F-100 / O-1F BIRDDOG PILOT
21ST TACTICAL AIR SUPPORT SQUADRON
NHA TRANG AB, SOUTH VIETNAM
My father Demetrios Pericles Vergados, in 1920 at 11 years old was taken by his father (My Grandfather) and brought to Boston, Massachusetts, where they sold fruits and vegetables from a horse-drawn carriage. They returned to Greece during the 1930s. A few years later, my father returned to Boston and opened up a restaurant-liquor establishment. Sometime during the early 1950s, my dad came home and announced we were going to visit a local Air Force Base and watch one of the first jet fighter aircraft perform. After making high-speed passes the pilot landed, parked the Jet, climbed down the ladder carrying his flying helmet, and walked past me. I then looked up and my mother and told her someday I would fly jets. I was Commissioned on 2nd June 4, 1964, after graduating from Boston University where I studied Aeronautical Engineering. Graduated from USAF Pilot Training Class 66-C, October 22, 1965, Reese AFB, Lubbock Texas. During my 22½-year Air Force career, I logged 3,544 flight hours in 9 different aircraft, T-37, T-38, B-52, F-5, F-100, O-1 Bird Dog, C-97, F-84F, and T-33. My first assignment after Pilot Training was flying B-52s along with sitting on Nuclear Alert, during what was then called the Cold War. After six years of active duty, I continued my flying career In the Massachusetts Air National Guard with the 102nd Tactical Fighter Wing, 101st TFS, Otis AFB, MA., retiring in December 1986. During the period 1968-1969, I was a Forward Air Controller (FAC), 13 months in South Vietnam, 766 combat hours and 429 missions supporting the 4th Infantry Division and 173rd Airborne Brigade, and was awarded 11 air medals, Distinguished Flying Cross, and the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry by the South Vietnamese Government in recognition of deeds of valor and heroic conduct while in combat with the enemy. According to the DFC Citation:
"Captain Peter J. Vergados distinguished himself by extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight as a Forward Air Controller near Kontum, Republic of Vietnam, on 25 April 1968. On that date, Captain Vergados flew his unarmed light aircraft low through hostile fire to direct tactical airpower in support of a friendly unit which was in contact with a numerically superior hostile force. Captain Vergados’ actions were directly responsible for causing the hostile force to withdraw, allowing the friendly unit to rejoin their main element. The professional competence, aerial skill., and devotion to duty displayed by Captain Vergados reflect great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force."
Left: Peter J. Vergados during his advanced training in the USAF with the T-38 Talons. A loving bird for thousands of American and foreign air forces pilots which epitomizes in the following poem:
THE FIRST TIME
She was a honey, she was one of the best
That night I put her to the test.
She looked so sweet, so pretty, so trim,
The night was dark, the moon was dim.
I was so excited, my heart missed a beat
For I knew I was in for a helluva treat.
I’d seen her stripped, I’d seen her bare,
I’d felt her over, everywhere.
I got inside her, and she screamed with joy,
That was the first time, Oh Boy, Oh Boy!
I got up quickly, as quick as I could,
I handled her gently, I knew she was good.
I rolled her over, then on her side,
Then on her back, I also tried.
She was just on high thrill, the best in the land,
That T-38 of the Training Command.
The Bird Dog O-1F was a two-place observation and liaison aircraft developed from the commercial Cessna Model 170 in 1949. It is powered by one 213-hp Continental 0-470-11 flat-six piston engine, has a maximum speed of 130 mph, and a range of 530 miles. As late as 1968, pilots of O-lEs would patrol over the Vietnam jungles in search of targets, mark them with signal rockets, and direct air strikes by tactical aircraft. A FAC, often an experienced fighter pilot, was assigned to a specific geographical area so that he could readily identify enemy activity. If a FAC observed enemy ground targets, he marked them with smoke rockets so they could be easily attacked by fighter-bombers. Ίheir slow speed of 115 mph proved valuable in observation missions along friendly convoy routes while in contact with ground units to report the location of enemy ambushes and direct air strikes against them Peter J. Vergados flew the aircraft above during his service in Phu Hiep. It carries the name 'Anastasia' on its right and 'Zorba the Greek' on the front of the engine cowling. Noteworthy details are the smoke rockets and the radio antenna on top. According to Peter J. Vergados, he christened his Bird Dog, 'Anastasia' because of his sweetheart who met during a Greek Dance in 1966 and who was supposed to marry her. As he stated: " Name was Bad Luck, she dumped me soon after and the plane went down in Mts West of Kontum with the pilot ." The Greek American pilot flew the #57-2980 during a morning sortie in the same area which was shot down during the afternoon hours, the same day! It must be noted that drawbacks in the O-1s such as lack of armor protection, no self-sealing fuel tanks, and reduced carriage capacity of rockets resulted in their replacement by the Cessna 0-2 and North American OV-10A and eventual assignment to the South Vietnamese Air Force. Peter J. Vergados awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions over Vietnam (Photos by Peter J. Vergados, Artwork by Phillippe Mehard)
Above from L-R: Peter J. Vergados celebrates his return from the Vietnam war zone along with his parents. Before flying the Birddog Peter had to be fighter pilot qualified so he had his chance to fly the North American F-100 Super Sabre. Returning from the front he flew the F-84 in the Massachusetts Air National Guard, then F-100 and T-33, flying specifically with 101st Fighter Squadron, 102nd Fighter Wing. Since leaving active duty, Mr. Vergados has been very active in the Greek-American community, serving two separate terms as a member of his church’s parish council and multiple terms as a member of the audit committee. He is also an active member of the Order of AHEPA, a Greek American fraternal organization whose mission is to promote the ancient Hellenic ideals of education, philanthropy, civic responsibility, family, and individual excellence through community service, and volunteerism. Since 2003, he has been elected to various leadership positions within this organization. However one of the things he enjoys most is flying his friends with a T-33 as he has a type rating on the Shooting Star and on June 2017 he also obtained his Seaplane rating. After all, flying is his life. (Peter J. Vergados)
Above from L-R: Peter's grandfather Pericles Vergados (left) along with his son, Peter's father, Demetrios Vergados. A proud Greek American man baring his soul to the mesmerizing beat of a zembekiko in front of Giorgos Zambetas one of the best Greek singers, composers, and bouzouki instrumentalists. The photo was taken in Athens in 1969 or 1970, during one of his frequent visits of Peter in Greece. During his August 2018 visit to Greece, he traveled with USAF transport command having as destination Souda AB. A fighter pilot by passion he took his chance and met the 'Zeus' Hellenic Air Force F-16 display team. On his left is Major Dimitris Volakakis and on his right is Major George Papadakis, both members of 343 'Star' Squadron. Memorial Day 2007 celebration at Boston's Cathedral with him wearing his uniform and his son Jason wearing the traditional Evzon battledress. (All by Peter J. Vergados)
THE FIGHTER PILOT
Say what you will about him: arrogant, cocky, boisterous and a fun-loving fool to boot.-he has earned his place in the sun. Across the span of fifty years, he has given his country some of its proudest moments and most cherished military traditions. But fame is short-lived and little the world remembers. Almost forgotten are the 1400 fighter pilots who stood alone against the might of Hitler's Germany during the dark summer of 1940--- and in the words of Sir Winston Churchill gave England "Its Finest Hour." Gone from the hardstands of Duxford is the 51s with their checkerboard noses that terrorized the finest fighter squadrons the Luftwaffe had. Dimly remembered--the 4th Fighter Group that gave Americans some of their proud moments in the skies over Korea. How fresh in the recall are the Air Commandos who valiantly struck the VC in their aging "Skyraiders" in the rain-and-blood-soaked valley called A Shau? And how long will be remembered the "Thuds" and "Wolf Pack F-4s" over "Route Pack Six" and the flak-filled skies above Hanoi? So here's a "Nickel on the Grass" to you, my friend, for your spirit, enthusiasm, sacrifice, and courage-but most of all to your friendship. Yours is a dying breed and when you are gone the world will be a lesser place.
WHY I WANT TO BE A FIGHTER PILOT
I want to be a pilot when I grow up because it's a fun job and easy to do. That's why there are so many pilots flying today. Pilots don't need much school, they just have to learn numbers so they can read road maps so they won't get lost. Pilots should be brave so they won't be scared if it's foggy and they can't see, or if a wing or motor falls off they should stay calm so they will know what to do. Pilots have to have eyes to see through clouds, and can't be afraid of lightning or thunder because they are closer to them than we are. The salary the pilots make is another thing I like. They make more money than they can spend. This is because most people think flying is dangerous except pilots don't because they know how easy it is. There isn't much I don't like except girls want to marry pilots so they always have to chase them away so they won't bother them. I hope I don't get airsick because I get carsick and if I get airsick I couldn't be a pilot, and then I would have to work.
Above: In the left photo Peter J. Vergados is on the ladder of the T-33 and in the right photo opening a bottle of Champagne on December 29, 1985, both during his final flight with the United States Air Force before his retirement. (Peter J. Vergados)
Below: Mr. Vergados holding the two volumes of Greeka in Foreign Cockpits. We are very happy because he supports us in every way he can, revealing to us the stories of more Greek American veterans in the USAAF & USAF. In fact, he also writes them giving us great help and unloading us from the heavy tasking by writing both for the website and the next volume. (Peter J. Vergados)
Left: His first assignment after pilot training was flying B-52s along with sitting on nuclear alert during what was then called the Cold War. n 1961, as a demonstration of new flexible response options and in recognition of a demonstrated Soviet ICBM threat, the United States commenced a strategic option unique to the heavy bomber airborne alert. The physical size, endurance, payload, and range of the B-52 made the 27- to 30-hour missions feasible. (Peter J. Vergados)
Above: John Calamos (on right) presents the Calamos Service Award for the year 2021 to Peter J. Vergados (left). (Oxi Day Foundation via https://greekreporter.com/)
1. Dimitrios Vassilopoulos correspondence with Peter J. Vergados.