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"When you do something, as our instructors used to say, that an infinitesimal number of people have done, it's quite exhilarating." (Video Interview, 21:15)

   James Lee Berry
Collection image
James Berry [2008]
War: Vietnam War, 1961-1975
Branch: Navy
Unit: LST (Landing Ship Tank) 1048
Service Location: San Diego, California; Pensacola and Key West, Florida; Hawaii; Guam (Mariana Islands); Da Nang, Vietnam; Tennessee; Thailand
Rank: Commander
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Commissioned as an Ensign in the Naval Reserves in 1954, James Berry served for one year on an LST in 1956 before deciding "there must be a faster form of transportation." So he signed up for Naval Flight Training and got his wings a year later. Berry became a jet fighter pilot. During the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, he was based in Key West, where his mission was to intercept unauthorized planes; Russian Migs often challenged their air space. Later, he flew with various fighter squadrons off aircraft carriers. Beginning in 1968 he was based out of Da Nang, Vietnam, flying 50 combat missions. He did go down in enemy territory in August 1969 and received injuries from a parachute entry into trees. Berry retired in 1979 after 25 years of service.

Interview (Video)
»Interview Highlights  (8 clips)
»Complete Interview 
Download: video (59 min.)
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»Wings of War
 Video (Interview Excerpts) (8 items)
Serving on an LST; wanted from the beginning of his career to be an aviator; in 1956 went to Pensacola for flight training; support from his wife while he was off on 7-month cruises. (02:06) Felt lucky to be one of the last men to land on an aircraft carrier with the guide of an LSO, standing on deck with paddles; showed you how you were doing as you came in; jet which lands on carrier does so under full power, so if wire misses catching it, it can just take off again; went to mirror system to line up landing; LSO is still talking to you by radio; exhilaration of being able to do something few people can do. (02:32) First assignment in NAS Miramar in San Diego; flew FJ-3, F-11; aspects of flying them; description of what it's like to fly past the sound barrier; F-8 was Navy's first 1,000 MPH airplane; F-4D was a plane from Air Defense squadron he was in; looking for planes straying into restricted air space, making them identify themselves; happened much more frequently when he was stationed in Key West; Soviet Migs testing them around time of Cuban Missile crisis. (05:22)
F-4D featured the first and only full Delta wing; adjustments in design; would buck nearing speed of sound; designation: F for "fighter," 4 for 4th plane in series, D for Douglas, the manufacturer; the manufacturer designation caused confusion over which plane you were flying so Navy changed the system. (01:48) Tension around Cuban Missile Crisis, being stationed in Key West; got a secret briefing, and the photos they were shown were published two days later in Time Magazine; mission was air-to-air; some of the men hoping for some action. (01:34) In Hawaii, flying an FA-8; carried Sidewinder missiles; had to be fairly close to enemy plane to fire; later became much more sophisticated; had just taken off and the nose was yawing; plane rolled over; he bailed out; his wife was on beach and saw it and didn't know it was him; another woman was taking home movies which were confiscated by the Navy; he has a DVD of the footage; picked up by fishing boat; had to jump back into water to be picked up helicopter; changes in ejector seat design; assumption is always pilot error, but he was exonerated; no official verdict on what happened. (08:02)
To Corpus Christi for three years as a flight instructor; advanced training techniques; teaching on F-9-F; flying the RA-3B, biggest plane to go on a carrier, nicknamed The Whale; painting airplanes black because they flew at night; flying a plane equipped with photo equipment that could be used in Vietnam to spot enemy vehicles on the road. (03:30) Bailing out of a plane in Vietnam; not a combat mission; ferrying a photographer to Bangkok; lost engines; all four people bailed out in enemy country; he landed in tree; two picked up by Air America personnel "who weren't there" (CIA operatives); Berry and navigator were picked up by an Air Force helicopter; broke his ankle after landing in a tree; had left his helmet up in tree; rescuer had to loan him his to be pulled up among the branches; finished his operational flying career. (09:13) 

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  The Library of Congress  >> American Folklife Center
  October 26, 2011
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