I went into the military in 1953 because I was a very rowdy young man. The judge said, “Don’t come here no more, Mario,” so I joined the Air Force. I’m glad I did; it really straightened me out. In 1968 I was stationed in Panama awaiting new orders and when they came in, they said, “Going to Vietnam.” I went to Hamilton AFB where I qualified with the guns. I had 30 days leave coming. I worked for Major Richardson and he received orders to Vietnam also and I said, “Well, we will probably never see each other.” When I reported in at Nha Trang, they asked me what kind of plane and engines I worked with. They said, “You’re going to this new outfit of one nineteens.”
I said, “Is that plane still flying?” and they said, “Yep, it’s still flying.” When I got there I was directed to a tent out by the runway. That’s where the maintenance officer was.”
When I entered the tent, who did I run into but Major Richardson! He left from Panama 30 days before me. He said, “I’m sure glad you’re here. I need somebody to go to Phan Rang. Stick around here for two days and learn the system. Then catch a hop to Phan Rang.” So that’s what I did. That’s how I wound up with the 71st SOS reserve outfit that ferried the planes over there.
I went to work at 7 PM starting that night and I worked until 7AM the following morning. I did that for a year.
When we got hit, we really got hit! I remember we were running away from this revetment. There was a plane in it and we were thinking “if it gets hit, it is full of gas.” We went running into the next revetment, tripped over a wire and went rolling. My buddy said to me, “Sgt. Alfaro, are you scared?” I said, “Yes, I’m scared. Do you know how to pray?” He said “No.” So I said, “Follow me,” and we said our prayers. Were we scared, “really” scared.
But I have to tell you, while we were there, I worked 6 months with the reserves and 6 months with the regulars. I had more fun with the reserves than the regulars. The reserves were like a close-knit family.
One night we were getting hit so bad Col. Womb says, “Sgt. Alfaro, I need you and two single people to come launch us.” I said jokingly, “I’m married.” He said, “I don’t care. You’re coming.” So I turned around and said, “Two single people get in the truck with me.” I got in the truck. The whole crew was there. I said, “Get out. Only the single ones can go.” But they said, “Well, we’re going with you.” We all launched that plane under fire! That crew was close. They knew what to do and they got in there and did it. No complaints-just got the job done. I retired as a Master Sgt. in 1975.
A few years ago, I was California. The phone rang and the voice said, “Are you MSgt. Alfaro?” I said, “Yes”. “You have a picture of aircraft 138?” “Yes.” “Well, you’re on one side and I’m on the other. We have a reunion once a year and I’d like you to come with us.” I said, “OK,” and I’ve been going ever since. I enjoy it every time I go.