In my closet there are several plastic bins filled with photos, letters, and documents that are a record of my enlistment in the United States Air Force, and more importantly, a record of two tours in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam conflict. I was a non-volunteer from October 1970 to October 1971 at Tan Son Nhut Air Base outside of Saigon, now known as Ho Chi Minh City. My next duty station, where I would have probably finished out my four year active duty commitment, was England Air Force Base in Alexandria, Louisiana, with the 4410th Special Operations Training Group. My Air Force Specialty Codes (AFSC) at the time were 20450 (Intelligence Operations Specialist) and 20630 (Photo and Imagery Interpreter). These intelligence (or, intell) jobs were listed as critical for the U.S. war effort in Southeast Asia, which at the time included on-going conflict in South Vietnam, North Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. I volunteered to return to Vietnam (to the amazement of my parents and siblings), and in early August of 1972 I was back in Saigon at MACV Headquarters, Directorate of Intelligence – in the shop that ran the air war in Southeast Asia, especially in North Vietnam areas around Hanoi and Haiphong. In December of 1972, our shop selected all of the targets “up north” for what has been called the “Christmas Terror Bombings.” Everything in the U.S. arsenal was unleashed – including B-52’s – to bring the war to an end, at least for the U.S. politically. For our intell shop, it was on to Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Base where we ran the air war in Cambodia. An interesting time in how to select targets to bomb when you have no knowledge of who is where the bombs will fall. I left Nakhon Phanom in August of 1973 and returned to the United States for separation from active duty.
Most, if not all Vietnam veterans will tell you that certain smells, certain sounds, certain tastes, will take them right back to Vietnam. And for most, if not all veterans, from all conflicts, this is undoubtedly true. For me, the sound of helicopter blades, especially the unique sound of a Huey, will take me right back to a 12-man hootch, tin roof, surrounded by a wall of sandbags, next to the Camp Alpha Army Heliport.
I will be taking my readers on a chronological journey that starts at the USAF enlistment office in summer of 1969 and ends at Travis AFB outside of San Francisco in August of 1973. You will read my original letters, see photos of my experiences in the military, and hear my commentary and thoughts on how the military and my time in a war zone continues to influence my life. I look forward to sharing my Vietnam experiences with each of you.