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I remember stepping off the plane onto the tarmac at Clark. It was about 0300. The sergeant who met us was wearing a light jacket and complaining about the cold snap. I recall the heat and humidity sucking the air out of my lungs. By the time I was at the bottom of the stairs leading off the plane I was sweating. The heat rising off the concrete of the flight line almost knocked me over. And it was the middle of the night!
I told the sergeant that I had orders assigning me to the 6200 Munitions Maintenance Squadron.
"Oh, yeah?" he said. "You a Muzzle-Fucker or a BB-Stacker?"
"Say what ?"
"Weapons or Ammo, newbie?"
"Oh, Ammo, I guess," I said.
"Another fuckin' BB-stacker! Get in the back of the truck!"
The pickup truck stopped in front of an old open-bay barracks and I was told to jump out. The same big open bay layout as I had in basic training. If you are not familiar with the term, open bay means there's one very large room the width and length of the building. Along each side of the room are bunks and lockers. The center of the room is open. It's easy to build, easy to clean, and easy to control the men inside. The Charge of Quarters took me upstairs to an empty bunk and I started to unpack. By 0700 I was standing in front of the First Sergeant getting my assignment. "You're going to the Missile Maintenance Shop. Falcons. AIM4s and 26s " And there I would stay for the next 18-months.
My job was about the least glamorous job on the base. Maybe just a notch above a cook (no offense to you cooks out there, but you know what I mean; institutional cooking isn't really cooking, is it?). My job was to drive a truck
Me at Work. In the bomb dump ready to haul a trailer load of missiles out to the flight line
We had two missions.
One was to deliver missiles to the aircraft. We had a couple of squadrons of F-102 fighters there. They would patrol and train and generally burn fuel around the Philippine Sea. They were really too old to go into combat with MIG's in Vietnam so they stayed out here in the Pacific. We would get an order to deliver a load of five or six AIM-4 missiles and usually an AIM-26 too.
Bill Ewald pulling an AIM-26 out of the bunker as we setup a load to haul to the flight line
The missiles looked like this. Here is an AIM-26 on a trailer, and an AIM-4 in the container (with the warhead removed). The AIM-4s were light enough to be lifted onto the aircraft by hand. But the AIM-26s had to be raised into position with the trailer lift as shown. We had both the conventional AIM-26 (below) and the nuclear ones. The nukes looked the same but without the yellow HE bands painted around the middle. So we called them "White Ones" since we were not allowed to say "Nuke."
There was also a Sidewinder and Sparrow maintenance shop on the base, but they had their own missile handling crews.
We had to keep track of where each missile was; which air craft it was loaded on or in which bunker in the bomb dump it was parked. They could only be flown a certain number of times before they had to visit the shop and be inspected.
We kept track of all that in our control room in the back of the maintenance shop.
My buddy A1C Knovak mans the board and dispatches the drivers
Our other mission was to move missiles to the shop for inspection/repair. We had a bunch of missile technicians there who would run the birds through all the tests, would replace the guts if need be, and would even touch up the paint so they looked good. We'd move missiles about 24 at a time from the bomb dump to the shop and then back to the dump.
The techs worked on the two inspection rails seen below.
This is me pretending to be a missile tech
Yeah, like I know what that switch does. Sure!
So this is where I worked
And these were my buds
TDY to NKP, Thailand, February, 1969 (Tet)
While at Clark, I did have one unexpected adventure. About 12 months into my 18-month tour at Clark, there was a call for volunteers to go to someplace called Nakhon Phanom, Thailand. It was for a 2-month temporary duty assignment (TDY). The mission would be to do munitions maintenance, of course, during the Tet offensive. I volunteered.
So off I went. a short flight to Saigon then on to Bangkok, then on to NKP. NKP is right on the Mekong River, about 2 miles from Laos. The US was there to fly missions along the Ho Chi Mihn Trail. While there I was struck by the dust. The entire base was covered with about 5" of red dust that flowed like water when you drove or even walked through it. We had to build napalm bombs. See, the old bombs came disassembled. You had a curved sheet of aluminum with a seam down the edge. We put rubber seals in the seam, clamped the center of seam together. Then while holding the two end caps in place we would bolt the entire seam together. We would then stack them up along the ground in long rows. We'd drive a fuel truck down the rows to fill the bomb casings. Attached to the back of the fuel truck was a mixing device that would add a measured amount Dupont thickener powder to the fuel flowing down the hose. We would fill the empty bomb shells with this mixture. A day later we'd walk down the rows with a stick checking the thickness of the mixture. If it was mixed just right, it would be the consistency of syrup. If too much thickener was added, it was like jello. That would be no good because the stuff would just bounce around and not stick to anything. If too little thickener was added the mixture was thin like regular fuel. That was also no good because it would just go up in a single, hot, fast-burning fireball. We'd build about 15 of these bombs per hour, 12 hrs per day, or about 150 bombs/day. We'd haul them out to the flight line and the planes would fly off with them. They never came back with any so I assumed there was a lot of fire burning out there somewhere.
If a pilot was down, we'd be on 24-hr shift till the guy was picked up. The Air Force would literally make a ring of fire around the down pilot and keep it burning until the pilot could be picked up. Sometimes that would take a couple of days.
One day, a plane was taking off and crashed right at the end of the runway. That put it just a couple hundred yards away from us. We saw the plane crash. And so did the crew of a helicopter that was hovering near the end of the flight line waiting to take off. The helicopter immediately flew to the downed aircraft, a crew member jumped out and pulled the pilot out of the plane, and carried him to the helicopter which then took off and headed to the hospital. The pilot was in the hospital before the crash trucks even arrived at the crash site. They were swarming over the burning plane looking for the pilot while we stood at the fence shouting at them that the pilot was already taken away. It seems the smoke from the crash obscured the actions of the helicopter.
One small thing I remember about NKP was that there was a lady who sold rice and sodas at the entrance to the bomb dump. We'd walk over there and buy a 16-oz Royal Crown Cola for a nickel. A rice ball was also a nickel. What a deal. I think I have some slides from NKP, but they'd be in another box, buried in the garage somewhere. Someday I might find them.
Another thing I remember about NKP was the airmans' club. This was a large building with a bar, a stage, a dance floor, and a juke box. Most nights we just had the juke box. But there was conflict. One group of airman wanted to play country and western music, another group wanted soul music. If the 'wrong' music was playing, a member of the opposite faction would 'accidently' bump the juke box causing it to skip and start the next song. This of course led to a lot of fights.
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