Inspiration to a new generation

DOBBINS AIR RESERVE BASE, Ga. -- Not many people can say that they have looked death in the eye and survived. Retired Col. Glenn Nordin is one of the few that is lucky enough to be able to tell that story.

This story begins with him in Vietnam and is remembered by him and the other heroes as the day which caused ordinary people to do extraordinary things.

"I thought I was going to die that day," said Col. Nordin. "There were bullets flying everywhere and not one single bullet hit the crew, my copilot, myself or the helicopter. It was by the grace of God that we survived and nothing was hit, there is no other way to explain it."

Col. Nordin had been at Danang, Vietnam for five months flying F-4 Phantom fighters with the 480th Squadron, of the 366th Tactical Fighter Wing. On December 10, 1967, Col. Nordin was scheduled to lead a flight of four F-4's to provide top cover for a US Navy P-3 Neptune bomber, which would drop sensors in a designated area near Tchepone, Laos. He completed his mission and went to Ubon, Thailand to refuel. After the refueling they had a routine flight back to Danang.

"We were on the final approach to Danang about 14 miles out for a landing to the north. We were ready to drop the gear and flaps to start down the glide slope, when we were hit by automatic gunfire," remembered Colonel Nordin. "I knew instantly that we were hit bad and warning lights were coming on all over."

The aircraft was totally engulfed in flames and Colonel Nordin and his co-pilot Bob Riddick ejected from the airplane. They landed in a river and the enemy began to shoot at them from an unknown direction. Bullets were hitting the water and ground all around them.

"I saw a squad of about a dozen soldiers across the river shooting at us," said Colonel Nordin. "Significantly they were in uniform, not the black pajamas the Viet Cong wore. These were North Vietnamese soldiers and they kept approaching closer and closer. They were eventually across the river from me and still firing their guns. Amazingly I still had not been hit, but I knew it was only a matter of time."

A US Army helicopter gunship appeared in the sky just as stray gunfire intensified. The helicopter dropped straight down to the river and landed on the sand bar. The helicopter pilot had spotted the fireball in the sky and assumed that the pilots were dead, until he saw them eject. When the helicopter pilot saw the ejection, he immediately headed toward the landing site.

"Shooting erupted all around us from both sides of the river," said Colonel Nordin. "We were completely surrounded and the helicopter gunners jumped out from both sides. One went to me and the other one went toward Bob. We then made our way to the chopper. The gunners shoved us in each door and we got out of there, straight up. We must have gone straight up at least 1,000 feet with the two gunners firing their rifles and us firing our 38 caliber revolvers."

Despite the tremendous amount of gunfire aimed at the helicopter and the crew, not one single person was hit and the helicopter did not have any bullet holes. Colonel Nordin later found out that the helicopter pilot, Warrant Officer James M. White, was a legend in Vietnam and was known for his fearlessness. Colonel Nordin recalls that he may have been the only helicopter pilot in Vietnam that would have done what he did in the face of such fierce opposition. Colonel Nordin put White in for the Medal of Honor and the rest of the crew for Silver Stars but heard later that they did receive a downgraded award.

Colonel Nordin was invited by the 700th Airlift Squadron to speak about his experience in Vietnam. Colonel Nordin is the father of Lt. Col. Carl Nordin of the 700th Airlift Squadron.

"My father had a huge influence on my career choice," said the younger Colonel Nordin, 700th Airlift Squadron, chief pilot. "When I was a child I would hear all the stories that my father would tell and I always found them interesting. When my father created a memoir of his experience for my children I brought a copy in for some members of my unit to see. Many members of my unit became very interested so I set up a day and time that my father could come and talk to the unit."

Colonel Nordin (retired) ended his talk to the unit by telling them how honored he was that they invited him to talk about his experience.

"I am very proud and honored that you invited me here today," said Colonel Nordin (retired). "I am thankful for the sacrifice that you make for your country and consider you all my family. The tradition of sacrifice and service continues on through all of you."