron, 345th Air Wing
Commendations: Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal with 10 Oak Leaf Clusters, National Defense Service Medal, Air Force Reserve Medal, Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal, Outstanding Unit Award, Vietnam Service Medal with 6 Bronze Stars, Combat Readiness Medal, Air Force Expeditionary Medal, Meritorious Service Medal, Presidential Unit Citation, Good Conduct Medal
Battles/Campaigns: Vietnam

This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Florida on Monday, Sept. 17, 2012 and is republished with permission.

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