October 24, 2017
Thought I would write some more of my recollections from Da Nang. But first please indulge me while I provide a little background about how I ended up there. I did enjoy reading your brief personal history.
I got married just the month before entering the USAF on the delayed enlistment program. Graduated in 1965 from high school in the small northeastern Oklahoma town of Chelsea. Attended college that fall with a student deferment but rarely studied. The second semester after first semester grades were released I lost the student deferment and was reclassified to 1-A. In Oklahoma after you were ordered to report for the military physical you could expect to be drafted the following month. I rode the bus to Oklahoma City in July, 1966 for the physical. In the mean time my parents and younger sister had moved to Lindsborg, Kansas, a small Swedish heritage town in the center of the state. So I quit my job in the parts department of a Tulsa Chevrolet dealer and moved to Lindsborg. Had been hearing commercials on the radio about the USAF, “Find your place on the aerospace team”, so I visited the Air Force recruiter in nearby Salina, a significant small city and the county seat of Saline County. The recruiter gave me a catalog listing all the possible careers available to an enlistee. Based on my aptitude test scores I was only eligible for Mechanical and Administrative positions and definitely not electronics or the other area which I can’t recall at this time.
I knew I didn’t want to be drafted and certainly didn’t want to go to Vietnam; grizzly reports of which were on TV and in the papers daily. So I studied the available careers for which I was qualified and imagining for each whether it would be needed in Vietnam. I chose Supply Services Specialist, a career that would have the individual working in one of three areas: Clothing Store, Base Laundry, or the Base Commissary (grocery store or warehouse). It worked! In August, 1966 I enlisted with a date to report at Kansas City, Missouri in mid-October. As a result, my home of record all during my time in the Air Force was Lindsborg, Kansas, even though I had only briefly lived there and didn’t want to be known as someone from Kansas. I was born and raised in Oklahoma and was a big OU Sooner football fan.
I married my girlfriend in Tulsa in September, 1966.
I was assigned directly from basic training to an OJT position in the commissary at Vandenberg AFB near Lompoc, CA. We arrived at Vandenberg in December, 1966 and found an apartment in Lompoc. Also took a part time job at the Union 76 service station at Vandenberg Village about halfway between Lompoc and the base. Some of the guys I worked with at Vandenberg had been there since basic training and were about to finish their four year enlistments. I expected to spend the remainder of my time at Vandenberg. In March, 1967, our son was born at the base hospital.
But in less than a year, the decision was made to eliminate the military positions and replace us with Civil Service employees. I had to choose a different career. That is how I ended up at the Fuel Systems School at Chanute AFB in Rantoul, Illinois during that very cold winter. We were there during the time of the infamous Dallas vs. Green Bay “Ice Bowl” game in Green Bay a couple hundred miles further north. We rented an apartment in the upstairs of an old house on the alley behind a fast food place a few blocks north of the base along the highway and main north-south drag a couple blocks south of the Rantoul business district. Was there from November, 1967 to February, 1968. From Chanute I was assigned to Kelly AFB in San Antonio, next door to Lackland AFB. We rented a small house just beyond the north perimeter of Kelly. I was part of a B-52 Worldwide Mobility Squadron but went to work each day with civilians at the huge hanger where the B-52s were dismantled and overhauled periodically. I had to get inoculations so that I could go to any place in the world on short notice. But after only a couple months there, I got my orders for Da Nang. The group I was supposed to be assigned to had been moved to Udorn, Thailand. It took six months for that error to be corrected and is why twelve of us were sent to Udorn in December, 1968.
Because of all these early changes, I was very slow to get promoted. My records from Kelly were slow to get to Da Nang and I was only able to take the Level 5 test shortly before I was moved to Thailand. Once in Thailand, again the records were slowed and I arrived at George AFB in June, 1969 still a two stripe airman. But I soon got the third stripe and a year later, a couple months before discharge made Staff Sergeant. Sounds familiar, huh?
While back in Oklahoma on leave before heading for Vietnam, I was hanging out with some high school buddies when we learned that our close friend, George Allison, had been killed in Vietnam. He had stubbornly refused opportunities join the Oklahoma National Guard or “dodge the draft” like I had done by joining the Air Force. He was drafted and sent to Vietnam as a medic. A truck in which he was riding encountered a mine.
I flew out of Tulsa to LAX on May 31, 1968. Along with some other airmen, caught a helicopter taxi to Norton AFB in San Bernardino. From there, after a security process reminiscent of a scene from the movie Stripes, I got on a Flying Tiger 707 converted to passenger service and packed with men from every branch of service. It was a miserable flight for me. Lots of guys smoking, playing cards, and talking loud and aggressively. We stopped in Honolulu for fuel just before sunset. Got a great view of the island and deplaned long enough to walk through the airport and view the street outside before heading on to Guam. Were delayed in Guam for two or three hours in middle of the night due to some maintenance issue. On to Da Nang we had crossed the International Date Line so that I got there on the morning of June 2, 1968. I was unaware at the time that the plane had parked just a short distance from the hanger where our fuel systems shop was located. I recall the heat, and the smells and sights of the local people at the airport terminal. Seemed to take forever to process through the office at the Da Nang AB center in that area where the indoor movie theater and midnight chow were located. I had never felt the sun so hot. It seemed to burn right through my shirt.
Finally, in the afternoon, I was dropped off at the barracks. Don’t recall exactly how I arrived there. But I do recall walking through the front door on the ground floor carrying my heavy duffle bag as I walked halfway down the length of the corridor bordered by small cubicles, each created between steel framed bunk beds and two metal lockers. Ceiling fans hung from the rafters above the corridor barely stirring the humid air. I recall the place seeming rather dark. Sand bags along the outside of the walls blocked some light and what little breeze may have seeped through the wire mesh and gaps between the slanted boards of the exterior walls.
And so it was at this point I was introduced to Frank Saure, a member of the Fuel Systems shop. I remember you telling me your name and making it easy to remember how to pronounce it; “Hi, my name is Saure, you know, just like it sounds, Sorry. And you can take the top bunk.” I remained in that cubicle for a month or so before moving across the corridor. Think I got the lower bunk over there after a small black guy from New York City moved on, perhaps back to the states. That city guy and I got acquainted and enjoyed an interesting afternoon one day when we were both off work and he shared a cold bottle of chardonnay with me. I had never drank wine before so it hit me pretty good. A nice memory of good conversation and cultural exchange. I had just turned 21 in May before coming to Vietnam.
I believe that Jay McDonald, Tommy Stacy, and Zumbrum all lived there on the same floor of that barracks. Also thinking about another guy from Mississippi who seemed to be close with Tommy Stacy. His last name may have been Coons. He was a smaller guy, about my size while Stacy was a taller and bigger guy. Sometime later, Stacy and Zumbrum, not sure who else moved to a different barracks across on the other side of our compound beyond the chow hall. Not sure why they moved but do remember the group of people in that barracks hosted a big cookout. Think there may have been more of our Fuel Systems group in that barracks. I have some video of that cookout. Also seems that a rocket hit either their barracks or the one next door. Maybe some injured but none of our Fuel Systems guys.
At some point I moved upstairs in our barracks. Not sure why. May have been due to my cubbie having the habit of eating sardines right out of the can in the cubicle. Later, I moved back downstairs to same cubicle. When our shop was moved to the new location we would walk along the perimeter road to the shop which was also along that road. Along the perimeter near our barracks were a communications tower and a shack where some telecomm people operated a radio over which military personnel could place a call back to the states. I never did but some of our group did. Think they had to sign up or wait in line. But, again, that scene offered us some great humor material. That is something I remember and appreciated about you. You had a great sense of humor. Anyway, in order to talk to someone back home you would have to say “over” after speaking in order to allow the other party to respond. For some reason we had a lot of laughs just saying “What the F**K? Over!”
At the new shop some of the guys built tables and benches for us. I remember we spent a lot of time playing cards at those tables. Seems the tables were picnic style tables and were covered in black vinyl fabric. Favorite card game was Hearts?
Also near that new shop was a truck trailer that functioned as a convenience store. Big wooden steps on each end of one side of the trailer provided access to the entrance and exit. Inside were several products. My favorite was the ice cream items.
During rocket attacks while we were at the first shop in the big hanger, I recall rushing out to the bunker, and how the smell of the dirt floor mingled with cigarette smoke. Also remember an older Sergeant who was balding and smoked a pipe. Mostly recall the aroma of his pipe and the time when we were working on the fuel tanks in the floors of some helicopters that were parked across the tarmac not far from the hanger. The mosquitoes seemed to be attracted to the fuel puddles in the open tanks and would swarm around them.
After a while in the barracks we would no longer run to the bunker during rocket attacks but just sit on the floor of the cubicle knowing we had protection on the sides and taking our chances on a direct hit. The experience of being exposed to those conditions helped to change my outlook on life in many ways.
I was very happy to fly out of Da Nang on a C-130 to Tan Son Nhut AB at Saigon where we spent the night before flying off to Bangkok the next evening. The sardine eating guy and I met up at a snack bar and caught a bus to downtown Saigon where we visited the USO and called home before catching a bus back to the base. We flew out of Tan Son Nhut after dark on a commercial 727 jet. It’s hard to describe the relief and happy feeling I experienced as the lights of Saigon faded into darkness. After a night in Bangkok, the 12 of us flew on a C-130 to Udorn AB in the north not far from Laos. Udorn was so different from Da Nang. Beer was 10 cents at the pool where we could sit at a table under a canopy and eat hotdogs. There was a nice airman’s club, a library, outdoor movie, and hobby shop. But I never found the kind of camaraderie and group identity there that had been my experience at Da Nang.
At Udorn there were a couple of guys who had been my instructors in Fuel Systems School at Chanute Think their names were Battles and Likes. Battles also showed up at George but was in a different squadron. Could they have been instructors when you and Jay were in tech school?
After less than a month in the desert near Victorville, my wife took our son and went back to Oklahoma. We were divorced in 1970 about six months before my discharge. After they went back to Oklahoma, I gave up the duplex apartment and moved into a barracks on base. That barracks was across the street north of the airman’s club snack bar and just east of the CQ office. When not working, most nights I would go to The Hanger Inn, a bar and pizza place in Adelanto. Had a couple of guys from my squadron that I hung out with at times. I spent time at the Branding Iron dance hall in Apple Valley and at several other places in the area. But San Bernardino and Riverside were better for weekend outings.
After discharge, I lived in Independence, Kansas. In 1972, I met my current wife, Judy, while living with my sister in Kansas and going back to college. Judy and I were married in 1973 and have two children. After college, we worked for the same pipeline company in Independence where both our families lived.
In 1991, we were transferred to Houston and bought a house in a northern suburb. We have been in same house ever since. I retired in 2013.
Thanks for reading. Your additional filling in the blanks and sharing Da Nang or other stories would be welcomed if you care to write them.