Johnny Mack Higgins, FCS Mechanic
14th FMS, Phan Rang, Udorn and Da Nang, 1969-70
I was born in 1946 at Searcy, Arkansas. I graduated from Mabelvale High School in 1964 and joined the Air Force at Little Rock, Arkansas on 29 March 1965 to serve my country, get an education, and see the world.
After completing Basic Training at Lackland AFB, Texas and Tech School (ANSQ25-MA-1 Systems) at Lowry AFB, Colorado, I was assigned Permanent Change of Station (PCS) in April 1965 to the 343rd Consolidated Aircraft Maintenance Squadron (ADC) at Duluth, Minnesota. At Duluth, I worked as an F-106 MA-1 Fire Control System Mechanic, System Mock-Up, Flight Line Maintenance, and Debriefing.
In June 1969, I was assigned PCS to the 18th Special Operations Squadron (TAC) at Lockbourne AFB, Ohio for AC-119 Fire Control System Training. In October 1969, I was assigned PCS to the (PACAF) 14th Field Maintenance Squadron at Phan Rang AFB, RVN. In April 1970, I was assigned Temporary Duty (TDY) for 30 days with the 18th SOS Forward Operation Location (FOL) at Udorn AB, Thailand. I was assigned another 30-day TDY with the 18th SOS FOL at Da Nang AB, RVN in September 1970. In October, I returned to Phan Rang Air Base and departed from Vietnam in November 1970.
Stateside, I was assigned to the 49th Fighter Interceptor Squadron (FIS) at Griffiss AFB, New York until receiving PCS orders in December 1971 with an assignment to KI Sawyer AFB, Michigan where I served with the 87th FIS (90-day TDY to Tyndall AFB, Florida) until my discharge from the USAF at K I Sawyer on 2 August 1972.
My most exciting event in SEA would probably be the trip over. We were interrupted at the Ernest Tubb Show at the NCO Club at Lockbourne and told to get our equipment and head for the World Airways Jet on the flightline. When we left Ohio, it was dark, when we got to Alaska for a stop, it was still dark, and when we got to Guam, it was still early morning. I noticed the Marines that we picked up there had uniforms that smelled awful (now I know it was the rice starch from Nam). We continued our flight to Happy Valley and after landing, the crew left the engines running. As soon as the passengers got off the aircraft, they were off and gone!! But, that is when I noticed the workers were lying on the ground and sirens were going off. This was to be the first of many rocket and/or mortar attacks while I was in-country. I remember saying to myself, “This is going to be a long year!!”
The things I will always remember about my tour of duty in Vietnam are:
- Playing my guitar in the band at the NCO Club and trying to get back down the hill with a Sanyo flashlight.
- Working in the Photo Hobby Shop and helping to get everyone’s photo memories on paper.
- Visiting the ROK Compound and seeing their version of a USO Show.
- Playing cricket and singing “Waltzing Matilda” at the Aussie area. I had my first oilcan (Fosters) there.
- Card games in the Hut.
- Feeling good when the aircraft came back with no big write-ups.
- It seemed funny that TSN got Bob Hope, but Phan Rang could only get a Korean Floor Show.
After leaving my duty station in Michigan in August 1972, I returned to Little Rock and started over. I stopped by the VA to register and was basically laughed at for calling myself a war vet. I have never stepped foot in the VA since. By September, I found a job at the local Cessna dealer as an Avionics Technician. (I even turned down a job playing music with Charley Rich.) I joined the American Legion Post 344 in Little Rock and went thru the chairs to become Commander. I am still playing music part-time.
I live in Mabelvale, Arkansas and I am still married to my wonderful wife Anita (42 years). We have two grown sons. I am a 32nd Degree Mason, a Shriner and a Jester. I belong to the Scimitar Shrine Motor Patrol, riding a 2005 Harley Davidson Ultra Classic. I still work with corporate aircraft electronics.
Anita and I both look forward to Gunship Reunions.