A letter from Vietnam, Tuesday, 23 November 1971

I’ve been meaning to transcribe this letter for a couple of months and I’m finally making the time.  This letter was discovered quite by accident while we were digging around in an old folder and quite frankly I don’t even remember writing it or many details of my workaday world while I was stationed in Vietnam (Tan Son Nhut AB, Saigon.)

John in Vietnam - standing in front of my locker

John in Vietnam - standing in front of my locker

While I was trained by the US Air Force to be a telephone technician (and other communications systems), my specialty was being performed by civilian contractors at Tan Son Nhut so I was assigned to the maintenance control center of our communications squadron.  In the letter I describe my job in more detail.  The Dr. and Mrs Nowlin to whom I addressed the letter were my future father and mother-in-law.  Dr. Nowlin was a general practitioner medical doctor in the small Texas panhandle town of Littlefield.  Sadly, both are now deceased.

Take a trip with me now back to Vietnam during the war…

Tuesday 23 November, 1971

Dear Dr. & Mrs. Nowlin,

I am sorry that I have not written sooner, but they keep me pretty busy here.  Thank you very much for the kindness you showed me and thanks for my room at the Cross Country! (they put me up in a motel room before I left for overseas)  That bed was mighty soft!

As I might have guessed, I’m not doing any telephone work here!  It seems that I am destined to do paper-work.  My job will be to monitor radio & weather & special circuits – not monitoring aurally, but going into action if one gets reported out.  Then I have to fill out a card on it and locate the proper person to fix it.  These circuits also include the Tacan, ILS, VOR, marker beacons, Rapcon, control tower, and two computers.  We handle navaids (aircraft navigational aids) for three bases in the area.  As soon as I get trained, they want me to be the day shift supervisor for about five or six people.

Jane might have told you that I don’t expect to be here until August – I have a chance to get discharged in March, but I’m not going to hold my breath.  At any rate, it looks like I should gone (sic) at least by June.  (I did get an early discharge in late February – about six months before my four year enlistment was up)

I bought a movie camera that uses Super 8 cartridges; I have taken 50 feet (1 cartridge)  and sent it to Kodak in Dallas for processing.  I put your address on the mailer – so I hope that it gets to you by Thanksgiving so Jane can see the film also. (Jane was a student at the University of Texas at Austin at the time) One thing I worried about: do they return it processed in the cartridge?  I have never seen a cartridge projector.  I wanted to buy a cartridge projector and send it to Jane; all they have here are the regular projectors.

Enclosed are a few pictures I took recently; the quality isn’t the greatest but I’m learning.  (I developed and printed my own black and white film in the base hobby photo lab and the pictures I sent them were pretty bad and uninteresting!)

Oh, I found out yesterday my schedule for December – it seems that I work Christmas day, New Year’s day & eve, and I forgot to see if I’m working on my birthday – probably so!  It looks like I don’t get many Sundays off, either.  I work three days on (7 am to 7 pm) and one day off.  I don’t feel too bad about that, it could be much worse.

I’d better close and get this in the mail.  Again, thanks for everything, you are like a second family to me!

Love John


Little did I realize the job the Air Force trained me for would be the career path that would follow me for all of my employed life.  In fact the job I performed in Vietnam was almost exactly like one job I had at the old Southwestern Bell Telephone Company in downtown Austin.

So I returned home from Vietnam, married Jane, and lived happily ever-after.  May God bless those who have served our country or are now serving in the armed forces.  Freedom has a cost.


Another milestone!

Monday, December 15. 2008

Oh my – John turned 60!

Oh my goodness – it has been a long time since the last update!  John finished the mini-truck project and his poor body was in total rebellion for weeks after.  John’s primary fall project has been to record and watch as many college and professional football games as possible while being a strong contender for Couch Potato of the Year award – ballots are not all in as yet, so we don’t know the results, but they are looking good that he will at least place.

The milestone is a significant one for John since he has been whining and moaning about the aging process since he was 25.  Every decade that passes is yet another traumatic event for John and today is no exception for him – he turned 60!  He’ll get over it and then in a few years he will be (Lord willing) whining and moaning about turning 70!

Current travel plans are to head west after the first of the year for a month or two, return to the ranch for a month or two, then take off for the summer staying primarily in the east this year visiting friends and family and just hanging out somewhere besides hot Texas.

May God richly bless you and yours and don’t forget that “Jesus is the reason for the season!”  Merry Christmas from Jane and John!

Travel update: San Diego – Williams, Arizona

FRIDAY, JUNE 13. 2008

We left our little ranch May 26 headed West to San Diego for a wedding and planned stops in Las Cruces, NM to visit friends (the Topleys) and then on to maintenance stops in the Phoenix area, a stop in Yuma to visit our RV friends Cliff and Mary, and finally to San Diego as the western terminus of the trip.We stopped in Phoenix at the Freightliner dealer for repair work and at the nearby Cummins dealer for a service campaign. (There seems to always be something that needs attention on our coach.) The Topley’s daughter, Jennifer, was marrying a Naval Lieutenant in a ceremony on a Naval facility in San Diego, and being a long, long-time family friend, we wanted to be there.

The closer we got to San Diego, the more traffic we encountered, the higher the fuel prices became and the stronger the wind blew. We even had to stop at the California state border and answer questions like, “do you have any plants, vegetables, seeds, conservatives, etc. with you?” Naturally Jane being 110% honest admits to having two potted African Violets. Oh boy. The parking brake goes on while the fruit inspector scratches head unsure about the classification and status of our African Violets. Off he trots to find an expert in the classification of house plants while the traffic behind us backs up. No problem for us – we can make a pot of coffee, fix lunch, watch TV while he learns about African Violets. A couple of minutes later he returns and much to our relief we find out that we don’t have to burn, surrender or otherwise destroy our house plants. At least we had it better than two U-Haul box trucks that were being driven by a couple apparently moving to California. The inspector had them open the roll-up door and for a while, we thought they were going to unload the truck. We figure the inspectors are extremely suspicious of anybody actually moving to, and not from California and they assume a moving van is carrying drugs or even banned house plants.

After leaving the inspection stop we are enjoying a nice ride in the desert until we get near the mountains when the wind is blowing about 40 mph and of course the wind direction is not in our favor. Still we enjoy the scenery and after getting into the mountains (large hills?), the air temperature drops about 20 degrees providing a much needed relief from the heat. We finally arrived at our RV park after some interesting local street routing by our GPS. One interesting note about the Interstate highway system in San Diego is that there are usually no exit numbers and you have to make do with just the street names. If you are looking for exit number 25 on I-8, chances are good it isn’t there. We postulate that California can’t afford to put exit numbers on most road signs due to a constrained state budget and besides why bother – everybody knows where they’re going anyway (numbers? .. we don’t need no stinkin’ numbers!) After months of planning and work, Jenny and Jeff were successfully married in a beautiful ceremony on the water at a Naval facility. Jeff had his Naval buddies perform the “sword” ceremony where the newly-married couple passes under an arch of crossed swords.

Jeff & Jennifer – a handsome couple!

The Naval sword ceremony

After the kids were married we had a chance to relax (okay, relax more) and do some sightseeing.We always enjoy touring ships and quite pleased to discover that San Diego recently acquired the USS Midway aircraft carrier (CV-41) and turned it into a floating museum. (In prior years we have toured the Aircraft carrier USS Yorktown and the battleship USS Alabama and other smaller vessels.) After several enjoyable hours of touring the ship (pictures in our gallery) we later went on an enjoyable dinner cruise around the harbor with the Topleys, Rohanes, and Linda French.

Jane and the USS Midway, CV-41

Since diesel was over $5 a gallon in California, we were hoping to avoid buying fuel there and fortunately we left just before it was time to pump liquid gold into the Jeep. Off we go back to the East on I-8 headed to Gila Bend, Arizona. Somewhere along the way we had to stop for a Border Patrol inspection which is a fairly common event in the Southwest. We felt sorry for the agents since they were dressed in dark green uniforms and the temperature was around 100 degrees. (We wonder what bureaucrat came up with the brilliant idea to use a dark color in the desert.)

We arrived at our stop for the night in Gila Bend after filling up the coach and Jeep with much cheaper diesel – even so it cost almost $400! Ouch! Since most campers have the good sense to not be in southern Arizona in the summer, we had the RV Park almost to ourselves. We spent two days there since it was inexpensive and it was a good place to get some chores accomplished but we paid a heavy price for this – the temperature reached 110 degrees and our air conditioner could only manage to keep our coach cooled to 89 degrees in the heat of the day. We put up with it knowing we would soon be in the cooler climes of northern Arizona. The plan was to travel north to Interstate 40 and be a tourist in the Williams, Arizona area, and then slowly work our way to Amarillo for a July 4th party where we will hook up with the Topleys and Rohanes again. Williams is a little

The Grand Canyon Railroad – headed to the canyon

famous for the bit of Route 66 preserved in downtown and for the Grand Canyon Railroaddepot, the origin and terminus for the 65 mile rail trip to the south rim of the Grand Canyon. Also being rail fans, we planned on taking the train and looking at the amazing beauty again of the Grand Canyon. It has been probably 30 years since we were here last and just as spectacular as we remembered it. The train ride was fun taking about two hours each way. We chose the ‘luxury’ car which is on the end of the train with a platform on the rear which allows for some nice pictures (a few pictures in our gallery.) The car was extremely comfortable and had an attentive hostess and a full bar. On the return trip, the train was “robbed” by desperadoes which put on a good show and while it was all in fun, they actually were looking for money in the form of tips. We leave Williams tomorrow and travel a little more to the east – stay tuned for more!