- Associated Press - Friday, October 21, 2016

URBANA, Ill. (AP) - Don King volunteered for Vietnam, not having learned the service lesson that you never volunteer.

“Boy Scout camp with people shooting at you,” is how he described some of his time in the country.

Staff Sgt. King, now 72, grew up in Ohio and New York state, and had two years of college in 1964 when, “one step ahead of the draft board,” he enlisted in the Air Force.

The Kraft retiree first saw central Illinois when, after basic, he was assigned to Chanute Air Force Base for 16 weeks of weather observer training.

The military was gearing up for an expanded presence in Vietnam, and “no time was wasted” in getting him to Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha, Neb., the home of the Strategic Air Command.

As a weather observer at another base, “we occasionally provided weather briefings for Air Force One, President Lyndon Johnson’s plane,” he said.

“LBJ hated turbulence, and woe be to us if we flew his plane into bumpy weather when it was under our control.”

He was at a base that stored nuclear weapons.

“You were sitting on God knows how many kilotons of nukes,” he said.

Talked into asking for Vietnam, and with some political wrangling because of his top-secret clearance, King was 23 and headed to serve during the Tet offensive, the largest enemy action in the war.

“We came in high over South Vietnam to avoid getting hit by enemy anti-aircraft guns,” he recalled. “You could see things exploding as we flew over on our way to Tan Son Nhut Air Base” near Saigon.

There was a surprise waiting. King was assigned to a weather squadron at Bearcat Base in southern Vietnam. The base was devoid of even a blade of grass, he said.

After several months, the 9th Infantry infiltrated the Mekong Delta and needed weather support.

“It could be tense in the Mekong and the living conditions were not ideal,” King said. “We would hop on a passing Huey chopper occasionally, and fly to base camp where we could get a hot meal and a shower.”

King got a temporary assignment at Qui Nhon, “on the beach of the South China Sea and considered pretty safe.”

A month after he extended his enlistment by six months came the Tet holiday, when “we were in constant danger.”

King believes the Tet offensive was a ploy to give the North Vietnamese more credibility at peace talks in Paris to end the war.

Although it died down, “we would never feel safe, and I actually did sleep with my M16 and .38. I counted the days till I could go home.”

While waiting for his flight home, the north end of the terminal took a rocket attack. He hustled onto a plane.

“When airborne, the pilot told us he had to stop in the Philippines for repairs,” King said. “We had taken rounds in the plane taking off.”

King, who was awarded the Air Force Commendation Medal for Meritorious Service, said he still mourns those lost in Vietnam.

“I’ll never forget that experience,” he said.

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Source: The (Champaign) News-Gazette, https://bit.ly/2dXf9hN

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Information from: The News-Gazette, https://www.news-gazette.com


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