Aero Club Hears from Vietnam Combat Pilot Gary Vacin

Gary Vacin

“The best year of my life.” That’s how a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel described his 1,000 hours of combat time in Vietnam. He spoke to an audience of about 50 members and guests during a presentation to the Sun Lakes Aero Club on Dec. 20. Most of Robert Denison’s hours of combat time came as a forward air controller flying the North American Rockwell OV-10 aircraft during 1970-1971. His presentation traced the history of forward air controllers (FAC).

“The forward air controller was born in World War II, raised in the Korean Conflict, and matured in Southeast Asia,” he said. “Never one of a glamour image, the FAC lived with the Army, spent the most time over the target, and learned the lessons of close air support better than anyone.” Most of our combat time was classified as “covert stuff,” he continued. The military couldn’t talk about it for 22 years.

During his flying career, which included 5,000 flying hours, Denison was awarded the Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Soldier’s Medal, two Meritorious Service Medals, and the Air Medal with 13 Oak Leaf Clusters. He retired in 1978 with 24 years of active-duty service.

The Sun Lakes Aero Club is an official, sanctioned Sun Lakes organization open to Sun Lakes and other pilots and persons interested in any aspect of aviation. Members have included local current and retired pilots and airline pilots; veterans of World War II, the Korean, Vietnam, and Desert Storm conflicts; sailplane pilots; model airplane enthusiasts; former flight attendants; acrobatic pilots; and many others. More information on the club is available from Cannon Hill at 509-539-7857, Gary Vacin at 480-298-7017, or at the club’s website