From a Veteran

A good friend and all around wonderful guy Jeffrey Ward shared some of his experiences in Vietnam after reading Lucky Shot and I wanted to share them with you today.

He is a talented writer, and now seemed like a perfect opportunity to share his moving words.



As a young, naïve airman fresh out of tech school, I was both thrilled but filled with some trepidation as I read my orders which said “Misawa, Japan.” Little did I know that just getting there and coming back would become some of the most unforgettable moments of my entire life. A year earlier in 1963, I had taken my very first jet airplane flight to basic training in San Antonio.

As I reported to Travis Air Force base near Sacramento for my overseas flight I anticipated another flight on a modern jet transport. Instead we boarded a vintage DC-6B four-engine propeller-driven aircraft.  I later learned that MATS, the Military Airlift Transportation Service, as it was known back then, was retiring the old radial engine aircraft from overseas service and I was on one of this plane’s last flights.  Little did I realize that I would return to this very same location after almost three years overseas. Our flight plan called for fuel stops at Hickham Field in Honolulu, Wake Island, then on to Tachikawa Air Base, Japan.  Travis Air Force Base had a 10,000 foot runway and the ancient beater I was on seemingly used every foot of it to get off the ground on its take-off roll.  I remember whispering to myself “Anytime now, any time” as it lumbered down the runway. When we finally lifted off I could have sworn it trailed TV antennas and clothes lines from a neighborhood at the edge of the air base.  Instead of young, female flight attendants to look after us, we were treated to a pot-bellied sergeant who acted as steward and gruffly kept us in line. Back in the day, on-board seating was reversed so we flew backwards the entire trip.

11 hours later we touched down at Hickam Air Base for food and fuel. The sarge gave us directions to the Airmen’s Club and told us if we missed our flight we would be going to Leavenworth military prison instead of Japan.  Most of were 18 or 19 years old and too young to legally drink but this was the Air Force and we were suddenly legal! Most of us, having never been away from home for any length of time, overdid our few hours of freedom.  We gathered around several tables in the club’s tropical outdoor patio to eat and especially consume great quantities of beer. We drank enough beer to stack up empty cans in pyramids in the middle of each tables, some two feet high.  As we staggered back to our flight, most of us were so drunk we literally had to hold onto each other’s rear pants pockets or belt loops to stay upright and find our way.

Off we went sleeping through the night as the effects of our binge wore off.  I awoke early the next morning and looked out the window seeing nothing but ocean in the morning sun.  We were perhaps not more than a thousand feet off the water and in a moment of panic I thought, “Good grief, we’re going to ditch in the ocean!” About that time we touched down at Wake Island, again for food and fuel.  A crescent-shaped atoll and a vital location in World War II, the entire island was just big enough for a runway and a couple of outbuildings.  Nursing hangovers, we boarded busses and ate breakfast at the base chow hall.

Then, it was off again on our final leg into Japan.  As we neared the island of Honshu, we flew directly over Tokyo, which was covered in a smog-like haze and stretched as far as the eye could see.  Our final destination was Tachikawa City, a suburb west of Tokyo.  On our final descent, I got a glimpse of the Tachikawa Air Base runway, squeezed into the middle of the sprawl of Tokyo’s outskirts.  “We’re not going to land there” I thought with some alarm.  The runway didn’t appear longer than a football field but land we did

So, don’t whine to me about your so-called long international flight. Try 33 hours in the air plus a day and a half enroute.  Makes your long flight look like an up-and-down doesn’t it?  Less than 20 years from the end of World War II, Japan welcomed us with open arms into what I would soon come to call a bachelor’s paradise.


In late December, 1965 the war in Vietnam was ramping up with alarming velocity. In 1966, 100,000 additional troops arrived in-country.  I volunteered to assist our increasingly vital and busy intelligence gathering site, the 6924th Security Squadron, located at Danang, Vietnam. Again, it was another weird trip getting there. I boarded a venerable museum piece, a Curtiss-Wright C-46, similar to the DC-3. The livery was Air America, the legendary airline run from the shadows by the Central Intelligence Agency for covert activities throughout Southeast Asia. The wings and fuselage were covered with numerous small aluminum patches, probably repaired bullet holes from ground fire.  It took us overnight to arrive at Clark Air Base in the Philippines where I spent three days awaiting a flight into Danang, Vietnam.  The Philippines were lush, pea-green and jungle-like.  Today the air base is buried under 30 feet of ash and outfall from the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991.

I finally procured a flight to Danang, a Lockheed C-130 Hercules. It turned out I was the only passenger on a plane loaded to the ceiling with napalms! They were carefully stacked and secured into wooden cradles and every square inch of the cargo hold was packed with them.  The first officer came back a couple of times to give me coffee.  He and the captain didn’t look much older than I was and it reminded me of the teenage boys in World War II flying B-17’s into the teeth of heavy flak and Luftwaffe fighters to bomb strategic German targets. The average age of the vast number of Vietnam War casualties was 18! Like World War II, we were just kids! When we approached the coast of Vietnam, the first officer, once again, briefed me on their landing maneuver. Because of the flammable nature of our cargo and enemy small arms fire at both ends of Danang’s runway, I was treated to both the C-130’s versatile capabilities and the crew’s flying skill.  We literally did what I would call a corkscrew maneuver directly over the runway by descending into a gradual horizontal spin.  My stomach did not return to its accustomed location until we gently touched down. Good morning, Vietnam!


In December of 1966, I had fulfilled my year-long duty requirement as an intelligence analyst at Danang in Vietnam.  I had been overseas for almost three years straight without seeing my beloved USA.  My orders called for me to take a short-hop flight from Danang to Ton Son Nhut Saigon airport on board a C-123, “flying box car.” On the way to Saigon, we stopped at Cam Ranh Bay and Na Trang.  What was it that military personnel reverently put on our flight? Body bags of soldiers who were also going home to families where life would never be the same again………Names that would be eventually etched on the dark brooding granite walls of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C.

I got to Ton Son Nhut on December 30th and checked into the transit barracks to await my flight back to the states the next day, New Year’s Eve.  That night I was treated to another random barrage of Viet Cong mortar fire and Hueys flying low over the airport dropping flares. Little did I know until later that 1,448 men were killed on their last day in Vietnam. The next day, our flight was scheduled to depart Ton Son Nhut at 3:00 PM in the afternoon.  160 weary marines and a couple of Air Force guys lined up at the airport terminal to be boarded.  Little did we know at the time but a Thai civilian airliner had nearly crash-landed on the main runway, closing it for 6 hours to assess runway damage and tow the damaged plane away.  Personnel told us to return back to the transit barracks.  Not a single soldier budged.  We had come this far and weren’t getting anywhere but on our plane.  We finally boarded a shiny new World Airways Boeing 707 and took off at 9:30 PM on New Year’s Eve.  Since it was a MAC charter flight, no alcohol was allowed.  However, the resourceful Marines had smuggled aboard enough booze to give everyone a pleasant buzz.  Small bottles and flasks were discretely passed all over the plane and the Marines were kind enough to include the handful of Air Force guys in the merriment.  The flight attendants, bless their hearts, just looked the other way and discretely supplied us with soft drinks which were used as “mixers.”  Midway between Saigon and Yokota Air Base, Japan, we celebrated the New Year with hugs, high fives, and mirth.  We landed in Yokota about 4:00 AM on Jan 1st, New Year’s Day, refueled, ate breakfast, and departed for Travis Air Force Base, California, near Sacramento.

We landed at Travis (and this is where it really got interesting) about 7:30 PM on Dec 31st again, for our second New Year’s Eve!!  We had flown through the International Date Line on the way back and lost a day enroute!  As we got off the plane, one of the most emotional scenes I have ever witnessed took place.  Battle-hardened soldiers threw themselves on the tarmac, rolling around on the pavement, weeping, and kissing the asphalt!  I also laid down on my back on the tarmac, gazed into the night time sky, thanked God, and rejoiced with all I had in me.  The sense of relief among all of us was palpable.  My almost three year voyage was complete. We had made it home alive.

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3 Responses

  1. Being a teenager in the 60s I knew many young men who served in Vietnam and went to nursing school with 4 men who had served. It was an interesting time. Thank you for sharing your experience and thank you for your service.

  2. Jeffery,

    Thank you for your service and the memories. I can relate to your memories as I too saw the places you wrote about while a flight attendant for MAC contractor, Flying Tiger Line. Flying Air America was an experience not soon forgotten. The crew I was on had the “pleasure” as we were en route to pick up a plane that was without a crew. I lost high school classmates in Viet Nam – things hit close to home as I was in and out of country many times. The sights, sounds, smell, heat and humidity of being there will always be with me.

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