With the US still feeling the effects of WW II and Korea, Vietnam was a conflict that was not well received even under the threat of Communism expanding through that part of the world. Being raised in Toledo, OH and attending the University of Arizona fighting in a south east Asian jungle in 6 years was the last thing I was contemplating. In those days Land Grant schools were required to teach ROTC courses to freshmen and sophomore males. By default Air Force was my service of choice. In 1962 little did I know that “right, left and about face” were a starter kit of things to come.
I remember the Cuban Missile crisis vividly as the UofA campus was situated in the Davis-Monthan AFB flight path. It was a SAC base then and at the height of the tensions several operational B-47’s squadrons with their nuclear payloads were conducting long range missions 24-7. Strong crisis management from the Kennedy administration put an end to the crisis. When the Russian missiles were removed from Cuba relative campus quiet was restored.
Fast forward and upon graduation in 1967 the build up for Vietnam was peaking, the draft lottery system had not been implemented yet and deferments were sparse. Both my father and Uncle Sam were happy I graduated: my father because I was coming off his payroll and Uncle Sam because I was going on his. With my Liberal Arts degree and two ROTC years under my belt I decided to try Engineer Officers Candidate School at Ft. Belvoir, VA. The saying “two years ago I could not spell ‘engineer’, but now I ‘are’ one” was in play here. But first, mandatory basic and advanced infantry training at Ft. Dix, NJ. were in order. Everyone graduated both sessions. OCS was another story as we started out with a company of 255 candidates while only 55 of us graduated. The school cadre did their best for us to say “uncle”.
From OCS wearing shinny brass bars I headed to Aberdeen Proving Grounds, MD to attend an Ordinance school. Then I headed to Los Angeles to the best assignment any 2LT could have: a procurement desk job with the Army Aviation Command activity at the Hughes Tool Company in Culver City. Hughes in those days had the Army contract to make the TH-55 training helicopter, the OH-6A “Cayuse” light observation helicopter and weapons systems to arm it. I had the opportunity to write my own job description and work for LTC Gerald Briscoe and LTC Ray Goode, several combat hardened warrant officers pilots and 125 Army civilians. I had an apartment in Hermosa Beach which only negative was that it was a hippie neighborhood; however I I was at work by at the time they got up in the morning and I was on the beach in quick order when I arrived home. I was really enjoying myself and besides my normal admin job I learned to fly the OH-6A.
Unfortunately my life in LA was short lived when I received orders for Vietnam. High School buddy Army 1LT Glenn Rudy who was several months ahead of me met my transport plane in Tan Son Nhut Air Force Base outside of Saigon. Glenn had
“some” influence in personnel assignments and asked me where I wanted to go. Advice from my buddies at Hughes suggested anyplace but the Mekong Delta so I headed north to Da Nang where I was on my own. From there it is all a blur but I landed outside of Hue at Camp Eagle which was the home of the 101st Airborne Division. There I was assigned to the 39th Transportation Battalion. Our job was to support the remote fire bases in their sector all the way to the Laotian border. The CO of the 39th was LTC John Goff. He was one complete command officer who had eyes in the back of his head. He missed nothing. He was constantly on the road and needed a HQ Company Commander and Adjutant. From all the officers in his command he selected me even though I had no experience in this Captain’s slot. OJT was now my new Vietnam life for there was something new every day until DEROS. With my active duty obligation finished and upon return home I was soon advised that active and inactive reserve obligations were cancelled. Evidently with the scale down there was a plethora of company grade officer and my services were no longer needed.
Outside of the compulsory training I was blessed with my varied assignments and the commands under which I served. At the beginning of this tribute I mentioned several friends were deployed to Vietnam concurrently. To name a few: high school and college fraternity brother Bill Brown via the Marine PLC program became a CH 46 pilot and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. High school buddy Pete Casey became an Infantry Officer and would patrol our sector periodically. Fraternity brother Garry Morfit also went thru the Ft. Banning OCS and was deployed deep under ground in the 24th Corps HQ compound in Phu Bai. Two other high school friends returned home in coffins: Army SGT Ned Dybvig and Navy LT Bob Hanson. It took 23 years to locate Bob’s remains from being shot down in an RA 5 over North Vietnam. Bob’s Navy pilot LT Jerry Coffee survived the incident and spent 7 years and 9 days in the tortures of the “Hanoi Hilton”. I suggest a read of his book “Beyond Survival” for a description of his ordeal. Now retired and a good friend “Captain Coffee” and his wife Susan live in Hawaii overlooking Pearl Harbor.