As the first installation of a promised series of articles on what veterans have endured I would like to introduce a multi-part article on life as a radar flight controller in Vietnam. Again I ask my readers to compare this one individual’s experience with those of bureaucrats who did not have their retirement benefits cut.
“All Will Suffer in This Life”
(Time in Combat Zone)
Expectations and Realities: Just what was I thinking this war would be? I guess that I had watched too many old 1930’s black and white cowboy movies on TV. Those movies were clear-cut. All of the good guys wore white hats and the bad guys wore black hats. Good always triumphed over evil. The hero got the pretty girl; he kissed his horse and rode off into the sunset. I was a hyper-patriot as our education system, at that time, and my family had trained me to be. The flag and the American way were the god of my life. My family and friends were all supportive of what I was doing. The press/media had not yet turned the American public against the war.
My expectations of war and combat were simple. I would prevail, along with America, because we were good and they were a bunch of evil “commies”. Of course God would ensure that we would win, weren’t we the good guys? I had just finished the Air Ground Operations School and Forward Air Controller Course at Hurlburt Field, Florida and the Basic Parachutist Course at Fort Benning, Georgia. I was now establishing the direction for my life. There wasn’t any AFSC (MOS for you other guys) requirement for me to be a static-line parachutist and a Forward Air Controller, but through determination and finagling I was opening my door into the world of unconventional warfare and special operations.
Vietnam was an eye opener. I arrived in Saigon the first week of August 1966. The heat and the humidity didn’t bother me I was use to that. The smells, sounds, and coal stoves were my initial environmental shock. I spent the night in some contracted dump in a bad area of Saigon. Sleep was fleeting because of the sound of small arms, mortars, and artillery. It was beginning to dawn on me that this was not a training exercise and would not be fun.
The next morning, I flew up-country on a C-130 delivering troops and “trash” to bases along the way. A USAF Para Rescue Tech Sergeant was also flying to DaNang. He was everything that I wanted to be. He carried two footlockers filled with his SCUBA gear, parachutes, and rescue medical equipment. His boots were spit shined and bloused. He wore his maroon beret magnificently. I wanted to be just like him when I grew-up! Saigon images were my first images of a war zone, as I stated earlier, but the reality got even clearer as we drove in the dusk from DaNang, through so-called villages, across the DaNang River, out to Monkey Mountain and the 620th Tactical Control Squadron’s main radar site for controlling air strikes against North Vietnam. I had not been proven, at this point in time, as a weapons control officer directing live aircraft in tactical operations. My training was really pretty pathetic, but I had to learn quickly because: “people’s lives were depending on me.”