The enemy had set up a battery of anti-aircraft guns in Shaw Valley, near the terminus of the Ho Chi Minh Trail in South Vietnam.
It was the summer of 1968, and rookie fighter pilot Lt. JD Wetterling had just witnessed an American aircraft being shot down while attempting to take out those guns.
Now it was his turn.
"I could hear my heart beat," Wetterling remembers. "I was surrounded by tracers. I was diving down the gun barrels, and I could hear my own funeral sermon."
That harrowing incident is detailed in "Son of Thunder," a book containing Wetterling's real-life war stories. Now a Morgan Stanley Dean Witter broker in Clearwater, Fla., he calls the Vietnam War "a tragic chapter in American history. It changed the way America thinks about itself."
Wetterling ought to know. He was there. He flew 268 combat missions in Vietnam, was awarded two Distinguished Flying Crosses and 14 air medals. He continues to recount his experiences as a speaker, writer and defender of the soldier's creed of God, duty, honor and country. He is also a frequent guest on radio programs.
Wetterling is still involved in the military, too. He flies or co-pilots military aircraft and writes about the flights for various magazines and Web sites. He's been invited to pilot one of the Navy's new "Super Hornet" fighters. Currently, the Navy has only 50 Super Hornets.
"It's quite an honor and will certainly help polish my reputation as one of the country's premier - and certainly luckiest - aviation writers," he says.
Wetterling's activities give him an outlet for his message. "I want people to know the truth about Vietnam," he says. "The people who fought there were great patriots. Tom Brokaw wrote about the World War II generation and called them `the greatest generation.' They were great, but I think it takes a higher class of patriot to fight for God, duty, honor and country when everyone is screaming at us, `The war is wrong.'"
He blames the lack of support on the Johnson administration and the way it chose to fight that war. "We could see missiles being unloaded off ships, but weren't allowed to attack," he says.
After six years in the military, during which he earned an MBA from the University of Utah Extension while stationed in Europe, Wetterling returned home and began working at the Chicago Board of Trade. He became a full-time retail broker in 1990.
Writing is Wetterling's passion. He has had numerous works published and has his own Web site at www.jdwetterling.com.
"The Los Angeles Times once ran something I wrote," he says. "They ran it just to give the liberals some fresh meat. They included my e-mail address so my computer was smoking [from the response] that day. But I received several letters of support and thanks from some Vietnamese living in the United States. That makes it all worthwhile."