Golden Gate Wing Guest Speaker Archive

Presentation Date: July 28, 2016

James Stein, Captain, United States Army

Jim Stein was born in Lehi, Utah in December 1946. By the time he entered high school, he had lived all over the United States. His father was an engineer and traveled for his work, so Jim and his family moved frequently.  His mother was a housewife who raised the kids; later at the age of 52, she fulfilled her dream of graduating in nursing.

Jim was not the only military man in the family; his father and seven uncles served in either the Army, Navy or Air Force during World War II and Korea.  His younger brother Tom served in Army Aviation as a helicopter crew chief in the mid 1970s.

Jim had completed two years of college and was living in St. George, Utah when he was drafted.  He had gained basic work experience doing heavy construction while working with his father on water dam projects in California. His mother felt that the Army would “give [him] some structure.”

After completing basic training at Fort Lewis, Washington, Jim went to Advanced Individual Training (AIT) at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri (known as “Little Korea”) where he became a heavy equipment operator due to his previous experience with his father.  He was designated platoon leader and then was then assigned to a 12-week course at Engineer Officer Candidate School (OCS).  He completed the program and graduated as an Engineer Second Lieutenant (2LT).  

Jim was then sent to helicopter flight school: Primary training at Fort Wolters, Texas and then Advanced and combat training at Fort Rucker, Alabama.  He remembers that his training there was fast-paced. The high demand for helicopter pilots during that period meant there was a lot to learn in a short amount of time.  He remembered one dogma that helped him through: “They could wear you out, but they couldn’t beat you.” After flight school, Jim was assigned to Vietnam.

His first assignment “in country” was with the 335th Assault Helicopter Company, known as the “Cowboys”, located in Bear Cat, 30 miles southeast of Saigon; a base shared with the Thai Army.  Most of his missions consisted of inserting troops into a landing zone (LZ) and later extracting them from a pick up zone.  The unit’s pilots also flew supply and medevac missions. 

Jim remembers, “As a newbie you were referred to as a ‘Peter Pilot’, not sure of anything but treated quite well.” He soon realized that his training was far from over. Once at the base, he received OJT assault training learning how to:

-- land directly on the ground instead in of a hover

-- land in a hot LZ

-- decide what kind of landing was appropriate in which situations

-- fly in formation

-- execute the necessary maneuvers he would be performing on missions.

The living conditions and amenities were sparse but adequate. Jim lived in a one-level barracks with the other officers in his flight platoon. At the base he could receive three hot meals a day; if flying maybe one. While in the area of operations, meals consisted mainly of C-rations. Aircraft and ammunition were always in full supply. While Jim was based at Pleiku in the Central Highlands, the base’s supply lines were cut off and supplies had to be flown in, forcing them to rely on C-Rations alone.

Jim and the other troops could communicate with their families back home; he wrote letters and made audiotapes but there was no telephone communication.  The entertainment provided for the troops made no lasting impression on him; he remembers that movies would be brought in and that once you were there long enough you were allowed off base, but otherwise “there was not a lot going on.”  

While the entertainment might not have impressed him, the camaraderie stayed with him for the rest of his life.  Jim says he had “a fantastic unit” and the more he got to know his fellow pilots and crew the more he appreciated them.  This feeling was extended towards his commanding officers as well; they were “fantastic”, with effective training programs.  As a member of a helicopter crew, he experienced one of the tightest bonds the military has to offer. “One thing you find is that in a helicopter unit you all learn to count on each other… What one does is in relation to what the others do. If a helicopter goes down, you count on a unit helicopter for the rescue. After the mission, you all try to help each other…”

During his service with the 335th, Jim was a slick (troop carrier) and gunship platoon commander, operations officer, and a command and control pilot. He ran combat assault missions for the 7th and 9th ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) Divisions. “We received a lot of enemy fire; many ships were shot down.”  

While Jim was in Vietnam, he never went on leave.  In between his first tour and his extension, he traveled on leave around the United States seeing friends that he had flown with.  A high percentage of crew members also extended for a second tour, highlighting the depth of camaraderie.

After 21 months with the 335th, Jim was assigned to the 43rd General Support Group as an operations officer at Fort Carson, Colorado.  After six months, he received a transition to go to a private flight school to learn how to fly fixed-wing aircraft and get a commercial flight certificate.

After finishing fixed-wing training, Jim volunteered to return to Vietnam.  Once there, he was assigned to the 7th of 17th Air Cav (known as the “Ruthless Riders”) at Pleiku for what would be his last combat assignment.  This time, he flew a light observation helicopter (nicknamed “Loach”) that performed mainly reconnaissance missions.  He remembers this time fondly: “Shortly after arriving I assumed command of a volunteer recon platoon know as the ‘Scalp Hunters’ and got to do what I always loved to do, which was fly every day.”

In the CAV, his missions were to find the NVA and where they were moving.  Jim could receive hostile fire three or four times a day; he was shot down ten times, but says, “I had no issues or problems at all."  On June 19, 1972 he was shot down for the tenth time and took a round in his right knee, resulting in amputation of the leg. Even after the loss of his leg, Jim didn’t immediately leave the service. He transferred to the Army Adjutant General Branch, and graduated from the Army Career Course in Indianapolis. After the course, Jim decided to take a medical retirement. 

Jim’s military awards and decorations include two Silver Stars, four Distinguished Flying Crosses, two Bronze Stars, the Cross of Gallantry with Gold & Silver Star, and 94 Air Medals.

After retiring from the military, Jim learned to ski at Lake Tahoe and participated in programs with the US Ski Team, giving him the opportunity to ski with some of the top skiers in the country. He traveled the country skiing and playing golf for ten years. While living winters in Park City, Utah, he helped the U.S. Ski Team organize the first two “Jill Saint John/Paul Mason” Celebrity Ski races, raising funds for the Ski team.  During the summers, he organized many regional amputee golf tournaments and two national events.  

Jim didn’t go back to school, simply because he didn’t feel the need to. Instead, he got his real estate license but soon decided this field wasn’t for him. He then went to work as an operations officer for a private company in the Bay Area.