Thomas Paine once said that he preferred “peace" but that if trouble must come, let it come in his time, so that his children can live in peace.
I suspect most, if not all veterans, felt the same way when called upon to serve their country. Jim Messinger was no different, although he approached the war in Vietnam in a more pragmatic way.
In 1966, the draft was in full swing, Messinger was in his third year of college, well aware of what was happening in Southeast Asia. He was also aware that he needed to keep his grade point average up or it would be in short order before he was called up by Uncle Sam.
"I was tracking my grade point average on a day-to-day basis because I knew what it meant if it dipped below 2.0," Messinger recalled. "Sure enough, it dipped to 1.8 and [me and] a buddy of mine, who was suffering a similar fate, we went down to the recruitment office and volunteered before they had time to draft us."
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He said they both wanted to be pilots and that he had grown up as part of the Civil Air Patrol so, naturally, he thought Air Force.
"I knew at the time the Air Force required you to have a college degree, but I had to ask," Messinger said. "While I was at the recruitment office, I remember the Army recruiter telling us they had a program for helicopter pilots and he said once you get into the program, you can volunteer to go airplanes. So, I said let’s do that."
Off to basic the 20 year-old went, traveling to Fort Polk before going to nearby Fort Wolters for flight training.
"After all of our training, we had a chance to volunteer for any assignment in the world and I chose Vietnam," Messinger said.
He said he looked at it like a businessman would operate a business. In war time, he would get promoted faster, make more money - not to mention the thrill of flying.
Once he reached Vietnam, he was stationed in Duc Pho at the southern end of I-Corp and was officially a warrant officer.
A warrant officer was a special rank, between a commissioned officer and the enlisted.
"It was like an officer," Messinger said. "We got all of the privileges of an officer, but we were lower in rank than a second lieutenant.
“The military came up with the idea because if you were going to fly a helicopter, you were like the captain of a ship regardless of your rank. You were the guy in charge of a four-man crew - you got to make the decisions. But they didn’t pay you the lieutenant or captain salary."
Messinger became part of the 174 aviation Company and part of Task-force Oregon ,which was part of the 3rd brigade of the 25th infantry division and was sent north.
One of his most vivid recollections was shortly after he crashed a colonel’s helicopter.
He was invited to go to a “gun ship platoon,” he said, a chance to be the aggressor and a big honor.
"The best way to stop people from shooting at you is to shoot them first," Messinger said.
On a particular mission, Messinger said they engaged a 50-caliber machine gun nest - bullets flying all around them.
"On that day, for some reason, we ended up without a wing man for cover," he said. "I was shooting a 40-caliber grenade launcher that day and the pilot - who I still talk to today - was flying."
He said that the recoil of the grenade launcher forced the helicopter to jerk in a manner that caused the nose to rise making it difficult to fly.
"I was firing and he was yelling at me to quit firing when you felt this jolt - we’d been hit," Messinger added.
As the helicopter banked and turned the door gunner leaned out to see fuel leaking.
The helicopter managed to get back safely to an unfamiliar fire-base landing in a clearing only to have a Jeep pull up with a soldier screaming, “You’ve landed in a mine field.”
"I had a good time," Messinger said. "I remember writing to my wife telling her this was the perfect career for me.
“I volunteered to do it. I loved my country and the flag, but this was like a rite of passage to manhood for me, I needed it. I got shot at and mortared and I shoot people. Maybe I sound a little crazy - maybe I was."
‘That damn GPA’
Ron Chandler has lived in Weatherford for nearly two decades. He’s the Adjutant and Past Commander of the American Legion Post 163. But before making his way to Parker County, he attended Louisiana Tech.
In 1968, he too, like several in the world of academia, found his grade-point average less than desirable one particular semester which meant only one thing - anchors aweigh.
Chandler enlisted in the Navy in 1968, but it was never viewed as a bad thing. Chandler’s father, who also spent time in the military and was a big influence in his life, encouraged him to look at it as a career - and he did.
He entered the service in the field of Naval aviation and because of his college course credit, was "fast-tracked" toward a training command.
"I volunteered for Vietnam; I even volunteered for operation Deep Freeze which was in the Antarctic," Chandler said. "At the time, I just wanted to be a part of something - I wanted to see the world."
But the Navy had other ideas for the ambitious sailor. So they sent him to Meridian, Miss., the staging area for all jet pilots going to Vietnam.
"I stayed there two years and was transferred to Norfolk," Chandler said.
It was there that he remained for the next six years, working on cutting edge technology - Remote Pilot-less Vehicles - drones. He even received recognition for his efforts, the Navy Achievement Commendation.
Later he flew P-3s, a recognizance anti-submarine warfare aircraft and staged out of Diego Garcia patrolling the east coast of Africa and the Persian Gulf for Soviet infiltrators.
Chandler recalls his training "kicking in" on one occasion when a Soviet fighter was able to get missile lock on his aircraft for a moment.
But one of his most memorable moments came after the fall of Saigon when they were patrolling the Straights of Hormuz.
"A blip came up," Chandler said. "We picked up a reading, some boat people stranded in need of help. So we vectored a Norwegian ship to their location and dropped them a buoy with supplies."
Because of their efforts, they each received the Humanitarian Service Medal.
Both men, five decades following the war, continue to serve veterans - Chandler through his efforts at the American Legion and Messinger at the Vietnam War Memorial. On May 9, there will be a special celebration - a 50th Commemoration for Vietnam Veterans.
To our Vietnam Veterans and their families:
Parker County American Legion Post 163, VFW Post 4746, along with our local communities and the thousands of 50th Commemoration Partners across America, wish to extend a special invitation to our Vietnam Veterans and their families to join us at the National Vietnam War Museum at 10 a.m. on May 9, so you and your families can be honored and given a much overdue and celebrated "Welcome home."
This commemoration has a very special purpose: to thank and honor veterans of the Vietnam War, including personnel who were held as prisoners of war or listed as missing in action, for their services and sacrifice on behalf of the United States and to thank and honor the families of these veterans.
As Billy Graham stated in a letter to our Vietnam Veterans:
"We have only to look at the many thousands of names carved on the Vietnam War Memorial Wall to realize the great loss suffered by so many families. For those of you who lost father or brother, sister, or mother, husband, wife, or friend during Vietnam, or in the years that have passed since then, or whose loved one was listed as Missing in Action and not yet returned, it is my prayer that events planned during this 50th anniversary period will be a comfort and encouragement to you as their service and sacrifice is recognized and their memory honored."
This very special commemoration and welcome home will held at the National Vietnam War Museum in West Parker County at 12685 Mineral Wells Hwy 180/ 1-mile East of Mineral Wells.
For information send e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org or Call: 817-223-8926, Vietnam Veterans Awareness Committee, Ron Chandler, Chairman.
Lance Winter, 817-594-9902, Ext. 102