O’Hare International Airport in Chicago (ORD) in 1970 was MUCH different than present day travelers are exposed to. No security – anyone could walk right to a departure gate. Watch the airplanes, watch the people, bring your children on an outing (like my Dad had done frequently with me and my siblings, and I did with my children). But on this day in October 1970, my parents were with me at the TWA gate to say good-bye. A one-year tour in the Republic of Vietnam was less than 36 hours away from Chicago. Tech school at Lowry had ended and I had been home on leave for 30 days. But I wanted to get going, to get this next chapter of my life going, get going to Travis AFB, outside of San Francisco, get going to Saigon, and whatever awaited me there. There were no tears at the TWA departure gate for San Francisco. I had no idea, no concern, for what my mother and father felt at the moment I boarded the Boeing 707.
A coach bus ride to Travis Air Force Base, about 90 minutes. Memories of that day bring to mind the process of travel, you have no idea of what is about to occur, but you just continue to move forward in the process, being told what to do and just doing it. What kind of plane will be transporting me to Vietnam? A surprise – a United Airlines (stretch) DC-8. All coach, you board by rank. Boarding number 163, an E-2 enlisted puke, a nobody. I do recall walking from the front of the aircraft, passing by all of those who had boarded before me. Most were returning Vietnam veterans, several rows of ribbons, colonels, majors, senior NCOs. Of course, by the time the enlisted nobodies boarded, the only seats open were MIDDLE seats. Middle seats on a full stretch DC-8, a DC-8 that will be flying, the LONG way, across the middle of the Pacific Ocean, around 8,000 miles, 23 hours in the middle seat. While awaiting my flight at Travis, I purchased a paperback version of Mario Puzo’s, THE GODFATHER. A smart idea, a very good buy.
An excellent way to develop homesickness for troops on their way to Vietnam was the first fuel stop in Honolulu. We were allowed to leave the DC-8 during the re-fueling process. Warm, tropical breezes, palm trees, and those subtle signs of life-stateside that will be passing from view for a year. Now, things were starting to get a bit depressing. If you can imagine 23 hours in the middle seat on a trans-Pacific flight, you might be thinking a lot of things – boredom, anxiety, more boredom. I do not recall a lot of chatter or talk on the plane. All of us were alone, no families were flying together to Vietnam, and each passenger appeared to be in his own universe. Service from the flight attendants was exemplary. Four meals were served, three movies were shown.
Fuel stop #2 was Wake Island. Fuel stop # 3 was Kadena Air Base. From Kadena, the DC-8 flew directly into Saigon. Touchdown at Tan Son Nhut was just before dawn.