(WTRF) – For more than 100 missions, Robert “Bob” Stuckey was part of the same Marine Corps crew that flew together over Vietnam in the middle of the night. Their job was quite literally to turn the darkness into light for troops on the ground.

It was a critical and dangerous job, and on that Stuckey is proud to have done for his country. 

To make a long story short, it was an experience.

Bob Stuckey, Veteran

However, Bob Stuckey’s story is anything but short. 

At 18-years-old his father suggested that Stuckey join the Navy, which could eventually lead to a college education after his time was served.

Stuckey had other ideas.

You want me to go in the military, I want to go in the Marine Corps and he (my father) laughed. I weighted 128 pounds soaking wet.

Bob Stuckey, Veteran

So, the Marine Corps it was. 

We went to the recruiter, signed all the papers and that same day by 7:00 that night my father passed away.

Bob Stuckey, Veteran

Stuckey had his mother and four younger sisters to think about. As tough as it was, he continued on with his commitment to the military in March of 1966.

That led Stuckey first to Pittsburgh for a physical where he had to wear an “I was enlisted” sign. Next, he went to Basic Training and Parris Island, to Memphis for screening for his MOS, to Ordinance School in Jacksonville, Florida and then to Camp Lejeune.

They gave us a red book at the beginning of Boot Camp. Our senior drill instructor said ‘you can keep that book and you’ll graduate, or you can take that red book, throw it over there in the GI camp and you’ll graduate Marines. Now, which do you want?’ Every one of us threw the red book.

Bob Stuckey, Veteran

While he entered supposedly under guaranteed aviation, the Marine Corps had other plans once he was in Vietnam. 

‘You’re guaranteed aviation?’ And I said ‘yes sir’. ‘No you’re not. You’re not going to be guaranteed aviation’. You don’t argue with those people.

Bob Stuckey, Veteran

Stuckey remembers the day he first touched down in Chu Lai after flying from Da Nang. He ran into a guy coming off the same plane, presumable from leave, wearing a large hat and Hawaiian shirt.

I said ‘hey what’s this place like Chiu Lai?’ He said ‘it’s like a vacation spot’. I thought ‘oh great’. We got mortared that night.

Bob Stuckey, Veteran

Stuckey explained that the Marine Corps had an over abundance of ordinance men, so he worked at the “ammo dump” for a time before volunteering for the “flare ship”.

Stuckey was an air combat crew member, part of a team of seven men that dropped flares to give light to troops fighting on the ground. 

We lit it up like daylight.

Bob Stuckey, Veteran

There were several flare ship crews. On each were a radioman, kicker, lanyard man, three carriers and a Gunnery Sergeant to oversee the operation.

Dear God had we ever received a tracer round or any type of round into any one of those flares it would of more than likely melted that plane in half.

Bob Stuckey, Veteran

Stuckey flew more than 100 missions in combat, never knowing where they were going until the plane was in the air. 

There was a 77-day period where the troops in Khe Sanh, they were hit for 77-straight days and we were up there just about every night dropping flares for them.

Bob Stuckey, Veteran

When Stuckey and the crew ran out of flares, they circled back to land and pick up more. They dropped them all night long until the ground troops gave the OK to go back to base.

His crew also relayed messages when communication lines were cut. 

Some of their missions were what Stuckey called a “Black Op”. All crew members were order to leave almost all of their gear before taking off. He explained that sometimes they would fly into North Vietnam or others areas planes could not go to look for POW camps.

That was a good feeling when you could actually see that that you did something good for those guys on the ground. God only knows how many lives we were able to save because of that.

Bob Stuckey, Veteran

Stuckey remembers they flew low, about 2,000 feet above the ground, so he could see men fighting below him.

After two years in Vietnam, Stuckey returned stateside and received some difficult news. A letter from base notified him that a crew had been shot down and never recovered. Some of those men he knew.

He was still enlisted, and was recommended for Drill Instructor School. Instead, Stuckey ended up on Inspector Instructor Duty, training others in case they deployed to Vietnam.

You had to make them take you seriously and sometimes it took a lot. Maybe you had to bring up something that happened in Vietnam. What if your Reserve unit got called up and set over there? You’ve got to be prepared and that was our job. Our job was to prepare them.

Bob Stuckey, Veteran

Stuckey said he would have loved to spend a career in the Marine Corps, but a duty to his family brought him home in 1971 after more than five years.

I would have loved to spent a career in the Marine Corps, but it came time where I had to help someone and it meant separating myself from what I had planned for the future and I accepted it. It was my responsibility.

Bob Stuckey, Veteran

After going to “B School” he was given orders to be sent to Vietnam. At that time, he had moved back home and found out his father-in-law had cancer and needed treatments five days a week. Stuckey said he was the only one able to drive him to treatments. After some phone calls were made on his behalf, he received an Honorable Discharge at “the convenience of the Governor”.

I grew a lot, not just in age, but in knowledge and in respect.

Bob Stuckey, Veteran

After the Marine Corps, Stuckey explained he had to keep busy.

He coached baseball, worked on the Improvement Association in his community, connected and helped other veterans and started the Armed Forces Veterans Association at the Cameron Mitchell Plant where he worked.

Stuckey was also instrumental in making sure Marshall County honored Korean War and Vietnam War veterans on its Wall of Honor at he Courthouse.

For those of you who drive over the I-470 Vietnam Veterans Memorial Bridge, Stuckey was instrumental in making sure it was named after his brothers in the service. 

He was also named the Brooke County Veteran of the year in 2015 and received the Legion of Honor Chapel of the Four Chaplains Award.

Stuckey and his wife Linda have been married for 53-years and they have two sons. He credits his wife for him coming back safe from Vietnam.

Thanks to Linda I made it back. She gave me a reason to come home.

Bob Stuckey, Veteran

Stuckey, like many others who served in the Vietnam War lost friends. For him, it was a best friend who he grew up with. So, Stuckey has a request for anyone who finds themselves in Washington D.C. He asks that you honor his friend.

If you go to the Vietnam Wall memorial, go to panel 31 East, Row 94 and find Gary E. Schubert on it. Rub your fingers on his name and look at your reflection off the black granite and you tell him that Bob Stuckey still loves him and prays for him every day.

Bob Stuckey, Veteran