United States Air Force

Service Reflections of SGT Donald Davey, U.S. Air Force (1965-1970)


The following Reflections represents SGT Donald Davey’s legacy of his military service from 1965 to 1970. 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. Start recording your own Military Memories HERE.

Please describe who or what influenced your decision to join the Air Force.

OSS members posthumous Congressional Gold Medal

It was 1965 … the War in Vietnam was really gearing up. I wanted to serve but not be drafted. My father served in OSS in WWII, both the Training and Operations Branches of that very elite Secret unit, and ended up in the Occupation of Japan. OSS was the precursor to the CIA. I had a choice to serve in any branch, so I took all the various branch tests and selected the USAF in March with a reporting date after high school graduation in June… After arrival at my first duty station, I volunteered for Vietnam and got the orders, but they were changed to Korat, Thailand. I volunteered again at Korat and was sent to Ubon, Thailand; once there, I volunteered again but was sent to Udorn, Thailand/Laos the third time.

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?

Civilian Purple Heart, Not Military

June 1965 USAF Basic at Lackland AFB, San Antonio, TX; then Aircraft Electrical Systems training at Chanute AFB, Rantoul, IL. …. First Duty Assignment January 1966 was 437th Military Airlift Wing, Charleston, SC. …. Then to Southeast Asia; KORAT 388th Fighter Wing May to Nov ’67; UBON 8th Tactical Fighter Wing Nov ’67 to May ’69; UDORN & LAOS Detachment 1 56th Special Operations Wing May ’69 to Jun ’70 all as Aircraft Electrician AFSC 4235/70; but Sep ’69 was assigned to Training Section as Unit OJT NCO & Liaison to Royal Lao Air Force enlisted students, so added a Secondary Training AFSC 75132. …… After my five years in the USAF, I was back in Illinois, and Nixon was hiring veterans under the “Veterans Readjustment Act.” I was hired less than a year after discharge and served 27 years eight months in the U. S. Department of Justice; retired as a Criminal Investigator and senior Deputy United States Marshal (with one Purple Heart after being attacked and injured during an attempt to kill me on duty).

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?

Our Air America location adjacent to CIA HQ

Of my 37 consecutive months in Southeast Asia, I was honored to serve 13 months in the elite Detachment 1 56th Special Operations Wing (formerly known as Det. 6, 1st Air Commando Wing, Det. 1, 606th Air Commando Squadron, and Det. 1, 56th Air Commando Wing), which was code-named Waterpump, part of Project 404; all part of the CIA’s “Secret War” in Laos about which none of the American people, and few in the military in Vietnam were aware. … We were no longer under the chain of command of the USAF or Pentagon; we were under the auspices of the U. S. Department of State American Ambassador to Laos, and his CIA Air Attaches … We operated in, and from Air America (CIA clandestine airline) facilities adjacent to Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand; and in Laos at Secret Air America/CIA “Lima Sites”, out of uniform with no ID, and with the understanding if captured or killed in Laos, the government of the USA would disavow any knowledge of us.

Did you encounter a situation during your military service when you believed there was a possibility you might not survive? Please describe what happened and what was the outcome.

Large black Ground Power Unit I turned off:

Yes, a couple of times. ….. The first time I thought I’d be killed by friendly fire in the Cambodian border area was in 1969 by an F-4 fighter bomber that came in on a strafing run on the road I was traveling on alone. I watched him circle down 360 degrees, line up, and dive … I was the only thing on the road. There was no place to go. It was too far to tree lines and impossible to get there over dried rice patties. (It would not have made any difference anyway with his 6,000 round-per-minute 20-millimeter cannon!) …… I was profoundly frightened and broke out in a very COLD sweat. I was waving frantically! … As he waived off very low, I saw the pilot’s face and got his tail number. I was debriefed by OSI (giving them the tail number) and was told I could not tell anyone our aircraft was over Cambodia. ……. Also, a second time, during the F-4 crash on 10 April 1970 at Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base. It was combat damaged over Laos near China; uncontrollable during landing final approach; pilots were forced to eject; and in full afterburner, it loudly flew about 100 feet above me and crashed, killing nine airmen near me. I responded directly to it; I was not sure I would make it out as close as I was to the crash and fire, an officer yelling we all had to run because the plane had bombs on it. (We learned later it did not, as it was an unarmed reconnaissance RF-4C.) Regardless, I stayed long enough to run to and turn off the large black ground power unit (GPU) within only a few yards of the burning concrete radio station building & aircraft, thinking it would stop the overhead wires from sparking as the surrounding teakwood barracks were starting to catch fire from splashed fuel. (I learned later the GPU only powered the burning radio station building, not the overhead power lines.) …. I have 100% PTSD, among other medical issues from 3 years, a month, a week, and a day in countries. … Attached is a photo of the GPU next to the burning buildings

Of all your duty stations or assignments, which one do you have fondest memories of and why? Which was your least favorite?

Graduation of Lao Pilots class 26 May 1970

Of my 1,135 consecutive days in Thailand & Laos (with a hop to Clark AFB, Philippines for F-4 training & some time at Ton Son Nhut in Saigon, South Vietnam), my 13 months from 03 May 1969 to 08 June 1970, in the very Secret Project 404 … Waterpump, Detachment 1 56th Special Operations Wing was the best duty assignment in which I was privileged to serve. Our unit trained Lao & Hmong pilots & maintenance personnel, besides our Secret combat operations in Laos. ….. Attached is a photo I took of one of our Lao pilot’s graduation classes. …. I started as an aircraft electrician, went into Laos “in the black” as a “civilian,” and was eventually assigned as Liaison to enlisted Royal Lao Air Force students back at Udorn. I was also in charge of our unit’s OJT (On the Job Training), so I added a Secondary AFSC in Training. …. One highlight was to be allowed to ride in one of our T-28 aircraft on a fully loaded with bombs, rockets, and ammo combat training mission to a jungle target range in the mountains. On the way to the targets, I was allowed some “stick time,” so technically, I can say I “flew” the armed bird a while before my pilot dove in so many times I lost count (eventually releasing all our munition). While repeatedly diving almost upside down & back up, I managed to fill TWO air sickness bags, and riding my motorcycle was never as much fun! …… Fond memories were mixed with the loss of revered Ravens pilots (who stayed upcountry) & our regular training/combat pilots, one of whom I knew, Captain Don MORRIS, who died on 20 May 1970. One time, being the bottom of the chain of command from the US Ambassador, his CIA Attaches, and my commander, as Liaison, I was tasked with informing one of our enlisted Royal Lao Air Force students his last two remaining male relatives, his father, and uncle, were killed the night before in separate combat actions in Laos. I released him from training permanently, arranged to send him home, and boarded him on an Air America flight to return and care for his family the following day

What professional achievements are you most proud of from your military career?

Sgt. Hewell – Head of Fire Extinguisher Shop

One of my first achievements was being an Honor Graduate of the 240-hour Fire Protection Specialist Course at Chanute Air Force Base in August 1972. There was a tremendous amount of classroom study and many hands-on simulated training exercises in Crash and Structural Fire Suppression, different types of fire truck operation, live fire exercises of mock airplane crashes, and burning building exercises. The following achievement was being promoted to the rank of Sgt. on July 1, 1974. I was given the rank of Airman during basic training in June 1972 and then promoted to Airman First Class on February 9, 1973. Having attained at least the rank of Sergeant before my four-year enlistment period was over was a personal goal I was proud to have achieved. Another of my professional achievements was when I was one of 4 airmen selected on September 30, 1974, to represent the 354th Civil Engineering Squadron on Honor Guard Details. I participated in Command Change ceremonies, Color Guard units in Parades, Color Guard units at Charity Fund fundraising functions, and Honor Guard details at Funeral Services for military veterans.

I was incredibly proud to be part of such an elite group of men and women who trained regularly to ensure we represented the US Air Force in a disciplined and dignified manner at all functions. Little did I know that I would one day be working as an Assistant Funeral Home Director and would be helping conduct funeral services for military veterans and watch Honor Guards from all military branches carry out these same functions for grieving families. I still get choked up when I hear the Taps being played and watch the folding of the American Flag! And finally, I guess one of my best achievements was when I was put in charge of the Base Fire Extinguisher Shop in early 1975. After the previous Shop Supervisor left for assignment on another base, I was approached by the Fire Department Chief. I was selected out of all the firemen to take over that department. I had been working a 24 hour on 24-hour off shift as a crash/structural firefighter for almost three years, and since I was now married and had children at home, I knew it would give me more time at home since I would now be working 8 – 5 Monday through Friday. I was responsible for inspecting, maintaining, charging, and proper placement of all flight line fire extinguishers, base building extinguishers, and base housing extinguishers. It was a big responsibility to ensure that if a Fire Extinguisher were needed in an emergency on the flight line or elsewhere, it would operate properly. I worked with some very dangerous chemicals, such as Chlorobromomethane, commonly referred to as CB, so I had to get regular physicals to make sure these weren’t having an effect on some of my internal organs. This also required me to make regular inspections of all extinguishers all over the base. No one else was helping me, so I took great pride in running an efficient shop. These achievements may seem minor in the big scheme of things, but I am proud of all my accomplishments during my four years in the Air Force.

From your entire military service, describe any memories you still reflect on to this day.

Some memories in Silver (could not afford Gold)

I have reflected on my very eventful, short five years in the USAF, being assigned to some of the Vietnam War’s most highly decorated combat units! ….. At Korat, being chosen as the single crack troubleshooter to handle any electrical malfunctions on the flight line at dawn for groups of fully loaded F-105s headed in flights of four to bomb North Vietnam, and saving many missions for which I was told earned me the Air Force Accommodation Medal. …. Twice recommended for immediate promotion to E-5 with all outstanding Appraisals at two different bases (once after being NCOIC of an in-shop repair section at Ubon, and then being Liaison to Lao Students and being in charge of the detachment’s OJT at Udorn), but no slots were open for an E-5. ….. Getting to fly a fully loaded T-28 for a few minutes on the way to a combat target range was awesome. …. I probably would have reenlisted, but the 432nd Wing Commander MELLISH at Udorn, Thailand, got caught with his wife living in Bangkok and visiting him, which cost him his unaccompanied tour, so he prevented anyone married to a Thai from reenlisting because he fucked himself and took it out on those of us with wives there. (I was on an accompanied tour after already serving two unaccompanied tours, so I legally lived off base with my wife.) …. He screwed many of us, changed some careers, and I lost a generous reenlistment bonus. . ….. BTW, the ONLY reason he had ANY say over us Air Commandos, Special Operations, or any USAF personnel in Laos was that our personnel records were kept in his base personnel office. ….. So I do sometimes wonder “what if” … and how far I might have gone in the Air Force, but for one asshole Colonel that was not even in my chain of command.

What professional achievements are you most proud of from your military career?

NI never forgot my Oaths to the Constitution.

To remember my Oaths to the Constitution of the United States of America, first in the military and then as a civilian federal law enforcement officer, that America can only survive by THAT adherence to law and order; some have forgotten that Oath; I have not. ….. The ability to focus on a mission, work very hard, be resourceful, thrive under stress, and think out of the box. … It benefited me throughout my years in the military and after the War while serving 27 years eight months in the Department of Justice being selected for many years of very dangerous assignments, which allowed me to survive & retire as a Criminal Investigator, Senior Deputy U. S. Marshal. …. Years later, I became the founding Security Chief for Bigelow Aerospace.

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?

Ribbons … Memories of Five Years & Four Days

It is hard to say just one … Most of which never were listed on my DD-214 … One Air Force Commendation Medal for saving many F-105 aircraft missions while repairing electrical systems with pilots in the aircraft cockpits, engines running, fully loaded with bombs, rockets, and guns ready to launch & go hit North Vietnam; strike, survive aerial combat, and return alive. …. If I did not save the broken aircraft, the full flight complement of four F-105s could not go, and that combat mission would be lost; …. THREE Presidential Unit Citations (THE highest military unit decoration); …. FOUR Air Force Outstanding Unit Awards with V for VALOR (VERY rare); …. two more Air Force Outstanding Unit Awards (without Valor, stateside); but maybe most meaningful, my TEN VIETNAM BATTLE STARS (of the 17 battles of the War) which show up as TWO SILVER Campaign STARS on my Vietnam Service Medal & Ribbon; not many veterans dedicated themselves & served in the War that long.

Which individual(s) from your time in the military stand out as having the most positive impact on you and why?

Col. Robin OLDS was a great leader & fighter pilot.

All the American pilots I dealt with personally (or were in their units) that flew in combat, and all the Royal Lao Air Force & Hmong pilots that flew combat in Laos. (Hmong were not allowed in RLAF, but were CIA mercenaries; they were the most dedicated and had to fly until they died; most legendary of all was Lee LUE, who flew over FIVE THOUSAND combat sorties, but was KIA July 1969 ….. Inspirational. …. Also, I recall a couple of unit commanders & officers who selected me for some very unique duties, i.e., as the squadron’s member of the Wing Airmen’s Council initially setup by Colonel Robin OLDS at Ubon; to gathering a contingent of Thai Police, raiding & searching all the whore houses in the poorest part of town on “Sulfa Dang Street” in Udorn for a mercenary’s lost ID; to trying to find a tiger cub for a unit mascot but nearly getting a chopper shot down while the crew was throwing nets on the Plan de Jarres (PDJ) in Laos; to the armed courier delivering a big ammo box full of newly printed cash (still in wrappers) to a CIA Paymaster (he wore a white short-sleeved shirt!), off-road in the jungle on my Honda 350cc motorcycle alone!

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.

Another USAF Special Ops guy’s ribbons:

I lost touch with all I served with, some I tried to provide a copy of orders for armed Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base security Augmentee Duty for VA Agent Orange Perimeter Claims but never found, and some Special Ops buddies of whom I had tried to find and learned they had died; but there is one fellow enlisted USAF airman I would really like to meet. …. He was also from my unit Detachment 1 56th Special Operations Wing (at Udorn, Thailand & Laos) before I was there, and he went on to HQ 56th Special Operations Wing (at Nakhon Phanom, Thailand & Laos & Cambodia). He served 2,188 days in the War (much longer than my 1,135 days) and did much for our missions in Laos & Cambodia. He stayed in the USAF for many years and retired. I salute him. He had attained 14 Vietnam Service Battle Stars (TWO Silver and four Bronze) & the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal TWICE, not to mention others of higher merit.

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?

U. S. Embassy, Bangkok, Thailand Challenge Coin

When I applied to marry a Thai in 1968 at Ubon, the approval came back in days rather than many months, a year, or years as was normal or disapproved. ….. But before I knew that, one day, my CO told me to report to OSI (Office of Special Investigations) as I was being investigated (he did not say what it was about). The Captain at OSI put me in an interrogation room, stood over me, accused me of bribery, and threatened me with years in Leavenworth Prison if I did not divulge the source of the “compromise” for getting such fast approval to marry. ….. I was happy to learn of the approval but respectfully responded I had done nothing wrong. He was belligerent, and after a while, I was getting kind of testy myself being threatened. I finally firmly told him, addressing him as “Sir,” that the answer might be in the application, and maybe he should READ a translated copy and the Thai government approval! ….. He dismissed me and told me to report back to my CO, whom I briefed. A few days later, my CO called me in again and told me to report back to the OSI Captain. I did, but this time, he invited me to sit in his office. He stood in front of me and read an Official U. S. Department of State Letter from the US Embassy in Bangkok apologizing to the American people and the government of the United States to the King of Thailand, the Royal Family, her father, a Provincial Governor, the government and people of Thailand, to my wife-to-be, and the rest of her family. ….. MY CO had believed in me, and he rather enjoyed the story, too. (I only wish I had received a copy of that letter to keep.)

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?

Witness Security Program Challenge Coin

Criminal Investigator, Senior Deputy United States Marshal; retired after 27 years, eight months. I spent many years in the high Threat Witness Security Program and other protective service details for threatened federal judges, US Attorneys, and government employees, most of the time undercover assignments, sequestered juries in high-threat and Mafia trials, and was assigned on loan to the US Department of State three times for highest threat level Foreign Minister dignitary security assignments at the United Nations including Cuba, China, and Iraq. …. As a marshal, I performed asset seizures, seized vessels on inland waters and the ocean, arrested violent felons and fugitives for decades, and oversaw violent detainees and notorious espionage defendants. I managed court security programs, court security electronic alarm, CCTV, and communications systems; supervised security for a national federal judge’s Conference; was chosen to meet with local and foreign officials to advise them on court security; oversaw contract armed court security personnel, and acted as the government’s contracting official fiduciary. I was a member of the US Marshals Service’s National Critical Incident Team …. Later, after retirement, I served my community as a volunteer in the Trauma Intervention Program, responding to survivor death situations, including a large group of airline personnel affected by the 9/11 terrorist attack. …. After 9/11, I became founding Security Chief for Bigelow Aerospace hiring & training a 24-hour armed guard force, wrote and directed all procedures, and set up physical security. …….. I’m long ago retired now; my health is not good with 37 months of exposure to Agent Orange (AO) at four contaminated bases, months of exposure to TCE (Trichloroethylene) used in cleaning F-4 generators & constant speed drives, and the PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) that did not hit me until years after I had retired. ….. After my years of research, writing a 12-page sworn affidavit with 72 pages of proof of exposure to Agent Orange for a Disability Claim, I’m permanently and totally service-connected disabled. …. I’ve dedicated myself to helping veterans and surviving spouses with their AO and survivors’ claims for years. I am active on closed military Facebook pages for that purpose and to share a large cache of historical documents, official government maps & photos from bases from my collection.

What military associations are you a member of, if any? What specific benefits do you derive from your memberships?

China Post 1 Soldiers of Fortune in Exile

Life Member VFW Post 10249 in Udon Thani, Thailand. …. Life Member of American Legion. Member of China Post 1 Soldiers of Fortune Operating in Exile (which is by invitation only).

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 TRUTH Shall Make You FREE CIA Challenge Coin

I am Christian, but I do have a deep respect for the teachings of Buddha. Early on, I learned empathy and to see from the perspective of others. …. My approach to life has been to have lived a meaningful life. …. To have belonged to many things greater than me. …. To give all I have to any mission regardless of the danger. That death is not to be feared; it is just a transition …….. I miss my youth.

Based on your own experiences, what advice would you give to those who have recently joined the Air Force?

Mr. Davey/Air America Laos Boarding Passes

America and democracy need you. Give it everything you have … It may carry you far & wide. ….. You will be surprised by what you are made of and where you may go. …. You might even be traveling out of uniform with no ID.

In what ways has togetherweserved.com helped you remember your military service and the friends you served with.

Fond memories of the Thai people, the brave Royal Lao Air Force, and especially the CIA mercenary Hmong and Lao people who fought to be free of Communism. … The Royal Lao Air Force had a reunion in 2018 in Salt Lake City, Utah. They only invited American veterans from Detachment 1 56th Special Operations Wing, our unit that trained them. I was honored to join them and be a part of their celebration. I happened to be the only Det. 1 member who attended that year, but others have attended in ensuing years. …. I designed & had 100 of these Laos Air Forces (Air America/CIA, Royal Lao Air Force & USAF) Commemorative Coins made for the occasion:

Boot Camp, Units, Combat Operations

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Tags: 432nd Wing Commander MELLISH at Udorn, 437th Military Airlift Wing, 56th Special Operations Win, 8th Tactical Fighter Wing, Air Force Accommodation Medal, American Legion, China Post 1 Soldiers of Fortune Operating in Exile, Clark AFB, PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), Purple Heart, Royal Lao Air Force, Vietnam Service Battle Stars


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