US ARMY, VIETNAM ,1970-71
Tom Daley Jr. was born in Lima, Ohio, moving to Findlay when he was two years old. (His father, Tom Sr. was a decorated crew member on a B-17 during WWII) He would attend St. Michael’s through the 8th grade and then move over to Findlay High School where he would graduate at the age of 17 in 1967.
While many of his older classmates were receiving draft notices, Tom began working for Dow Chemical. In May of 1969 he crossed paths with an active duty helicopter pilot who was wearing his new flight jacket and wings. Tom was so impressed that he went to the recruiting office the following day.
He was accepted into helicopter flight school and in July of 1969 he arrived at Ft. Polk for basic training.
Tom was then sent to flight school at Ft. Walters, Texas for primary helicopter flight school. From there flight candidates were sent to Ft. Rucker, Alabama for advanced training.
Training started out in the TH-55 “MASH” like bubble helicopter, then on to the Huey for tactical training. Of the 180 candidates who began the program only 90 would graduate. The top ten percent, which Tom qualified for, were sent to Cobra Attack helicopter school.
(Pictured is Tom and his fiancé Marty the day he received his wings.)
After completing this one-year gunship and tactical flight training, Tom was deployed to Vietnam arriving the 10th of October of 1970. He was assigned to Charlie “Dark Horse” Troop, 16th Cavalry, 1st Aviation Brigade, stationed at Can Tho, south of Saigon. The pilots were told this was a “pacified zone” with low risks of enemy contact. Tom disagrees, “We lost lots of people, at least six in combat situations.”
He liked his potent aircraft which featured armament of two 19 round rocket launchers, a mini-gun turret under the nose and could also be equipped with an M-40 grenade launcher. It held a two-man crew and was feared by the VC and loved by US ground troops for its ability to lay down devastating suppression fire.
His squadron’s main assignment was to support ground troops, but this was sometimes limited as all authorization to fire came from a South Vietnamese Regimental Commander and at times the decision was based on politics not tactics.
During his time in country, Tom and his Cobra were fired on several times. On one mission, they flew into an ambush and a 51 caliber round pierced his aircraft, went through his fellow pilot seated behind him and hit the electronic control box. This caused the craft to become unflyable and catch on fire, resulting in a hard, crash-landing. Both Cobras of his support team were shot down, but command only knew about the other craft, so no immediate rescue was ordered for his.
As the craft touched down a VC stood up fifty yards away with an AK-47. A round pierced the plexiglass passing close to Tom’s head. Tom and his wounded pilot got out of the wrecked chopper, crouching down behind it for cover, with only 38 caliber pistols to protect themselves. Eventually rescue choppers were dispatched and Tom and his wounded partner were evacuated out to safety.
Tom’s Cobra would get hit a couple of other times, once with fuel spilling out, he had to put in down and it sank several feet deep into a rice paddy.
After his tour in Vietnam ended, he was sent to Ft. Hood, Texas and assigned to the 1st Cav, Air Calvary Combat Brigade. He would stay there for a year before receiving orders to a Combat Cobra Unit in South Korea. He would serve as the division pilot for a general, flying a Huey.
His final twelve years were spent as a flight instructor for incoming pilot trainees. He was a Huey instructor and remembers this was when women were first allowed to train on helicopters. He would move on to train future instructors on Cobra’s and do the same duty when the new Apache helicopter was introduced. He would help train Apache pilots on instrumentation (IFR) flying and combat tactics prior to sending them to Desert Storm.
His last duty was at Ft. Polk where he was assigned to be the Battalion Standardization Officer. While on a training exercise Tom was overcome with a severe, sudden onset, headache while in flight. It became so intense he reported to the Flight Surgeon who diagnosed it as a severe migraine cluster headache. The doctor prescribed a preventative medication that unfortunately grounded him. Though he never had those headaches ever again, the incident permanently grounded him.
He made the decision to retire in May of 1994 after 24 years and ten months of service with the rank of Warrant Officer 4. (During his career he would be awarded a number of medals, including the Bronze Star, 36 Air Medals, and the Air Medal with Valor.)
Tom would move to Findlay, Ohio with his family; wife Martha and their three children. He would work in the automotive supply industry for another 11 years. Hating being behind a desk he applied for and was hired as a member of the security force for the University of Findlay. He would enjoy this for another ten years.
These days are spent with his wife of 48 years, Marty, their grown children, and seven grandchildren. He likes hunting, fishing and working in his big garden.