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Barksdale dedicates B-52 to Vietnam vets

  • Published
  • By Tech Sgt. Ted Daigle
  • 307th Bomb Wing Public Affairs

Michael Golden still remembers his first day at U-Tapao Royal Thai Navy Airfield, Thailand.  Arriving at the height of the Vietnam War in 1967 it was the first time the 19- year-old Airman had ever left the United States. Bewildered at the strange surroundings and feeling alone, he spent the next year forging a common bond with other U.S. Airmen that is stronger today than he ever thought it could have been 40 years ago.  

That sort of camaraderie was evident as he and more than 100 other veterans of the 307th Bomb Wing that served at U-Tapao RTNA held a reunion in Shreveport, Louisiana, from May 1-4, 2015.  

During their visit to Barksdale AFB, the veterans enjoyed a show from the U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron, the Blue Angels. But the highlight of the day was when the veterans were able to tour “The Lone Star II, a B-52 Stratofortress, whose nose art was redesigned to honor the service of Vietnam veterans.  

"When I was at U-Tapao, we sort of viewed the B-52 as a nuisance; something you worked on and that made too much noise for you to enjoy a night at the movies," he said. "Now, when I see one taking off, it brings tears to my eyes." 

From 1966 to 1975, the Air Force used U-Tapao as a place to launch B-52 strikes throughout Southeast Asia, according to Bill Armstrong, the reunion organizer.  He served at U-Tapao from 1970 to 1971 and spent weeks putting the event together.  Armstrong said he was concerned that U-Tapao was not adequately represented in the history of the wing and hoped a reunion would spark greater awareness of what happened there.

"I did it for the whole," he said.  "It was a great chance for current wing members to gain a lot of knowledge about U-Tapao and for the people that served there to be recognized for their contribution to wing history."

That contribution, according to many of the veterans at the reunion, was significant. The operational tempo of the base, coupled with harsh living conditions and the constant threat of enemy attack made life difficult, at best, said Russ Clark who served there from June 1970 to June 1971. He recalled the long work shifts and the dangers present in even the most mundane aspects of life.

"You could work a 12- to 16-hour shift and when it was over, go to the bathroom to find a cobra wrapped around the commode," he said. 

For Golden, a bomb loader, the strange surrounding and hectic pace of life became commonplace as his tour went on.

"We would work 30 days straight and then get one day off. We didn't even think about it," he said. "It needed to be done and we just did it." The Airmen of the 307th didn't realize it at the time, but all the adversity helped to create a sense of unity that keeps them together more than 40 years later.

"It's the camaraderie; we call it a brotherhood," said Golden.  "When I came to my first reunion, I really only knew a couple of people.  By the time I left I had 150 friends."  For some of the veterans, the camaraderie has provided healing for emotional wounds that festered long after the controversial war ended.

"You know we get emotional and choked up, but we also laugh at all the crazy things we did and stupid mistakes we made on the flight line," said Clark. "Talking just brings a sense of completion to the whole thing."

"So, even though the Vietnam War started more than 50 years ago, the fellowship felt by the 307th veterans who served at U-Tapao continues to grow," said Armstrong. "Just the idea that we were all together again is great. It is an association no one else can connect to."