RBJ: “It’s just one of those things you have to live with.”

What is your birth year?

1938.

How old are you today?

I am 79 years old. 

What branch of the United States armed forces did you serve in?

I was in the Navy.

What was your rank?

I was a captain when I retired. 

Where did you serve?

All over the place- Oregon, Virginia, Japan, Hawaii- a lot of the time in California, a lot of the time in the Washington, D.C. area, and some time in Hawaii, the Philippines, and Japan- Okinawa.

Where were you born?

I was born in Tacoma, Washington.

What are your parent’s names?

My mother’s name was Frances, and my father’s name was Merwin.

Do you have any siblings?

I do. I have sister that’s alive and one that’s deceased.

What city did you grow up in?

I grew up in Seattle- I moved to Seattle when I was like 2 years old.

What schools did you attend?

I went to Jefferson Grade School, James Madison Junior High School, West Seattle High School, the University of Washington, the Naval Post-Graduate School, [and] the University of Southern California.

Do you have any specific memories from your childhood?

Not really- I mean, I had a great childhood. I was able to run all over the neighborhood, and run all over town- well, West Seattle- because at that time, you know, 1940’s, you could do anything, just about. I enjoyed high school and I enjoyed the University of Washington- I was a swimmer.

Were you drafted or did you enlist?

Actually, I went to University of Washington on an ROTC scholarship, so I kind of volunteered.

How did you feel about knowing you would have to serve?

That was fine with me. I wanted to fly. So the Navy let me fly airplanes.

How old were you when you were commissioned?

It was 1960, so that would’ve made me about 21.

What was your family and friends’ reactions to your commissioning?

They were happy. They got rid of me! {Laughs} No, that’s not really true. They were very happy.

Where were you living at the time?

In Seattle.

Why did you pick the service branch you served in? Did it relate to your desire to fly?

For the Navy, yes. They had the best airplanes, and they had their own air fields they took with them.

Do you remember your first days in service? What was it like?

Sure. I was in Pensacola, Florida. I was going to school. They had something called pre-flight; we had to go to school there, and then after you got through that, you went to flight training and actually got to fly airplanes. I was there for quite a while, and then I went to Corpus Christi, Texas.

What was your boot camp or training experience like?

Yeah, it was school. Lots of physical training, and you had to learn about a whole lot of things- most of them you already knew, because I was an engineer, but you got to learn about things you didn’t know, like Morse code. I don’t think they teach that anymore. Do you still remember it now? No, I could hardly remember it then! {Laughs}

You recalled physical training. What sort of things did you do?

Running- they had obstacle courses- and you did a lot of running, a lot of, swimming. You had to qualify in a whole lot of different things- you had to be able to swim. You must’ve been good at that. I [was]. I also helped teach some people who’d never been in the water before. You’ve heard of stupid studying? It was stupid swimming.

Did your trainers or instructors have high expectations of you during this process? How did you cope or manage with these expectations?

Oh, they wanted to get everybody through, so they were very good to you. They took time with you, and I think their goal was to make sure everybody graduated.

Which war did you serve in?

Vietnam. It was after Korea and before Desert Storm.

Where exactly did you go during the war?

Japan, the Philippines, Danang- which is in Vietnam- and then in an aircraft carrier off the coast of Vietnam. That’s basically where I went- a little bit of Korea, but not very much.

Do you recall arriving to your assigned locations? What did you expect?

I do. Well, first of all you had to find a place to live, because I had a wife and a baby. It was fine; it was very comfortable, because we moved to Hawaii right after I got my wings. I got my wings in Corpus Christi, which was one of those places that I really didn’t go back to, because it was hot, and humid, and really not much fun. From there I went to San Diego, because I had to be retrained in another airplane. I went to Hawaii, and from Hawaii I deployed to the Western Pacific, to a little town in Japan called Iwakuni, and from there we flew to the Philippines and back and forth, into Danang a little bit, and of course we went to Hong Kong. From there I went back to school again, after I was done there. When I was done with school for the next three and a half years, I went to an aircraft carrier for two years. They were all fun.

What was visiting those towns, or Hong Kong, like? Did you have expectations of them, and did they meet them?

It’s what you’d expect from any town. It was kind of like a new place to live- Hawaii was very nice, lots of palm trees and things like that, and at that time, in the early 1960’s, there wasn’t much there. They still had boats that ran back and forth to the mainland. When we went to Japan, it was very interesting, because we had to find places to live on the local economy, so you lived in kind of thatched-roof houses and things like that, with totomy masks on the floors, and you slept on the floors, so it was a new experience for everybody.

What was your job or assignment there?

Flying, or I was a CAT officer for a while. I was a person who launched and recovered airplanes off of an aircraft carrier. That was my job. Did it change over time? No, I changed a lot, because you always flew someplace else, and you got new jobs all the time. We were very flexible. It’s like, whatever you need done, you get to do it. Whether you wanted to or not.

Did you ever struggle with having to complete orders you didn’t necessarily want to?

No. They were the things I was supposed to do, so I did them.

Did you see any combat at these locations?

Only in Vietnam, and it was only from a distance- from five thousand feet in the air, or along the ground when you landed [and] they put your airplane in a bunker. What did it look like from above? A big jungle. Just flying over jungle or over the water outside the jungle. But you knew what was below you? Yes, unfortunately you did, and you didn’t want to be there. It was our job. It’s what we did.

What did your planes carry?

Bombs, torpedoes, and rockets.

Were there casualties in your unit?

No. Not in our unit, no. We had some friends in another unit who lost an airplane and yes, I knew some of those people. What happened to the plane? It flew into the water one night. Nobody ever knew [why]. They were low over the water and they probably just flew into the water. We didn’t get any of them back, so you didn’t know what happened.

Do you have any specific memories or experiences that stand out in your memory?

Not really. I try to forget those things. You don’t need to worry about those things.

What were the most trying and difficult moments of service?

No. Sometimes, you didn’t want to do things, and so that’s a difficult thing to do, I guess, because you don’t want to do it, but when it all works out, it’s fine.

What were some good memories of service?

All of them! You met a lot of nice people, you got to see a lot of the world, and you looked out for your friends, they looked out for you, and there were some bad times, but not too many. When you were uncomfortable where you were, or something, but you knew you were going to get out of there eventually.

Were you awarded any medals or citations? What for?

I was. I don’t remember anymore [which ones], to be truthful.

Were you injured during the war?

No.

What were your friends and family’s reaction to the war?

You know, I don’t think people in general liked the Vietnam thing. However, it was political, and I think most of us felt like we were doing the job we were given. And this was Vietnam in general- there were a lot of people that didn’t agree with it, but we were not politicians. It was the fight within, not with the military. [The] military does not start wars. It is actually Congress, and the President, and those guys in Washington.

How did you stay in touch with them?

Letters. At that time, we did not have Skype and things like that. {Laughs} Once in a while, you could get a radio that you could talk to them [through]- you talk one way through somebody, a ham radio operator or someone like that, but not too often then. If you wrote letters, that was about the only way you did things. Or, they did have little tape players, and you could send tapes back and forth, but I don’t think I never did.

What was the food like?

We ate well. [We ate] just about everything. Most of the time we were deployed, we ate in the mess hall or we ate on the ship someplace, and at that time we had stewards that basically served you- it was nice being an officer. When we were deployed at weird places like Johnston Island, we had cookouts and things like that- sometimes we ate on the airplane if we flew a lot. We ate well, probably too well sometimes. 

Did you do anything special for ‘good luck’ before an assignment? 

No. 

Did you find that you had particular anxiety about any assignments?

I don’t think I got stressed, [but] you worried about flying over some places, yes. You didn’t know what somebody else was going to do. Was there any one place that you remember being worried about? It was a game of chance. You never knew. Sometimes people would get shot at, sometimes they wouldn’t. We had some friends that did get shot at, and screwed up their airplanes pretty bad, but they always came home. 

Did you have a lot of free time?

Yes and no. It varied. Sometimes you’d have a lot of time off, sometimes you would work 12 to 14 hours a day. It just varied on what the job was at the time. 

How did you entertain yourself?

Read a lot of books [and] watched a lot of moviesDid other officers entertain themselves similarly? Probably the same way. Read books, watched movies, ran. You could always find something to do. If nothing else, you just went to work for a while.  

What did you think of your fellow soldiers?

They were all nice people. The crews that we flew with, and the enlisted people were good. We had a few bad apples, but everything does, so you work around them and then you get rid of them. If they don’t turn around and do the right thing, then they have to go. 

Are there any people you met that you specifically remember?

Some of my captains and the some of the people I worked for, and with. Both in the public and the private sector. They were all good people. And yes, you do remember people, and fortunately you have friends everywhere, and you still do, and you see some of them.  Sometimes you’re just far away, but when you find them, you’re still friends. People that were in your squadrons or in the ship with you, or maybe in school with you. 

Did you keep in touch with any of these people? If so, for how long?

Some of them, not too many of them. A lot of us went different ways. When we would have reunions, we would see the same people. That group went for a while, and unfortunately some of those people got older and they passed away. There’s still a young man that lives down the street- when [I was] going to school in Monterey, I used to fly with his dad, and now he lives down the street from us. He actually went to the same college that my son did. 

Why, or when, did your service end?

I retired. I had to. They kick you out after thirty years. The statutory limits on the amount of time you can serve- unless you become a flag officer, which is an admiral or a general-is thirty years for officers. Enlisted people can stay longer. I was invited to retired. 

How did you feel upon your retirement?

Well, I had to find a job, which was kind of a stress, but I was kind of happy to retire. I’d done everything I’d wanted to do. 

Where did you relocate to?

I retired in Washington, D.C., and went to work in Mesa, Arizona. 

How did the war affect your personal family?

Other than the fact they had a move a lot, I don’t think it did. I don’t think it was hard on the kids- in fact I think they enjoyed moving. We’d tell them when we moved to a new place, “Do you want to go to school today if we get there in the middle of the day?” [And they said] “Yes, I want to go to school, I don’t want to stay home.” So, they’d go back to school. 

What was your job or career after the war?

I worked for a helicopter company, building helicopters for the army. 

How did your military service affect how you think about wars today?

It really didn’t. Wars are bad, we all know that, and I think you’ll find that the military is the one group of people who just assumed there was never a war. The military doesn’t design, or, I guess, opt for wars. It’s just one of those things you have to live with. It’s the politicians in Washington. 

Has serving in the military affected any decision making today?

Not really.

What do you think the general public should know about war?

Well, I think they oughta understand who really wages war, and they oughta pay attention to what their politicians- [what] their senators, house representatives, and the President do about it. Right now we’re in probably the longest war we’ve ever been in, and that’s in Afghanistan, and nobody likes to go there. 

How has living in Portland now shaped your veteran experience? Have you found adequate resources and connections in Portland?

Of course. There’s a good VA hospital- I’ve been there a few times. Portland is a nice place. There’s a lot of military-oriented people around, so you can always find something to do.

How did your service affect your life?

I don’t really think it did. That was my job, and it’s like anything anybody does. I think I learned a lot, I saw a lot of the world; I think I understand a lot of the people who do the things they do today. You get upset about them, but other than that, you gotta live your own life. I don’t have any long-lasting problems associated from it.

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This interview has been lightly edited for readability. However, to maintain integrity and respect the stories of the veteran, content has not been altered from the original transcription.This interview was originally recorded and later transcribed. Questions partially retrieved from: 

“Guidelines.” Veterans History Project. Library of Congress, n.d. Web. 23 June 2017. <www.loc.gov/vets/guidelines.html>.

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