Sgt. John Robson escaped ‘Tet Offensive,’ serves 20 years in U.S. Air Force all around world

John Robson of Englewood, Fla. joined the Air Force at 18, in 1966. After basic he was trained to be a jet engine mechanic and was sent to an air force base in Tuy Hoa, South Vietnam in 1967. He worked on the engine of a squadron of F-100 Super Sabre fighter-bombers over there.

“We were playing cards in our barracks when ‘Tet’ started,” he recalled 50 years later. “ We had to report to the shop which was a mile away. We had no guns, they were stored in the shop.”

The “Tet Offensive” was an attempt by 80,000 North Vietnamese Army and the Vietcong Guerrillas to invade almost every military base and major city in South Vietnam. It began Jan. 30, 1968 and continued for weeks.

“Its was night and when we got outside there was small arms fire going on all around us,” Robson said. “The North Vietnamese also attacked our base with satchel charges. They blew up several C-130 transports planes with their charges.

“I ran the mile to the shop pretty fast. There was a fence around the shop and I cleared the fence without stopping,” he said with a smile.

“In the three day fight on our base during ‘Tet’ the Army brought in UH-1 “Iroquois” helicopter gunships. Their Gatling gunships quelled the NVA and VC advance,” he said. “We ran ‘em off our base in a couple of days and the Army pushed ‘em back into the jungle.

“By the fourth day the fighting on the base had pretty much quieted down. Everything kinda went back to normal after that.

“I worked in the jet engine shop on base. They’d bring in J-57 engines out of the F-100s and we’d tear ‘em all the way down,” Robson said. “We’d replace all the parts that needed replacing. Every 200 flying hours we would have to inspect certain portions of the engine. We were busy most of the tine because the squadron had a lot of flying hours.

“”Me and my buddy, Eddie Moore, tore one engine down and when we got down to the final nozzle on the engine, which is the hot part of the engine, the nozzle almost fell off on the ground,” Robson noted. “If the pilot had made one more flight he would have never completed it.”

In Vietnam, Robson’s company was protected by a detachment of South Korean Marines. These Marines were making more money than ever before. They were paid the same as American soldiers and they liked to spend their money in the local PX.

“I guarantee you one thing,” Robson said. “These South Korean Marines weren’t letting anything get to our PX.”

After a year in Vietnam, he put in for more overseas time. This time he was stationed in Germany.

Before Robson flew to Europe he had to return to the states. He flew into Washington state and encountered Vietnam war protesters.

“There weren’t too many of ‘em and they did’t give us a whole lot of guff,” he said.

I was assigned for the next two years to a base in Battenberg, Germany. He worked on F-4 “Phantom” jets.

He was reassigned to the 415th Special Operations Squadron. He turned AC-119s and AC-130 transport planes into gunships. They sent these gunships to Vietnam and used them against the enemy coming down the Ho Chi Min Trail.

Robson helped get “The First Lady,” airborne. She was the first C-130 gunship used on the trail against the NVA and the VC.

The 415th Special Operations Squadron moved to Eglin Air Force Base in the Florida Panhandle. He moved with the squadron and continued to modify AC-130s and turn them into gunships for Vietnam. From 1971 to ’74 Robinson worked at Eglin.

In 1974 he was transferred to a Corsair Squadron of A-7Ds located in Texas. It was a training base for teaching pilots to fly the jets used in Vietnam.

It was about this point in his 20-year career in the Air Force, Robson took a hearing test and flunked it.

“Because of my hearing problems I had to change career fields. They made me a maintenance management control person. I monitored everything about the airplane in this job,” he explained.

Near the end of his time in the air force, Robson decided to take a four-year assignment at Eleison Air Force Base near Fairbanks, Alaska. He was still monitoring airplanes for the Air Force.

His last year in the service was spent back at Eglin in 1985. He worked as a master sergeant in the test unit on the base until he retired the following year.

He and his wife, Elizabeth, and their two children, John and Melissa, moved to Englewood that same year.

Name: John David Robinson
D.O.B: 13 Dec.1947
Hometown: Terre Huete, Ind.
Currently: Englewood, Fla.
Entered Service: 16 June 1966
Discharged: 1986
Rank: Master Sergeant
Commendations: Air Force Commendation Medal W/2 Oakleaf Clusters, Air Force Outstanding Unit Award, W/1 Oakleaf Cluster, Good Conduct Medal w/5 Oakleaf Clusters, National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, w/4 Bronze Stars,Overseas Long Tour Ribbon w/4 Oakleaf Clusters,
Battles/Campaigns: Vietnam War, Cold War

This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017 and is republished with permission.

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  1. Men like him we needed. I spent two years in the Navy and 9 months in country the first time then I reenlisted and did 1 year in Quang Trui just 6 miles from the Laos border in ’71, I along with my team kept an eye on the North Regs coming in with supplies. We would Booby Trap the road and side trails so if they decided to go another way they couldn’t. I learned this from the Indian warfare and better traps than what they had.
    The AC-130’s are great planes for gunships and with the cannon they really do a great job.

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