Dave With C 130Dave Draper

SSgt, U.S. Air Force



Shortly after my graduation from West Branch High School in 1965, my parents moved us to a small town named Unadilla. Not long after that, my dad approached me and said that the war in Vietnam was heating up that I should think about volunteering for one of the branches of service before Uncle Sam decided for me. He suggested that I should probably NOT think about the Army or the Marines as my chances of coming back might be less than the other services. I enlisted in the Air Force (and two weeks later received a welcome letter from the Army) and arrived at Basic Training in Lackland AFB, Texas in early 1966. From there I went to Shephard AFB for training as a C-130 Loadmaster. Afterward, I was assigned to the 41st Tactical Airlift Squadron at Naha AB, Okinawa, Japan. We went TDY quite often. Typically we would fly to Cam Rahn Bay, Vietnam, or Ubon, Thailand for at least two weeks at a time. In Vietnam, we airdropped supplies and personnel, transported personnel and supplies, and delivered mail. On several occasions, we delivered fuel and supplies via low-level airdrops because village either had no runways or the runways were too short.

In Thailand, we flew mostly night missions. We loaded flare shutes between the cargo doors at the rear of the aircraft. These flares, when ejected from the aircraft, would open an attached parachute and ignite the very bright flare. Then, we would fly hours on end looking for activity on the ground, or occasionally be called in by ground forces to light up an area that was being overrun. A better part of the time we had two F-4C Phantom fighters flying with us. If any of the three of us spotted any movement on the ground that looked suspicious, we would kick out flares to light up the area. The fighters would then make their first low-level run over the area and straif the area if they saw anything. Then they would make a second pass, if necessary, and bomb the area. On only one occasion, I observed secondary explosions- indicating they had hit a possible ammo depot. I liked the Thailand assignments the best. We had the daytime to spend touring beautiful Bangkok or flying model airplanes. The country was beautiful, and the people were very friendly.

Returning to the States, my final assignment was with the 6511th Parachute Test Group in El Centro, California. I was promoted to Loadmaster Instructor while serving at this base. Here we stress-tested both cargo and personnel parachutes by attaching various weights to them with dummy loads. Electronic sensors were attached to the lanyards to test shock factors on them. Many aircraft were "desert" tested there because of the high heat and other desert conditions. The Blue Angels practiced their programs over the desert there also. The base at that time was a joint Navy/ Air Force base. As of this writing, it is a Marine Corps base. 

At the end of my four obligations, my wife and I decided we did not want to make a career of the military. I had attained the rank of Staff Sergeant (E-5) during my four years. I got married shortly before leaving the service. Civilian jobs where scarce in California so we moved back to Michigan, and I worked at Michigan Bell, AT&T, and then Lucent. I was laid off after 22 years of service. I started my own communications business and after almost 25 years I retired. I now enjoy serving other Veterans through several Veteran's organizations. We are proud of our two Marine Corps sons and our grandchildren from them.