Molesworth to Phoenix via Saigon, McCutchan’s Crew

submitted by: Alva Leon Matheson

Living in a relatively small community at the entrance to the “Northern Neck” area of Virginia, I was surprised one morning to see a 303rd Bomb Group license plate frame on a car in the parking lot at our local post office. Knowing that the 303rd was Uncle Alan’s (Frey) old outfit, I decided to wait in the parking lot for the owner of this vehicle to show up. I knew there couldn’t be too many folks in our community that served in the 303rd with the “Hell’s Angels”. I didn’t wait long when the owner appeared and I got out of my car to greet him. Well, the stranger turned out to be Uncle Alan! It seems he purchased a new car and I didn’t recognize it, so much for the mystery.
Our conversation was somewhat brief with the usual “how’s it going and how is everyone”. Just as I was about to leave, Alan asked, “Bob, didn’t you serve with the Forward Air Controllers in Vietnam?” I was somewhat surprised that he asked because most folks, even in our modern day Air Force, haven’t a clue what a Forward Air Controller is. I responded proudly, “yes” and also mentioned that I was a Crew Chief assigned to the 19th Tactical Air Support Squadron (19 TASS) at Bien Hoa Air Base Vietnam and, occasionally I flew with the FACs, but mostly on Functional Check Flights (FCF’s).
It was then that Alan asked me if I knew a Colonel Gene McCutchan from my days in Vietnam. I was sorry to say that I didn’t. Alan pointed out that Gene McCutchan was his B-17 pilot during WW II and that they had completed all 35 missions together, Alan as his radio operator. I soon recognized the name “McCutchan” as Uncle Alan sometimes spoke of him on those rare occasions when we talked about his days with the 303rd. However, Alan usually referred to him as “Mac” and that may have caused my confusion?
I informed Alan that I would check with my group, the Forward Air Controllers Association, and try to locate Gene McCutchan. This turned out to be an unexpected revelation. When I inquired about Gene McCutchan over the Internet with my group, I was flooded with e-mails. Apparently I exposed my limited knowledge and felt somewhat foolish for not knowing about a true legend in my outfit.
Colonel McCutchan was referred to as “Redmarker” in the FAC community. He was instrumental in setting up the doctrine for close air support with the Vietnamese Airborne. One of the prerequisites for this assignment was to be “Jump qualified”. Not to let a little thing like that deter him, Gene entered Vietnamese Airborne jump school at the tender age of 46. Upon completion of Jump school, he was awarded both his Vietnamese Parachute badge and his Red Beret.
I finally started communicating with Colonel McCutchan and over time, we developed a fine repoire’. I had told him on one occasion “had I known we were in country together, I would have requested a transfer to his outfit as his crew chief.” I’m sure that would make for some interesting conversation at my family reunions.
I was soon to learn the 303rd was planning on having their reunion in Baltimore, not too far from my home in Virginia. I immediately contacted Colonel McCutchan and asked if he would be attending. He was sorry to inform me that because of some health problems he could not make this reunion. Fortunately, I have some friends in the Phoenix Arizona area where Gene lives, and suggested to my wife that we take our vacation in Arizona this year. She agreed and the wheels were put into motion.
I notified Gene that my wife and I would be vacationing in Arizona and that I sure would like to meet him. He agreed and also informed me that there were numerous FACs and Crew Chiefs in the Phoenix area and “why don’t we plan a small reunion” This was more than I hoped for. Not only was I presented the opportunity to meet my Uncle’s pilot from his 8th Air Force days, but I now had the opportunity to reunite with my buddies from Vietnam.
All the planning and preparation for the “Big mini reunion” had been made and all that was left was counting down the days. Finally on October 8, 2002 I met Gene McCutchan for dinner. This wasn’t the reunion dinner but a surprise gathering, the night before the reunion, to bestow honor upon one of our nations true heroes, a veteran of three wars, WW II, Korea and Vietnam.
Although Gene had completed Vietnamese Airborne Jump School and made numerous combat jumps, he was never awarded the U.S. Parachutist badge that he was now authorized. To correct this situation, in attendance at this dinner party were Lt. Colonel William Shelton, United States Army Special Forces (retired) and Major Joe Granducci United States Air Force (retired). Joe also served as a “Redmarker FAC” in Vietnam with Colonel McCutchan. Although the official records of Gene’s combat jumps are no longer available due to the collapse of the South Vietnamese Government. Colonel Shelton and Major Granducci presented Gene with an “Unofficial” certificate and the U.S. Parachutist Badge attesting to his accomplishments.
Finally I had the honor to meet Gene McCutchan and to thank him for his dedicated service to our Country. To all our Veterans, and especially our Veterans that served during WW II, I thank you for securing my Freedom and allowing me to live in the “Land of the Free”. Let it be known that my Generation is eternally grateful for your sacrifices.