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Letter to the Editor

The new history books are out in school. Maybe the writers weren’t in the same places that some of us were.

Here is the way I remember it. There were no reporters where I was at. I was born on a cold January day before WWII. Mom and Dad lived in an old tar paper house about 1 ½ miles from where I live. The story is that Dr. Norman had to have Dad to pull him across Hunter Creek with the horses. Do you think you could get a doctor to do that now? Where are those doctors like Dr. Norman, Dr. Gentry, Dr. Harlan or maybe Dr. Adams on Gunsmoke?

In the fall of 1945, Dad said, “The war is over, President Truman has done it.”

The next few years were good years. It seemed like almost everybody made money.

In 1953 “Ike” took over as president. He stopped the Korea action. They never called it a war. Ike is the one that started the interstate highway system. Sometime around this time is when the I.C.B.Ms  were installed in Turkey. Of course, we didn’t know it. 

On April 18, 1962 I joined the U.S. Air Force. By November that year, I was in Florida with the 401st TAC Fighter Wing. We were down there because of the Cuban Crisis. When it was over, the president told the U.S. that we had made them stop and turn around and go home, nothing about a deal. 

The last week of June 1963, we stepped off a plane onto a new Air Force base in Turkey. Our Master Sergeant called us together. “Men, you will see there is no outside fence yet, so don’t go out at night. You young Airmen that haven’t seen an Alert Pad before, see that building way out there by itself with the tall fence around it? There are 4 airplanes in there loaded with “A” bombs. Don’t go near it unless I am with you. If one of them goes off, they all go off, and this part of the world will be one big hole.”

By October, we had gotten used to living next to the “Pad”. We had heard stories from the locals about something big and round being hauled out of the hills.

One afternoon, an old, rubber tire wagon came down the runway. It had a big load. We got a man that could understand the other man. He wanted to sell his load. He uncovered the biggest pile of pieces of pipe and steel, also, tools and tool boxes. He said the men who had worked at the big hole, had put them in a ditch before they left. We gave him $10 for it. I don’t think he had ever saw ten $1 U.S. bills before. It was Christmas to him. He unloaded everything down below the hog pen, and we brought the tool boxes home with us. Yes, we had found a pig to keep. 

While in Turkey, I did get to go to the old city of Ephesus where the tomb of Apostle John and Mother Mary’s house is.

Late spring of 1964 found me at Clark A.F.B. in the Philippines. I was part of a group that could do almost any repairs to an airplane. The bag was always packed. While at Clark, there was a few trips to the Alert Pad at Tainan, Taiwan. More than a few to South Vietnam, mostly to Da Nang. Most I don’t remember much about, this one I do.

We left at 4 AM headed west. We were in an old C-47 which didn’t fly over 50 MPH. By then I could sleep anywhere. Later the co-pilot woke us and said we had better get off the floor, we might get shot. I looked out and we were about 25 feet above the trees. Another couple of hours, and we landed in a small open spot.  It was maybe 1,000 ft wide and 3,000 ft long. There was a couple of tents at one end. At one end there was a deep pit. I ask what it was for. He said we throw the snakes in there and burn them. What fun.

We fixed the airplane. Our pilot said we had a choice: stay the night or fly without lights until we get to the sea. It was forever before those lights came on.

I was at Clark AFB one night, waiting to cross the runway. The tower said to wait until this Air Force C-135 lands. I could see his landing lights. It was raining. As is got closer, I could see he was coming in too low. It hit about 100 ft before the end of the runway. It broke into 3 pieces. We lost 125 good airmen that night, including a good friend of mine. 

In February 1965, the Major came out and said, “I have good news. You get to put another stripe on your sleeve, and I am putting you in charge of flight line repair. The only thing is the airplanes are in Da Nang.

Easter Sunday 1965, the bomb dump at Da Nang blew up. We were just across the runway from it. We were lucky. 

After all this, we get to the home base outside gate, and there are a lot of people with rocks, bricks, and eggs demanding equal rights. I wonder if they would like to have a job?

Tom Vinson