An Air Force POW Speaks

I’ve written before about the week in which three Vietnam vets approached me to tell me their story. It was uncanny in that in all of them, I just listened. I asked very few questions, but spent hours nodding my head and saying a word or two. (Of course, the second one was on an airplane and planes make for good confessional booths.)

The last Vietnam tale is short and Air Force related. I have a small team of guys, all civilian, who work for the Navy program I oversee. All of them are older than me, make more money than I do, and are more educated than I am. But the nature of this sort of work requires a uniform and that is where I come in.

Most of my guys are former military, including an Air Force Sergeant who fueled planes in Vietnam. He told me of stories of lying in sweat night after night over there. And of re-fueling planes during the day when they came in. He was proud of his work, as he should be, and never complained about the conditions. For years, he wore a POW bracelet of an Air Force pilot who was shot down over Vietnam. I’ll leave his name anonymous, the reasons which will soon become apparent.

Years later, in the late 90s, the Air Force Sergeant used a primitive search engine and actually found the guy whose name was on his bracelet. The POW had returned to the United States after years over in Vietnam. And the Sergeant asked the former-POW if he wanted the bracelet back. (Apparently, this is the tradition? If so, first heard for me.)

Anyway, the Air Force flier told him to keep it. Not in a mean way. But the pilot proceeded to share a list of gripes about the US government and their actions concerning his captivity. He even got a dig in on Jane Fonda. The former-POW felt like more could have been done from the governmental end. And he did not want the bracelet as a reminder. A good American, may God bless him. . .

A Vietnam Vet from Texas

Three different Vietnam veterans told me their stories over the past two weeks. All three of them shared a wistful sadness. Proud of their service, but with a lingering melancholy about their time in the military.

The first vet walked up to me and another prior-linguist LT. We were talking outside an office building. He had a large Longhorn logo on his button-down shirt. Just wanted to thank you guys for your service. I’s a Soldier. In Vietnam. And he shook my hand with a hell of a grip.

He almost walked off without chatting with us, but I thanked him. And told him: I tell you, Texas certainly treated us well when we returned dog tired from the Middle East. It was amazing, a line of 100 people greeting us as we walked off the plane.

(Even now, typing this, I remember it vividly. Folks of every color: white, hispanic, black, asian, and a long line of them. I had to excuse myself to duck into the bathroom to get my game face on. It is a challenging emotion to describe and I am not particularly emotional. I had been working twenty hour days, here and there. And finally it felt like I could breathe. In Texas, of all places. . .)

Sir, I continued, that is what you all should have received. It is a crime the way this country treated you all.

Sign of the times, he replied. I got blood thrown on me and spit at. Before they finally changed the airport from San Francisco to some other place.

Ach, sorry. Where were you stationed?

At the SAC base. (Of which, I forgot what he told me. Long Duc, or something like that.)

My first night there- I asked where the latrine was and was pointed in a dark direction. I headed out that way and heard gunfire not far from where I stood. It was something else. But listen here- me and my fellow vets promised, we were never again going to let our young guys get treated like how we were treated. I don’t know if we ever even talked about it. It was unsaid.

Well, thank you Sir, I replied. And shook his hand again. You all are heroes. 

More to follow on the other two vets. . .