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Interview with John Lansford McCullough [7/13/2004]

Michael Willie:

Today is Tuesday, July 13th, 2004, and this is the beginning of an interview with Johnny Lansford McCullough at the Erlanger HealthLink Plus office, Chattanooga, Tennessee. Mr. McCullough was born on [redacted], and is now 69 years old. My name is Michael Willie, and I will conduct this interview. Mr. McCullough, could you state for the recording your name and its spelling please?

John Lansford McCullough:

Johnny Lansford McCullough, J-o-h-n-n-y L-a-n-s-f-o-r-d M-c-C-u-l-l-o-u-g-h.

Michael Willie:

Okay. And which branch of service did you serve?

John Lansford McCullough:

United States Army.

Michael Willie:

And in what -- during which years?

John Lansford McCullough:

I enlisted in the Army Reserves in Chattanooga as a senior in high school on the 28th of January 1952, and I served until 1 August 1974.

Michael Willie:

Okay. All right. What was your highest rank attained?

John Lansford McCullough:

Major 04.

Michael Willie:

Okay. Now, where were you born?

John Lansford McCullough:

I was born right here in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Michael Willie:

Born in Chattanooga. Okay. Tell me about family, do you have any brothers or sisters?

John Lansford McCullough:

One sister, she was here. My dad, he was also in the service. He was a master sergeant and later on became a sergeant major. And, of course, he went to Germany a few times, and we served together in the 4th Army Division and in Vietnam in '66, '65-'66.

Michael Willie:

Okay. Now, you were born in '34?

John Lansford McCullough:

Correct.

Michael Willie:

Was your father in the service when you were a child?

John Lansford McCullough:

No. He was in the National Guard and was activated in World War II and sent to the Pacific where he served three or four years, I don't remember the exact dates.

Michael Willie:

All right. So I mean, he was actually involved then in the Pacific force?

John Lansford McCullough:

Yeah, he was in the Pacific.

Michael Willie:

All right. Do you have any memory of that?

John Lansford McCullough:

I just have a basic memory because I stayed with my grandparents when my mother and younger sister went to California with him because I was in school and she wasn't, so I stayed with them and lived with them until the end of the war when he came back home.

Michael Willie:

Okay. All right. That was here in Chattanooga where you stayed?

John Lansford McCullough:

Right.

Michael Willie:

So you spent your formative years here in Chattanooga.

John Lansford McCullough:

(Nods.)

Michael Willie:

And was your dad -- now, where was he, was he based in Chattanooga?

John Lansford McCullough:

He was when he got out of the Army, he drove a bus, the Chattanooga Bus Line, it wasn't called a charter in those days, and then he went back in on active duty in 1952, I guess it was. He was stationed at the Army Reserve Center on civilian component duty.

Michael Willie:

Voluntarily?

John Lansford McCullough:

That was the assignment. He stayed there until late 1953 when he was shipped out to Germany with an outfit over there.

Michael Willie:

All right. Now, where did you go to high school?

John Lansford McCullough:

Chattanooga High School over on 3rd Street, the old Chattanooga Arts and Science right now I think it is.

Michael Willie:

All right. Hop, skip, and a jump. So you went to school there and joined the ROTC. Now, that is a voluntary program, right?

John Lansford McCullough:

Yeah, I was -- I was in the ROTC program for three years, and that's when I enlisted in the Army. They gave me the rank of PFC because I already had three years of military, quote, training, whatever that means.

Michael Willie:

So when you joined the ROTC -- yeah, when you joined the ROTC, is it your thought, I mean, is it already assumed that you're going to join the service?

John Lansford McCullough:

Well, I knew I was going to be a soldier from probably when I was young.

Michael Willie:

I saw the pictures.

John Lansford McCullough:

Yeah.

Michael Willie:

That's kind of in your blood. All right.

John Lansford McCullough:

My whole family. My dad was in the service, my uncle retired from the Navy, I had two more uncles in the Navy. So, you know, I mean it's just we're professional soldiers I guess you want to call it.

Michael Willie:

Okay. So when do you graduate high school?

John Lansford McCullough:

1952.

Michael Willie:

1952, so the Korean War is still going on, right?

John Lansford McCullough:

Yes.

Michael Willie:

All right. So you get out and automatically go straight --

John Lansford McCullough:

Well, I was in the Reserves prior to graduation.

Michael Willie:

Oh, that's right, you were in the Reserves.

John Lansford McCullough:

So I was exempt from going there, but I did go to Korea later on.

Michael Willie:

Okay. All right. So let's see, you're in the Reserves, and when do you actually go on active duty?

John Lansford McCullough:

On July 1954 I entered active duty because I knew, you know, if time was to come, to go ahead and get active and do my thing.

Michael Willie:

And what was your dad doing at that time?

John Lansford McCullough:

He was in Germany, stationed in Germany with the Second Armored Division up at Baumholder in Germany.

Michael Willie:

All right. So being a reservist now, had you gone through a basic training per se or summer camp?

John Lansford McCullough:

Well, in those days you had two weeks a month, two weekends a month drill and then two weeks of training every summer. But however when you went active, I was an E-5 sergeant, I was sent to Fort Jackson, South Carolina for, quote, basic training. But being a sergeant with that three or four years service, I had it pretty nice there. And then when my basic was over, I was -- I went to Fort Lee, Virginia for advanced individual training where I attended a quartermaster school and graduated as a supply sergeant.

Michael Willie:

Okay. Well, let's talk about when you decide to go on active duty, July 1954, to where are you sent now immediately?

John Lansford McCullough:

Fort Jackson, South Carolina for basic. I knew that was -- we had the career pretty well planned out when I decided to go on active duty.

Michael Willie:

Okay. Now, at this point I'm going to assume that you're pretty independent. I mean, it's not a big concern being away from family. Is that --

John Lansford McCullough:

Well, I became independent I guess in 1952, '53 when my dad and family went to Germany, I lived with my grandmother, she was about 80 something years old. So we lived together until I decided to go on active duty. So boys are independent I guess.

Michael Willie:

Right. You know, at a young age it is the case. I mean, I think with a lot of the guys I've talked to, it's as much an adventure as a chance to get away and see things as it is anything else, right?

John Lansford McCullough:

Oh, yes.

Michael Willie:

Especially since you know this is your career path.

John Lansford McCullough:

Well, in between prior to that time, of course, when I graduated from high school, prior to active duty I worked at Dupont and in those days making pretty good money.

Michael Willie:

I was going to say --

John Lansford McCullough:

But I looked at the retirement plan and I figured it didn't take me long to figure out that I couldn't draw a retirement until I was 65 and I figured, hmm, 18 plus 20 is 38, I think I'm going to go where I can draw from retirement.

Michael Willie:

Okay. All right. So, okay, take me from your -- I mean the moment when you actually go on to active duty, is it everything that you expected it would be?

John Lansford McCullough:

Oh, yeah. In fact, being in the Reserves pretty well prepared me. We had served our summer training down in Fort Jackson, so I knew the area and knew what was going on and nothing was a surprise.

Michael Willie:

Although, Fort Jackson in July is probably not --

John Lansford McCullough:

It's a little warm down there, put it that way. And the heat is pretty bad and mosquitoes and the sand. But, you know, it's just like Vietnam, you get used to it.

Michael Willie:

It's just part of it.

John Lansford McCullough:

That's right, part of it.

Michael Willie:

All right. So you said you had everything pretty much planned out, everything pretty much mapped out. What do you mean by that? Do you know exactly how?

John Lansford McCullough:

Well, when I went in I had three goals and objectives. I wanted to be in the Army, figured I'd retire as a master sergeant. I wanted to be a paratrooper. And I figured I wanted to go to ranger school. Well --

Michael Willie:

And those are pretty hefty goals, right, I mean as far as the ranger school.

John Lansford McCullough:

And so when I was an enlisted man, then I said, well, to be a paratrooper and all that, I think I need to be an officer. And then I went to jump school. And after I saw the rangers, I said I don't need to eat snakes that much, so I'll just stay here. And then I said, I changed my goals. I want to be a pilot. I love flying. So that's how my goals changed. But I pretty well had it mapped out but situations change.

Michael Willie:

Do you have a mentor in this? Does your dad help you out or do you have anybody that's --

John Lansford McCullough:

No. Just I just looked and figured out where I wanted to go and what's the best thing to do.

Michael Willie:

That's pretty impressive, I mean especially starting out as a young guy to be able to see that far ahead.

John Lansford McCullough:

Well, my dad, of course, he helped me some down the road. He was a master sergeant in the Army, and I was an E6 in the Army, and we served together in Germany. So, you know, we talked about a few things, and you could look at the advancement opportunities of enlisted.

Michael Willie:

But you've got to know how to get there.

John Lansford McCullough:

Yeah, and so you have to figure out your plan and you just make it happen.

Michael Willie:

Okay. So your first goal obviously is you say you've got to be an officer, right?

John Lansford McCullough:

No, I wanted to be an enlisted man, and then after that I said I've got to be an officer to get ahead in the hierarchy I guess is the best way to say it, you can make more money, you're going to have -- you've got more responsibility though, I mean a heck of a lot more than you had as an enlisted man.

Michael Willie:

Right. So how do you go about becoming an officer? I mean, what steps do you take to be accepted?

John Lansford McCullough:

First of all, you have to have pretty good efficiency ratings as an enlisted man, and then you have to attend an NCO academy which I did in Germany in Batholtz (phonetic), 7th Army Academy, graduated number 2 in my class which qualified me for OCS. And then applied, was accepted, and shipped out to entry OCS at Fort Benning, Georgia.

Michael Willie:

Okay. And now how long does it take you to accomplish this?

John Lansford McCullough:

That was in late '59, probably about three months the time you get your paperwork going into the academy and applying for OCS and get your orders and shipped out. That's roughly.

Michael Willie:

All right. But I mean, you're definitely on track, right?

John Lansford McCullough:

Oh, yes.

Michael Willie:

You're going exactly where you want to go.

John Lansford McCullough:

Well, the reason I was a sergeant first class and figured I'd be promoted to master sergeant. This was in '59. They had just come out with a new rank. A master sergeant is E-7. In those days they came out with E-8s. You had to have 15 years in the Army to be an E-8. I said, ain't no way I'm going to wait, you know, eight more years to get promoted. You know, situation changes, you change your goals and say let's move on.

Michael Willie:

Okay. All right. So OCS at Fort Benning.

John Lansford McCullough:

Fort Benning, Georgia.

Michael Willie:

And is this -- obviously it's challenging but is this just --

John Lansford McCullough:

It's a six-month course where you learn tactics, leadership, command, all kind of stuff. And it's a tough course. And I graduated in April the 12th, 1960, number one in my class, which automatically gave me my choice of assignment which I picked the 82nd Airborne Division to accomplish my goal as a paratrooper.

Michael Willie:

Right. Now, let me ask you this. You said you basically were learning tactics. I mean, at this time the big concern from what I understand is Russia coming in through Europe, right?

John Lansford McCullough:

Correct. The Cold War.

Michael Willie:

Is that what --

John Lansford McCullough:

All your tactics even up until '69 when I was back in Fort Benning for advanced course, everything was based on the massive invasion, blah, blah, in Germany. So that's what you learned. Of course, then it changed back in, what, '89. And then it changed a lot in Vietnam too when we started the brush fire wars. So things change. But, you know, that was the goal that we had.

Michael Willie:

Okay. That's just a side line. All right. OCS, six months. You graduate top of your class and you choose where now, 82nd Airborne?

John Lansford McCullough:

82nd Airborne Division.

Michael Willie:

All right. And that is in Fort Benning, is that right?

John Lansford McCullough:

No. The jump school is at Fort Benning. So after graduation I went to jump school for four weeks, got my jump wings, and was assigned to the 2nd Airborne Battle Group, 504th Infantry, at Fort Bragg which had just been activated, so it was a new outfit bringing all the new in to get the outfit up and running. So we had to form a new battle group. And a battle group in those days is pretty big. It's a huge organization.

Michael Willie:

All right. And what is your responsibility as far as forming this battle group?

John Lansford McCullough:

Well, I was assigned to Headquarters Company where they made me the assault gun platoon leader which is nothing more than a 90-mm gun attached to a lightweight aluminum tank track. Because I had been in the armor in Germany with the M60 tanks, so they said, oh, you know all this stuff. So that's what I had then. I served there, and then they assigned me to the recon platoon which is a scout platoon. Did that, and I must have done a good job because they shipped me to headquarters as the S3 Air for the battle group where I had responsibility for air movement tables, loading troops, scheduling jumps and drops and whatever.

Michael Willie:

Okay. All right. And once again, you're right on track, right, and pleased?

John Lansford McCullough:

Better than I had anticipated.

Michael Willie:

I was going to say obviously because you were talking retiring as a master sergeant, right?

John Lansford McCullough:

Well, as S3 Air I had a chance to work with the Air Force and did a lot of Air Force forward air control work, and then we had a chopper there and I did a lot of flying with the pilot in the chopper and I said, oh, guess what, here is my next goal, I want to go to flight school. And you had to have a physical and test and good efficiency ratings.

Michael Willie:

And a little bit of coordination too, right?

John Lansford McCullough:

Yeah, I had a little bit of coordination to fly a chopper, but the Cuban Missile Crisis happened in late '62.

Michael Willie:

Talk about that. Now, what is that?

John Lansford McCullough:

Well, the 82nd Airborne Division was put on alert, I don't remember the exact dates, probably September, and we had -- we had everything loaded and on aircraft sitting on the ramps down at Pope Air Force Base, had our parachutes sitting there. I was in the war room at division headquarters being in operations which is S3, working on the schedules for where we're going to -- when we're going to jump. We knew where our drop was, right outside of Havana, to marry up with the 4th Infantry Division which was already at sea, and we're setting up there watching when the cruise ship blinked and the crisis was over and they released us, everybody had orders to go to flight school. So, phew, sweated that out and on to flight school.

Michael Willie:

You say sweated it out, but is there a part of you that's a little anxious to kind of --

John Lansford McCullough:

I wanted to go. All of us wanted to go and solve the problem which we probably should have done. But then again, that's the politics, so I don't get into that.

Michael Willie:

Right.

John Lansford McCullough:

But we were ready. It could have been accomplished.

Michael Willie:

Right. I was going to say it was a hair away too.

John Lansford McCullough:

Oh, people just really don't know how close it was and everything that was going on.

Michael Willie:

All right. So that crisis is over, and at this point have you decided you're going to go to flight school?

John Lansford McCullough:

Oh, yes. I had my orders, and prior to the missile crisis, they put them on hold. So as soon as that was over, I took off for Fort Wolters, Texas for Initial Entry Rotary Wing Aviator School. It's a big name.

Michael Willie:

Okay. Now, they make it look real easy I guess when you're watching, when you're watching a pilot, right, from the back?

John Lansford McCullough:

Everything you do, you use both hands, both feet, I mean it is, it's a coordination problem, and you've really got to pass a depth perception and all kind of vision tests to get in there. So it's pretty strenuous, but it's a lot of fun.

Michael Willie:

But I mean physically, I mean you met all the qualifications.

John Lansford McCullough:

Oh, yeah.

Michael Willie:

And excelled at everything, so you're a perfect candidate.

John Lansford McCullough:

I hope so.

Michael Willie:

So you get in there and I mean is there any thought that you're not going to -- that you might not make it?

John Lansford McCullough:

Oh, no.

Michael Willie:

Did you get in pretty easily?

John Lansford McCullough:

In fact, I graduated number one in my flight school.

Michael Willie:

Okay.

John Lansford McCullough:

So you know, had a good -- and coming out of that, I was assigned to Europe, back to Germany for my second tour in Germany.

Michael Willie:

Okay. Now, during this time we have advisers in Vietnam, is that the case?

John Lansford McCullough:

In 1962, a couple of my buddies at Fort Bragg, we were all first lieutenants together, and that's when they were granting everybody they could who wanted to volunteer to go to Vietnam to be advisers to the South Vietnamese Army, the ARVN we called them, and my buddy went over and wanted me to go. And I said no, I had orders to flight school, so I'm going to flight school.

Michael Willie:

Right. And nobody knew what -- I mean Vietnam was just a --

John Lansford McCullough:

It was a blip on the screen in '62.

Michael Willie:

Exactly. Right.

John Lansford McCullough:

And a couple of guys in my flight school, we graduated in May of '63, they went straight to Vietnam flying choppers over there. But again, being number one, I had my choice, so I went to Germany.

Michael Willie:

Okay. And now, so why did you decide -- did you decide Germany because you liked it over there?

John Lansford McCullough:

I liked Germany. Of course, I was married and had a family.

Michael Willie:

Okay. Now, let's go back to that because I had forgotten about that. When did you get married?

John Lansford McCullough:

Let's see, I came out of Korea in 1956, after serving 16 months in Korea, and I got married in June of '56 and had my first child in July '57. And then, of course, during OCS I had a second child while I was in OCS. So we all wanted to go back to Germany. She had been to Germany, the family, on my first tour and we liked it. In those days the Germans were on our side I guess is the best way to put it, so we all wanted to go back.

Michael Willie:

And as far as Europe goes, it's pretty comparable to --

John Lansford McCullough:

Well, I was stationed in the south they call in Baarish (phonetic) down in the southern part of Germany, both tours, right outside -- the first tour was Lipime (phonetic) which is right outside of Augsburg, and the second tour was Oberschleissheim which is right outside of Munich. So that part of the country is like being down south.

Michael Willie:

Right.

John Lansford McCullough:

I mean, it's a different world going up north. I mean, they just -- just the way it is.

Michael Willie:

And I've heard people in World War II as they were coming through saying this could be the Tennessee hills.

John Lansford McCullough:

Oh, beautiful down there, beautiful country, just absolutely gorgeous.

Michael Willie:

Right. Okay. All right. So you accept -- you go to Germany. Now, when you do this, is it basically the same thing, it's a tour for a year or is it different for an officer?

John Lansford McCullough:

No, in those days I think the tour was scheduled for three years. An enlisted man I think was about the same, but going to OCS they cut my tour short to 19 months. The second tour, 27 months because they pulled all of us, every aviator in Germany was yanked out of there in August of 1965 to fill the buildup in Vietnam for forming airmobile companies. So they depleted aviation assets in Europe in those days.

Michael Willie:

Okay. Now, are you keeping -- are you staying up on what's going on? I mean, do you see it escalating and realize that eventually it's going to --

John Lansford McCullough:

Oh, yeah, we all read the news and you get briefings every now and then about what's going on, classified briefings in those days. I mean, you know, you don't live with your head in the sand. So we figured we were going to go sometime, and it was interesting the way it happened. I was on a -- I was escorting some officers, one of them was an Iraq officer to be exact, up on an outfit up there, and the general, the brigadier general who was an aviator came up and said John, you got your orders yet? And I said, Orders for what? He said, Well, you haven't got your orders to Vietnam? I said, No, sir. He said, Well, you will. And hell, it wasn't two weeks we were all packing our bags and getting our families packed up and heading back to the States.

Michael Willie:

And even though it is your job and your responsibility, now you've got a family, right?

John Lansford McCullough:

Yes.

Michael Willie:

Probably makes it a little more --

John Lansford McCullough:

It's amazing, the military wives are pretty independent. They learn long ago how to survive without you. So it's not -- you may want to cut this, but it's not like the wives that you see in the National Guard and, oh, I can't do this and I can't do that. They can do it without you, you know. They became independent too.

Michael Willie:

Right, right. And a support group.

John Lansford McCullough:

Sure. Oh, yes, there's always a family -- in fact, in a unit in the battle group, you have the commanding officers wives, you have the wives club, they have the organization to take care of any family problems. If you run into any kind of problems, they come to your aid. You've got -- it's a small city. Any military base is a small city that takes care of the troops, not necessarily like the civilian cities.

Michael Willie:

Right, right.

John Lansford McCullough:

Big difference.

Michael Willie:

Right. Well, there's a sense of -- well, probably like they used to be --

John Lansford McCullough:

Oh, yes.

Michael Willie:

-- back in the '40s.

John Lansford McCullough:

That's right.

Michael Willie:

All right. So you get your orders to Vietnam, and how do you -- do you send your wife back to the States?

John Lansford McCullough:

We all went back to the States. I took -- of course, you had a place to put your family while you're going overseas no matter what it is. So I sent her back to her home in New Orleans, got them relocated there, and you get a 30-day leave. You get them all settled and report at Fort Benning where we formed two assault helicopter companies, the 170th and 119th were the aviators from Europe, Alaska, Panama. You take all this gaggle of warrant officers, crew chiefs, enlisted officers and form a unit. And then you do a little bit of training, and you ship out on the troop ship on a 28-day voyage through the South Pacific on your way to Vietnam.

Michael Willie:

Man alive. Had you ever been on a --

John Lansford McCullough:

Yeah, I had been on a ship to Germany on my first tour over there. Didn't fly.

Michael Willie:

But I mean, did you get seasick?

John Lansford McCullough:

No, no. Well, I had been used to it. I had been raised on the water, so you don't get seasick. A lot of people do. Troop ships are not a place to be in the hole when it got rough weather.

Michael Willie:

Now, you said you were in an assault helicopter now. Is that different from the training that you had had previously?

John Lansford McCullough:

No, because when I went through flight school, I went through flight school learning gunships. In Germany I was with an airmobile company flying CH-34s which is an airmobile company they called them in those days which is hauling troops, supplies, men and equipment on any mission. So we had done this for like 20 something months. And so we'd had -- you know, I had probably at that time about a thousand hours accumulated flight time. So we were pretty experienced. You just have to when you get to Vietnam, you have to learn different tactics.

Michael Willie:

Right.

John Lansford McCullough:

Different ball game.

Michael Willie:

Right, but do you -- you said a little bit of training before you go over. Is this as far as scenarios?

John Lansford McCullough:

Well, it's just you get your organization. You get your real training when you get in country.

Michael Willie:

Gotcha.

John Lansford McCullough:

And they intermingle you with old folks that's been there a couple of months, they break you up and you go with them, your counterparts, to learn what to do.

Michael Willie:

Realistic practical.

John Lansford McCullough:

That's real. It's not training anymore.

Michael Willie:

Right.

John Lansford McCullough:

But your training pays off. I mean, you've done it before, so you just do it.

Michael Willie:

What is your first impression of Vietnam?

John Lansford McCullough:

I was in the Central Highlands my first tour. Beautiful country. Absolutely gorgeous. We should have been there. The people, the Viet Cong, were absolutely atrocious. It was horrible. And what we did in '65 and '66 and '67, the war could have been won easily but the politicians in Washington chose not to do things, and so we ended up losing the war or getting out of it. I don't know whether we lost the war or not.

Michael Willie:

Right, at the cost of a lot of people.

John Lansford McCullough:

Well, it was strange. When I went back in '69 and '70, I was not in the Central Highlands, I was up at Chu Lai which is on the coast up near I Corps, and there was times you started saying what are we doing here, we're fighting the same territory we fought before.

Michael Willie:

Right. And that's --

John Lansford McCullough:

And you couldn't do anything. I mean, the bottom line was -- well, I'll give an example. In Vietnam in '65, '66, if there was a target to be bombed or something, the information had to go to Saigon, Saigon had to go to the Pentagon, Pentagon had to go to the White House, the White House, LBJ made every decision about bombing. From there the decision was made, it went back to the Pentagon, back to Saigon, back to wherever it was. Hell, a week's gone by, forget it, you know.

Michael Willie:

Right.

John Lansford McCullough:

It was stupid.

Michael Willie:

And the Air Force guys I was talking about said you could actually see them moving --

John Lansford McCullough:

Oh, yeah.

Michael Willie:

-- just down the -- they were actually setting up for the Tet, and you couldn't do anything.

John Lansford McCullough:

Well, sometimes you had the story about somebody disobeying orders, but the second tour the orders were you can't fire back if you see troops in the open unless you're shot at. My answer was very simple to my pilots, you're up there in the chopper, you're a crew chief, you see them, you were just shot at, weren't you? Oh, yes, sir. Good. Solves that problem.

Michael Willie:

Right. I mean, that's what cost a lot of lives.

John Lansford McCullough:

Sure.

Michael Willie:

It was costing lives aside from the fact that nothing was secured, and I think that was the big difference, right?

John Lansford McCullough:

It was a war of body counts, McNamara and his crew. I answer these questions when I give my speech to kids, I won't -- If you ask me in a political environment, I will tell you, but I don't make the presentation on it. But body count, you know, what does body count mean? It means nothing. That's why you don't have body counts in Iraq right now. What does it mean? You know, you kill 5,000 but you've got 25,000 more to go. Big deal, you know.

Michael Willie:

Right, right. But especially through your training, your officers training, you actually learn to fight basically the same as in World War II, a secure area, I mean is that the case? You don't fight --

John Lansford McCullough:

Well, the areas were -- an example, in Vietnam, you would have a mission would be to move X amount of troops to Y, Z. You flew the troops out there and made it a combat assault, secured the area, they made a fire base. So might have been a VC country, of course you land there, bring your artillery, gunships and all that. Of course, the VC would just pick up and go somewhere else. So there you're sitting in the middle of nowhere. So you go, pick up, go chase them somewhere else. I mean, if you had seen the movie We Were Soldiers, that's a good depiction of the Battle of the la Drang with the 1st Cav Division. They were doing that, but they landed right in the middle of a VC regiment, so I mean a North Vietnamese regiment. That was right south of Pleiku near Plei Me, I'd been there in that area, the Chu Pong Mountains I believe it was, been there, flew in there, a lot of times.

Michael Willie:

Now, you're in the Central Highlands your first tour.

John Lansford McCullough:

Yes.

Michael Willie:

Talk about your -- I mean, where are you based? What kind of secure area or perimeter was it?

John Lansford McCullough:

Well, the base, as the pictures, the base of Pleiku was fairly secure. I was stationed there for a while, and then went TDY to Ban Me Thuot. You have a base there, but you don't get mortars. I mean, you're going, shoo, you can hear them coming, boom, and you just climb in the foxhole until they go over, and harassing fire is what it's called and, you know, you just put up with it. But other than that as far as being attacked by ground troops in '65 and '66 on these bases, security was pretty good inside the bases.

Michael Willie:

Right, but really the mortars is what I'm thinking about I mean during the night, just enough to really --

John Lansford McCullough:

Yes, it interrupts your sleep but you learn. In fact, up in Chu Lai on my second tour, the area we were in was pretty nice, pretty secure. They were firing rockets, 122 millimeter, you could hear them go off, you could be sound asleep, you just rolled out of your bunk, climbed under your bunk, bomb, boom, get back on your bunk and go back to sleep. I mean --

Michael Willie:

Do you get used to it?

John Lansford McCullough:

Oh, yeah.

Michael Willie:

Is it really that matter of fact and get used to it?

John Lansford McCullough:

Oh, yeah, just happens. [Tape 2]

Michael Willie:

Okay. Now, once you get acclimated to being in country, what is your day-to-day routine? How often are you flying?

John Lansford McCullough:

We flew almost every day. Some days you might end up flying at least ten hours out of a day. The next day you might go and fly two or three hours. Your mission was to take troops to wherever they had to go, supplies wherever they needed to go. A lot of time was sitting on the ground waiting for some mission to come up because the area was fluid all the time. I mean, nothing was static, so you didn't know, and you'd get a mission to grab a couple of ships and go here and some firefight broke out so you need to go haul in ammunition and pull wounded out. So I mean that's what happened almost 365 days. Every now and then you would stand down for maintenance because you can't keep flying the choppers seven days a week, 12, 14 hours a day.

Michael Willie:

So basically are you on call then 24/7?

John Lansford McCullough:

Oh, yes. You're back at your hooch or your bed and you might get alerted to report for a briefing and crank up and go, day or night, makes no difference.

Michael Willie:

Okay. I mean, having to be on guard like this and up all the time, is it stressful? Does it wear on you after a while?

John Lansford McCullough:

No. Well, it may be stressful but you don't think about it. What happens is when, an example, when a chopper lands and you're sitting there waiting on a mission, as soon as the blades stop, everybody climbs back on the chopper and goes to sleep. I mean, that's the old saying was when you're on a break, your eyes shut and you grab a bite to eat till the next mission. I mean, you lose weight. I was lean, mean and skinny in those days. But that's just part of the job. Our job was to support the infantry soldier, and their life was absolutely miserable. So whatever we did to make it better, that's what we did.

Michael Willie:

Did you have a gang crew on with you?

John Lansford McCullough:

I had -- each aircraft had an aircraft commander, which I was, and a co-pilot, then had a gunner and a crew chief. So you had two machine guns on the aircraft. So you were pretty well had some fire power. It wasn't in the two tours I took on any mission, the aircraft I was flying at the time I was at the controls, never took a round in the aircraft.

Michael Willie:

Really?

John Lansford McCullough:

And I mean, it's just something that I've had them shot down in front of me, left of me, right of me, rear of me or hit but, you know, you just -- you don't have time to think. Your mission is to do whatever you have to do.

Michael Willie:

Right. Do you keep the same crew then?

John Lansford McCullough:

Yes. Basically you have the same crew the whole time unless someone got hurt or had to be medevac'd out of there, but I kept -- you bring in new guys like you have -- I had a first lieutenant co-pilot. Well, he had enough hours to be trained and did pretty good, so recommended him to get his own ship, so he became an aircraft commander.

Michael Willie:

In country?

John Lansford McCullough:

In country. Because I was an instructor pilot, I was one of the IPs in the outfit. I had been an IP in Germany. So I had enough IP hours, so everybody had to go through my training to qualify. So that's what happened. Once they get their own ship, then they're an aircraft commander, and they're responsible for their ship, their crew. So that's how -- it rotates, so your experience keeps going down the road. If you get a new guy in country, you put him in the right seat, start training over again.

Michael Willie:

All right. Okay.

John Lansford McCullough:

It's continuous.

Michael Willie:

Now, you're flying a lot while you're over there. Do you have a -- is there a ritual or superstition or anything that you would do before you went out or were you ever --

John Lansford McCullough:

No.

Michael Willie:

-- have that feeling, oh, my goodness, I just don't have a good feeling about this?

John Lansford McCullough:

No. You do your pre-flight and take off because you know that you're coming back. I mean, if you didn't have that thought, then you better not go. I mean, that's just the way it is.

Michael Willie:

All right. Now, most of the people that I've talked to, most of the pilots now, cocky is not the --

John Lansford McCullough:

Oh, yeah. We live hard, play hard, and fight hard. Okay. And we have a different attitude in life. If you've never been around a bunch of aviators, it's amazing. We're not obnoxious but pretty close to it, I guess. I mean, you know, you live on the edge all the time. I mean, the bottom line is the aircraft could quit any time, but generally it will tell you something is wrong and you can do something about it.

Michael Willie:

I mean, a fine line between arrogance and competence, and you guys were competent.

John Lansford McCullough:

Yeah. We're -- yeah, I guess. Not overconfident but, you know, confident that we're going to accomplish the mission, do our thing and get back and another day starts.

Michael Willie:

Now, along the same line then do you have hot shots coming in? Do you have younger guys that will take risk?

John Lansford McCullough:

They don't last very long. You get a hot shot, hot dog as we call them, you put him -- put him down pretty fast. He learns that he might have been that in flight school, you know, he could do that, but it don't work, you know. So here's the mission. You're a team. It's "we." There's no "I" in "we" and sometimes that's hard for them to understand. But being an old soldier like I was, I mean, we were there for the mission.

Michael Willie:

Especially if you're depending on each other for your lives.

John Lansford McCullough:

Oh, yeah, right.

Michael Willie:

It's a little different than playing around. Go ahead.

John Lansford McCullough:

It's like your crew chief, he maintains the aircraft and maintenance, well, he flies in the aircraft with you along with a gunner. So you know when I say sometimes you have time to pre-flight, sometimes you don't, is the aircraft ready to go, he better say yeah or we don't go. I mean, that's the bottom line. If he wants to screw it up then, you know, he's taking his life. So it's a teamwork.

Michael Willie:

Right. I guess that would tend to form -- make you form closer relationships when you depend on your lives.

John Lansford McCullough:

Oh, yeah. It's a -- there is no comparison to working in a civilian organization to being in a military organization because I've worked in civilian corporates, but it's "I" and not "we" and that's just hard for me to understand.

Michael Willie:

Now, when you lose somebody, when you lose a crew or a bird goes down, I mean, do you remember the first time this happened?

John Lansford McCullough:

Yeah, my platoon leader, Don Chabeau (phonetic), he was a major. We were on a mission. I think he was over Bomblitz (phonetic), southwest or southwest of Pleiku, and there was some kind of firefight. So they grabbed -- he grabbed a ship and his aircraft and took his wingman, because I was assistant platoon leader so I stayed back, and a couple of gunships, and he went on the mission. And he took a -- On a Huey, you have an armored seat that slides in and out and you have an armored vest that you wear, a flak jacket we call them, pretty well steel. But on the mission a round came through the window and went between the armored seat and his vest and went into his heart and killed him. And so we got him back to LZ and, you know, evacuated him out. But that's really the only man killed in my first tour. We had a couple of wounded that were evacuated out but only lost one man. And I only lost one guy on my second tour, a crew chief which the aircraft was shot down, the crew chief was killed by gunfire, and we rescued the pilot the next day.

Michael Willie:

Now, is it tough to adjust to the idea that -- how long does it take you to really, really get into the mode where they're trying to kill us? I mean, this is --

John Lansford McCullough:

When the first bullet goes by your head, your whole perspective in life changes as soon as you hear that crack go by, and then your priorities start getting in place. And that's -- I can't describe it any other way than that. I mean, you know, you don't say I want to go home, but you know what you need to do, when you need to do it, and all that.

Michael Willie:

All right. So I mean you obviously have a -- you have a responsibility to acclimate new people coming in especially as you get more time in, right?

John Lansford McCullough:

Well, in a platoon, like I said, in a platoon I think you have like 12 choppers, so you've got a crew of, what, 48 people in this one platoon, if you're either a section commander which I was responsible for six aircraft. So I mean, you're busy taking care of those people plus your own people, you ain't got time to worry about, you know, me. I mean, that's --

Michael Willie:

All right. Now, you were going to tell me a story about that. Did you rescue somebody?

John Lansford McCullough:

I'll give you a little story about the first tour in 1966, I was assistant platoon leader, my CO, Bo Ackerson (phonetic), he called me up and said, John -- I was a pretty senior captain -- John, you need to report to platoon headquarters in Pleiku. So I jump in my chopper and my crew and we fly up to Pleiku, go in and meet the battalion operations officer. He says, We have a mission for you up at Kon Tum, special forces, don't know what it is, go up and get briefed. Fly up to Kon Tum, land, briefed by the full colonel of special forces. When I got the mission I said, Colonel, I don't think so. I'm going to have to go back to battalion and get some clarification on this. So I flew back to battalion and said, Major, here's the mission. The mission was to go into Dak To, special forces, and fly troops and special operating troops into Laos with no dog tags, no invocation, except on the side of the aircraft it said U.S. Army. So they had to call Saigon, get clarification that that was the mission, and based on that, they asked me what I needed.

Michael Willie:

And officially we were not --

John Lansford McCullough:

No, we were not. We're still not there. So I was a one-ship mission, but actually they got clarification, I had a maintenance crew, two aircraft, spares, and two gunships that went to Dak To, and we flew numerous missions dropping off people for reconnaissance on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. And one night, one afternoon we get a call, we have an F-105 pilot down just across the border, and this was being controlled by an Air Force C-1 -- I guess C-130 which was a controller that flies over Laos all the time. He goes and coordinates search and rescue and that. So we launched, took off to go into Laos, got over there, and I took my wingman, which was the aircraft commander was my previous co-pilot, so he launched and took two gunships, so we split up, a gunship and a crew, searching for the beeper for the pilot. And Lieutenant Silver found him just about dark, pulled him out, took off back to Dak To to get him back where he could be evac'd out to Saigon. And then trouble is it was getting dark, getting low on fuel, and I was low on fuel so had to land out in the middle of boondocks, and they ferried me some JP-4 out there to fill up where I could get back. So it was kind of interesting.

Michael Willie:

I bet there was some nail biting going on too, right?

John Lansford McCullough:

Oh, yeah. Well, I had a gunship with me, and you feel pretty safe with a gunship.

Michael Willie:

When you were up in Laos now, is there an understanding, is there an unwritten rule that if you go down you're kind of on your own?

John Lansford McCullough:

The orders were if you go down, your mission is to E and E, which is evade and escape, and go into the capital of Laos which is -- I can't remember -- the capital of Laos and try to get over to the U.S. Embassy. Of course, the odds of doing that are pretty slim because you've got a jungle to go through. I mean --

Michael Willie:

And you can't blend in either, right?

John Lansford McCullough:

But generally though if you go down, the Air Force people will bring in gunships or fighters and launch search and rescue, and you've got a pretty good chance of getting out of there.

Michael Willie:

All right. Now, is this the story about --

John Lansford McCullough:

This is a story that W.E.B. Griffin has in his book, The Aviators, on the Army that I contacted to try to get his research material because I have looked for six to ten years on the military records to see what records were in Laos. The first record is 1969 and does not list anything prior to that nor does it list my outfit, the 155th. And my goal is to get recognition for my unit, the 155th, because we were there in '66 and '67 and I don't know how long after that.

Michael Willie:

Right. And the story that Griffin had --

John Lansford McCullough:

It's almost identical. I mean, it's amazing.

Michael Willie:

And the commander's name, Johnny?

John Lansford McCullough:

Johnny. I don't remember his last name. He was a captain though which is what I was.

Michael Willie:

That's funny. That's coincidental.

John Lansford McCullough:

Oh, yeah.

Michael Willie:

Now are you counting down, like everybody else, your tour there?

John Lansford McCullough:

Yeah, because when I went to -- when they sent me up on this mission Dak To into Laos, I had 45 days left in country.

Michael Willie:

Oh, man.

John Lansford McCullough:

And of course you say, why me, but that's your mission and I was an old soldier by that time, so I had been in the Army, what, 14 years, 15 years by that time. So you just do it and don't worry about it. But as a little old captain, they sent my replacement which is a major, I said, Boy, I tell you, how come I didn't get promoted.

Michael Willie:

All right. Well, you made it out alive.

John Lansford McCullough:

Oh, yeah.

Michael Willie:

And you had gotten an R and R while you were there in country, right?

John Lansford McCullough:

The first tour we went to -- I got one R and R to Bangkok. I believe it was -- we had to be in country three months, so this might have been four months in country, probably March, somewhere in there. And a couple of my buddies, my dad was stationed in Saigon, so we rendezvoused and spent seven days in Bangkok together, which I had not seen him, gee, since 1963 I guess and just for about two or three days I saw him. So we had a pretty good time in R and R and get together and having fun.

Michael Willie:

Right. I mean --

John Lansford McCullough:

Stuffing ourselves.

Michael Willie:

Right. Is it tough to get back in the groove once you get back in or does it take --

John Lansford McCullough:

I don't remember but my first thought is no because as soon as you get back, someone else is going to go. I mean, it's kind of like a rotation. Your time comes up and you go. So you know, everybody's got a chance to get away for seven days.

Michael Willie:

It's not tough to get back into the groove?

John Lansford McCullough:

No, you go back in there and pick up almost where you left off. I mean, it's like riding a bicycle, once you've done it, I mean, it's -- one of the stories are that right now people like myself who are aviators, it would take us about ten days of training after, what, 30 years to get back almost to the same level we had when we graduated. So I mean, it's just you learn and --

Michael Willie:

So much of it is instinct too after you learn it?

John Lansford McCullough:

Oh, yeah.

Michael Willie:

Now, after you finish your tour there, I mean is there any thought that you might want to extend? Was there any thought?

John Lansford McCullough:

I had a chance to do that, but I had a wife and the four kids. I said well, I talked to the Department of -- Department of the Army. I got on a WATS line and talked to them, and they had me assigned to, where was it, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. I called him and said, I don't think so, you know. So I said, How about the advanced course, because all my contemporaries had received their orders to advanced course. And he said, Oh, we screwed up. So where you want to go? I said, Well, send me to Fort Rucker and let me go down and be an instructor pilot since I had about probably 2000 hours and most of it IP time, so I went to Fort Rucker.

Michael Willie:

Plus practical, you had practical experience in country, right?

John Lansford McCullough:

So I went down to -- assigned to Fort Rucker, moved the family there and was assigned to tactics, where we taught the final four weeks of the initial entry students how to operate on formation flying, combat assaults, resupply, and all kind of stuff because they graduated in four weeks and all of them were going to Vietnam. So we had to develop syllabuses and stuff like that to do the training, which I did that for over two years I guess.

Michael Willie:

And from when to when? I mean --

John Lansford McCullough:

That was 1966 till -- Let me look at my little cheat sheet here.

Michael Willie:

I just want to have it down because I'll talk to (inaudible) and find out when he was there.

John Lansford McCullough:

I came back in November of '66, and I left for advanced course at Fort Benning in 1968. So I was there just a little over two years.

Michael Willie:

Okay. All right. When I say (inaudible), I just want to find out when he went through.

John Lansford McCullough:

While I was there, I was promoted to a major 04 in '67, and then went to the advanced course in '68, graduating in '69 because when I went to Rucker, the colonel at the Department of Defense told me, You know you're going back. And I said, Yeah, I figured that. So we knew. Every aviator at Fort Benning in '68, '69 knew they were going back. We were all going back for our second tours.

Michael Willie:

Right. When you get back, when you get back from your first tour and get back in the States, is it tough adjusting to not being in war?

John Lansford McCullough:

It's kind of tough. I guess the -- the one thing about Vietnam in '65, '66, which made it it's a nice tour, that's not a good word to use, but over there you had whatever assets you needed to accomplish whatever mission you were given, they gave it to you. And that's very unusual. If you needed X amount, you got X amount. Back in the States you've got budgets, training things, I mean, flight time, flight hours. I mean it starts getting, you know, a little complicated, but then you learn a lot, which I did, about budgeting flight hours and blah, blah, blah, all these things that your need as you progress up the chain of command.

Michael Willie:

Right. But as far as being able to relax, I mean actually being able to relax --

John Lansford McCullough:

No. Your family pretty well helps take care of that. And you know, you go out and you party. You have a unit organization, again you have a unit organization there that you get together and you party and you go to social events and interact with because everybody had been to Vietnam, so we all had common experiences.

Michael Willie:

All right. Now, you're there at Fort Rucker then for a couple of years, and when your next tour comes up, I mean how are you feeling about that?

John Lansford McCullough:

Well, we knew we was going to go back in '66, you knew you was going back. So I mean, you face the facts of life. And, you know, so I'm a career soldier and wanted to retire at a young age, and the family accepts that, so that's what you do.

Michael Willie:

Right. So your second tour --

John Lansford McCullough:

Yeah, I get orders.

Michael Willie:

Your wife stays in Fort Rucker?

John Lansford McCullough:

No. I moved her back, she went back to her home in New Orleans.

Michael Willie:

And you had two kids at this time?

John Lansford McCullough:

I had four at that time.

Michael Willie:

Wow.

John Lansford McCullough:

So you pack up and go to Vietnam and you land in, well, landed at Saigon, Tan Son Nhut. They assign me to an Americal division which was stationed at Chu Lai which was up at I Corps. I wanted to go back to the Central Highlands because I was familiar with the area and knew it, but being a senior major at that time, no, we need you up there. So they shipped me up to the 23rd Division. I reported in to the aviation battalion, and the full colonel says, I've got a problem, John. I says, What's your problem, sir? You outrank all my majors in the battalion. I said, That's not my problem. That's your problem. He said, What do you want? I said, I want command of an assault helicopter company, I think I deserve one. Well, you're on a six-month tour as a commander. He says, I've got an outfit over here, division artillery that's got young aviators that's had -- they've crashed/wrecked three airplanes in the last two months, I think it was, I need someone over there. I said, Okay, I'll take that based on the fact that after six months I move back over here and get an assault helicopter company.

Michael Willie:

If you're alive, right?

John Lansford McCullough:

Well, you get over there and, sure enough, we have a bunch of warrant officers and I think I had one captain, one or two lieutenants, and these were the hot shots. They had no one commanding them with any experience, and they were pretty well doing what they wanted to do. So we had to bring some good ole McCullough military discipline into the organization, which we did. And to make a long story short, the outfit, I along with a few people turned the outfit around and, to give you an example, the outfit won the division aviation safety award for three straight months.

Michael Willie:

Really.

John Lansford McCullough:

With over 2,057 accident free hours in a straight three-month period. So we were beginning to give them pride in the organization, you know, gave them something to look forward to and do some things they hadn't done. But I was a staff officer primarily and a commander secondarily, and I wanted to be out flying more than I really wanted to, but we had some interesting times. We had another rescue of a downed chopper which made the -- I'll show that.

Michael Willie:

Can we have a copy of that too?

John Lansford McCullough:

Yes. I'll show that, so that was interesting, this was in January 1970 which was pretty nice.

Michael Willie:

Talk about it.

John Lansford McCullough:

Well, my outfit was an OH-6, that's a Loach helicopter, light operation helicopter, and our mission was to provide reconnaissance to the battalion commander. Artillery battalion commanders on all of these fire bases, go out and visit, do reconnaissance, naval gunfire adjustment because we worked for the Navy offshore. We'd pick up a naval officer, go out and do naval gunfire. So my choppers would be out every day flying somewhere. So one afternoon I get a -- we get a call that one of my aircraft had gone down, mechanical problems, on LZ Young, northwest of Chu Lai. Nobody was hurt, just mechanical problems, so it was disabled. Got the crew out. So I call on my maintenance company which was next door, 335th Transportation, to go out and recover the chopper. They go out, spring loading, and bring him back and perform maintenance on it. So they took off and went out there, and I don't remember the warrant officer flying, I was sitting there and I was bored, so I said, Well, I'm going to go see what's going on. So I went down and got my aircraft which I had a new crew chief who had been in country 30 days, didn't know anything. So we take off, started flying to LZ Young, and I started talking to the recovery Huey, about that time he was taking fire, enemy fire, so he dropped my Loach which totaled the aircraft out and he was hit, the aircraft was hit, so he had to land in the middle of a field. I just happened to be within a quarter of a mile probably where he went down. So I immediately called on guard, aircraft down, and here again the Air Force search and rescue in Laos answered me and said whatever my call, Phoenix 6, you're mission commander. I said, Great. They said, What do you need? I said, I need some support. They're taking enemy fire all around, and they're trying to secure the area around the chopper getting shot at. So they sent me two Skyraiders which is A1-Es, and you do a stack, in other words, I orbit like 3,000 feet doing 360s over the area. These aircraft come in and they're flying like 400, 500 knots an hour, so you stack them somewhere. And they go in, and the guys on the ground pop smoke, they go in and lay machine gun fire and rocket fire right next to the aircraft. Of course, I'm talking to the crew on radio, getting pretty close down there. These guys had to leave, so they sent me two F-4s out of Da Nang. So these F-4s come in, and I've got aircraft, and those F-4s are moving. Fast movers. To make a long story short, we got them all out. They sent me two more Cobras, so I put them in an orbit doing close fire support, and then they brought in -- the enemy I guess withdrew, they brought in some ARVN troops on eight helicopters, secured the area, pulled the crew out, secured the area, and we went and got the ship the next day.

Michael Willie:

Gee whiz.

John Lansford McCullough:

It was kind of hairy. The LOH is a Plexiglas bubble and, of course, you know you're sitting up there and you don't have a notepad to write, so you take a grease pencil and I had notes all over, Air Force call signs, and that's what this is, don't know who they were, don't know the call signs. And you sit there and write down their call signs and you tell them what to do, where to go, when to do it, and everybody works as a team. You don't know anybody.

Michael Willie:

I mean, is there adrenaline, do you feel that at the time?

John Lansford McCullough:

You're too busy. When you get back, you know the adrenaline rush you get. Phew, glad that's over. But that's kind of -- that's fun.

Michael Willie:

You say fun. You can say it's fun afterward.

John Lansford McCullough:

Yeah. Well, you're busy. I mean, I could hardly see out of my bubble out of my aircraft because you have writing, and my little crew chief who had never been on a mission before, couldn't fly because we normally taught our crew chiefs to fly a straight level, you know, if something happens, at least they can get it somewhere. And he was scared to death. You just sit over there and help me, you just watch out for them fast movers, I don't want to get run over.

Michael Willie:

Hold on one second. [Tape 3]

Michael Willie:

Okay. How is this tour different than the first tour, your overall perspective?

John Lansford McCullough:

Well, this was in '69 and, of course, after the Tet in 1968, of course then you had the war protesters protesting the war, the young generation, the hippies and love birds, and of course the attitude in America had changed.

Michael Willie:

And Calley had -- I mean, had this come out?

John Lansford McCullough:

Calley had happened right prior to me getting there. And so what happened, the political environment had changed in Washington.

Michael Willie:

Which is what it was all about anyway.

John Lansford McCullough:

We had more restrictions on us on the second tour of what we could or could not do, i.e., you see troops in the open, you can't fire unless fired upon. Yeah, okay, right. So you solved that problem. And it got to be even to professional soldiers, you know, was saying with the political situation, we need to get out of here. And of course, Nixon was in office then, he promised to get us out of there, and that was the greatest thing that ever happened because if you're not going to let us win, I mean you know, if you don't bomb Hanoi into the stone ages, their dams and electrical grid, you're not going to stop anything. Of course, then you had the China and Russia supporting North Vietnam. So I understand the political environment, don't get me wrong.

Michael Willie:

Oh, no, I mean that's the whole thing anyway with Kennedy, it was a pissing contest basically is what it was, right?

John Lansford McCullough:

Oh, yeah. So that's the difference. I mean, you couldn't do what you wanted to do I guess, too many restrictions on you.

Michael Willie:

But did this make you -- did this frustrate you?

John Lansford McCullough:

To the degree that you start asking why even and you had your troops coming over, they were pot heads being drafted, draftees, but they did wonderful work in the field. Once they left base camp, they went out and did their job. Come back to base camp and they were zombies, I guess. The only difference was the aviation outfit I had, they had to fly with us every day. So the zombies didn't exist except to a small degree in the aviation units.

Michael Willie:

And in all fairness, most of these guys, most of the aviation guys were, I mean you've got to be pretty qualified.

John Lansford McCullough:

Yes. Even though you're drafted, you have to pass a pretty stringent test to get into mechanic flight school, I mean school and stuff like that. I mean, you're no dummy because you've got to know what an aircraft's got, 4,000 or 5,000 moving parts and every one of them's got to work, you know.

Michael Willie:

Talk about basically kind of your hands were tied. Are you more cautious, are you more cautious with your men because it's unwinnable? Well, obviously you did say --

John Lansford McCullough:

Well, not really because flying and we had a crew chief, in the chopper was a gunner, we had machine guns, M60s on there, and if they saw troops in the open, they would return fire, called it in, we just received fire, returned fire, called the artillery. So we could get away with a lot of things that you couldn't do if you were on the ground as a grunt. But then again, the grunts did the same thing. Who is going to tell you that you didn't take fire. I mean, you know. Who's going to go and write a report on it. That's the bottom line.

Michael Willie:

Right.

John Lansford McCullough:

But then it's the political environment was really I guess the biggest problem.

Michael Willie:

Right. It was tough. Now, you said you were six months with this other unit?

John Lansford McCullough:

Well, I stayed there six months, but I got the outfit in shape, I guess you want to call it, with the flight hours. And my full colonel that I worked for wouldn't let me go back to the aviation battalion to take command of an assault helicopter company because his record was real good, our record was real good. He said, You're staying here. I said, Okay, you know. It was a good nice job.

Michael Willie:

I was going to say --

John Lansford McCullough:

It was a good job.

Michael Willie:

And plus you kind of form a bond. You have a personal stake in what they're doing, right?

John Lansford McCullough:

Well, again, I was an instructor pilot and I had Hueys, I was the only IP, so I was staying up-to-date on flying Hueys and delivering supplies and keeping my skills up. So I was pretty busy. You know, I just didn't sit on a desk all day long. Didn't get as many hours flight time. I ended up about 300 on that tour for a total of 1,200 combat hours which I really wanted more. I think I finally finished up with about 3,100 flight hours out of those years.

Michael Willie:

That's phenomenal. I mean, I'd say it's unheard of. Not many people --

John Lansford McCullough:

That's a lot of flight hours.

Michael Willie:

Okay. Now, let's see. You get your orders to go home.

John Lansford McCullough:

Get orders again, back to Fort Rucker, Alabama, to go back to being an instructor pilot. So I went back and reported in to Fort Rucker, and they looked at my record and said, Well, we're going to send you over to tact training division. So I go over there, report in to Colonel Colin Desailly (phonetic) was his name. He said, What do you want to do, John? I was pretty senior. I said, Well, I've been in tactics before. Let me go over to rotary wing, which was transition from the small chopper to the Hueys. Let me go over there and see what they go through, you know, because I've been on the back end of it. I hadn't been in that area. So I go over there as the XO of the rotary wing division working for a lieutenant colonel, Australian, an exchange student. So I stay there, I don't know, two or three months.

Michael Willie:

Just learning everything you can?

John Lansford McCullough:

I was flying students, I took students. Even as an XO I said, No, I'm a pilot, I'm going to go out and take students because I outranked -- well, I went down to be a branch commander. I didn't want to be XO and even though I outranked the XO, I said, No, I'm going to be the branch commander. So I flew students, learned all what they had to do, syllabus. Then the lieutenant colonel, Australian, went home. I outranked the major, the XO, so they made me commander. So I was commander of the whole outfit for, I don't know, I think I was there another month and a half. Colin called me in and said, John, I've got a major over in tactics who's on the lieutenant colonel's list, he wants your job because the slot is a lieutenant colonel. I said, Okay. He said, Where do you want to go? I said, Well, send me back to tactics. I've been there and done that. So I go back to tactics as the XO of the tact training division. Long story short, as XO I was responsible for a lot of things, two branches. One of the branch commanders had a heart attack in December, so I took over his branch. Served as a commander of this IP branch. Colonel Neece (phonetic), who he and I served with in Vietnam, got moved up to battalion basically. So I ended up being the commander of tact training division where this major promotable had been. I commanded that outfit for 18 months.

Michael Willie:

Okay.

John Lansford McCullough:

Which is a bigger unit.

Michael Willie:

Right.

John Lansford McCullough:

So I had a good assignment, you know.

Michael Willie:

And at this time now are you starting to look at the end of your career?

John Lansford McCullough:

Well, I knew that in August '74 I'd have to retire because they had come out if you're not regular Army, you've got your 18 plus years in or whatever, you're going to retire when you get your 20, 21 active, et cetera. So I knew being -- anyhow, as a commander they brought a lieutenant colonel in to take over, so I go up to Rucker headquarters, and I knew the people up there because I had been involved in budgeting, student planning and all that. And he said, What job do you want? I said, What have you got available? Well, I've got a commander of the IP Division open. I'll take it. So I go out there and commanded the whole IP Division with Chinooks and Cobras and Hueys and all that. I commanded that and flew Cobras a while and all that until I retired. So good. Had a good career.

Michael Willie:

All right. Now, talk about your kids.

John Lansford McCullough:

Got three girls and one boy. One daughter was born in Fort MacArthur, California, 1957. One was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, 1960, when I was an OCS. The other girl was born at Fort Bragg, North Carolina when I was with the 82nd. And the son was born in Germany when I was with the 24th Infantry Division.

Michael Willie:

Okay. And where are they now? Go ahead and tell their names.

John Lansford McCullough:

Joyce, my ex-wife, lives in Chattanooga with one of my daughters, the third daughter.

Michael Willie:

What's her name?

John Lansford McCullough:

Lorrie is her name. And my oldest daughter lives on my farm in Valley Head, Alabama, I've got 80 acres down there.

Michael Willie:

And what's your older daughter's name?

John Lansford McCullough:

Toni, T-o-n-i. And then my son is married and he lives up in Louisville, Kentucky. He served in the Coast Guard for a while on aircraft, helicopters, in the Coast Guard but got out. So he's there.

Michael Willie:

What's his name?

John Lansford McCullough:

Andy, A-n-d-y.

Michael Willie:

Like your dad.

John Lansford McCullough:

So they're all doing well.

Michael Willie:

All right.

John Lansford McCullough:

So, you know.

Michael Willie:

Now, you spent a lot of time in the service, I mean all of this time in the service. What do you think was the greatest lesson you took out of your full experience? What did you take out of that 20, 21 years that really --

John Lansford McCullough:

How to be a leader and not a manager. There is a difference in that, and I do not consider -- I do not like the term manager. Anybody can manage. But that's what they taught us starting at the NCO Academy, to be a leader, to look at a situation, make a decision, right, wrong or indifferent. If you mess it up, acknowledge it, don't make it again, and just go on in life. That's what you learn. That's helped me even in civilian life after I retired is go in and analyze the problem, don't take long to figure out what the problem is, what's the solution, and then do it. I mean, just do it. You know, don't -- my simple answer was I ask forgiveness, I don't ask permission. That's a good, good instinct that's done me well for 40 years, 50 years.

Michael Willie:

Right. I think that -- I mean, it really kind of encapsulates the mistakes made in Vietnam, don't you think?

John Lansford McCullough:

Oh, yeah, sure.

Michael Willie:

So afraid that they were going to make a blunder, a PR --

John Lansford McCullough:

It was only -- it was only at the full colonel and above level, I guess, it wasn't down at my level.

Michael Willie:

Oh, no, I don't mean that.

John Lansford McCullough:

Because they had to get their ticket punched to get promoted. We could care less, you know, my answer was you serve your three or four years in grade, you're going to get promoted. So, you know, I don't need to, well, suck up to anybody to get promoted. It just don't work.

Michael Willie:

What have you done since you retired?

John Lansford McCullough:

Well, let's see. I've been a business office manager and a materials officer for East Ridge Hospital. I've been a purchasing agent for a medical supply company. I've been a director of engineering for about eight years at Hutchinson Medical Center where I was about like an operations officer in the Army. Everything came through me, you juggle assets. I was responsible for a $21.1 million construction project over six years.

Michael Willie:

Looks nice.

John Lansford McCullough:

And seeing how it was accomplished, and I used the old military, we phased the program so that you couldn't start phase 2 until 1 was completed, so everything was a time line. And I think we ended up with unforeseen cost overrun of less than $300,000 out of -- but the military planning, for every hour you spend in planning, you save three hours of execution. That is another lesson you learn in the military. Plan, plan, plan, plan, exercise, exercise, exercise.

Michael Willie:

Now, did you ever get back in touch with anybody that you had served with since Vietnam?

John Lansford McCullough:

I've contacted a couple of them. Probably there's a reunion of one of my -- the 155th Assault in Fort Worth, Texas in November. They actually looked me up. How they found me. And then the armored outfit in Germany when I was an enlisted man, they contacted me, and there's a reunion in San Antonio. So I'm probably going to go there.

Michael Willie:

You can spend probably a lot of time at reunions.

John Lansford McCullough:

You've got so many outfits to join, you know. The Airborne Association wants me to join. I said, you know, I can't join all this. I don't have the time.

Michael Willie:

Right. You'd have to quit --

John Lansford McCullough:

Just be on the road all the time.

Michael Willie:

Take it on full time. All right. Now, is there anything else you'd like to talk about that we didn't cover in the interview?

John Lansford McCullough:

I don't know. I think we pretty well --

Michael Willie:

I think you, I mean --

John Lansford McCullough:

That's pretty comprehensive, you know. There's a lot of things that happened in between some of the stories I told that's just routine that you don't even, don't remember, you know. Like that story on the safety award, I did not remember that until I looked at the scrap book this morning and there it was.

Michael Willie:

One other thing, talk about how going into Hixson High School, I think that's pretty important.

John Lansford McCullough:

My cousin by marriage teaches history at the high school in Hixson. So about -- I gave this basically slide presentations to a lot of groups when I came back from Vietnam, the Kiwanis club, church groups, things like that. And so Kay Swigger (phonetic) contacted me and said, John, you want to come out and do a presentation about Vietnam, because they just barely get into it before the school year is over. So I put together this slide show, kind of modified it from what I had, and I've been going out there for three years in the spring and fall teaching juniors and seniors about Vietnam and, you know, open to anybody who wants -- I wear my uniform and all that stuff and kind of stick out our chest and show them what's going on, you know, and explain what we did, what the professional soldier does. And I enjoy it. I get a lot of letters from them.

Michael Willie:

And that's what -- I really think it's important to note that it's not just in the movies, I mean, it's things that really happened, and a lot of cases are more fantastic than what a movie could --

John Lansford McCullough:

And most of us even, most of us, we don't really talk about what happened. Because a lot of the kids, I'd say, Whose family served? Oh, my grandaddy did. Did he ever tell you anything about it? No. And that's just normal. That's why my slide show is kind of generic, you know, the country, the people, what it looks like, blah, blah, blah, and just showing them, especially the mountains up in the Central Highlands, that's really beautiful country up there. I'd like to go back and see it today.

Michael Willie:

Right. I was wondering about that.

John Lansford McCullough:

But I would only want to go back if I could fly over it. You know, seeing it on the ground wouldn't do anything for me. I've seen too much from the air. A lot of guys went back.

Michael Willie:

You know, I've heard people say they want to go back. I've not met, I don't think, anybody that actually went back, but a lot of guys said they would like to go back.

John Lansford McCullough:

Yeah.

Michael Willie:

I just didn't know what kind of memories. My uncle was one, he was a Marine, and when he came back he was --

John Lansford McCullough:

The Marines up in I Corps on the DMZ area, and I did a little work with them, not much, but they had it tough. If you've ever seen a full metal jacket, that's a good example of the Marine Corps in Vietnam, pretty well describes it.

Michael Willie:

He was drafted into the Marines. Yes. He was drafted.

John Lansford McCullough:

That's kind of unusual.

Michael Willie:

It was. It was very unusual. And which from what I understand, they treated him like a horse, you know what I mean.

John Lansford McCullough:

Basically I'll just be honest with you, the enlisted grunts in the Marine Corps are cannon fodder. That's the bottom line. Where in the Army, where the enlisted troops aren't. I mean, that's just the mentality that the training that we go through. I mean, that's it.

Michael Willie:

Anything else you'd like to talk about?

John Lansford McCullough:

I think that's it.

Michael Willie:

All right. Thank you for, first of all, for the time that you spent coming down here. I appreciate you coming down.

John Lansford McCullough:

Well, I appreciate that.

Michael Willie:

Second of all, I appreciate your service to our country. [Interview concluded]

 
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  October 26, 2011
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