Friday, March 29, 2013

Another 40th Anniversary

From the Usual USAF Source:
Anniversary of US Pullout from Vietnam  Forty years ago, on March 29, 1973, the last US ground troops withdrew from Vietnam, marking the end of direct US involvement in the Vietnam War. President Nixon addressed the nation that day, saying: "For the first time in 12 years, no American military forces are in Vietnam. All of our American POWs are on their way home." The withdrawal came two months after the United States, South Vietnam, and North Vietnam concluded the Paris peace accords. They failed to bring peace as Saigon would ultimately fall on April 30, 1975, to North Vietnamese communist forces, ending the long conflict. (C-Span webpage with video of Nixon's address.)

For a selection of Air Force Magazine articles over the years on the Vietnam War, see:

Commissioned in Hanoi
Leaving No One Behind
The Lessons of Vietnam
Linebacker II
Return to Vietnam
Stennis Slams McNamara 
Click for larger
We were in Vietnam for 12 years... from 1961 until 1973.  One of my very first... mayhap even THE first... war stories revolves around our involvement there and my relationship with the war.  It's September, 1963 and I'm in the end-game o' basic training at Lackland AFB in San Antonio, part o' said end-game being spending a couple o' days on the obstacle course, or whatever they call it now.  My flight was taking a smoke break after spending a couple o' hours running through mud, walking across logs, and climbing vertical obstacles when this fat Staff Sergeant TI (that would be Training Instructor, for you non-mil types) started barking at us.  He said something that IMMEDIATELY caught our attention, to the effect o'...

"You Ladies better gotdamned well pay ATTENTION to what we're teaching you here, coz you'll NEED it when we send yer asses to Veet-Nam!"

"Veet-Nam?" sez one of my fellow airmen... not me... "What's Veet-Nam?"

"We're fightin' a WAR there, Boy!  So pay attention!"

We all looked at one another and silently mouthed "war?"  What war?  Who knew?  The answer is that in 1963 damned few people in these United States knew we were at war in Vietnam but we... the members of my flight and the nation as a whole... would find out soon enough.

Cross-posted at The Lexicans.



    It's the summer (July) of 1962 and I had just graduated from HS and was headed to LSU and AFROTC. Every year my 1st cousin (lt Gen C.M. Talbott USAF and his WP '43 roommate Col A.J Hughes (Army, who married his sister) would spend a weeks vacation at their Mother's home in my hometown--usually back-to-back. But this time, for some reason, they overlapped. They were both O-6s at the time. It was a sultry July evening overlooking Van Buren St. with the lighting-bugs lighting up the sky with us all sitting on my Aunt Opal's front porch: lft to rt: me, Col Hughes, his oldest child Julie (who was my age and bound for the Univ of Ill) and Col Talbott. Julie was reading the local newspaper and exclaimed: "OMG, General Train's (2nd Lt USA) son has been KIA in Vietnam! " (Col Hughes had just come from an assignment at the Nat War College in Carlile, Penn where Julie had dated Gen Train's son while he was in ROTC there) "Dad, is this thing in Vietnam going to be serious?" Julie asked.. I was sitting to the left of them all, and as I looked down the row both Col Hughes and Col Talbott starred straight ahead w.o. expression with that "1000-yard stare." " "I don't know, her Father said, you never can tell." But the looks on their face (or lack thereof) told me the tale. I instantly had this feeling come over me and said to myself: "Vietnam is going to be MY war." Five years later I was flying out of DaNang over N. Vietnam.

    Premonition or Coincidence of History?

    1. Premonition, methinks. Those are powerful things, premonitions. I've had a few myself, but none quite as profound as yours, Virgil.

  2. Oh, that's the LEAST profound of my Vietnam premonition, Buck. Gotta scoot, but I'll be back with more... MUCH more. (And I've never had any of the like since..)

  3. 2nd Premonition/

    Back Story; My 1st cousin Lt Gen Talbott won his DSC flying P-47s in WW II when he was shot down after tangling with an entire Jagdstaffel (26 planes) alone after getting separated from his wing-man and flt of four squadron by wx (he was Sq CO) and shooting four down before they got him. He parachuted into no-man's land and both sides sent out teams to get him. American Inf got to him first and the lt leading the squad was a graduate of Eastern Ill Univ in Charleston which was Maurice's home town and where he attended college for a year before being accepted at WP.

    With the above story in my sub-conscious I'm sitting in DaNang when I get a letter from one of my college room-mates who informs me a joint college friend of ours is now in RVN as an O-3 Company CO with the 101st ABN which was then operating in our AO in I-Corps. Shortly thereafter I have a dream one night that I was shot down (although an F-4 back-seater I was the front=seat AC in my dream, with NO back-seater!) Well I pancaked it in an open rice paddy (an impossibility in the F-4 which has the glide ratio of a 58,000lb brick) and who jumps up on the wing to help me out of my straps but my friend O'Hara. We then start taking fire from the tree-line and a morter hits and blows off both of O'Hara's legs. I wake up in a cold sweat. When I relate the dream in a subsequent letter to my old room-mate he informs me "not to worry" as he was mistaken and O'Hara wasn't deployed yet. Further, O'Hara and his bride-to-be are scheduled to have dinner with Bob and his date at the Bourbon Orleans Rib Room at the same time I'll be in N.O. on leave between assignments. We arrange to meet for drinks after dinner. When I arrive there was O'Hara in uniform looking fit and trim. I relate the dream and we all have a good laugh. We depart with O'Hara having orders to deploy shortly and I wend my way to the UK. Four months later I get a letter from Bob which opens: "Bad news, O'Hara had a leg blown off by an RPG , but is ok and recuperating in Japan."

    Now it was one leg, not two, and an RPG and not a mortar, and it was during normal ops and not trying to rescue me, but tell me, premonition or just eerie coincidence?

    1. I'm thinking premonition, Virgil. I'm not one to get all metaphysical but I DO believe in premonitions, deja vu, and other phenomenons of this ilk. This story and your story below about Col. Dorman are VERY interesting. I've always wondered about the meanings of my dreams (like in this story) and hope to Hell some of 'em DON'T pan out.

  4. In May 1962 At the transit barracks at Hickam AFB I awoke one morning staring at an M-14 under the mattress in the bunk above my head.
    A brief conversation with the Marine in that bunk clued me in about our minimal involvement in SE Asia.

  5. 3rd Premonition/

    Our Vice Wing CO at the 81st TFW in RAF Bentwaters/Woodbridge was a fairly dour, unlikeable guy with either bad luck or somebody really had it out for him. Normally, when a Wing CO departs (having been fired or promoted) the VC automatically takes his job, But in George Dorman's case (WP grad)he got the royal shaft when they gave the slot to an O-6 named George Devol "Rocky" Brett AFA grad) whose DOR proceeded Dorman's by ONE SINGLE DAY! Either somebody really hated Dorman, or really loved Brett--or both, lol Of course it didn't help either in the fighter community that he was an ex-SAC guy and had been Curt LeMay's personal O-5 aide. (Fwiw I had met Brett in DaNang when I briefed him as an O-6 up from 7thAF HQ at TSN in Saigon where he was head of the F-4 fighter tactics Directorate. ) At any rate Rocky successfully served his obligatory six month tour before he was promoted to Brig Gen and moved on. But did they give the job to Dorman now? No, they ran another guy in. Well, George could take a hint and so asked for the same slot (Vice WCO) in my old outfit at DaNang--the 366th TFW--the theory being that he had friends over there who would take care that he get the Wing CO slot (as the Wing CO was due to rotate shortly) and "prove" himself in combat and in command authority so as to be eligible for promotion to flag rank.

    But George was not happy about it. I remember talking to him at his going away party (most JOs avoided him, but I took pity and engaged him in small-talk) I remember it like it was yesterday. He was smoking a cigarette looking down at the floor and wearing gray slacks, Navy Blue sport-coat and a blue-black turtle-neck sweater. As he related his displeasure (figuring his record good enough for promotion w.o the need for a combat tour) I remember suddenly a feeling coming over me like a cone of cold, yet not wet water was descending over me to encase my entire body and thinking to myself even as we talked (And these are my EXACT words/thoughts) "That man has the mark of death upon him. He will not survive his tour."

    Some 2 & 1/2months later George S. Dorman was KIA at age 45 on his 23rd msn near Chu Lai,, Quang Nam Province in Aug, 1969

    Now one might argue that the odds of getting shot down were fairly good, for a senior officer who would be on the flying schedule infrequently and sporadically, so my "prediction"/"premonition" wasn't so statistically or unreasonably far out, etc., but again I ask: Premonition--or eerie coincidence?,

  6. I was at Norton AFB 63-66, Sytems Command was somewhat detached from VN, though the rated guys almost all got orders for VN. One colleague was flying EC-121's and became a FAC. There was some VN activity at Norton, a secluded spot where special C-130's were stationed. A lot of activity north of San Bernardino at George AFB (F4s).

    For most folks 40 years is long ago. Although in Systems Command, I had some connection to VN. My OTS classmate, Herb Ringsdorph was an F-5 pilot and was shot down early on and was a long-term POW. When released in 1973 went on to Medical School and became a fine doc in Alabama. Here in NC, a good friend was a Naval A-6 B/N and was hit on his 13th mission. Bill was a very long term POW (66-73). Bill continues to tell the POW story. We can't forget.

    1. Speaking of Norton... the base was also the HQ of 27th Air Division and the LA Air Defense Sector, which was my higher HQ when I was stationed at Lompoc AFS from '64 - '68. I had occasion to go down that way from time to time and just might have popped ya a salute back in the day. Like you, forty years doesn't seem that long ago to me, Jim. And I agree: NEVER forget our POWs.

      PS: I used to shop at the George AFB commissary when I was stationed at Boron AFS. :-)


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