Marvin sent this depiction of his Tours in the USAF. It is very typical of many our own experiences of Air Force life and we can relate well to it.
Edited by USAFHPA Historian
Marvin L. DeLong
Tours and Missions
April 1958 to May 1973
KV, this is the information I should have sent you years ago. Forgive me for being so late.
I have been working on the material to send for the history for the last three years. I give up. I could never get the material in any shape to satisfy me.
My first tour of duty was with the 22nd Helicopter squadron at Goose Bay, Labrador. The first six months was served at Goose Bay. The last six months was spent at Frobisher Bay. The mission was to re-supply the radar site at the end of the bay on Resolution Island. The weather was bad most of the time so we probably averaged two trips a month. The radar site had a small landing strip so the mission was taken over by L-20 when we rotated back to Goose Bay. There were four pilots and three aircraft stationed at Frobisher Bay. The picture of an airman standing by a tracked vehicle in winter gear is of a WWII German Fighter Pilot. He told us pilots many stories of flying during WWII. One story was that at the end of the war, the lead German aircraft had a complete set of instruments and the wingmen had only engine instruments. Another point of interest was that the water between the island and the mainland was so swift and cold that a broom stick submerged in the water would collect ice so fast that a person could not hold it. Therefore, the crews had to wear these god-awful Navy diving suits for protection during the re-supply missions. The word was “should an aircraft fall in the water while crossing the six mile strait don’t try to help them or you too will perish”. One night while trying to sleep it was so cold and windy that I had on a sweat suit, a electric blanket and nine wool blankets and was still cold. Needless to say, the Frobisher Bay mission was not the top choice among Goose Bay Pilots. I don’t know the history of Frobisher but it looked to be an old military base maybe from the WWII era. The buildings were old, however, complete for a small airfield. The runway was excellent and long enough for very heavy aircraft. The hangar was of the WWII design and unheated. During my tour two huge heaters were installed so the helicopters would not have to be preheated before each mission. After a short period of time someone noticed the hangar was settling into the ground. The hangar was built on permafrost so the heaters had to be shut down. On a supply trip to Cartwright Radar Site my crew and I got caught in a terrible storm. The storm was forecasted to be very bad, however, it came in earlier than forecasted and caught us out on a mission. We turned the H-21 into the wind and put the heaviest bulldozer cross wise in front of the chopper. We chained the chopper to the bulldozer and tied the blade down with the usual ropes. We stayed with the helicopter as long as we could, retying the blades when the ropes broke. The ropes would break and the blade would fly up almost vertical. The blades were finally tied with three half inch ropes and that seemed to hold them in place. The storm got so bad we could not stay on the chopper pad so I thought we had done all we could. When the storm passed in a couple days we went back to the machine to check it out. The bulldozer had been pulled sideways about six inches as shown by the grooves in the pad. We checked the chopper out and found no damage from the storm and flew it back to Goose Bay without any incidents.
My second tour was with the 4080th Rec. Wing Laughlin AFB, Del Rio, Texas. Laughlin was the home of the U-2s and B-57Ds and a number of other aircraft to include H-19s. The choppers’ mission was to support the base rescue effort. During my four year tour we were involved in a number of U-2 crashes mostly by taking the investigating teams to and from the crash sites. Also, I carried many teams to and from the site of the new Amistad Dam site. The dam was in the planning stage and was built after my tour. A small number of local rescue missions were performed to include recovering a Boy Scout Troop from the Rio Grande River.
The third tour was to Eielson. The only way I could take my family was to live in the local area. I owned a large Mobile Home and decided to transport it up the Alaska Highway. The Alaska Highway was open to the Public in 1958. My tour began in October 1962, only four short years after the official opening. My biggest mistake was not keeping good records of the journey. It would have been a best seller for sure. I had a two-ton Dodge truck with a very large Hemi engine. The trailer sat on two axles, and four heavy duty truck tires of 12 or 14 ply. I visited my home town on the way and happened to find 24 very good used tires that had been removed from a flat bed trailer. The truck’s clutch didn’t feel right when I arrived at my home town so my father persuaded me to replace it. It was a good idea. The clutch surfaces fell out on the ground in pieces when the clutch was disassembled. The trip from the Canadian Border to the front gate of Eielson AFB took us 11days. When we arrived at the front gate all the tires had been used. The four tires on the wheels were the only four tires left from the original 28. The truck and trailer didn’t give any troubles, only the road and tires. My wife drove the car into two ditches and had to be towed twice. She followed me behind the trailer and raced ahead to have tires repaired for the next flat. Once she got very excited when the flat tire caught on fire. This was the first trip she had driven by herself and she didn’t want anything to do with it. She had a one-year-old son to take care of along with the family dog. On arrival to Fairbanks I was restricted to the base and had to leave the family in a trailer court housing mostly Army enlisted personnel. They would not speak to my family or help in anyway because we were an Air Force officer family. The trailer fell off the blocks and the oil tank fell off its stand during a small earth quake during this time. She didn’t have a telephone and had only the two-ton truck for transport which she didn’t know how to drive. Finally the wife of one of the other chopper pilots came to her rescue after a couple days.
. I was involved in 34 major life saving missions during the five years I was assigned to Eielson AFB, Alaska. Two of the missions were with Chuck Herrmann recovering Eskimos out in the Bering Sea and a mission to Indian Mountain AFS to pick-up an airman who had driven a bulldozer off the side of the mountain. Earlier that year I spent a few days searching for a civilian missing from the upper site. We think a dog team picked him up and he disappeared. We found tracks leading away from the radar site. New Years day, 1966, I spent searching up north of the Arctic Circle for a plane that was carrying bottles of beer to a village up on the north slope. The aircraft was found the next summer under the snow. The bottles had come loose when the aircraft crashed and crushed the pilot. There was a T-33 and an F-106 that collided south of Galena when they were training. The T-33 lost a lot of its wing but managed to fly back to Eielson. The F-106 crashed after the pilot successfully ejected. I recovered the pilot a few days later and returned him to Galena. Almost every spring the Yukon River flooded during the ice break-up. The unit spent many hours saving natives and their equipment. I have nightmares over one such mission. At the village of Nulato I was flying the last chopper out and there were 49 men, women and children left. The water was over the wheels and coming up fast. Somehow I was successful in getting the H-21 to a hover and slowly moved off the hover and flew over the ice-jammed Yukon twenty to thirty miles back to Galena. I never got more than 100 feet in the air and could obtain only 40 knots while maintaining full power the entire trip. The entire area between Nulato and Galena was under water and the Yukon was jammed with ice. One summer we spent carrying personnel around the Fairbanks to Eagle area. The personnel were mapping the terrain to determine where tanks could maneuver. We flew back and forth stopping many times while the personnel took core samples. You can just about guess who the people were. One summer, during the Cold War, the balloon unit came up to Eielson to sample the air. Clark Lovrien was in command of the balloon unit. Clark was also a Helicopter Pilot and flew with the 5010th section to maintain currency. The helicopter mission was to recover the package when the balloon had flown its time limit. One crewmember watched the balloon and the other crewmembers fished the many lakes on the route. We did have some fun from time to time. One summer the area around Eielson was one big forest fire. That summer we were very busy carrying fire crews to different parts of the area. The smoke was so thick we had trouble landing. I got the bright idea of designing our own GCA. I carried two crew chiefs and when we found our landing spot one chief would get at the front door and clear the front rotor and the second chief would stand in back and clear the left side and the back rotor. The system worked very well. During that time the base’s Chief Cop didn’t return from his homestead on time. I knew the location of his small landing strip cut out of the trees. So the base commander wanted the unit to check out the strip and find the Lt. Colonel. The GCA worked very well. He had broken his nose wheel on landing in his Tri-pacer. One summer found the unit slinging telephone poles to an area down by Big Delta. The poles were for the frameworks of the many targets that were used by the fighter aircraft. We also carried in most of the supplies for the target range. During the winter of 1966 the snow was especially deep around Eielson. Two of the base dentists had a trap line up in back of the base. My son’s kindergarten teacher happened to be the spouse of one of the dentists. Late one Sunday evening I received a call from my son’s teacher informing me the doctors had not returned from running their trap line. She wanted to know if I could help find her husband. I made a series of calls and it was decided to put an unscheduled Sunday evening training flight on the schedule. I just happened to be on alert so I notified Maintenance and away we went. It didn’t take long to find the couple. They had tipped their snowmobile over and couldn’t get it out of the snow. We slung the snowmobile back to the base and returned the dentists. The incident was quite the talk for a few days on the base. Why was the helicopter flying around with its lights on Sunday evening? The dentists got in trouble four more times during that winter. Needless to say the Helicopter unit personnel and families got excellent dental care. One winter evening I was on alert and received a call from Anchorage Rescue Center to proceed down the Alaska Railroad Tracks to meet up with a train that was coming North with a patient that had a leg injury. What the center didn’t tell me was they had contacted the Army and their H-21 had already attempted the mission and returned to base due to high winds. The mission was completed, however the helicopter took a beating. The winds were very strong with large gusts. My co-pilot was a Mormon and when we landed at Healy someone handed us a cup of coffee and he took it. There were many routine missions. During hunting season pilots would crash their aircraft due to overloading with moose meat and a few missions when the aircraft had run out of fuel. One such mission the pilot was a major airline pilot. Many times, the Alaska Highway Patrol called the section to get airlift for injured motorists. I was on alert at Galena AFB at the time of the 1964 earthquake talking to my wife back at Eielson. The quake cut us off and I immediately went outside to find the flag pole was waving back and forth. No damage was reported at Galena, however the Eielson section sent one chopper to help the Anchorage section. The Eielson helicopter section averaged about two missions per week for the five years of my assignment. The citizens of Fairbanks and the surrounding areas knew should they get in trouble the choppers at Eielson would come to their rescue.
My fourth tour was to the 1001st Helicopter Squadron, Bolling AFB, Washington, DC. My tour to the 1st Helicopter Squadron as it is now called was a very busy four years. After learning the local area and procedures I was immediately put to work in the normal schedule. My schedule included H-21 pilot training, proficiency and instrument check rides, normal passenger flights and overnight alert duty in the squadron control room. I was picked as one of the pilots to ferry an H-21 from DC to Anchorage, Alaska. A group of H-21s from the 1st took a group of VIP’s to Kitty Hawk to celebrate a milestone of the Wright brother’s first flight in 1903. Another set of interesting flights involved flying the ROTC students from a university in Pittsburgh, PA around the local area. The university wanted me fly a group of university VIPs into the center of the local city stadium before a Saturday football game. I refused the request as being too risky. I never heard whether the refusal was a good idea. The tour at Andrews was always interesting. There was always something interesting going on like when they tried to burn down part of Washington. The streets were always full of hippies protesting the Vietnam War. President Eisenhower passed away during this time and laid in-state in the rotunda of the Capital. We were always carrying some very important Air force, Army and Navy VIPs from WWII. One famous WWII Navy Admiral was giving the commencement speech at Annapolis. I was the lucky pilot that delivered the Admiral. When he came on board he came to the cockpit window and told me to synchronize my watch to his. He informed me to land him on the drill field at plus or minus 15 seconds. That was the longest final approach I had ever made up until that point or since.
The fifth tour was to McConnell AFB Wichita, Kansas. I had volunteered for Vietnam a number of times but for some reason wasn’t assigned. The mission for the choppers was missile support. When I arrived at McConnell the Air Force was putting together the 91st Air Refueling Squadron commanded by Col. Harold R. Austin. Col. Austin called me in and briefed me on the mission and said that the squadron was just being formed and was not combat ready. The squadron had a time limit to meet in order to become combat ready. He informed me he knew nothing about helicopters but had heard from his peers that to be in command of a unit was not good for promotion purposes. The machines could be used for activities that the Air Force had not intended such as fishing and hunting trips and to scare the local farmers’ poultry flocks. Having served in SAC Command before I knew what I was expected to do. From April 1971 to March 1972 I worked night and day and even included my wife in preparing the section for the dreaded inspection. I had heard the inspectors were especially critical on tests and other ideas to include tricking the pilots into unauthorized maneuvers on check rides. The section ran very smoothly for the duration of the inspection period. When it came time for the inspections I briefed the well-trained pilots what to look for and how to act. I had heard rumors the inspection team had failed a unit for doing autorotations after sunset. Emergency procedures were not authorized on training flights after sunset. The day arrived and all went well with the check rides and office paperwork. At first I couldn’t figure out why my check ride was scheduled late in the afternoon on the last day of the inspection. The check pilot (an old high-time pilot) gave me every maneuver in the book and waited to do the pattern work last. We went through all the approaches and patterns And then the check pilot asked me to do a series of autorotations. I had checked before the flight to determine when official sunset time was and sure enough he asked me do autorotations two minutes after official sunset. Of course, I refused and the ride got an Outstanding. The next morning Col. Austin called me to his office; I have never seen a happier Colonel. The Squadron had officially become combat ready. He personally presented to me a Certificate of Appreciation and gave my wife a letter of thanks. A squadron meeting followed in several days and the chopper unit was singled out for a job well-done. It was only a few days later that my orders came down assigning me to Vietnam.
My sixth assignment was to Phu Cat AFB, Vietnam. My assignment was to an AFAT. My main job was to advise the Squadron Commanders of two helicopter squadrons. I worked mainly with the 243rd Huey Squadron. The other Squadron was a heavy lift CH-47 unit. I was informed by the H-1 Squadron Commander on arrival that he didn’t want me on any combat missions due to my lack of knowledge of the Vietnamese language. He went on to inform me there was plenty of work to be accomplished at the squadron. It turned out that I instructed the new pilots coming back from the states to increase their piloting proficiency. I flew two training flights almost every day and flew over 300 hours in the ten months I was in Vietnam. In Vietnam you didn’t know who your enemy was. It could be one of the pilots you were training or one of the ladies that worked the dining hall. My arrival at Phu Cat set the tone for my assignment. As I was checking in inside this large metal building, the rod between the metal beams began vibrating. The sergeant checking me in told me to get under a desk. The base was under a rocket attack (which happened quite often). Then a couple minutes later a sergeant came in shouting they needed help on the flight line picking up pieces of a crew chief who had taken a direct hit from a rocket. I had two Army Huey drivers on loan from an Army base down the road to help train the new squadron pilots. There were more Army volunteers than I could use. The Army lived in tents and had wooden sidewalks and ate army chow. We had wooden barracks with air conditioned private rooms and a community shower at the end of the barracks. The maids cleaned the rooms and made the beds, washed our clothes and shined our boots. It cost each of us a few dollars each month but was well worth it. At the time of my tour at Phu Cat the base was a large training base. The Air Force was training Vietnamese pilots to fly the fixed-wing cargo planes that the Army turned over to the country. As a class graduated the Air Force Pilots went home. In the end there were about 30 personnel left at the AFAT. We ate in the old Officers Club and had our own private cooks and a number of local females served the meals and then served drinks after meal hours. The money the cooks had to feed the AFAT was always larger than required due to the draw down. We ate like kings. Close to the end of my tour the authorities determined one of waitresses and her husband were actually VC. You just didn’t know who the enemy was. It wasn’t uncommon to find bullet holes in the aircraft after a training flight. We all carried side arms and an M-16 just about any place we ventured. I was assigned an old Dodge truck to carry my instructor to work and back and to accomplish my job. The truck was worn out before it arrived in Vietnam and there was no maintenance to be had. I maintained the truck myself with the help of my wife whom I got to call once each month. She shipped me a starter one time. It was either that or walk. We were given two gallons of gas a day and one quart of oil. The flight line was about two miles away from the barracks and dining hall. There was no maintenance on the room air conditioners. So, mine quit during the summer. I couldn’t have that so I decided to find out why. The main switch was the home of a large quantity of ants. There were so many ants in the switch they got between the contact points and wouldn’t let the switch function. My first ride with the Huey Squadron Commander was a ride to remember. He was what is normally called a Cowboy. He made a 180 degree autorotation at about 100 feet of altitude. On the final turn the blade tips could not have been more than a few inches above the ground. About three months after I rotated I was informed he was killed in a training accident.
My final assignment was to Whiteman AFB, Missouri to await my discharge. I was assigned to Base Operations and went home almost every weekend to visit my family. Most of the time it was a routine assignment. Before each aircraft take-off I had to go scare the Prairie Chickens off the runway. They made the runway their home, I guess they liked the runway because of it warmth. Everything was done to try and rid the birds from the base, however the birds were an endangered species and couldn’t be touched. Shortly before I retired, the base hired a gentleman with a group of birds to come and try to run the chickens off. He had a number of falcons and a very large one-legged owl. It was my job to take care of the man and his birds. We housed the birds in a small building out by the runway. The first night one of the falcons ate one of the other falcons. They were placed too close together and the next morning one was missing. During the day the man would fly the falcon and try to scare the chickens. He tethered the one-legged owl out in the middle of the chickens and they were scared for about three days. Then they started getting just outside the range of the tethered owl and started harassing the owl. The experiment failed and the man took his birds and went home. I don’t know what they did to move the prairie chickens but the base is now home to the very expensive B-2.
A point of interest: My family and I were visiting Whiteman AFB after I retired when an F-102 landed and was refueled and getting ready to start and depart. The F-102’s engines were started by a black powder charge. When starting, black smoke would stream out of the side of the engines. A fire truck was standing by when the crew began the starting procedures. Some type of malfunction occurred on starting and the aircraft caught on fire and was burned to a shell. The pilots were not rescued. I have wished many times my young children had never seen that.