Bowmansville, Pennsylvania - United States Air Force
I enlisted into the Air Force in 1969 when I was just 17-years-old. I was on a flight to Texas for basic three days after my 18th birthday. I was just a young kid from Lancaster County, PA and I was embarking on the greatest adventure of my life and a tremendous experience. I could fill a book.
I became a Crew Chief on C-130 Hercules cargo aircraft which was the best job an enlisted man could have in the Air Force. I met people from all fifty states, people of many races, many religions or no religion. I traveled, too, throughout Southeast Asia and surrounding countries. I observed the best and the worst that mankind had to offer.
My time in Vietnam was spent operating out of Tan Son Nhut Air Base. From there we supplied bases throughout Vietnam and all of Southeast Asia. Always in and out of bases with strange names: Da Nang, Phu Cat, Pleiku, Tuy Hoa, Nha Trang, Phan Rang, Bien Hoa, Binh Thuy, and others. I was the youngest Buck Sergeant in the outfit!
Maintaining our aircraft was hot, sweaty, and dirty work. Every mission was different. We hauled supplies of all types. Trucks, jeeps, APCs, medical supplies, ammo, fuel and anything else you can fit into our Four Fan Trash Can (nickname for the C-130 Hercules). Our C-130’s were also used for dropping cargo, leaflets, and Daisy Cutters (a 15,000 pound bomb).
The human cargo was varied and interesting. We transported troops of all types, American, ARVN (South Vietnamese), ROK (South Korean), Australian, and all their gear. We soon learned where the Grunts were operating by the color of their boots. Sometimes we would have some News Correspondents on board and if we were lucky a female band, there to entertain the troops. One Korean combat squad brought back a tiger that they had bagged. We transported refugees (I handled more than one bare bottom infant), prisoners (male and female), and families of ARVN troops with their chickens and geese. Feathers sometimes blew out of the rear of the aircraft while we taxied out, and before the ramp was shut.
It was the medevac’s that were rough. We really felt for the wounded. The ARVN wounded appeared to be so young. Bringing the bodies back in body bags was no picnic either and I will never forget the first time I carried one. It’s the smells that stay with you. The smell of Vietnam: the Asian cooking aromas, the open sewers, masses of refugees, the wounded and the dead, and, of course, the constant smell the flight line, of jet exhaust, the JP4 (jet fuel), and the exhaust from our power units.
Our unit, the 374th Combat Support Group took a beating air dropping to the ARVN at An Loc during the Easter Offensive of 1972. We lost aircraft and most were battle damaged from the anti-aircraft guns of the NVA. Sometimes we had a mission to Phnom Penh, Cambodia or to Ubon, Udorn, U-Tapao in Thailand. During Operation Linebacker II we were operating out of Nakhon Phanom, just across the river from Laos. I saw a B-52 crash there just before Christmas 1972.
One of the aircraft (63-7773) I crewed is on permanent display at the National Cemetery at Indiantown Gap, PA. My friend, John Orris’s, aircraft 62-1787 is at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. It survived a heroic mission. Sadly, John passed away just months before it was put on display. We had plans to travel there together.
It was a lot for a kid from Lancaster County to take in, but it was a great education and a front row seat to history. The experience made me tougher, wiser, and it gave me a great understanding of the world and of war. I left the Air Force in 1973 and used my G.I. Bill to attend and graduate from Millersville University in 1977.