Crothersville, Indiana was my birthplace in August 1943. I graduated from Crothersville High School in 1961 and attended some college. In September 1962, I had just been laid off and was looking for work. I was in a local restaurant telling a friend, home on leave from the Air Force, about my search for employment. He said, “Why don’t you join the Air Force!” I said, “Sounds like a good idea to me.” I went to Indianapolis the next day to enlist.
I was a reservist assigned to the 71st Tactical Airlift Group at Bakalar AFB when the unit was activated on 13 May 1968. The unit transferred to Lockbourne AFB, Ohio on 11 June 1968 where we began the transition from cargo C-119Gs to AC-119G gunships. After arriving in-country in December 1968, I was later assigned to Tan Son Nhut AB. I returned home to Bakalar AFB with the other reservists on 6 June 1969.
As maintenance techs, we didn’t fly on the gunships very often. I do remember one mission on which I was able to fly. When the crew found out they had a passenger they had to take off a can of ammo. They would have been over the maximum takeoff weight if they hadn’t. I was riding in the jump seat behind the pilot (I think it was Major Tippy). When we got to the target, I moved up behind the pilot and was kneeling on the floor looking out the window. We began circling and opened fire. I was having a blast until all of a sudden, I could see tracers coming up at us. It seemed to me that they were coming up between the wing tip and the nose just missing us, but I’m not sure how close they were. I remember thinking that I was sure thankful for the armor plating on the sides of the cockpit. Flight Engineer Mailen Thomas then called for me from the cargo area and told me to come back and help them crank ammo. It was an exciting flight that I will always remember.
The flight I just described is one of the things I will always remember. Another is a story about Lt. Col. Don Beyl. As you all remember, we had a difficult time gaining any respect from the active duty. We were just “Reserves.” I was working a 12 hour night shift at Tan Son Nhut. Our maintenance shack was at the east end of the runway. We tried to keep things clean but it was very dusty. We usually had cleanup an hour or so before shift change. One of the active duty MSgt’s came in early one night and we hadn’t cleaned up yet. He shouted out, “This place is a mess.
You’re nothing but a bunch of draft dodging Indiana pigs,” and kicked a full trash can down the hall. Of course, being a young mouthy TSgt., I couldn’t let that statement go unchallenged. The MSgt. took me into an office and began giving me a royal butt chewing. He threatened everything from busting me back to airman to jail. When he was finished, I opened the door and there stood almost all of the maintenance crew trying to hear what was going on. About that time Lt. Col. Beyl walked in the door and asked what was going on. I said, “This *!##*+#!! just called us a bunch of draft dodging Indiana pigs. He looked at the MSgt. and said, “Is that true?” Of course, with so many witnesses standing there he had to say yes. Lt. Col. Beyl glared at him and said, “Follow me!” They went into an office and we could hear him “educating him on the Reserve program” all the way down the hall. I never heard another word about it.
One night SSgt. John Burks and I had been in Saigon most of the day and reported for the night shift very “tired” and “sleepy”. CMSgt. Ray Bridges was fit to be tied! He said that if he caught either one of us with our eyes closed that night, we would both get an Article 15. Of course, we both knew that this would be very difficult. John got a roll of one-inch Scotch tape and taped his eyelids open by running the tape up across his forehead and sat down in a corner. I think he must have been asleep because all you could see were the whites of his eyes but his eyes weren’t closed.
There is another story about Lt. Col. Beyl. We got a call one night asking that we go to downtown Saigon to pick up an aircrew at their hotel. Ray Bridges told me to grab a six-pack and go get them. It was Lt. Col. Beyl’s crew. On our way back, the guard at the gate stopped us for a routine check. He asked for my military driver licenses and I told him that I didn’t have one. He wrote me a ticket and told me to give it to my commander the next day. (Lt. Col. Beyl was sitting right beside me.) I said, “I’ll do better than that. I’ll give it to him right now” and handed it to Lt. Col. Beyl. He said, “Remind me to smack your wrist when we get to the flight line.” The guard just looked at us wondering what to do. He let us go and I never heard another word about it.
I retired from the Air Force as a CMSgt. on Aug. 26, 1998 with over 36 years of Reserve and Active Duty time.