My name is Gerald (Jerry), Wilson. I was a Sergeant, USAF (United States Air Force) 1966-1970, and my title was Security Police Specialist.
From 1966-1969 I was stationed at Altus AFB, Oklahoma. I was a Security Police Specialist and worked in the Pass & Identification Office on the base. In Vietnam, I was the Liaison Officer and my job was to communicate and plot on a map of the locations of the Korean, Australian and American patrols, so they wouldn’t be hit by airstrikes that were called in by the jungle patrols.
In 1965, I graduated from Loveland High School at the age of 18. It was a Government requirement to register for the draft if you were a male and 18 years old.
In May of 1966, I was hired by the General Electric Company as a Computer Operator. I thought I was on top of the world, having a good job and earning a decent wage.
Then my world was turned upside down when I received my draft notice and date to take a physical exam for the US Army. The Vietnam War had already begun in the early 1960s. The government was escalating the buildup of troops (particularly the Army and Marines) in going to Vietnam.
The media and local television networks were very vocal about the escalation of troops for the military. A lot of political unrest and an extreme amount of protests were held across America. There was lots of turmoil from coast to coast and the late 1960s in the U.S. and it became a time of youth rebellion, mass gatherings, and riots.
There was a very high-profile opposition to the Vietnam War which turned into street protests to turn U.S. political opinion against the war. The protests gained momentum from the Civil Rights Movement. The opposition to the war contributed to the Counterculture of the 1960s and the war contributed towards youth cynicism towards actions of the government.
My parents were quite aware of this situation. They were in fear as much as I was of me having to join the Army and be sent to Vietnam. There was no doubt as to where I would be going if I went into the Army. My parents did not want me to make that choice. Their assistance and guidance were to enlist into another branch of the military. However, I had no choice but to take the physical exam that day.
During the 1960s, you could take the physical exam and still have a choice to select what branch of the service to enlist. My initial and first choice was the Navy. I visited the naval recruiter the same day I took the physical exam. I was disappointed when the recruiter told me that their quota for the month had been filled and that there was not a waiting list that I could be put on.
Fortunately, the USAF Recruiting office was on the same floor as the Navy, so I went next door and talked to the Air Force recruiter. Since I had passed the physical exam all that was required of me, was to pass the selective service exam. I went back the following week to take that exam.
After several hours of waiting for the results of the exam, I was told that I had passed. Again, I was disappointed when they told me that I had to wait for the following month to enlist because their quota had also been filled for September.
On October 10th, 1966 I was sworn into the USAF. We had a few hours to spend with our families before we were immediately loaded on a bus to ride to the Greater Cincinnati Airport to fly to San Antonio, Texas Lakeland AFB to begin (BMTS) the basic military training school. This was a bittersweet moment for me at this stage of my life. I was thrilled about flying on an airplane for the very first time but yet scared of having to leave my family and girlfriend behind for the very first time. I had ten sisters and three brothers and we were very close to each other. I had never spent more than a couple of days away from my family, so this was a very hard adjustment period for me.
My parents were quite relieved when I finished basic training and technical school and would be assigned to the Altus Air Force Base in Altus, Oklahoma. I stayed at this airbase from Dec. 1966 through April of 1969.
I received my orders that I was going to Phan Rang AFB, Vietnam in April 1969 but first I had to report for AZR training, a combat preparedness course once again in San Antonio, Texas for 6 weeks. This was a very intensive combat training while in all kinds of weather elements. The conditions ranged from being very hot, humid, and at times extremely wet.
These conditions were extreme and it was very difficult to learn the guerrilla warfare and tactical training skills for one’s survival. But learn these skills I did! I was able to go home for three weeks prior to my departure to Vietnam. I spent this short period of time with my family and fiancée. It was a very tearful goodbye at the airport on the day I left.
I knew several people who were drafted into the Army and Marines. Several classmates from my high school were killed in Vietnam. Most of the friends I knew either went to college or enlisted in the military. I did not have any close friends that tried to get out of going into the military.
I had read in the local newspaper at that time that several individuals in the Cincinnati area had evaded the draft and went to Canada. They were soon to be known or labeled as draft dodgers. At the time they were not allowed to come back to the United States to live.
The Air Force provided all appropriate military clothing which was camouflaged and lightweight. I had to be vaccinated for typhoid, tetanus, malaria, measles, smallpox, and diphtheria.
My family and close friends naturally did not want me to go but they knew that it was the right thing to do and they were very proud and supportive of me while serving in both the military and Vietnam.
I left for Vietnam on May 26, 1969. I was 21 years old. My thoughts when I left my family for Vietnam were of concern and definitely frightened of the unknown. There were always thoughts of fear and uncertainty. However, due to my strong Christian faith, belief in God, and lots of prayers I found the strength and courage to face any obstacles that came along. I received lots of encouragement and support from my family and friends.
The military communication about the war was very low key and kept out of the Stars and Stripes newspaper that we read in Vietnam. The war had a major impact on U.S. politics, culture, and foreign policy of the United States including foreign relations. Americans were deeply divided over the U.S. government’s justification for and means of fighting the war. At that time, I truly did not understand why we were at war and it didn’t make sense to being there at the time. After I got out of the service, immediately following my tour of Vietnam, I was able to comprehend and understand what the war was about and why we were there.
When we first arrived in Vietnam we saw beautiful beaches with white sand and the prettiest blue water that I had ever seen. It was really a beautiful country with mountains and ocean so close to each other. But the reality of what lay ahead was the tropical jungle and forest and the many hundreds, thousands of rice patties. I guess what impacted my memory the most was seeing my first dead Viet Cong. It was not a pretty picture.
I made friends with several Koreans, Australians and other Americans with whom I keep in contact with today.
The worse part of the war for me was being away from my family and fiancée for a whole year. We didn’t have computers to email nor cell phones that we could use for calling home. Writing letters was our only means of communication, some were few and far between. The best was receiving packages of real food and homemade cookies along with letters filled with love and hope from home.
Being in Vietnam, the military allowed you to take a week of R&R (rest and relaxation) and I chose to go with a buddy to Hong Kong. I was able to travel there to see the Hong Kong Province and visit the country of China which included seeing the Great Wall, as well as shopping and buying clothes, shoes, camera, and video equipment that I got to send home.
I left Vietnam on May 26th, 1970. I was 22 years old. When I arrived home, I was treated with respect by my family and close friends, however, the public view was entirely different.
Protestors were waiting at the airports and bus stations to pounce on the soldiers as they arrived home. Most soldiers were met with unkind and vulgar words. Large gatherings of people were seen spitting and shouting at them saying that they were baby killers and murderers of innocent men, women, and children.
I’ve often been asked if I would do it again if requested by the U.S.? Of course, my answer would be yes – because I love my country.
When duty called, we answered. Some were drafted, others enlisted. It didn’t matter where we came from and how we got there. None could imagine what waited for us on the other side of the world.
More than two million Americans served in the Vietnam War. Together we fought against a relentless enemy in an unforgiving country. Some were wounded, some became prisoners of war, and others paid the ultimate price. In Vietnam, boys became men, men became warriors, and warriors became Brothers. We built a bond of “Brotherhood” that will never be broken.
Thank you for allowing me to share my story.
God bless you and God bless America.