PRESERVING A MILITARY LEGACY FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS
The following Reflections represents SSgt Eugene Delalla’s legacy of his military service from 1965 to 1968. If you are a Veteran, consider preserving a record of your own military service, including your memories and photographs, on Togetherweserved.com (TWS), the leading archive of living military history. The following Service Reflections is an easy-to-complete self-interview, located on your TWS Military Service Page, which enables you to remember key people and events from your military service and the impact they made on your life.
Please describe who or what influenced your decision to join the Air Force.
In reality, my first choice of military service was the Army. This was back in ’64. Then, as fate or providence would have it, an Air Force recruiter came to my high school (in the Bronx, NY); from that point on, I began planning my entry when graduation came in ’65.
The rest is history.
Whether you were in the service for several years or as a career, please describe the direction or path you took. What was your reason for leaving?
My entire tour of duty lasted for three years and about six months. The first two years plus were dedicated to the Strategic Air Command, Blytheville, AFB, Arkansas. That was an interesting experience, to say the least. By the way, don’t let anyone tell you that it doesn’t get cold or that there is very little snow in the winter season in northeast Arkansas! It gets plenty cold and snowy at times.
Jumping ahead, after my full-year tour, I shipped back to the world, separated at McCord, AFB, Washington state, and then jetted to New Jersey and home.
My reason for leaving the service, when I look back on it now, is that I didn’t want to get shipped to Vietnam for another tour. However, I probably should have stayed in. Don’t get me wrong, and I am now proud of my service.
If you participated in any military operations, including combat, humanitarian and peacekeeping operations, please describe those which made a lasting impact on you and, if life-changing, in what way?
Mine was a multi-faceted experience. Securing and defending the perimeter, especially during Tet of ’68, was in itself life-changing. (Keep in mind that the second half of my tour was spent back at Cam Ranh Bay.) At Tuy Hoa, the main focus was perimeter defense, and however, as a Buck Sergeant, I was also the machine-gunner on the escort Jeep that took the Vietnamese nationals back to their bullet-riddled home in Tuy Hoa City. Easy pickings for snipers! Plus, I went on several supply truck convoys, along with some of my brothers, through the winding and twisting highway that leads to Von Ro Bay (not sure of the spelling here).
Perhaps one of the most challenging assignments was to provide perimeter security to the engineers drilling water wells about 15 or 20 miles from the base in the middle of the boondocks. That night we set up some makeshift machine-gun bunkers along a made-up perimeter; I had a black brother with me that night. As it turned out, at about 1 a.m., we got notified that an entire regiment of NVA troops was headed in our direction; things got really tight. Apparently, they changed direction and bypassed our position! I think someone UPSTAIRS was looking out for us.
We also participated in some humanitarian work by gathering whatever materials we could find to help build or rebuild an orphanage in the local area.
Did a sweep — search and destroy — twice; once at Tuy Hoa and once at Cam Ranh Bay.
The sweep at Cam Ranh Bay was through a defoliated area. I have always wondered about Agent Orange, and if that was used in the area, we searched. Your guess is as good as mine.
Update… September 2020. I had an enormous tumor removed from under my left breast. It turns out that it was due to Agent Orange… I am under the care of the VA with periodic CAT scans and radiation treatments (no chemo)… I had another CAT scan in early May 2022 and will meet with the oncology doc on May 31, 2022. We are praying for a good outcome…
Did you encounter any situation during your military service when you believed there was a possibility you might not survive? If so, please describe what happened and what was the outcome.
I have sort of answered this question in my last section. Still, I’ll repeat it here: the night we provided perimeter security for the engineers drilling water wells in the boondocks, we were notified that an NVA regiment was heading in our direction. My black brother and I were at the tip of the spear, speaking, at the entrance to our compound. It was pitch black as we were away from the lights shining on the workers drilling the wells.
As the night went on, the supervisor drove up in a Jeep; we challenged him, but the news was not good. We prepared for the battle with the bad guys. As fate would have it, the NVA changed direction and bypassed us. I think that my brothers and I were ready to give our all if needed. I figure help in the way of gunships or fighters would be about 20 or 30 minutes away so that we would have been on our own for that time! Not very good odds.
I think there were some silent prayers uttered in the quiet of the heart that night.
Of all your duty stations or assignments, which one do you have fondest memories of and why? Which was your least favorite?
I know war is hell, but I still consider my tour in Vietnam to be the most life-changing, some in a positive way and some in a negative way. The idea of helping the South Vietnamese people maintain their freedom from Communism for many years (until 1975) was an accomplishment and a challenge.
Also, my two-plus years in SAC were an eye-opener for such a young kid from the Bronx. At the ripe old age of 19, I was chosen to be the flight OJT trainer, but some of my colleagues looked upon this as unfair to the older cops with more time in service. But I prevailed and did a smashing job!
From your entire military service, describe any memories you still reflect back on to this day.
I would have to say that the entire tour in Vietnam impacted me. When I came home, I wasn’t the same person as before I went to Nam. I remember when my parents picked me up at Newark, NJ airport, loaded my duffle bag into the car, and started the long drive home to the northwestern part of the state. There was hardly a word (from me) on that long trip. It was apparent to my folks that I had changed. This “change” followed me for many years, up to and including today.
I have written three books on the subject: two war stories and one post-Vietnam story.
What professional achievements are you most proud of from your military career?
I feel that I would be bragging here, but I will answer.
I received the Air Force Commendation Medal for my powers of observation while at Tuy Hoa and Cam Ranh Bay. I had the ability to spot things that seemed to be missed by some of my brothers. Not a really big deal, though.
If I had to describe what and when I spotted things during the dead of night, I would have to point to two incidents: the first at Tuy Hoa when I spotted a large sampan trying to infiltrate while among the little sampans during their late night/early morning fishing routines. The “enemy” sampan did not have any running lights as required, so I called it in from my tower position. Shortly after that, a Navy swift boat approached the large sampan, arrested the bad guys, and took them in for interrogation. I asked the flight commander what they found on that sampan, but he said the authorities wouldn’t tell him! Some heavy classified info, maybe?
At Cam Ranh Bay, while on a hilltop machine-gun bunker, using my starlight scope, I noticed an object about 600 yards out and getting close to shore. I radioed in the info; control sent one of our swift boats (yes, we had our own swift boat) to investigate. It was so dark that even when the Swifty was about 15 feet from the sampan, they couldn’t see it. I told them to send up a flare; at that point, the excited voice of my brother on the boat told control they had the dudes under arrest at gunpoint.
As I’m walking through the hooch area the next day, I hear one of the swift boat guys yell: “Hey, eagle eye!” That became my new handle for spotting the sampan.
There was an interesting set of events that happened when I was qualifying with the M-1 Carbine (that’s before we got the M-16). I was in a foxhole and getting close to hitting expert when it started to rain; it got muddy; my glasses were getting rain splashed on them; the instructor saw I was close to expert and vocally encouraged me on to hit one more target to make expert. I did. I still have that mud-splashed scorecard to this day!
Of all the medals, awards, formal presentations and qualification badges you received, or other memorabilia, which one is the most meaningful to you and why?
Without a doubt, the Air Force Commendation Medal. That is my highest award for meritorious service. That says it all.
Which individual(s) from your time in the military stand out as having the most positive impact on you and why?
Both were flight commanders. Each for different reasons, though. My first commander in SAC was an old, Razorback, cigar-chewing rough character who expected the best. It was he that chose me to be the flight OJT trainer; I excelled in that position.
The flight commander I had at Tuy Hoa was approachable, easy-going, yet very professional in his duties. He listened to his troops and their suggestions. I had asked him if I could check out an M-60 regardless of the post I was assigned to; he agreed. I always had that bad boy with me on the post from that point on!
List the names of old friends you served with, at which locations, and recount what you remember most about them. Indicate those you are already in touch with and those you would like to make contact with.
All those I remember were from my tour in Vietnam and mainly from Tuy Hoa airbase. The first is “Chuck” from California. Actually, we were in basic together, then he was trained in law enforcement, and I in security. We parted after that, but we met again at Tuy Hoa, to our surprise. I was actually the best man at his wedding back in 1971.
Then there was Tom, a black brother from Houston, Tx. When Dr. Martin Luther King was killed, I accompanied Tom to the memorial service at the base chapel, and I was the only other “white man” in the chapel, save for the priest, minister, and rabbi.
I am still in touch with Chuck but have not stayed in touch with Tom or any other of my brothers from Vietnam.
Can you recount a particular incident from your service, which may or may not have been funny at the time, but still makes you laugh?
I tell this story all the time. I was in SAC, on post guarding a KC-135 refueling tanker; my flight commander pulled up in his Econoline truck; I smartly reported my post; he said: “At ease.”
He decided to test me. The following sequence actually took place!
(Keep in mind that the three-time challenge procedure takes place very quickly.)
He said: DeLalla, what would you do if you saw me running toward your aircraft? What would you do? I said that I would challenge you.
Then he said: What would you do if I didn’t stop?
I said I would challenge you again.
He then said: What would you do If I still didn’t stop and you knew it was me?
I then said: I would shoot you dead.
He then rolled up his window; drove away. He never came back that night.
What profession did you follow after your military service, and what are you doing now? If you are currently serving, what is your present occupational specialty?
After I came back to the world, I began to drift. That lasted for many years. I went my own way, deserted God, but found my way back. More recently, I owned a cleaning business, wrote three books, and now I’m “retired.”
What military associations are you a member of, if any? what specific benefits do you derive from your memberships?
In what ways has serving in the military influenced the way you have approached your life and your career? What do you miss most about your time in the service?
The Vietnam experience is always there, always on my mind, especially for those that did not make it back alive. I try to stay on the straight and narrow and do my best to care for and assist others in some way, shape, or form.
Based on your own experiences, what advice would you give to those who have recently joined the Air Force?
My advice is to be yourself; don’t fall for the “gang” mentality. Please, God, and if that means some measure of alienation from your brothers, so be it. Deep down, they just might respect your determination to remain a moral and upright man.
In what ways has togetherweserved.com helped you remember your military service and the friends you served with.
By its very nature, Together We Served caused me to rethink those memories; some good, some not so good. And those that were somewhat close to me, especially during my Vietnam tour of duty. In the end, we fought for each other, not necessarily for a cause.