By Lindsey Jackson
ACA Lifemember #882
This is my story…
Being black in the Air Force in the sixties was not easy. There were still people who really thought blacks were dumb. I always knew that I wanted to go into the Air Force. I joined the Civil Air Patrol in New Jersey when I was 15 and enjoyed it, so going into the Air Force was the right thing to do. I completed Basic Training in Aug of 1962 then went on to Sheppard AFB for Maintenance (Aircraft) where I graduated Dec 22, 1962. I went from there to Scott AFB, IL arriving Jan 1, 1963 as a ground crew member on a C-54. This was the General's aircraft. Here is where reality set in.
I was not allowed to work on the aircraft--only to polish the darned thing. My Crew Chief (CC) thought I was too stupid to work on the aircraft. I made friends with the Flight Engineer, an E-8. We hit it off for some reason so when the General went flying on short trips, the Flight Engineer made sure that I would tag along. Being fresh out of maintenance school, all the gauges were still new to me. Had I known what I know now, things might have been different.
After polishing the damned aircraft for a while, I saw a message on the bulletin board: "WANTED AIR COMMANDOS. MUST HAVE A FIVE LEVEL AND BE AT LEAST AND E-4." Well, I said what the hell! I had just taken my five level test and missed it by one point. At that point I was so down that I did not give a s*** what happened. I applied anyway. The General asked me if I was crazy and after talking to (head) doctors, I began to think I was a little touched. I still had only one stripe but someone was looking out for me. In October, 1963 I received my orders to report to Eglin Field #9. I was happy--and a little scared. I had no idea what I was getting into.
The first person I met was MSgt Carlos "Chris" Christiansen, First Sergeant, (FS) who said, "Welcome to the Air Commandos!" Later when I met Major Joseph Kittinger, I asked him if he was the one who jumped out of a gondola in 1960? When he replied, 'Yes,' I realized (that) I gotten into something special. I was assigned to the B-26 section where I was in charge of making coffee until then Lt Rosa said enough of this **** and I was finally allowed to work on an airplane. I worked under some great people, E. Hunter, C. Day, G. Kinkade, L. Hunt, K. Floyd, and G. Allenbrand, to name a few. They took me under their wings and taught me the ropes. We had a lot of fun, too, like when Colonel "Heinie" Aderholt attended a party down by the water. Carlos (FS) and I were standing there and each of us knew what the other was thinking. We just couldn't help ourselves, so we scooped up Heinie and tossed him into the water. The only thing he said was "LET ME GET MY WALLET OUT!” In 1964 I was told that I was going to survial school… more money - more money.
Now for some of the bad things. I made some enemies...I remember one day I was refueling an aircraft and joking with a couple of the pilots when TSgt Piontek (CC) came up to me and said get the **** off the plane. I had no idea what or why he said that, so I left. A little while later the (FS) Carlos said the commander wanted to see me. I thought I was in trouble, but this time it was Piontek who was in trouble. He was being sent to crew another airplane and I was going to be assigned another crew chief. Things just got worse. The new CC (SSgt Johnson) was never around on the weekends when we did most of the flying because he was in NC with his girlfriend, or wife, I never knew which and could care less. This went on for about 4 months until Colonel Certo Wing Commander, asked where was the CC and I told him that he was in NC. So the "old man" asked if I was checked out (on the aircraft) yet. I said, "No." He got his chute, I got mine and off we went--me in the left seat, Colonel Certo in the right seat. We did three touch-and-gos and taxied back to the ramp. As I was walking away from the aircraft, SSgt Johnson said, "You can’t fly that plane and I'm going to have you court marshaled!" He did not realize that he was almost ready meet his maker because if it wasn't for the Wing Commander, I was going to knock him into the next world and beyond. The old man tapped him on the shoulder and asked him where he had been. He told the commander some cock and bull story. The old man told me that now I was the official crew chief of that airplane--not bad for an E-3. This did not set too well with SSgt Johnson. After that I never saw much of SSgt Johnson and I started to take care of the plane by myself. When my airplane went into the docks for maintenance, I tried to go with it so I could learn everything about it to make me a better crew chief. We were transferred to England AFB, LA in 1965.
Mainly because it was my airplane, the Wing Commander usually always took me with him on trips to FL. On one trip, we left on Friday and were planning to return on Monday. I pre-flighted the plane on Monday, put the cover over the windshield because of the heat and went to eat. When I came back, the cover was just hanging on. I thought, 'Oh well, I guess I didn't tie it down tight enough and the wind blew the cover off.' Damn! was I wrong. We took off headed back to England AFB. When we landed we reversed both engines. Although both engines went into reverse, when we attempted to un-reverse them, the left one came out and the right did not. The s*** hit the fan and the old man gave me the dirtiest look and I knew that I was in trouble. When the plane finally stopped, I got my butt chewed out for about an hour. At that point I had no idea what the hell happened. We called the Tech Rep from ONMARK to help find the problem. I changed the prop, prop governor and the engine. The damn thing did the same thing. I just knew I was going to lose a stripe. Something told me to go into the cockpit and look down to the left and there was a panel loose. I knew I did not remove it. I took the panel off and to my surprise there was the problem...someone had swapped the cannon plugs (right onto left and left onto the right) so the signal for reverse (going in) worked, but the faulty signal caused only the left engine to come out of reverse. So I switched them back and did a full run up. It worked perfectly. The old man came and I went for little ride to make sure it worked down the runway at full speed and then reverse. When we got back I told him what I thought happened. After that, no one was allowed to work on my plane unless I was there.
Now for Operation BIG EAGLE...
Then we found out we were going to Southeast Asia (SEA), somewhere I was finally going to fight and kick ass and take some names. There were long days getting the plane ready - a special fuel tank fitted into the Bombay, 55 gallon oil drums into the cockpit, etc. It was a long trip across the pond; this was my first trip out of the country. Yes, I was scared, not knowing where we were going or what to expect even we got there. We headed to SEA (Thailand). We had to change our aircraft designation from B-26 to A-26 because bombers were not allowed in Thailand. Where in the hell are we going? Where the hell is NKP (Nakhon Phanom)--out in the damn boonies, PSP runway, wet and hot as hell. We thought we were there to fight, but guess what, we couldn't get anything to drop. So, we took whatever we could scrounge up and put in the Bombay; beer bottles, three-way spikes or anything else we could find to drop on the Viet Cong (VC). Things were going fine for about three months then we lost an A-26 to anti-aircraft guns. That was a bad day in my life because I knew who was flying and looked forward to them coming back. My job was non-commissioned officer in charge (NCOIC) of the arming and de-arming area where pilots would run up their aircraft before a mission. One day while a pilot was running up his aircraft, my poncho got caught in the prop wash and up I went and landed in a big puddle of water. I was mad! I made rules to follow to prevent anyone from getting hurt. Everybody thought it was a joke until a pilot did not follow my instructions and the Wing Commander chewed his butt out. From then on, no one was going to change my rules and everyone had to follow them--like it or not.
One day when I arrived in my area, there was a C-130 which had three flat tires. I asked the person in a flight suit who’s plane it was. He told me it was his. I told him that I was not going to be responsible for anything that happened because I had five A-26s going out and they were hot. He said OK. I launched them without any delays. The next day, the Wing Commander asked if I knew who the person was that I was talking to yesterday. I said 'no,' so he informed me he was the Pacific Area Command Force (PACF) Commander. I almost had a cow! (Lesson for today: Be kind to anyone you do not know). Another time when the Wing Commander came back from a mission and opened his bombay, a big bomb fell out. I yelled, "Colonel, you just laid an egg on the ramp." I never saw someone get off the aircraft so fast. He grabbed me by my collar and hauled butt away from the aircraft. Of course, the Explosive Ordinance Device (EOD) people came and took care of the bomb. Another fun time was when the ground control approach (GCA) went out and we couldn't fly. We had a party to end all parties: Guys falling on the booze table, sleeping on top of the lockers, stealing the base commander's car and putting it some place where it was not supposed to be. The next day we all had hangovers that wouldn't quit.. But life goes on. The sadist part is when I was told that I was going home. I did not want to go but orders are orders.
I got transferred to Otis AFB, MA about a year later to be a crew member on EC121 headed back to SEA. No thanks, I elected not to go. I got out of the Air Force in 1970. I worked various jobs and in 1973 join the MA ANG as a Security Policeman. I pissed off the commander when I held a job up because of job discrimination. While attending the Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) Academy there was job which I thought I should have. I was told I did not qualify although I did because I held a 7 level in SP. I ended up with a better job, or so I thought. Not quite, so I quit.
We moved from NH to CA. I went to work as a PI until the boss went to jail for selling drugs. I had a bad feeling about him from the beginning. Next came work at the unemployment office in the San Fernando Valley, at an oil refinery in Newhall, CA. My family moved to Oregon where I worked for Job Corps as a counselor, started my own PI agency, started a Civil Air Patrol Squadron in Roseburg, OR in 1983. Then we moved to Portland, OR where I worked for the USDA Forest Service and Army Corps of Engineers and continued my involvement with CAP. In 1985, I joined the Oregon Air National Guard as a Corrosion Control supervisor until I was selected to be a recruiter in 1988. I retired from recruiting in 1995. We moved to AZ where I joined the AZ Rangers and quickly became the Internal Affairs Officer. Been involve with the CAP since 1983 to the present. Now living in Texas
I greatly credit the Air Commandos for making me the person that I am today.
Lindsey Jackson, MSgt, Ret, USAF