|Me, in my homemade Navy uniform.|
Gene was stationed on an aircraft carrier, the U.S.S. Ranger. Just a couple of years earlier, the Ranger had been the scene of a horrific fire caused by the crash landing of a jet. But it was back in service by this time, and it became Gene's home. He even got to see Bob Hope perform one of his Christmas shows on the ship.
All I knew of this place called Vietnam was what I heard other people talking about, or maybe from a story from Frank Blair on the Today Show in the mornings when I was waiting to leave for school. I just knew it was a place far away where young men had to go, and many of my classmates had brothers over there too. We did what we could to support Gene while he was serving his country. My Aunt Addie and Uncle Joe had gotten a new horse, a sweet natured little pony that Addie named Mollie De Ranger, in honor of Gene's ship. And Mama showed her support with boxes of cookies.
|Gene in the radio room of the U.S.S. Ranger|
|Phil aboard the U.S.S. Saratoga, off the coast of Vietnam.|
Phil bought himself an 8mm movie camera at the PX, and made some great movies of planes landing on the aircraft carrier. It was a fascinating thing to watch, as the F-4 Phantoms came in at blazing speed and managed to catch what looked like a thin cable with a hook extending from the aircraft's tail. I bought a plastic model of an F-4 Phantom and put it together, and I remember being amazed at the precision that had to have been required to land one of those on a ship.
Occasionally, Phil or Gene would get to come in on leave. The first time Gene came in, I was really impressed by his Navy uniform. Gene offered to make the old white sweatshirt I was wearing into a copy of a uniform, and proceeded to take a magic marker and start drawing. He drew a Navy tie, and drew on a nice collection of medals as well as some stripes on the sleeve. By that time, Phil was helping him, and when they began to draw on the back I heard some muffled laughing. When I looked in the mirror, they had drawn a large "P.O.W" on the back, and informed me that it meant Prisoner of War. I didn't want to be a P.O.W. and protested loudly, so Gene drew a series of X's through the "P.O.W" and told me that was the Navy way of saying I was not a P.O.W. That sounded right to me.
|Phil and his wife Glenda, along with Mama and my sister|
Janet at the Fort Smith airport, waiting on Phil's return flight.
By the time I graduated High School in 1974, the draft was no longer an issue. The United States was still withdrawing troops from Vietnam, but I don't think anybody had been drafted for a couple of years. I had dreaded it for several years. I always assumed that I would also join the Navy, and I knew from stories my brothers had told me that part of Basic Training included being thrown into a pool and having to swim your way out. I was particular horrified by tales from my brother Gary, who had joined the Navy Reserve and who, being a non-swimmer like myself, had actually experienced this nightmarish scenario. Gary said that as he was struggling to stay afloat, one of the men in charge had extended a long wooden pole to him, and as he grasped it to climb up, the man just let it slip through his hands, leaving Gary to get out as best as he could. Somehow, Gary survived.
You know, maybe I should have considered the Air Force...