Q: How long were you in the military?
A: I was in the Air Force 24 years, then retired.
Q: What rank?
A: Master sergeant
Q: And what was your job?
A: I worked on microwave radios and related equipment — microwave radios, multiplex systems and teletype systems.
Q: Where did you serve?
A: Vietnam, Germany, Italy, Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War and of course stateside.
Q: When did you join the Air Force?
A: Jan. 28, 1970.
Q: How old were you?
A: Twenty. I was a couple of years out of high school and had gone to college. I went to Appalachian State University in North Carolina with intentions of being a social studies teacher. At the beginning of your junior year you have to declare your major, and I was having serious second thoughts about being a teacher. I decided to take a break.
Q: And you joined the Air Force?
A: I thought I’d join for four years then decide what I wanted to do. I realized the Air Force was what I wanted to do. I liked working in electronics and I liked the military atmosphere even though it wasn’t very popular at the time. It took me around the world. I was in Germany when the Berlin Wall came down.
Q: You must have gone to Vietnam first thing in your career?
A: About a year in. I worked on microwave radios while assigned to Monkey Mountain, a radar site. We had secure transmission to an air base near Da Nang. We got info from other locations and basically controlled the air war in the north. We could see the enemy and our guys on our screens.
Q: How long were you there?
A: Seventeen months, from September 1971 to February 1973. That will set off an alarm for some people because tours were 12 months. But (President) Nixon started Vietnamization, turning the war over to the Vietnamese. That did not go well but did mean pulling out every U.S. person they could and not sending replacements. Those of us still there were stuck in-country, so for me it was 17 months.
Q: What are your thoughts today on being a veteran? And a Vietnam era veteran?
A: I’m glad I served. If I had it to do over I would do it over. Even going to Vietnam. I’m glad I did what I did for our country and I’m glad of what we did to pave the way for some vets today. We didn’t get a welcome when we came home. In fact, we were told not to tell people we were in Vietnam. I was told to tell people I was somewhere else. Today veterans get welcomes at airports, and I don’t begrudge them that one bit. I’m glad they do.
Q: You served your country. What did you personally get from it?
A: A good career with good benefits. I got to travel and live in other countries and learn about them. I lived off-base and had neighbors and lived in their culture. It was much better than as a tourist.
Q: And when you retired?
A: The Air Force brought us back and forth to Robins Air Force Base several times, and we decided to stay here. We’d gotten a house in Bonaire. Being retired Air Force I can use the commissary and such. I get my prescriptions filled on base. I went to work for the city of Macon working on radios. It seemed like every government worker in Macon carried a radio. I’m retired from Macon now also.
Q: How do you spend your time?
A: I hunt, fish, hike, enjoy the outdoors. The area is great because there’s a lot to do, and it’s central to Atlanta, mountains, Florida, Tybee Island. You can do a lot here and get to a lot of places in a day. I also volunteer at the Museum of Aviation on Monday and Wednesday mornings.
Q: What do you do there?
A: I’m in Hangar 1 where the whole building is dedicated to the Vietnam War. I enjoy showing people around and especially like having students and young people in. Vietnam is becoming a forgotten war. I make it a point to greet Vietnam vets. All vets really. Often they’re wearing hats or something showing their service or they tell me they served. It’s good to be able to talk and listen. Some I’ve even crossed paths with in some way.
Q: There must be a lot of stories.
A: They’ve had good and bad experiences. There’s a helicopter setup here at the museum you can get in and, I tell you what, Vietnam was covered with helicopters. There was a gentleman here last summer with his family and they each got in the helicopter for a picture. He would not get in. His experience in Vietnam was strong enough he would not get in at all.
Q: What would you say was the worst of your military experiences?
A: Vietnam. I lost two friends, people I associated with every day. Losing them was the worst. And returning home I experienced the hostility myself — in the San Francisco airport I was spit on and called a baby killer.
Q: And the greatest?
A: Germany. The last time I was there was 1990 dealing with the German and American combined use of the F-15. I was in on simulated combat training, and it was rewarding seeing them realize how we could help them.
Q: What do you hope to see ahead for the U.S.?
A: To me, detachment from the Middle East. I think it’s almost a mirror image of Vietnam. You can’t fight someone else’s war. You can help, but can’t fight it. I was in Desert Storm so I know a little about it. I’m not saying pull out entirely, we need to be in some places, but the mideast is a quagmire. That’s my thought.
Q: Would you encourage others toward military service?
A: I’d definitely encourage people to join the Air Force. I don’t know about other branches. If they have the right mindset I’d definitely encourage it. It’s a good life.
Answers may have been edited for length and clarity. Compiled by Michael W. Pannell. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q&A with Glenn Pope
Volunteer: Museum of Aviation, retired Air Force