Category: "Air Force"
In 1962, I was stationed at Misawa AB, Japan. In the late Fall of that year, I volunteered for a six month TDY (temporary duty) assignment to Viet Nam. My duty station was Song Be, the capital of Phouc Long Province and my job was as the ALO/FAC for the Phouc Bien Than Special Military District. The military district encompassed three provinces and the Governor of Phouc Long Province, Colonel Diem (a cousin to the then President Diem), was the military commander of the three provinces. I was the only American Air Force person at Song Be, while the other Americans, never more than fifteen, were all Army Rangers, Green Berets and Special Forces. As the ALO, my duty was to advise Colonel Diem on the use of air power and as the FAC, I controlled air strikes either from the ground, in the jungle, or from an L-19 Bird Dog, a small single engine spotter airplane the Vietnamese had put at my disposal.
A Vietnamese Captain had checked me out in the L-19. Because I had been flying the F-100 at Misawa, he assumed the L-19 would be a piece of cake for me. He did not realize that the L-19 presented a whole different set of parameters with which to deal. Unconcerned, he would sit in the back chair, his feet up on my seat back, a fresh bullet groove across his nose, and sing Vietnamese ballads. Eventually, I checked myself out and wrote the Cessna Company for a flight manual which they sent by return mail.
Occasionally, I controlled air strikes from an L-28 Helio-Courier but was not checked out in it, so a pilot from Saigon would come to Song Be and fly me around.
Leaving Song Be in the Spring of 1963, I returned to Misawa, got recurrent in the F-100 and immediately left for Luke AFB, AZ where I would be an instructor pilot in the F-100 for the next four years.
During my tour at Luke, instructor pilots could pick individual call signs to use over the radio when instructing students. Just about any kind of name could be used as a call sign as long as it was understandable over the air and met the rather stringent moral requirements of the military 60's decade. Call signs that come to mind after having left Luke 29 years ago at this writing are Steady Eddie, Hunter, Knobby, Big D, Playboy, Hot Dog, Gomo, Ugly, Peter, Anzac, Speedo, Slim, Black Dan, Strawberry, Magpie, Bad Guy, Cho-Cho, Screamin', Beer Can, Sundance, Buns, Blackhawk, Buttcan, Pipper, Penguin, Little Joe, Limey, Crow, Rattler, Cherry, Dead Bug, Red Head and Pee Wee. Other call signs of instructor pilots drift through my mind from time to time. In fact, when reminiscing with other Luke instructors and an unfamiliar name crops up, one always asked, "what was his call sign?" John Leight picked and had accepted Gpuar (pronounced Goop-Wa) until the approving authority found out it was an initialization of the phrase "go piss up a rope" and made him change it to a call sign no one remembers. To me, John Leight will always be Goop-Wa. John Sercell always called himself Charlie Chickenfucker, but knowing the approving authority would not approve the call sign, he asked for and received Charlie--until someone realized that Charlie was the phonetic alphabet's designation for the letter "C." He changed his call sign to Chicken.
When I was a kid, my Grandfather told me that if I ever had a dog, be sure and name the dog Tom Henry as the name would automatically make the dog smart. I reasoned that if it worked on dogs, it would work on students, so I picked the name for my call sign.
After using the call sign for a couple of years, I visited my Grandfather, a Louisiana cotton farmer. During the visit, I mentioned my use of the name Tom Henry as my call sign.
"Well," said Grandpa, "that's mighty fine, except I didn't tell you to name a dog Tom Henry to make him smart, I told you to name him Tom Fuller."
Now, how in the hell did I get that wrong? I wondered. Because as soon as my Grandad said the name Tom Fuller, I knew instantly that was the name he told me to use; never Tom Henry. But since I'd been using Tom Henry for the last couple of years, I couldn't very well go back to Luke and change it because I was Tom Henry.
So for the next two years that I was stationed at Luke, every time I keyed the mike button and spoke the words "Tom Henry," I knew I was doing so because somehow I had gotten my Grandfather's instructions incorrect.
From time to time in the following years, it would come back to me and I would wonder afresh how I made such a dumb mistake.
Once I wondered about my grandfather's wisdom as I named a new dog Tom Fuller and he was promptly run over by a car.
In 1992, ten years after retiring from the Air Force, I was standing in the check cashing line at Bergstrom AFB. Behind me stood a man in a green blazer. On the pocket of the blazer was embroidered a military insignia with the Republic of Viet Nam's flag worked into the design.
Since the line was long and slow and I was bored, I turned to him and asked, "were you in Viet Nam?"
"Yes," he answered, "several times with the Special Forces."
"Really!" I answered, "I was there TDY with the Air Force once and stationed with the Rangers and Special Forces."
"What year was that," he asked.
"1962 and '63."
"Well, I'll be go to hell, I was there too. Where were you stationed?"
I replied that I was stationed at a little jungle outpost, sixty miles north of Saigon called Song Be.
"You're kidding," he exclaimed, "that was my home base, but I spent most of my time at the Special Forces camps around the area."
"Well, we must have met because we spent quite a bit of time going to the Montagnard villages to visit you people and we must have known each other."
"Yeah," he said, "but that was thirty years ago, and I suspect we've changed a good deal."
"I guess so," I laughed, I put out my hand and said "name's Les Frazier."
"Mine's Tom Henry," he answered.
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