Larry D. Middleton, Weapons Maintenance
71st SOS and 17th SOS, Phan Rang, 1969
Renton, Washington was my birthplace in 1948. After graduating from Renton High School in 1966, I eventually received a draft board notice to report for my physical. Thereafter, I decided to join the Navy or the Air Force. The Navy recruiter irritated me so much with his negative attitude and statements about the U.S. Air Force that I knew the USAF was for me. I enlisted on 14 February 1967 at Seattle, Washington.
From January thru October 1969, I was assigned to support the 71st and the 17th Special Operations Squadron at Phan Rang Air Base, RVN as a weapons specialist. One night in the spring or summer of 1969 at Phan Rang, we started receiving heavy rocket and mortar fire. This was not uncommon, except in this instance, the base siren blew in a series of blasts that indicated that we were under direct attack and to get our weapons. We knew that things were a lot more serious than usual. Our primary mission was to scramble our planes. As Airman Phillips Wheatley and I ran onto the flight line, a visibly scared young Air Policeman lowered his gun at us and yelled, “HALT, WHO GOES THERE?” After yelling back a few obscenities at him and reassuring him that we were not VC, he let us pass. We got our planes airborne as a rocket flew overhead and landed directly in the cockpit of an F-100 in an adjoining revetment. It was amazing and reassuring to see our planes firing and dropping flares while working the base perimeter. They quickly silenced the night.
I’ll always remember the teamwork that was so automatic. Everybody knew how important our aircraft were and it was up to us to keep each plane working to its fullest potential. It didn’t matter if you were the aircraft crew chief, electrician, or an engine or weapons specialist. Whatever your duty, you knew that with our planes in the air, lives were being saved on the ground. Even though I was not on a flight crew, part of me was on each mission when I loaded ammo, flares, or repaired and maintained the guns.
The memories of people and events have become lifelong, free time playing cards, music, and having a few beers while always thinking of our family back home; watching as the flares and tracers from our planes fired around the perimeter as our base was under attack by rockets and mortars. Watching the absolutely “crazy” Aussies playing their drinking games, one of which they called “faggot race;” the vision of these guys lining up and then racing with a flaming, rolled up piece of newspaper sticking out their rears—all to win a beer!
I remember the few times I got to go off base at Phan Rang, one time with the above mentioned tough, crazy Aussies. As we walked down a muddy road entering a nearby village, we noticed a small group of begging, muddy, naked kids about 4 to 5 years old. I will always remember the one, out of place, mixed race little blonde girl with her hands out. The sight immediately brought tears to the eyes of one of these “tough” Aussies as he hugged her and handed her some money. It just brought things into perspective how the effects of war have no boundaries.
I separated from the USAF on 15 December 1970 at Travis AFB, California. It was a privilege and honor to serve our great nation in the U.S. Air Force. My wife, Bonnie, and I currently live in Lincoln, Washington.