William Leonidus Tyler, Maintenance
71st SOS, Nha Trang, 1969
Born in my hometown of Harrodsburg, Mercer County, Kentucky in 1932, I graduated from Harrodsburg High School in 1952 and immediately joined the United States Air Force. There was no work available and I had decided to fulfill my military obligation to America and learn a trade I could use in civilian life after my service was completed.
I was assigned to the 71st SOS Aircraft Maintenance at Bakalar AFB, Columbus, Indiana and served continuously until the 71st returned from Vietnam on 6 June 1969. When we landed at Nha Trang, RVN, we were told to mesh in with the regular Air Force units. They really did not want us and many of us were told there was no room for us on base. We were sent to a so-called hotel in downtown Nha Trang. The hot water tank on the hotel’s roof meant first in line got a hot shower.
We were living among the local Vietnamese, which was a very dangerous situation in 1969, because we could not tell who was friendly or hostile. Their Buddha statue was so high that it could be seen from anywhere in Nha Trang. For transportation to and from the hotel, we had an old bus with chicken wire in place of glass windows. The ride to and from the air base was scary! Daily entertainment was provided by motor pool ‘Evil Knievel’ drivers.
Floyd Fields and Maynard Martine, from the metal shop, were concerned about my safety living off base. If they had not seen me for 2 or 3 days, they would commandeer one of the old trucks to drive downtown to make sure I was okay.
I remember one G.I. who borrowed a container truck (a truck we used to tow the aircraft) to get off base and drove it downtown. That did not turn out well for him. Also in downtown Nha Trang, there were many motorcycles with two Vietnamese onboard. One drove and the other one carried explosives in a satchel. While waiting in groups for our ‘chicken wired” bus, we were prime targets for the ‘cowboy’ bombers; therefore, we didn’t gather in big groups waiting for our bus to base. Viet Cong children were used to steal from us. The children, aged 8 to 10 years, would surround us and start beating us with rolled up newspapers while searching our pockets.
The Viet Cong would strap grenades and/or bombs on children from 6 to 10 years of age and send them to sell newspapers at G.I. chow halls. The children would detonate the grenade or bomb, killing themselves and as many of us as possible.
I was in charge of bench stock. I pulled anything off the aircraft that was not needed after they arrived in Vietnam from the United States. We were running out of storage space, so I contacted the U.S. Army and got 22 metal CONUS shipping boxes. We put one box with each aircraft and stored the unnecessary equipment for return flights to the United States if needed.
I was assigned to the aircraft maintenance section as a Shadow Crew Chief for repairing gunships after our “Jet Jockey” pilots flew night missions and tore them up. We spent the next day repairing the aircraft. The whole aircraft had to be washed, inspected for damage from triple A or mortars, repaired, refueled and rearmed for night missions and to pass phase dock inspections. We washed gunships to get rid of Agent Orange residue at night while dodging enemy mortars from the Viet Cong.
I will always remember our humanitarian effort for war orphans. We assisted them by providing clothing, food, schools and supplies. We wrote home about the orphanage and our families sent clothing and supplies for the children. I remember the ‘extended family’ I met and got to be friends with while serving in Vietnam. I especially enjoy sharing these good memories at our AC-119 gunship reunions.
Memories of our brothers who did not return from the war are ever-present. The exodus of the 71st SOS lives on in my mind. My most precious memory is of my wife and children waving American flags at my return home. The reception given to us by the people and City Mayor of Columbus and the State Governor of Indiana upon our return from Vietnam was overwhelming.
I retired with 32 years of service in the United States Air Force at Grissom AFB, Indiana in 1992.