CMSgt Don Skinner US Air Force (Ret) (1949-1974)
Personal Service Reflections of USAF Airman:
CMSgt Don Skinner
US Air Force (Ret)
WHAT INFLUENCED YOUR DECISION TO JOIN THE MILITARY?
I began working as a carpenter after high school but soon realized that I desired something more for a career. In my economic situation, it appeared that the military service was the answer to obtain the training I desired. Most of my male relatives (uncles and older cousins) had served in World War II, so I sought their advice concerning opportunities. Based on their experiences and suggestions, I chose the Air Force as the best place to obtain a career and an education.
Our basic was approximately 4 months long at Lackland AFB. We did not have a flight photo, but rather individual portraits. Although we had been issued OD uniforms, we used a blue blouse and blue tie (over our ODs) for the picture. I requested several technical schools, but was told that with my test scores, I would be sent to radar maintenance school.
BRIEFLY, WHAT WAS YOUR SERVICE CAREER PATH?
I was initially trained in radar maintenance on specialized airborne (B-29) bombing equipment but was sent to a Troop Carrier unit in Japan. After a short time, I realized this was not what I desired, so I asked for a transfer to a B-29 unit where my training could beutilized. With the Korean War starting up, I was sent to a heavy ground radar unit in Korea. There, because I did not know the equipment, I was assigned to a jeep patrol forward air control unit. In the spring of 1951 when the Army assumed this duty, I was assigned to one of the auto-track ground-directed bombing radar sites known as “Tadpoles.” Here, I served as maintenance and assistant controller.
When I returned from Korea in 1952, I was assigned to Keesler AFB, first in the maintenance shop maintaining the ground radar equipment used in school, and later in the maintenance section maintaining the auto-track trainers. While in Korea, my MOS 867 had been converted to 30251 AFSC. At Keesler, it was changed to 30353, Auto-Track Maintenance.
In 1954, I was sent to Patrick AFB, Florida to assist in activating the AF’s second tactical missile unit. The only operational tactical missile at that time, the B-61A “Matador”, unofficially designated a Pilotless Bomber, was later known as the TM-61A. The unit was then deployed to Germany where I served on radar sites used for Matador missile guidance. This was done by a secret guidance system that utilized the radar beam and eliminated radio commands.
From 1956-1959, I was at Eglin AFB, FL, serving as radar maintenance and controller in the range work such as safety-monitoring, bomb drops, intercepts, missile launches, and general range research work. I also was selected to activate a new range for Air Launched Ballistic Missiles at Cape San Blas, Florida, setting up a radar system to track, monitor, and record information concerning missile flight and impact. I later returned to Keesler AFB to attend a school on auto-track radar equipment.
In 1959, I returned to Germany, assigned to the 601st Tactical Control Squadron for more Matador missile guidance, returning in 1962 to Detachment 9, 11th RBS Squadron (Winslow, Arizona,) where I was assigned to the maintenance crew.
We later moved the site to St. George, Utah. I was selected to attend the first class of factory school for a new system Reeves Instrument Company was building for RBS and some months later was selected as maintenance man for the field tests in White Sands, New Mexico.
I was stationed at the St. George site until 1964 when I was sent to 10th RBS Squadron Headquarters at Carswell AFB, and served there as maintenance staff supervisor until 1966.
I attended the SAC NCO Academy at Barksdale in January 1966, graduating as Outstanding Graduate. I was then transferred to 1st Combat Evaluation Group at Barksdale AFB, LA where I became a member of the Staff Inspection Team for all detachments as well as installing and supervising two radar systems (Michigan and Utah) used to train SAC pilots on evading and avoiding SAM-2 missiles. I was selected in the summer of 1966 to assist in re-writing the 5 and 7 level skill tests for the Auto-Track radar maintenance field.
In early 1967, I was requested to take over maintenance supervision of all the ground-directed bombing radars in Vietnam and Thailand which I did until 1968 when our site was attacked during Tet and I was critically wounded.
When I was discharged from the hospital, I was assigned to Aiken AFS, SC (861st Radar Sqdn) where I served as Chief of Maintenance for 5 years.
In 1973, I was sent to Opheim AFS, MT (779th Radar Sqdn) as Chief of Maintenance. I retired at Opheim on May 1, 1974.
DID YOU PARTICIPATE IN COMBAT OPERATIONS? IF SO, COULD YOU DESCRIBE THOSE WHICH WERE SIGNIFICANT TO YOU?
As a forward air controller in Korea, I was exposed to potential combat. The radio equipment used in the jeeps had no facilities for remote operations, so men and equipment were necessarily exposed while observing enemy targets. The unit I was associated with lost several men to small-arms fire.
The radar we used at the ground-directed bombing sites was very short range, and consequently, the sites were positioned near the front. Several of the areas were heavily probed by enemy patrols, so skirmishes occurred, as site personnel were responsible for security.
In Vietnam all of our bombing sites were liable for attack, mainly rocket and mortar fire but occasionally ground action was involved.
WHICH, OF THE DUTY STATIONS OR LOCATIONS YOU WERE ASSIGNED OR DEPLOYED TO, DO YOU HAVE THE FONDEST MEMORIES OF AND WHY?
Aiken Air Force Station, Aiken, South Carolina. The unit was a ground radar surveillance unit. I spent 5 years assigned there to various tasks ranging from Maintenance Quality Control NCOIC, FPS-7 radar tower supervisor and Chief of Maintenance.
I also met and married my wife while stationed here. I returned to Aiken after my retirement and we settled into retirement life. We had 37 years together before she unexpectedly died from a rare bronchial infection in July 2006.
FROM YOUR ENTIRE SERVICE CAREER WHAT PARTICULAR MEMORY STANDS OUT?
Actually, attending and graduating from the SAC (Strategic Air Command) NCO (Non Commissioned Officer) Academy in 1966. I believed that I possessed the necessary skills for leadership but this course of instruction allowed me to implement and improve on all of these. It also taught me much concerning inter-personal communication and relations. I was designated Outstanding Graduate, finishing 2nd in Academics, 1st in Tactical Training and 2nd in Public Speaking.
WERE ANY OF THE MEDALS OR AWARDS YOU RECEIVED FOR VALOR? IF YES, COULD YOU DESCRIBE HOW THIS WAS EARNED?
I received a Bronze Star Medal with “V” device for my actions during the attack on one of our Vietnam sites, Detachment 15, 1st Combat Evaluation Group on February 24, 1968.
The initial assault killed 2 men and wounded the remaining 8. Although critically wounded, I checked all my men and gave first aid as best I could under the conditions. While attempting to move a seriously wounded comrade to a nearby medical facility, I was wounded again but managed to get medical personnel directed to the site.
I was evacuated to 3rd Field Hospital in Saigon where I was hospitalized for 3 months before being air-evacuated to the US for an additional 9 months of hospitalization, surgery and rehabilitation.
I also received the Purple Heart Medal for wounds suffered in this engagement.
OF THE MEDALS, AWARDS AND QUALIFICATION BADGES OR DEVICES YOU RECEIVED, WHAT IS THE MOST MEANINGFUL TO YOU AND WHY?
Probably the Purple Heart Medal. When I wear the symbol of that award, it is easily recognized and I have had many exceptional conversations with people I have met through their recognizing it. I am able to have a more-perfect relationship with veterans and Wounded Warriors I assist because they know that I have some feeling for what they have endured.
I also would have to say the Bronze Star Medal with “V” device, because it reminds me that even under adverse conditions. I was able to utilize my training and past experiences to bring aid and a measure of comfort to those men who had been placed under my command.
WHICH INDIVIDUAL PERSON FROM YOUR SERVICE STANDS OUT AS THE ONE WHO HAD THE BIGGEST IMPACT ON YOU AND WHY?
Without a doubt, it was Colonel Norman R. McCurdy. He was my commander when I was at RBS (Radar Bomb Scoring) squadron level; I was on his technical staff inspection team at Group and he was my commander for a time in Vietnam.
Although I served with many capable officers, he gave me the self-confidence and also the freedom to make difficult decisions. He knew that every person has limitations and he took that into consideration in evaluating the actions subordinates took.
He instilled in us his philosophy of inspection: “Never tell a man he’s wrong, tell him he’s wrong because…” The meaning of this is if you can detect a flaw or mistake, be sure you can also put forth a solution. If you can only show what needed to be done, then it was your duty to do exactly that. I have been left at a site by the team so I could properly teach and show correct maintenance procedures. When I was finished, the Group aircraft would pick me up .
Colonel McCurdy showed me what leadership meant, as applied to the concept of supporting “the mission and the men.”
CAN YOU RECOUNT A PARTICULAR INCIDENT FROM YOUR SERVICE THAT WAS FUNNY AT THE TIME AND STILL MAKES YOU LAUGH?
There were many instances of humor I can recall from my career but one that stands out occurred in 1962 while I was attending a factory school on new equipment in New York. One of the classmates had a bout of serious insomnia, so he purchased some sleeping pills. Another member of the class substituted “No Doz” tablets for the sleeping pills. The poor Sergeant was literally kept awake for a week before the prank was revealed. Needless to say, he was not happy but recovered fully.
Another incident happened at the SAC NCO Academy. We took a flight photo (see attached in other section), then took one with everyone out of uniform – ties undone, jackets open, hats on backward, etc. We mounted both in a large red folder, marked the good one “Before” and the other “After”, then printed “Better Luck Next Time” beneath them and presented the folder to our Flight Chief at the Graduation Dinner. The Academy Commandant thought it was hilarious.
WHAT PROFESSION DID YOU FOLLOW AFTER THE SERVICE AND WHAT ARE YOU DOING NOW? IF CURRENTLY SERVING, WHAT IS YOUR CURRENT JOB?
When I retired, I took advantage of the GI Bill and obtained two degrees in accounting. I worked at that trade, mostly as a tax accountant or with non-profit organizations until 1992.
I had previously begun writing for magazines and newspapers and eventually published a novel of the Korean War. I became editor of a local magazine but retired to full-time writing in 2000. I later published 2 more historical reference books, one on the US Marines island campaign in World War II and one concerning the Texas Revolution.
WHAT MILITARY ASSOCIATIONS ARE YOU A MEMBER OF, IF ANY? WHAT SPECIFIC BENEFITS DO YOU DERIVE FROM YOUR MEMBERSHIPS?
I am a Life Member of both the Disabled American Veterans and of the Military Order of the Purple Heart.
I am more active with the MOPH. We work in conjunction with the VA, talking to wounded veterans undergoing hospitalization and rehabilitation. I believe we have a special empathy with them as we can truly relate to their particular situation. Our chapter also works with Fort Gordon, Georgia’s Wounded Warrior Program. We also work with the County Veterans Council to ensure all veterans are informed of their rights and benefits.
HOW HAS MILITARY SERVICE INFLUENCED THE WAY YOU HAVE APPROACHED YOUR LIFE AND CAREER?
Serving in the military gave me self-confidence and belief in myself. I knew I was capable of learning and using that knowledge to my benefit. It taught me a greater respect for everyone. I have learned that people are individuals, not groups. Leadership comes from understanding.
I have utilized this in several areas, in personal life as well as serving and working with local civic groups.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU HAVE FOR THOSE THAT ARE STILL SERVING?
Although the military has vastly changed since I was in, there is still the need for discipline. A major character trait a military person must possess is the ability to adapt. Assignments, equipment, regulations and even the culture all change. So, to be truly successful, a person must have the ability to see beyond the immediate present and adapt to these changes as they occur. Adaptability is one hallmark of true leadership.
IN WHAT WAYS HAS TOGETHERWESERVED.COM HELPED YOU MAINTAIN A BOND WITH YOUR SERVICE AND THOSE YOU SERVED WITH?
To date I have not located any personnel with which I served through TWS, however I have greatly widened my own knowledge by communicating with other members.
As a ground radar repairman I was never an integral part and parcel of the “flying” Air Force, mostly serving on isolated sites. Through TWS, I have learned about the aircraft crew chiefs, load masters, security personnel, and administrative functions and the like that were also a necessary part of the mission. I have made many acquaintances through TWS that I would otherwise have never made and greatly deepened my understanding of the Air Force overall.