Interview with Randall L. Jones
Interviewed by Breanna Ford
Interview on May 11, 2003
at 5675 North Lagro Road
BF: Today is Sunday, May 11, 2003, and this is the beginning of an interview with Randall Jones at his home at 5675 North Lagro Road in Marion, Indiana. Mr. Jones is fifty-six years old, having been born on September 26, 1946. My name is Breanna Ford and I will be the interviewer. For the recording, could you state what war and branch of service you served in?
RJ: I served in Vietnam and I was in the Air Force. I was stationed at Phan Rang and Clark Air Force base in the Philippines.
BF: What was your rank?
RJ: First-class airman.
BF: Were you drafted or did you enlist?
RJ: I enlisted in the Air Force in 1966.
BF: Where were you living at the time?
RJ: In Jalapa, IN.
BF: Why did you volunteer?
RJ: My father talked me into joining the Air Force for the purpose of maybe learning something I could use when I got out of service.
BF: Why did you pick to be in the Air Force?
RJ: As I told you before, my dad wanted me to go into the Air Force instead of the Army or the Marines so maybe I could learn something to use on the outside but when I got in the Air Force I chose a weapons field which there wasn’t too much demand for that when I got out of the service. Except I could have got a job in Phoenix, Arizona working for Lockheed, working on F-104’s but I had been away from home for a long time so I decided to come home.
BF: Do you remember you first days in service?
RJ: Yes, it was an experience for me because I was used to being home all of the time and not even being out of state. I basically spent my whole life around Marion before that time. It was an experience to go to different big towns and to meet people from all over the United States.
BF: Tell me about your boot camp experiences.
RJ: Some guys took boot camp hard. I really did not have it hard. I took my basic in San Antonio, Texas and at that time they had an outbreak of spinal meningitis which kind of put a damper on doing a lot of things. [Chuckles] They kept all of flights to themselves. Rather than doing things that we would normally do, they cut our training back as far as the physical part, doing obstacle courses and things of that sort. I didn’t think that it was too bad.
BF: Do you remember who instructed you in your training?
RJ: I remember the guys’ faces but I don’t remember their names.
BF: How did you handle training?
RJ: As I told you before, it wasn’t too rough for me. It makes you appreciate things that you have at home that you don’t really think about. You don’t think anything about hopping in a car and driving to Marion to get a pizza or hopping in the car and going here and there. When you’re in a restricted environment, like in training, you can’t even have any pop, candy, or anything like that or smoke unless someone tells you that you can. You learn to eat real fast and when you get up in the morning and have to be ready and be standing tall within fifteen or twenty minutes it makes you disciplined and does you good.
BF: How long were you in training before you went to Vietnam?
RJ: Approximately six months. We spent two or three months in basic training and then we went to tech school for four or five months. I don’t recall the exact date but I think that I went in during February and I went to Vietnam in September.
BF: Where exactly did you go in Vietnam?
RJ: First we were stationed at Clark Air Force base in the Philippines and our unit was TDY to Phan Rang in Vietnam. We were in a weapons field and I was in weapon a maintenance outfit. We were short of people, like everybody else, and the pilots rotated back to the Philippines every sixty days. We would stay there anywhere from four to five months at a time and then go back to the Philippines for a week or two and pick up some new guys or do whatever. Then we would go back for another four or five months depending on how long you had to stay.
BF: Do you remember arriving there for the first time and what it was like?
RJ: Yes, I remember the first time. It was different. We lived in tents with a lot of mud. Our shower facility was a big tank full of water and you opened a valve and it just ran by gravity so if you worked day shift you could get a nice warm shower when you got off but if you worked third then it was usually cold. [Chuckles]
BF: What was your assignment?
RJ: I was assigned to load crews, which loaded bombs. Then they had guys called gun-plumbers, which worked on guns, but I was on a load crew. There would be a frag sheet come down and it had certain plane numbers and what you had to load on whatever plane. My crew chief was in charged of where the planes took four 750-pound bombs or four napalms, whatever needed taken. We also had a bomb lift driver, a number two man, and I was a number four man, which basically fused bombs and tried to help the guy with the bomb lift drop the bomb.
BF: What squadron were you in?
RJ: I was in the eighth and thirteenth bomb squadron.
BF: Did you see combat?
BF: Were there many casualties in your unit?
RJ: We didn’t lose too many planes while we were over there. There were a few of them that had close calls. We were fortunate.
BF: Tell me about a couple of your most memorable experiences.
RJ: Well one night we were down unloading some thousand pounders, that is thousand pound bombs, a pilot had brought two back. It’s kind of funny when you look back at that stuff. A cradle was put underneath to unload the front bomb to be released. When the number two man released the front bomb both of them dropped on the ground. The number two man had to get a chain and drag it out. There’s this guy we called Nosepickers that took care of the planes and he came up and since it was night he didn’t really see what was going on but when he saw the bomb on the ground he ran away. [Chuckles] I thought that was kind of funny. I wouldn’t think it was funny now though.
BF: Were you awarded any medals or citations? RJ: We basically got all the same awards. Anybody that served in Vietnam got a ribbon for their service. Then we got a ribbon for being the pacific theater from the Philippines. I received a marksmanship award when I was in basic training, which that is when you only miss two out of fifty shots. I think that’s right; I’m not sure since it has been so long ago. Forty-eight out of fifty sounds right.
BF: How did you stay in touch with your family?
RJ: I wrote many letters. I also received a lot of letters from home, which I am fortunate and thankful for that.
BF: What was the food like?
RJ: When I first got over there we ate a lot of sea rice and we got a lot of stuff from home. After that, though, they built a cafeteria. We always had a lot to eat. Growing up in America, you don’t realize what people have to eat every day. I don’t know if you’ve ever had rubber eggs but they’re not very good but they’re not real bad.
BF: Did you have plenty of supplies?
RJ: Yes, we always had plenty to eat and drink. As far as bombs and ammunition we never ran out. We always had plenty of them.
BF: Did you feel pressure or stress?
RJ: Well, I don’t know. When you’re that young you don’t really feel stress. I guess some guys do but I was more or less just following orders. I had a crew chief and I followed orders so I didn’t feel like we were under a lot of pressure. If I would have known back then what I know now it might have been a little different. [Chuckles] I guess when your young you just do things that you don’t think about at the time. Whether its riding dirt bikes or racing cars or any number of things you don’t think about what you’re doing at the time but when you get older you think ‘Gosh! I might have got hurt doing that.’ It went pretty well really.
BF: Was there something special you did for good luck?
BF: How did people entertain themselves?
RJ: When we were in Vietnam there wasn’t a whole lot of entertainment. Although, I think Nancy Sinatra came one time. I don’t remember the occasion or what but we had an outdoor theater and she came one time. We used to play a lot of cards and usually if we got a day off we usually tried to find something to drink, which wasn’t hard to do because booze was cheaper than pop. BF: What did you do when on leave?
RJ: I really didn’t get to leave. When I got out of tech school I got a thirty day leave before I went over there. I went over there in September of 1966 and returned in the November of 1967 or the early part of the December of 1967. The guys that went PCS to Vietnam usually got an R&R break of some kind but since we were TDY from the Philippines they really didn’t give us any kind of R&R. We were just there. I guess our R&R was when we went back to the Philippines.
BF: Do you recall any particularly humorous or unusual events?
RJ: Every day there was something going on, whether it be a bomb hung up on a plane and wouldn’t come off or a gun jammed or pilots swearing up and down that their plane got hit. We would look up and down their plane and couldn’t find anything and it was almost as if they were disappointed. Everyday there was just something unusual regardless of just of the everyday thing of unloading bombs. I don’t know how humorous this is but I know something that happened to this one guy. We used to arm and disarm planes at the end of the runways and there would always be left over shells. Some of the guys would take them apart and make little piles of powder. Well this one guy lit one and it flared up and burnt the back of his hand. He told the people in charge that he was up on a wing disarming a plane and fell against the hot motor and burnt his hand, which I don’t know how you would burn the back of your hand doing that but that’s what he told them. We all thought that it was kind of humorous that they bought that story.
BF: Did you or others pull pranks?
RJ: Not really, maybe every once in a while but most of the time we were pretty serious.
BF: What did you think of officers or fellow soldiers?
RJ: I’m sure, we were pretty much all in it together. I think there was mutual respect among everyone over there whether you were an officer, an enlisted man, or whatever.
BF: Did you keep a personal diary?
BF: Do you recall the day your service ended?
RJ: Service in Vietnam or when I got out of the service period?
BF: When you got out of Vietnam.
RJ: They always made sure that a person got over there but when we came back we were pretty much left by ourselves. My last time over there I think we flew a C-123 to Cameron Bay and ended up hopping a plane back to Phan Rang. Then we went to Saigon and then we ended up in the Philippines.
BF: What did you do in the days and weeks that you came back home?
RJ: After I got back from Vietnam I went to the Philippines. For the number of months that you spent in Vietnam you had so many months cut off your tour. So instead of spending eighteen months in the Philippines I think that I was over there for fourteen or maybe sixteen months, I can’t recall. I came back early from the Philippines and I was stationed in Phoenix, Arizona at Luke Air Force Base. My wife and I got married on the December 23, 1967. She went ahead and finished college. A friend of mine and me both got stationed in Arizona so we went out there. My wife came out there when she got out of college and I spent my last two years of service out there and I got discharged.
BF: Did you work or go back to school?
RJ: When I got discharged out of the service, I packed up everything and we came back home and I returned working at, what was that time RCA, which is where I worked at before I went into the service.
BF: Did you make any close friendships while you were in service?
BF: Have you continued any of those relationships?
RJ: Yes, several of those, also. If you want specific numbers there are five. One of my close friends ended up marrying my wife’s sister so that was neat.
BF: Did you join a veteran’s association?
RJ: I joined the legion over in Van Buren for awhile. My brother also belonged but then we kind of got away from that. I belong to an organization that is made of weapon guys who were in Vietnam. It’s called the B-57 Bummers. We meet every two years. Our next meeting is going to be in Branson, Missouri in 2004. I’m not sure of the exact date. We send email and talk on the telephone. I went to Florida in March and talked to my old crew chief that lives in Georgia. I tried to find another guy that we’ve been looking for that lived in Florida but he has since moved to Texas but he’s going to move back so I’ll probably see him one of these days. We talk on the telephone every once in awhile.
BF: Did your military experience influence your thinking about war or the military in general?
RJ: I’m not sure. You don’t think too much about it when you’re doing it. War is kind of a waste of time as far as I can see. I would think that as time goes on in history and as people are suppose to be getting smarter they would think of different ways to address problems without war, but we haven’t seemed to accomplish that yet. We might never.
BF: How did your services and experiences affect your life?
RJ: It influences your life more than you would think. It makes you thankful that you were born in America.
BF: Is there any other memories that you would like to share.
RJ: I could probably go on and on. I guess when you see little kids begging for money and kids five or six years old selling flowers at three o’clock in the morning in front of bars and places like that you notice that the world has a long way to go and like I said it makes you thankful that you live in America. I guess in looking back, the whole time that I spent in the service was a good learning experience. It’s a shame that all the young men and women can’t get some kind of experience about how other people live in other countries, get a little discipline, having to do things so-so, and taking orders. At the time you think taking orders isn’t so good. I would like to think that we did some good when I was in Vietnam but that remains to be seen. We didn’t have a lot of support back home here that maybe we thought we should have had but I really don’t see how a war could be popular. It was kind of easy for me to understand, even though it was not as easy for others. I have heard many complaints from veterans about how they were received when they came home. I still real fortunate to have been able to have a relationship with some of the men I served with in Vietnam. I have the utmost admiration for the men who gave it all for the United States of America. I know that would be a hard thing to do, being a parent, to give up your son or daughter to any kind of military action and hoping your leaders know what their up to or know what their doing is right. I hope that someday we can figure out a better way.