The following notes, thoughts and remberances were submitted by Candidate
Watkins, a graduate of Army Signal OCS Class 07-1966.
As more comments are received, we will add them to the
recollections below. Please check back frequently and enjoy Candidate
"Ash & Trash"
To me the most humorous/embarrassing story I have about Vietnam started as a
routine single ship “ash and trash” mission.
We were to land in a tiny LZ in the jungle north of Long Bien to pick up the
“night defensive pack” (the supplies and equipment for spending one or more
nights on patrol) for a LRRP (long range reconnaissance patrol, so they
could finish their mission and return to base that day. We landed in the LZ
and rolled back the throttle while the material was being loaded. The patrol
was being led by a LTC! The colonel casually walked out of the woods with
his helmet off and flack vest open and headed to our ship. All at once he
froze, waved us out of the LZ and then dived back in the woods as machine
gun fire erupted into the LZ.
I immediately rolled in the throttle and told my crew chief and gunner to
jump on board. I took off from the LZ and flew low-level across the jungle
for several miles. Then, assuming that we were away from danger, I executed
a cyclic climb and obviously became a target.
We took several machine gun hits and my crew chief was wounded in the
leg. He was bleeding badly and I was having trouble with my cyclic
control. I thought I had lost my hydraulics.
I called a “MayDay” to my company, saying I had lost my hydraulics and had a
wounded crew chief, I was landing at “Thunder 6”, a nearby artillery site.
We landed safely and almost immediately another ship from my company landed
beside me and medevac’d my crew chief. A short while later “Witch Doctor”
(our company maintenance ship) arrived to see if they could fix my ship or
haul us back to base.
After a careful inspection it was determined instead of having lost my
hydraulics, one of the bullets had passed through the skid and entered the
ship below my seat. It was too spent to come through the floor and instead
fell back onto the sprocket for my cyclic control linkage. It must have been
rolling around on the sprocket and interfering with the smooth movement of
the linkage. I was thoroughly embarrassed as the maintenance guy picked up
the bullet and sent me on my way.
My father was a “Share-Cropper” and my mother was one of the first licensed
barbers in Southeast Missouri. Members of my family have served in every US
war including the revolutionary war. My uncle was a US Army pilot and lost
his life in WWII. My four brothers entered military service before me. By
brothers served in the National Guard and/or active army. One brother is a
Korean War veteran while another brother and I served in Vietnam, he was in
the Air Force Security Service and I was a helicopter pilot.
One of my sons is in the Active Guard and Reserves (AGR) program on active
duty with the Texas Army National Guard, a veteran of the war in Iraq, and
is now a full Colonel serving as the J-1 for the Texas Army and Air National
Guard; two grandsons are in the Texas Army National Guard, and one is in the
Tennessee National Guard, two are in the AGR program serving on active
duty. One is on alert for assignment to Afghanistan.
I joined the Missouri Army National Guard in November, 1960, one month after
my 17th birthday. My basic and AIT training was deferred until I graduated
from high school in the class of 1961. I completed my basic and AIT training
at Fort Ord, CA. After basic training I was given two weeks leave and while
on leave I turned 18 and registered for the Draft. Upon completion of AIT, I
return to Missouri and joined the regular army.
I was trained as a Morse Intercept Operator at Fort Devens, MA and was
assigned to Camp Wolters, TX with the 303rd ASA Bn. Shortly after joining
the battalion it was deployed to Homestead AFB, FL for the Cuban
Crisis. While at Camp Wolters, I first thought of applying for helicopter
flight training but opted instead for training as a Fixed Cryptographic
Equipment repairman at Fort Monmouth, NJ.
My first son was born at Fort Monmouth. My initial assignment as a “Fixed
Crypto” repairman was to HQ USARIS Communications Center on Okinawa, where
my second son was born.
About a year into my tour on Okinawa I underwent major reconstructive
surgery on my lower jaw and was hospitalized for six months. When I was
released from the hospital in September, 1965, I found out from my friend
James Lyons (8-66) that he was applying for OCS. I decided I would also
The waiting list for OCS at that time was about one year and I had about one
year remaining on my tour in Okinawa so it seemed to be perfect timing. I
applied on October 1, 1965, went before the OCS board on October 26, 1965,
and I left Okinawa for OCS on November 14, 1965. I was in the second class
(7-66) of Signal OCS.
My friend James Lyons had to wait for a waiver of a traffic ticket and so he
was in the third class. During OCS I applied for Helicopter Flight Training
and was accepted. Upon graduation from OCS I was assigned as one of three
TAC’s for class 2-67 while awaiting flight school. By about the half-way
point the class had become too small to warrant three TAC’s and I was
transferred to the Student Officer Basic Company as the XO. There I helped
to shepherd the ROTC Lieutenants through their OBC until I left for flight
David O’Quinn of class 4-66 was in my flight school class and we developed a
friendship that had begun in OCS. After receiving our wings we were assigned
to the 128th AHC [Assault Helicopter Company] in Phu Loi, VN. David was the 2nd Platoon Commander and I
was the Assistant Platoon Commander, until David became the company S-1 and
I became the Platoon Commander. We were roommates until I was transferred to
HQ 11th CAB as the Assistant S-3 and smoke ship pilot.
Like Richard Green, I was one of the few that actually enjoyed VN.
Both O’Quinn and I were assigned to Germany after VN. I was assigned the
32nd Signal Battalion at Hoechst while David was assigned further south, but
we were close enough for a visit. My third son was born in Germany. At the
end of our tours in Germany we were both assigned to Korea. We went to
branch together to request a change of assignment to VN but were told that
there were more helicopter pilots than were needed in VN. Clearly, the wind
down was already underway (1971).
In Korea we were assigned to different units, O’Quinn to the 55th Aviation
Company and me to the aviation detachment of the 4th Signal Group, but our
units were co-located at K-16 and we lived in the same BOQ. I was divorced
at the end of my tour in Korea.
Our next assignments were to the same class for the Signal Officer Advanced
Course at Fort Monmouth, NJ.
While at Fort Monmouth I remarried and David was my best man and his wife
Teresa was Matron of Honor at my wedding.
After graduation I was assigned to Camp Picket, VA, as the Post Signal
Officer. It was a great assignment until I received my RIF notice. I left
active duty in September 1972.
I joined the Massachusetts Army National Guard as a Signal Officer because
the aviation unit was a two hour drive from Waltham, MA, where I attended
Bentley College, and two and a half hours from my home in Haverhill, MA. I
received my BS degree in Accounting in May, 1975. That same year my fourth
son was born in Melrose, MA.
I worked for a CPA firm for three years in Reading and Haverhill, MA, and
then became the part-time treasurer/accountant for the local school district
and started my own firm.
With the Massachusetts Army National Guard I served as a Company Commander,
Assistant Division Communications and Electronics Officer and Executive
Officer of the signal battalion. In 1982 I was selected to attend the
Command and General Staff College on active duty in anticipation of becoming
the next Signal Battalion Commander.
While in C&GS I applied for return to Active Duty and was selected for
active duty as an Assistant Professor of Military Science at St. John’s
University in Jamaica, Queens, New York.
I sold my accounting firm and my home in Massachusetts and moved to military
housing at Mitchell Field on Long Island, NY.
After my assignment to St John’s I was promoted to LTC and transferred to
the Pentagon as a System Integration Officer in the Office of the Deputy
Chief of Staff for Logistic (ODCSLOG).
I was the Department of Defense Point of Contact for LOGMARS (Logistics
Applications of Automated Marking and Reading Systems) and TACCS (Tactical
Automated Command and Control Systems) where my responsibilities included
coordinating the acquisition and introduction of radio tag and bar code
tracking systems and introducing hardened computer systems for the
My next and last assignment was as the Fielding Team Leader (Reserve
Components) for MSE (Mobile Subscriber Equipment, the Army digital telephone
system for the battlefield) at Fort Hood, TX, where I retired June 30, 1990.
I was hired by Travelers Insurance Company to manage their regional office
for workers compensation insurance in Richardson, TX. We lived about one
mile from the famous Southfork Ranch. When Travelers decided to close the
regional office I was given the opportunity to be transferred to another
regional office but I declined.
After several months of searching I found a new job. I was hired to be the
Vice-President for Policyholder Services and Underwriting for Missouri
Employers Mutual (MEM) in Columbia, MO.
I was hired away from MEM to be the Senior Vice-President for Underwriting
for the Texas Workers Compensation Insurance Fund in Austin, TX. We lived in
Round Rock, TX.
I was then hired by AMGRIP, Inc. to be the Underwriting Consultant for the
Nevada Workers Compensation Fund. I was responsible for writing and
implementing the underwriting guidelines and procedures for the
company. After two years of commuting from Round Rock, TX to Las Vegas, NV
the assignment was concluded.
We moved to Hendersonville, TN, and I started an Allstate Insurance Agency
in Goodlettsville, TN. After seven years I sold the agency and retired.
While in retirement I was asked by my son to help his friend straighten out
this bookkeeping and tax return problems with his fledgling IT Company,
located in Round Rock, TX by telecommute and on a fee basis. I agreed and
for the next 8 months I commuted about once a month to Round Rock while
managing the company finances by telecommuting. I was put on salary in May,
On September 1, 2005, I had a ruptured “triple A” (abdominal Aortic
aneurysm). I was in intensive care for two months and then in follow-up
surgeries and rehab for another year. During this time I was paid my full
salary by the friend’s company.
When I was fully recovered he asked me to move to Round Rock where I could
be readily available to him and spend half-days at the office.
I moved to Round Rock in June 2007.
I retired AGAIN in December, 2008.
I am now on retainer for financial planning and tax consulting. I also do
about 60 tax returns per year for friends, family and clients, some of whom
have been with me since 1975.
In August of 2010, I found out that “my” smoke ship, Smoky III, tail number
65-10-126 was in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, Dulles Annex.
The Aircraft Commander (myself), Pilot (Jim Leary), my crew chief (“Sully”
Sullivan), and his predecessor (Jim Palmer) were invited by the curator to
have an up close and personal visit and photo shoot with Smoky III, and an
interview about our service on Smokey III.
My wife and I traveled to Washington, DC for the visit and we were allowed
to invite family and friends. My niece (Pamela Kelter) and her two sons
(David and Michael Kelter), came from Staten Island, NY. Three of my
students from St. John’s University (Colonels Michelle Sanchez, John Spain
and Robert Timm), the daughter of a dear friend from my unit in Vietnam (MaryClaire
Boucher) , her two daughters and Jim Palmer’s wife and daughter also came.
Jim Leary in Suit, Emily Watkins in Red, Al Watkins in Hat, Jim Palmer with
beard, and “Sully” Sullivan with hands in pockets. Guests Pamela Kelter and
sons, MaryClaire Boucher and daughters, Jim Palmer’s wife and daughter.
For more pictures, click on album: