John Paul Thompson, USAF 1952-1975
Watch Paul’s story or read it below.
My name is John Paul Thompson. And, I’ve been in the Air Force for 24 years, before I retired from the Air Force. It’s interesting how I even got involved with it. I went through the Virginia Polytechnic Institution. They had a Core Cadets program there, which was the same as one would get at the Air Force Academy or at West Point, any of them.
We were in uniforms and under a cadet regiment. Anyway, my roommate had a uncle that was a pilot in the Air Force. And so, he wanted to be one and, well, that sounds pretty good so, I decided well I’ll give it a whirl too. And so, I succeeded and became an Air Force pilot. And my first combat role was flying F84’s over in the Korean War.
There’s a lot of different stories one could gin up here but, I’m gonna just give you a little teaser on one. The Temperance League gave us some little cans of juice and other kinds of things, and somebody else donated some whiskey. And we had what was known as a patio bar. One thing that we didn’t have though was, we didn’t have anything cold. So we solved that one. We got our mechanics to take and fix a fuel tank and make it into a … Hold enough water, and easy access and so forth. And then, when we needed ice, we would fill up that tank and fly to altitude and, in no time at all we would have a whole great big tank of ice. It not only took of our little patio bar but, we were able to barter this wonderful prize of ice to the Army guys and so forth.
Anyway, just a little short one. But, if you’re in the service for any length of time, you probably could sit here all day with different stories to tell. There was two elements of my career. One of them was the flying of airplanes. And I always were a pilot first. And the … Behind the scene came second to the piloting. But I could work them both out pretty good most of the time.
But, sometimes the piloting yes, they didn’t have a pilot to do a job it didn’t make any difference what I was doing. It was behind the scenes and, they’d pull me out to do these smaller things. Just like to comment on the fact that my career was not … Was a-typical, but for me it was great. I loved being a Air Force pilot. I would go back tomorrow if they said come.
It was very good duty when you had somebody who actually said here’s the problem, and go fix it. And so anyway, it was interesting how I met my wife. She was a Air Force nurse. And, she’d just been recruited as a nurse and was finishing up her indoctrination training down at Maxwell Field. At the same time as she’s getting the final touches on her career, I get back from … I arrive back from the Korean War and, was assigned to Clovis Air Force base in New Mexico.
Well, just being normal you can imagine what happened, and yes it did happen. We got married and had three great children. Had no regrets. And, we were married … Well, we still are as far as that goes, for some 60 something years being married. But, we have problems right now ‘cause she’s very, very ill. My wife and I met there at Clovis and, it wasn’t short before we were married and had our family on the way. And I have to say, my wife is responsible for a lot of the good things that happened to us. And, I can’t say enough good things about her.
During the Vietnamese War, we were flying the C123’s, which had been an all metal glider when it was originally built by Fairchild. But, it was too expensive to take and crash a good plane or, in this case it was a glider. If you bash it in someplace, and have to fix it and try and get it out of there and so forth, they didn’t wanna use it that way. So instead, they put two engines on it, one on either wing. And, all of the piping and stuff was inside it and they converted that from an all metal glider to a transport. And with that, it had very, very short field landing capabilities.
The main things that we did with it of course, was delivering and delivering what? One case it’s delivering rockets for lighting up the sky. And there’s a whole story that goes into some of those missions that we had there that went out and no navigation capability in that upper part of … On the upper … What the heck was it? There was no … There was no navigation available, no equipment. It was all dead reckoning. And, for one of the missions that we’ve done like that, it was so bumpy and so fogged in that it was questionable whether I should have done it even. But, there was group of Army guys that were down behind the lines up at Praku and, they were crying out for help to get some light there. Because, any time they had light the Viet Cong would not attack.
And so, we felt well, we can’t let that … Those guys down. So anyway, I flew the missions and directed it and, I’m very proud of what we accomplished. Not only myself, but the crew. The other things that we did some other drops, just depended upon how easy they could do … Make a runway, temporary runway. If it was so hilly that your bulldozers and so forth would take years to fill it in, which is what that upper Vietnam is like, then we would have to air drop.
I can think of one the time there that animals were … First off, they had to be packaged so that we could air drop them. And so, we put parachutes on the cows, and we bundled up some crates and so forth where we could put chickens and ducks that had been set up. And they’re all alive and all safe. But, we did the air drop, and if the animals survived the drop, didn’t break any legs or anything like that, then the Viet Cong could … Not the Viet Cong, but the South Vietnamese guys. They could just nurture it and kill them for food for everybody.
And that’s a big story. I know it’s not enough room to print all that. Oh, the ones … The drops where we had the larger animals, especially the cows. It was very interesting to have the cows being dropped out. But I’ll tell you, they made a mess of things. When we got back to anywhere near where we could get a base, we were able to get hooked up into their fire system and, wash out our plane. But it was a story that should be told by many people, I suppose. I’m only doing a half job on it because it takes two long to tell all these things.
There’s a whole bunch of planes I’ve flown. And that’s a big part of what I did and so forth. I guess, I don’t know whether I just list them or not. But it doesn’t make much difference in terms of what plane I had, it was the mission that the plane is there to do.
It’s not there for my enjoyment, but I did enjoy it. And, we had basically from the fighter bomber role. And, we were flying 86H’s just off the production line. And, they brought them down to Clovis to test it out and so forth. And that was kind of a thrill. Could you imagine taking and giving me a plane that’s worth a bunch of millions of dollars and said, now I want you get on out there and go have fun.
It was really great. And just imagine yourself too, when you’re going in your plane and you’re very close to the ground and just hardly enough to be in the air and so forth. And, you look up at the hangar, I mean the the control tower, as you go by, you’re looking up at the sky. Now wow wee, I tell you, you get a feeling of moving when you’re at this setup that way. When you’re just flying at altitudes, you can’t tell you’re hardly flying. But anyway, that was just some great work with the 86H. And, we … I did a lot of … Later on when we finished up with the fighter pilot area, and you do run out of steam for that, I might say because of being able to handle the G-forces. If you’re out there drop flying everyday, and your neck gets bigger and so forth to handle the pressures.
But anyway, we switch over the type of flying that we’re doing and I was flying the old Convair fleet. And that was pretty good. I used to have it wheels in the well and a cup of coffee in the hand. And, being the pilot and command and so forth, you’ve developed some pretty good comraderieship in flying. And, the final thing that I did was working at the Pentagon.
I had six years of work at the Pentagon and, working solving problems that related to the environmental problems. And, it was a lot of hard work to do it. But at the same time, it was rewarding. And, I think that’s pretty much the way it is for many situations but, I know it has been for me. I enjoy work and, it makes it pop along faster than you want it to, I suppose. But right, it was a good life and, I’d do it again in a heartbeat. That’s it.