This will include dates, places and stories relating to my U.S. Air Force career, all 4 years of it.
U.S. Air Force
Took the oath of enlistment in the Chicago induction center after complete physical exam among the mass of draftees and other enlistees on July 25, 1966. Two high school buddies and I had joined the Air Force together. They were Jim Spear my best friend and another close friend Bob Berman.
After spending all day there, starting at 6am, the military machine had finally finished with us late that evening. Since they wanted to keep us within their grasp we were put up in the YMCA hotel for the night. The rooms were the size of closets and filthy. I felt alone, scared and wondering what I had gotten myself into. The next day we (dozens of us) were bussed to O'Hare airport and nearly filled a whole airplane, destination San Antonio, Texas, Lackland Air Force Base. Jim, Bob and I were able to contact our parents before heading to the airport, so they met us there to say good bye. I had a gut full of butterflies.
Entered Basic Training at Lackland, San Antonio Texas on July 26, 1966. July in Texas is horribly hot. Although basic training lasted only six weeks it seemed to last forever. It wasn't very tough physically. After all we were not going into combat.
During my time there I ran into a buddy from high school. Butch Barrick had finished his basic training and was stationed there for his next level of training. Was weird to see him there. But even stranger was when I met up with a guy I became friends with during my year of college in Colorado six months prior. A great guy named Rodney Ormsbee. Small world.
Jim, Bob and I left Lackland going in different directions. We didn't see each other until several months later while home on leave.
Entered technical training at Chanute Air Base, Rantoul Illinois in September 1966. Complete training for Mechanical Accessories & Equipment Repairman just prior to Christmas of 1966.
There I met and became friends with a wild and wacky guy named Tom Bethards from the quad cities area, Rock Island I think. We eventually drove to Texas together in his black 1961 Chevy convertible.
First permanent assignment:
Assigned to 516th FMS (Field Maintenance Squadron) to maintain C-130E cargo aircraft for about one and a half years.
Names of buddies include:
About the last 6 months I was assigned to the 347 TAS (Tactical Airlift Squadron) since many of the airmen were either being shipped overseas or separating from their 4 year term in the service. Although our tight knit group of guys was shaggy-haired, long side-burned and often irreverent towards authority, our shop chief (a TSgt, spit shined and tough, at least on the surface) said we were the best group of guys he had ever commanded. He referred to our loyalty to each other, our technical expertise, our reliability and our ability to do our work with a hangover. We all loved him too.
During this assignment I had the following TDYs:
During this trip Tom Bethards and I had decided to go visit Na Trang, another base that we thought was a short distance away. We'd heard other guys talk about hitch hiking there so we thought we'd try it too. Bear in mind anywhere off base was off limits to TDY Air Force people. But Tom was wild and crazy and I enjoyed being around his nutty sense of humor.
We caught a ride with a Convoy of Korean soldiers just outside the main gate. We couldn't be safer since they were known for being very tough and deadly in combat, and they liked Americans. It was a long hot ride and they didn't speak English so the time passed slowly. We passed bombed out buildings and shot up vehicles all along the way. It was all like a scene out of a movie.
Me with a ROK Korean traveling to Na Trang.
I was a naive and stupid Air Force guy who thought this was all very interesting and didn't give a thought that I might be in any danger. After about two hours of riding we were let out in a town about 5 miles from our destination. We ran into an American soldier who was stationed in this town. He asked us what the hell we were doing there. When Tom and I told him our story he just shook his head and told us how stupid we were. We had just passed through what he called "no man's land," an area that was not secured by Americans and was often under fire by charley at any given time.
Tom sitting next to his own ROK Korean.
He said we were lucky to be with the Koreans since charley was so afraid of them. My mouth dropped open at the thought of what could've happened, but Tom just laughed. We put out our thumbs and got one more ride to Na Trang Air Base. The day was nearly over and the sun going down.
Tom and I had to be back to work in Cam Ranh Bay within the next two hours or get busted for being AWOL. At base Ops we were told there were no planes going back to Cam Ranh that night. Except one that was carrying of all things, a full load of bananas. Tom being the bold character that he was walked right up to the aircraft commander, a Major, and asked if we could fly along with them. That's generally not allowed if your name is not on the aircraft manifest. But Tom is a fast talker and told the Major we were C-130 maintenance crew due back at Cam Ranh for our shift in an hour. The Major gladly agreed since he was so grateful for the work we do to keep them flying.
We hopped aboard exhausted, found a seat and ate bananas, our only meal of the day. Thirty minutes later we were back to our shop and ready to work our 7pm to 7am shift. When we told our shop chief the story he just put his head in his hands and said, "I ought to bust you two but you're two of the best guys I've ever worked with. Oh, by the way, get a shave and a haircut. Or I will bust you!"
Second permanent assignment:
Dyess was sending an entire squadron of C-130s to CCK to replace the 346th TAS sent there 15 months earlier. My two good buddies Gary Hoesly and James Goff and I were a part of this assignment. Was good to be together. But when I left Dyess I never saw Tom Bethards again. One note about Tom; Gary, James and I were groomsmen in Tom's wedding to a Texas girl named Joyce. A very sweet girl. I could not for the life of me understand how this sweet, educated, church-going girl ever hooked up with Tom. They couldn't be more opposite.
Tom Bethards, me, James Goff, Gary Hoesly.
Here's a comparison of Tom, James, and me today.
Continued assignment to the 347th under the 314th TAW (Tactical Airlift Wing).
This was a 15 month assignment for which I volunteered mainly to be a part of the direct support of the troops in Vietnam and also to get out of Texas for new surroundings. Made good friends with another wild and crazy buddy named Bill Miller from Youngstown, Ohio.
TDYs from CCK:
Here oddly enough I met an airman who I had been in kindergarten with at Gross school in Brookfield, Illinois. There is so much I could say about Bangkok, the people, the culture, the reptiles, the klong... but another time.
Mac Tan AB and Cubi Point AB in the Philippines - 7 days
This assignment was to move the aircraft out of CCK due to a terrible hurricane (a.k.a. typhoon) which came through Taiwan.
Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam - 30 days
These 30 day assignments were for rotating fresh maintenance crews in country allowing those who had done their month to go back to CCK. Our shifts were 12 hours on and 12 off. So during our free time a few of us went to swim off the beaches near the barracks. If this hadn't been a war zone the beach area would've qualified as a first class tourist area. They were beautiful.
Flares in the night
This was all taking place miles away from our barracks. In fact it was just five miles up the road in a small Army hospital post (similar to a MASH unit) where wounded troops were recovering so they could be returned to combat.
We naive Air Force dudes continued to sit on the sand bags drinking our beers enjoying the light show, which included a few rocket showers. Obviously we didn't know how serious it was, not for ourselves so much but for the nearly defenseless troops laying in hospital beds trying to heal from their own firefight.
One of the rockets shot off in the darkness, arched towards our compound. I was too amazed to be scared until it landed less than a block away near the mess hall. It didn't cause much damage but it got our attention. Senior enlisted men (Master Sergeants and up) started shouting at us to get behind the sand bags and stay there. But by then it was pretty much over.
We read the next day in the Stars & Stripes about the damage charley had done down the road. I still have that news article among my military papers. Charley had indeed breached their parimeter and overran the hospital tents tossing satchel charges at the already wounded U.S. troops. Many of our guys were killed and many more of the vc were too. Rumor spread that the guys who were guarding the parimeter were stoned on pot and not alert to the attack.
Tan Son Nhut AB, Vietnam - 30 days
When you see the President speak on TV about a military action he's about to commit the troops to, the impact of it doesn't quite mean as much when you're sitting on the sofa in the safety of your home. But the impact of this speech affected me, here and now. It hit me square between the eyes. "Oh my God," I thought. "Oh my God!"
I had two other experiences at Tan Son Nhut that I'll always remember.
A chopper ride.
I stayed over night in his sand bagged fortified quonset hut. He and his buddies made me feel right at home even though I was enlisted and they were officers. They even let me drink with them in their "officers only" bunker which had been decorated like a night club from the states. Richie, his co-pilot Tom and I drank till the wee hours then hit the sack.
I was put in a bunk near the other officers. About 3am I was awakened by several loud bangs. Startled and scared I dragged myself over to Richie's bunk and shook him awake. He shrugged me off saying not to worry that it was our guys attacking charley who was probably just outside the parimeter. I was amazed that he slept through such noise and how he knew that those were our explosions, not theirs.
Dawn came quickly. I was allowed to eat in the mess tent with the officers. You should've seen the angry looks I got from the enlisted troops as well as a few officers. I didn't belong there but Richie and Tom said to ignore them.
Richie and Tom flew me back to Tan Son Nhut and I was never caught or for that matter even missed. Many months later back in the states Richie and I met once again to reminisce. He told me that Tom and his chopper were shot down. No survivors. I felt terrible.
The Main Gate
The cluster of buildings was not far from the front gate where we could hear the auto and pedestrian traffic throughout the day and night. We could also hear the drunks loudly and obnoxiously stumbling their way onto base at all hours. Sure I've done lots of drunken stumbling myself but I'm a quiet easy going drunk.
One night in particular I heard shouting. It didn't sound like the usual shit-faced, loud mouthed troops this time. It sounded more serious. Several POP POP POPs went off. M16s. Then a long series of automatic weapons fire, and more shouting. As I stared up from my bunk at the ceiling eyes staring and wide awake, my mind was racing over what could be happening. But then silence. It stopped almost as quickly as it started.
We learned later that several viet cong had rushed the main gate attempting to overrun the barracks with satchel charges. But thank God the guards were alert and well armed. The bodies were removed before sunrise.
While stationed at CCK I managed to see a bit of the island sights during my precious time off. The beautifully ornate buddhist temples were a big draw to guys like me who enjoyed the scenery.