Nope, June 26, 1963 was not the day I graduated high school (graduation was a year earlier in June 1962). Today marks the anniversary of the day, 50 years ago, when I was inducted into the U.S. Air Force and became a wholly owned subsidiary of Uncle Sam for a four year tour that turned out to be 3 years, 7 months, 5 days and a wake-up. I got out early because I had less than 6 months left in my enlistment when I rotated back to the world after my tour in Vietnam.
Who would have thought that a young 18 year old enlisting in the USAF at the height of the cold war, who was naive enough to believe the bullshit the recruiter fed me (more about this later), could have ended up in Vietnam in 1966? Not me. This photo of me was taken outside our barracks at Tan Son Nhut Air Base outside of Saigon.
Me and my big mouth. First I enlisted with the promise of going to language school and becoming some kind of Air Force spy. What was I thinking? I flunked Latin in H.S. just like I flunked the USAF language test. No language school for me. Instead, I stayed on at Lackland AFB after basic training to attend Air Police school. Whoops!
The second picture is me sticking my head out of an Air Police patrol vehicle on the ramp at King Salmon AFS, Alaska. Me and my big mouth got me to Alaska. I could have been assigned to patrol duty at the World’s Fair in NYC but I volunteered for overseas because I always wanted to go to Germany. Whoops! I ended up on a remote base in Alaska instead. Good thing my tour was only one year of either freezing my ass off or being eaten alive by the world’s largest mosquitos.
Most people would have an image of an Air Policeman as some guy (no women back in 1963) wearing a white hat and white gloves directing traffic. Whoops! Most of us in the Air Police were assigned to security duty. Translated meant fatigues (BDUs in today’s jargon), securing the flight line and guarding individual alert aircraft. The aircraft I guarded in Alaska and later at Westover AFB in Mass. were all loaded with nukes.
After I left Alaska, I was assigned to the Combat Defense Squadron at Westover AFB in the middle of Mass. Westover (we called it leftover) was a SAC base that was also 8th Air Force HQ. We were charged with guarding the fight line, the alert B52 bombers (each one loaded with four (20) megaton nukes), the KC135 alert tankers, the alert crew barracks and the gates from the base proper to the flight line. No pictures of me on the flight line. I’d probably still be in jail if they caught us taking pictures on a SAC base.
So how did I end up in Vietnam? I volunteered. What, is the boy crazy? Not crazy, just sick of all the brass and the flag vehicles with stars or bird flags flying. Whoops again! I ended up down the street from General Westmoreland’s HQ. Me and my big mouth again.
But I made it through that year relatively unscathed. I can’t say without a scratch because I ended up with all kinds of nasty cuts and scratches from landing in a roll of rusty barbed wire when we were bailing out of a truck during a mortar attack. What were we doing in the back of a truck during a mortar attack? We were on our way out to the base perimeter to stop Charlie.
One of these days I’ll tell the whole story about that night and early morning lying in the mud watching the hueys rocket the tree line outside the base waiting for the sun to come up. When the sun did come up, one of the guys spotted Charlie. My bud Ralph raised up (dumb shit) and caught a pair of rounds from an AK-47 in the chest. I thought Ralph had bought the farm (he didn’t).
Maybe the VC were trying to surrender. We’ll never know because even though the Lt. was calling for a cease fire, we didn’t hear him. The VC all died that morning.
Damn I was glad to climb aboard that PanAm flight in January 1967. I was tired of the Air Force and ready for my re-entry into civilian life. So why was I separated from the Air Force on January 31, 1967 when my enlistment wasn’t up until June 25, 1967? Convenience of the government when a GI has less than six months to go when returning from an overseas assignment. Who was I to argue?
Here I am, many years later wondering how all those years could go by so quickly. 50 years is a milestone so I figured why not commemorate the occasion with a blog post.