Most everyone wanted to go back to “the world” but someone always wanted to stay in Southeast Asia (with the bases in Thailand and Vietnam) for reasons I never could fathom. No matter where we were stationed our overall assignment was the same – destroy the enemy and try to keep Americans and our allies safe from harm. Our bombers, the huge B-52s, were as beautiful as they were deadly. When I first saw these long shark-like jet-bombers at Dyess, Air Force Base, Texas, in 1968, they were all silver. A year later every one of them had been painted black on the bottom and dark olive green on top for camouflage purposes. Huge numbers of North Vietnamese regular army troops and Viet Cong guerillas, probably tens of thousands of them, were eradicated (and many more scared half to death) by bombs being invisibly dropped from thousands of feet above them by these incredible workhorses of devastation. As I mentioned earlier, these bombers flew from Utapao in sorties normally ranging from three to six in number. When the bombing was done at night and over nearby Cambodia, we could hear the pounding of their explosions sounding much like the soft but deep tapping of a bass drum. When a star-like UFO appeared in broad daylight, bomb laden B-52’s were stymied on the far end of the runway waiting for takeoff. The bright glimmering craft that hovered from 40 to 100 feet over the end of the runway was perceived as a threat. By the time the two jet fighters arrived from Udorn to confront the alien craft, the mission of the B-52’s waiting for take-off could have been aborted or possibly changed to prevent the waste of jet fuel (JP4). In addition, aerial refueling jet aircraft, the venerable KC 35s, lingered behind the B-52 bombers waiting to take their turns on the runway. Utapao was designated a remote site and this fact prevented any military members from bringing their spouses over to live with them on base for some semblance of normal life.
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In a real sense, Utapao was an extension of Vietnam. We bombed Vietnam and other regions of Southeast Asia day and night with seldom a letup during my first six months of duty in SEA. Our work duties and other assignments covered all levels of secrecy and we never discussed these issues in public. When I arrived in Bangkok in 1969 and just after deplaning, I sat across the aisle from an Army captain on a military bus. He had been transported from a firefight in Vietnam an hour or two prior to arriving at his “R N’ R” assignment (one week of rest and relaxation) in Bangkok. Upon hearing the young officer had just been pulled from battle I had to ask him a couple of questions to satisfy my curiosity.
My first question was, “Are you an officer?!”
I had to ask this because it was the first time I had seen a military officer with soiled clothes. Grunts stayed dirty and greasy while officers seldom had dirty fingernails.
His reply was short and physically drained, “Yeah.”
I checked for his rank and saw that his captain’s insignia of double bars on his shirt were barely visible and covered with brownish-orange dirt. I thought in amazement – this guy is a captain and he’s filthy! Momentarily I was shocked. Slowly I turned to get a better look and glimpsed into two of the coldest looking eyes I had ever seen. The only thing I had ever seen close to resembling this snake-like stare was some of the looks I had seen when I was slugging it out with other school-boys in fistfights. Being hit in the head several times by some hard knuckles temporarily places a numbed skull and mind into an altered state. Hot blood spilling and cold sweat flying in battle had probably induced some kind of altered state to reside in the captain’s mind as we rode from the airport to downtown Bangkok. Another soldier dirtier than the captain who stated they had been “…brought from hell to heaven …” spoke up behind me and either asked or ordered me (I did not see his rank) to “… Ease up on the captain!”
Regardless of the request, I had to ask, “Are you going to be okay?”
Again the captain had the same one word reply, “Yeah.”
As our bus bounced down the highway towards the soaring Asian skyscrapers, I began to realize the psychological shape the captain was experiencing might have caused him to divulge sensitive information or personal remorse if he began talking. My mind flashed back to when I was a young kid asking adults about World War Two and seldom getting a straight answer. Sometimes I heard an answer I did not want to hear. With this thought in mind, my mouth stayed shut for the remainder of the short journey. After a chance meeting with this recovering combatant, I never asked any questions of anyone. I would intently listen if anyone volunteered to tell or retell a “war story.” Consequently, I listened to hundreds of stories; most were good, some were haunting, some were about UFO encounters, but very seldom was one even close to being boring. Telling these stories and not revealing an embedded confidentially factor was much like threading a needle.
When you are a military member and receive orders from a superior not to reveal specifics of a mission - you are held accountable. Revealing information to someone who was “cleared” at the proper clearance level of classified information but did not have a “need to know” for a specific sensitive action could result in punishments ranging from loss of rank up to imprisonment in the government’s top prison, Leavenworth. Back in 1969, the three levels of clearance were: confidential, secret, and top secret. We were warned other classified levels existed but we would be crazy if we wanted to know something about anything which was above top secret. I assumed these “things” involved very secret weapons.
Commander’s call was an open meeting whereby each commander would relay certain information to his subordinates. Until 1970, I had never realized secret or top secret information could be presented in this type of forum. However, it took awhile for me understand the workings of military minds whose egos towered over common sense and even part-time rationality. (The words “military” and “intelligence” should never be used together when an ego trip is the focus of a military mind bent on revenge.)
I never attended the MMS commander’s call where the commander and the highest ranking intelligence officer made it emphatically clear that no one could write home about the Utapao UFO encounter of 1970. Where was I at the time of the “call?” I am only guessing, but I believe General Abbot had finally been given an opportunity to return a stinging slap to a young, cocky buck-sergeant. The morning of the commander’s call was a little extraordinary because the first-sergeant (the highest ranking non-commissioned officer and powerful right hand of the commander) was waiting outside my barracks. Much like a fellow grunt he called out, “Hey Mac, got a minute?”
The first-sergeant had always been fair and friendly towards me but being the commander’s main man and obviously waiting outside for me caused some concern as I answered him with, “Good morning Sarge. What’s up?”
“Nothing much…but I got a call from one of the doctors at the hospital. They want to see you.”
His right hand patted me on my back as he talked.
I asked, “What about the commander’s call?”
His reply was, “Don’t worry about it.”
Someone is playing games or attempting a stealthy underhanded ruse - were my first thoughts as I walked to the hospital. Were the doctors at the hospital going to inoculate me against something, was I being prepped to go TDY, and why did I have to go the hospital if I were going to be briefed later (normally, the opposite was true.)? These questions and many more zoomed through my head as I entered the hospital. When I asked the admitting nurse which doctor wanted to see me, she left her desk and ran down the hallway. When she finally returned about 30 minutes later, she said none of the doctors on duty had made a request to see me and no information was available to indicate anyone at the hospital had made a request. At this point I thought – what now? Then, it hit me like a lightening bolt. The first-sergeant had sent me on a wild goose chase probably to prevent me from hearing something being announced at the meeting. The first-sergeant was a collaborator kissing-up to the general no matter what the consequences were to me. Again, this was my best guess. Sad to say, I learned that most officers and NCOs were so busy kissing up that they had no idea what was going down.
When I got back to work I talked with Airman Richard Waverly, a Maine native who loved and missed snow and cold weather. (Actually, his last name was the same as a town located on route 460 close to the town of Waverly near Virginia Beach.) Richard was thorough in whatever he did or talked about – like telling stories about riding his snowmobile through the fresh fallen snow of Maine’s tree-lined countryside. His thoroughness eased my nerves with every second as he covered the main points of the “call.” More importantly, he mentioned more than once how everyone had been ordered not to write home about the UFO encounter. My first thoughts were, Ah ha… I get it... if I write home about the UFO I will be charged with disobeying a direct order, a secret or top secret order. I knew the first-sergeant would swear that I attended the commander’s call. In my mind I was totally convinced General Abbot was laying a trap for me and betting I was a brer rabbit type of character getting ready to punch a tar-baby. The “tar-baby story” was only one of many told by Uncle Remus, a fictional storyteller. This story was a child’s introduction to trickery and counter-trickery. I had heard it constantly from pre-school until I was in the first or second grade; its characters and plot are now considered politically incorrect almost certainly because of the dialect used. But in 1970 the intent of the story’s antagonist, a fox, fit in perfectly with General Abbott’s diabolical plan to get even with me. To the general’s consternation, something went wrong. Airman Waverly had let the cat (or rabbit) out of the bag which meant there would be a complete absence of a letter to home attached to tarred-up sergeant stuck in the trappings of a UFO cover-up. (Thanks again Rich!)
Article continues September 5, 2012.
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