U.S. History 1301
Interview Details: The interviewee is Mr. Jerry Holt. He is the contract manager for Fuels Management at Laughlin AFB TX. Mr. Holt was a supply officer during the Vietnam War, stationed at various locations including Taiwan, the Philippines, and Vietnam. Eric Snider will be noted as ES. Mr. Holt will be noted as JH.
ES: We are interviewing Mr. Jerry Holt, a supervisor of mine at work here about his experiences in the military during the Vietnam era and just like to, you know background, I know you’re not from Del Rio, but how long have you lived in Del Rio?
JH: Since 1991, that’s 13 years.
ES: And you’re originally from…
JH: Memphis, Tennessee.
ES: When did you go into the military?
JH: In September of 1966.
ES: So that was around the time of the Vietnam War?
JH: Vietnam was going quite well.
ES: So you…What are your thoughts going into the military during that time, were you expecting to see some action…or…? JH: Well I pretty well expected that I would be going…’cause just about everybody either had been or was going that was in the military.
ES: And you were an officer?
ES: What were your duties in that time?
JH: In Viet Nam? I was the Fuels Management Officer at the 366th Tactical Fighter Wing at Da Nang Air Base, Republic of Vietnam.
ES: Republic of Vietnam.
JH: For 363 days.
ES: What were the attitudes of the local residents there towards Americans?…At that time.
JH: The ones who were close by, who really had an interaction with us, those that worked on the base, around the G.I.s were very friendly and seemed to be supportive of us being there. Of course sometimes I had the feeling it was an act…that during the daytime they were friendly and the nighttime they were shooting rockets.
ES: Did you experience any combat-type of situations, like people shooting at the fuel trucks, maybe, or any kind of hostilities?
JH: Our main hostility that we suffered through was rocket attacks. And they always seemed to come just about two in the morning. And at first when the rockets would start hitting, people would get up and start running towards the bunker, of course standing up is the worst thing you can do. So we got to where we would just roll off the bed, and you could roll under it, or just stay there, pull your flack jacket over you, put your helmet on, and you were just about as well protected as anything. Only a direct hit on your building would get you. At first when I was there, the…you would hear the rockets hit, but eventually they got spotters well enough located around there so they could see the rockets going up, and they know they were coming in, and they’d set off a siren…and would give you about a 15 second lead. Which is enough to get yourself into a safe position. Of course we always thought it was humorous when the rockets would hit, and then the siren would go off!
ES: Did you support…like aircraft when they land and take fuel or did you truck fuel to other locations and service aircraft?
JH: 99% of it was actually on the base. We had in the vicinity of something like 45 to 50 refueling units, and 120 fuels personnel plus 15 liquid oxygen personnel as well. And we serviced 4…3 squadrons of F-4 aircraft, 2 cargo ramps with every cargo aircraft you can think of. Plus a detachment of F-106 Interceptors.
ES: Was there anything close to a typical work day? I suppose things…each day was something different.
JH: Yes, that’s true but they were all pretty much the same. There was constant battle to keep the refueling units in operating condition, keep, we had to receive fuel almost constantly, ‘cause that’s how fast we were putting it out. And the Navy was on the other side on the base. They brought in all the fuel and transferred it over to us, and the only hydrant system we had were the bladder systems. We had when I first got there we had about 12 bladders, by the time I was leaving we had about 24 bladders and three major systems, but it was nothing like you would ever see at an Air Force base, everything was just whatever you could get to stick together that would work and filter the fuel and pump it into the airplane.
ES: How was the troops morale…I mean did they get any news from the states, how we were feeling over here? I’m just curious how the overall morale of the workers…the people over there?
JH: It wasn’t all that bad, but it wasn’t that good either. The majority of the guys didn’t even want to be in the service. I’m talking about the first term people. They didn’t even want to be in the service much less be in Vietnam, and if they were uncooperative or belligerent there’s not much you could threaten them with. You could threaten them with sending them home of kicking them out of the service, and that was not a threat. So it was really difficult managing people like that, but you learned a lot about management. When people really aren’t cooperative. The second term airmen and the NCO’s had a much better attitude, but I…still everybody that was in the outfit, with very few exceptions worked very hard. They worked 12-hour days, six days a week…getting one day off.
ES: Did they get a lot of mail from home, a lot of things to keep the spirits up?
JH: That was one of the most important things. We got a mail-call twice a day when we had to go down to the squadron Orderly Room and pick up the mail for the fuels guys and it would range from anything from sack full to a big box full. At Christmas-time it was more like a truck full. And we would take that out and distribute it to the troops, and we were scattered all over the base. Both sides of the runway. We had so many people. And that was the highlight of the day, getting mail from home.
ES: Good! Going back to tours, how many tours did you serve, I guess in the military all together? Did you reenlist several times?
JH: I was an officer, I was not enlisted!
JH: No, But I did 21 years in the service. Stationed at Langley, then in Vietnam, then I came back to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, then I went to Langley Air Force Base again, and from Langley I went to Taipei, Taiwan, then I went to the Republic of the Philippines, then I came back to Headquarters SAC in Omaha, then I went back over to Korea, and then I went back to Langley where I retired.
ES: Any highlights of those trips, I mean your duty stations?
JH: The best…
ES: The best ones?
JH: Definitely!…was Taipei, Taiwan. It was fabulous. The Chinese people were incredibly courteous, gracious, and extremely nice to the American G.I.s. If you were driving around Taipei, it was obvious that you were Air Force military because of your license plate. You crossed a bridge-you did not pay a toll! You parked in the parking lot at the airport-you did not pay a parking fee! They just waved you through. And it was a very safe city. You could send your sixteen- year-old daughter down any street, any time of the day of night and you didn’t have to worry.
ES: How was the experience with communism?
JH: Obviously, they were very concerned there and the enemy was the People’s Republic of China. And it was…all the war plans and everything we did was based on being attacked by the mainland. They also had plans themselves of retaking the mainland, but the Americans sort of considered that as a pipedream. That would be…if that was ever to happen it wouldn’t be in our lifetime. But, we had exercises constantly and everything was really based on being attacked by the People’s Republic of the mainland.
ES: How about some stories from the Philippines? What were some highlights from that area?
JH: Philippines was really a fabulous place. And there was even a little throw-back to the movies you’d see in World War II, when we would be following a pipeline that we had through the jungle, and you would go through the little villages, the people would come out and yell, “Hey, Joe!” As in G.I. Joe just like the movies. And they’re also incredibly friendly. The few bad ones were the ones that did gather around the base and they would try to steal. But it’s kind of hard to blame them for that when they’re living in a straw house, a nepa hut, and they look across the fence and see all of that money and wealth, and it’s a great temptation to them, you can’t blame them too much to want to get a hold of some of it, but there were also…they’re hard-working people and at that time they were very friendly to Americans.
ES: How relieved were people to…people in the military that you worked with when the Vietnam war was over, were people getting on the plane to go home, were they just happy, just glad to get out of there?
JH: I can remember my what they called “Freedom Flight,” packed up and we were leaving this about 4 o’clock in the morning when we were ready to go, and boarded the plane probably 300 people on Continental Airlines, and everybody was apprehensive and happy, and then we taxied out and we started down the runway and as the pilot rotated the aircraft and when the wheels left the ground it was a great cheer give up just to having been left, leaving the country, on the way home. And the same thing happened when we touched down in Hawaii.
ES: I believe it! What are your thoughts on the Iraq war now, in general or…what do you feel the troops are going through over there right now?
JH: Well, it’s similar to Vietnam in some ways, but were not so similar in others.
In, where I was in Vietnam I was really safely secured in the middle of a base and we were surrounded by a hundred thousand Marines or so. Except for the rockets coming in there was nothing to, not much to worry about. Every now and then a rifle round would land someplace but it wasn’t too terribly dangerous. It’s quite a bit different! I could drive downtown Da Nang, I didn’t do it too often but I did then, we were fairly safe down there, although there would be a grenade attack every now and then. But in Iraq the guys are trying to free the people but you’ve got the radicals over there that just want to blow people up. And no G.I. is safe anywhere in the country. And it’s…they have convinced these young men and women the thing to do is to kill Americans, to hate Americans, and everything we stand for. A little different.
ES: Tell me about your hometown in Tennessee. What you remember…
JH: What, growing up there?
ES: Yes, and special memories growing up?
JH: Oh, well, we’d be here for hours! Memphis was a good town to grow up in, in those days. The city’s changed quite a bit, but I guess I have too. There was always a lot to do there. I went to the same school for twelve years. It was first grade through twelfth grade. And my brother and two sisters also did the same. ‘Cause we just lived three blocks from school and we walked. Of course in those days it was 100% white, and the blacks had their schools on the other side of town and they had to bus. It wasn’t fair at all, that’s for certain, but I didn’t understand that at the time. I had a great high school graduating class of about 350 or so. Good neighborhood to live in. Church was the center of out social life, plenty of things to do.
ES: Great! I just wanted to ask you one more question. What brought you to Del Rio?
JH: I’d gotten out of the service and was looking around and I found out a lot of the AETC Bases were putting their fuels operations under contract. And so I managed to get a list of all the companies bidding on these contracts, and I sent a resume to each one. Then I sat down and looked at where these bases were located. And I always say, “This would be a nice one, this would be a nice one,” and then I’d say, “Oh, look at this one, it’s right here down in the…Texas right on the border. I don’t want to go to that one!”
ES: No, Sir!
JH: And so I was working back in Virginia and I got a call from DOSS Aviation that said they had won this contract and they were wanting to start hiring people and they wanted me to be the, help them set it up and be first contract manager. So I met with the president of the company up there and he hired me on, and they came down in March of 1991 and we met with the Texas Employment Bureau downtown, and we started interviews and we hired about 35 people to start out with.
ES: Great! Mr. Holt, thank you very much! Oh, yes, one last question. I know you’ve had an interesting experience in Taiwan. I wander if you could let me know about that?
JH: Yeah. When I was stationed there, I was part of the United States Taiwan Defense Command, USTDC or TDC for short. And I was just a member of the staff there, running the Sub-Area Petroleum Office-Taiwan, known as SAPOT. And one Sunday morning my wife and I were just getting up, getting ready to go to church, when we flipped on the radio and listened to the news and what all was going on, and we learned that morning that the president of the Republic of China, Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek had died. Now this was gonna shake things up for a little while. Any country where the president dies, you know how that’ll affect everything. So we went on to church that morning. The streets were empty. Very rare for Taipei. The storefronts were all closed, they had these roll-down doors on front on them and they were all closed up. And this was…this place does business every day. But everything was closed so we went to the compound, went to church. Normally our church service was on the English radio station, AFRTS, Armed Forces Radio and Television Service. But that morning the chaplain announced that it would not be on because of the death of President Chiang. And at that time many of the people in the audience hadn’t heard the radio yet, and that was the first they heard about it. Well, the funeral arrangements and everything dominated the news for several days. And nothing happened. All the businesses were closed. We still went to work but not much was happening because all the Chinese military were tied up preparing for the funeral and all of the things they had to do and to make sure the country wasn’t attacked while there was a question of leadership or anything like that. So I was…a few days later was sitting at home and we were watching the few minutes of English television that we had, and I got a call from a fellow officer who was also a Chinese American. He was an Air Force Captain and his name was Clarence T.Y.Fung. And he called up and said, “Why don’t we put on our class-A blue uniforms and wheel hats and see if we can’t go down to the Sun Yat-Sin Memorial where the funeral was being held, and see if we can’t get in?” Well we knew that the lines to get in to this place were blocks long. People would stand in line for 10 to 12 hours just to make the trip through and see Chiang Kai-shek. “Yes,” I told him he was crazy! We’ll never make it, but we tried. I went by and picked him up in our class-A blues. We went through roadblocks where cars were not supposed to go but we couldn’t speak English, we couldn’t convince…they couldn’t convince us to go another way so they waved us through. We got all the way to the memorial! Then we walked to up to the back gate and some guy looked over and saw that my partner was a Chinese American. Ahh!…Publicity! And one in there knew him so we were taken in. We broke through all the lines. We went up to the honored guest table and signed in. Then we were escorted all the way down to the main floor, and then escorted across with thousands of people making their way through this place, we go to the bottom tier of this giant theater where the body was. And we were escorted across. We stopped in front of the body of General Chiang Kai-shek, about 5 feet away, did our little kowtow, saluted smartly, and departed to the left. They escorted us through the building again. We were interviewed by the radio, television, and newspaper peoples. We had to be careful what we said of course. And we got back in the car and drove on home. I dropped him off and went home, and walked up…walked in there’s my wife and she said, “Ahh, couldn’t get in, could you?” ‘Cause I was back too soon. And we did all this in about 35 minutes. And that’s a city of 5, 6 million people. And everybody was down there. We walked right in and right out.
ES: Yeah, it sounds like an honor that you weren’t expected to get even that far.
JH: Really! It was amazing to be there. We were treated like royalty.
ES: Someone of that stature.
JH: Yep. You could remember seeing pictures of Chiang Kai-shek meeting with McArthur and Roosevelt, and Churchill. And he was the last of the great World War II leaders.
ES: That is interesting. Well, I thank you for your time, Mr. Holt. We’ll call that the end of the interview.