United States Air Force

Service Reflections of SSGT Dennis Bengtson, U.S. Air Force (1969-1973)


The following Reflections represents SSGT Dennis Bengtson’s legacy of his military service from 1969 to 1973. 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.

At the time, so many Marines and Army were going to Viet Nam, and I still wanted to do my part. If I went to the Navy and got assigned to a ship, went out in the ocean, and did not see land, I couldn’t wrap my head around that being from land-locked Iowa.

I had already taken a Draft Physical and didn’t have the money or grades to get into college. I guessed that I was going to be drafted and didn’t want to go into the service as a draftee, so I joined the Air Force. If the draft didn’t get me the first time around in December, it would eventually. As I remember it, my draft number was really high, but after looking into the history, it turned out to be very low on the Dec. 69 Draft pick.

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?

Packing and Crating, Cam Rahm

In Basic, I was offered numerous jobs, i.e., loadmaster, work in crypto, Officer school, and just about anything in the electronic field. When I turned them all down, the Sgt. told me that if I didn’t pick one, I’d end up in Security Police, which is what I really wanted. So, I kept my mouth shut and the Air Force picked packing a crating.

It was a little OJT at Travis and then off to VN under a special project. As soon as I found out that I didn’t get SP, I tried to transfer. I was told I had to be in service for at least a year before I could transfer.

After the year was up, I was sitting in VN and requested to transfer. I was told I couldn’t transfer to a Combat Zone; I could only do it CONUS.

When I got back (Ellsworth), I looked into SP, but they only had air or missile security openings. I wanted Law Enforcement, so I ended up in the Motor Pool as a driver/dispatcher. After I returned from TDY in U-Tapao in 73, I saw so many E6s, E7s, and E8s being drummed out. I wouldn’t say I liked the way they were treated, so I left.

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?

I was first stationed at Travis AFB in California. I didn’t get the Security Police job, so I joined the Augmenttees and went through the training. When I was transferred to Cam Rahn Bay, RSVN, I continued with it. Every time the base would go on alert, I would gear up and stand a post, sometimes on the flight line, sometimes on the perimeter.

My trip to Cam Rahn first started out with a two-week class in Aberdeen Army Proving Grounds and then two weeks at an airbase in California. (Can’t remember the name. There were about 30 of us altogether, E2 – E9, all under the umbrella of Palace Lime Project 741. Once we rolled into Cam Rahn, 1/3 went to Phang Rang, 1/3 went to Da Nang, and 1/3 stayed. Our job was to pack up all the surplus parts and equipment to ship to other air bases around the world. Most went to airbase depots in the states. We didn’t have much time for ourselves working a 12-hour shift, six days a week. The beach was nice.

In 1973, after I had switched over to the Motor Pool, I received TDY orders for U-Tapao Thailand, where I got two B52 bombers and KC135 tankers around the flight line. Another 12-hour shift and six days a week. I was just a fill-in because they were short-handed. This was after Line Backer II, so I wasn’t involved in that busy time.

I never lost my interest in a Law Enforcement career, but I loved driving the big equipment.

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.

While I was in VN, Cam Rahn Bay, I had the opportunity to ride in a C7A Caribou for a day assisting the LoadMaster. We landed at numerous bases, some small firebases, but when we took off from Phu Cat, the left engine stopped about 300′ off the deck. I thought we were too low to swing around and land and that we would crash, but apparently, we were high enough and made it. The pilot thought the engine may have sucked in a bird. Waited several hours for a mechanic to fly in from CRB to tell us he was unable to find anything wrong. I got back to just as the sun was setting.

In August 71, sappers got on Cam Rahn and blew up the ammo dump. Scary time!

On Sept. 71, while TDY to Phang Rang, I was outside our shop area when three mortar rounds went off along the fence line, not too far from where I was standing.

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

B52 Being Towed Utapio Thailand

I had the most fun at U-Tapao, touring the country. We worked 12-hour shifts, six days a week. It was hot on the flight line driving the Ukes around towing bombers and tankers, but I enjoyed working around the heavy equipment.

Cam Rahn Bay was my least favorite for obvious reasons. My job in Packing & Crating was important and had to be done, but I didn’t get the security job I wanted, so I wasn’t very happy. Again, we were working 12-hour shifts, 6-7 days a week.

I was at Travis right out of Basic (OJT). Not a good time; didn’t get the Security Police job; no hair; no money; no car; no girl.

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

C-7A Caribou

The following incidents didn’t seem to impact me then or now, but they are the ones I remember.

The day I thought I was going to crash in a C7A Caribou at Phu Cat.

The day sappers got on base at Cam Rahn and blew up the ammo dump. Mortar skids that were on fire went off and dropped all over the base. That and the Daisy Cutters going off.

The night the sappers got on Cam Rahn and blew up the POL dump. I was in Phang Rang at the time TDY for 30 days. We could see the fire glow from there. Not being there and not knowing what was going on, all I could think about were my buddies back in CRB, hoping they were O.K.

The night in Riyadh trying to get my truckload tied down, the Patriots went up to get the Scuds, and when they exploded, pieces landed all over.

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

I flew with a C7A Caribou crew.

While TDY to U-Tapao in 73, I was assigned to the 307 OMS as a Uke Driver towing tankers and bombers. An OMS Team was going through some sort of test which required a Tanker to be towed. I put the tanker on the spot the first time. The OMS Team each got a 3-day pass. I didn’t get anything because I wasn’t part of the team. I’m sure there was more to their test than just a tow. I’m glad I was part of their test and put the tanker on the spot correctly so they could get their passes.

While assigned the Motor Pool at Ellsworth (I don’t remember the date), I took a 40′ trailer to the flight line, backed up to the ramp of a C141, and helped offload some nuke warheads. Then drove to the munitions storage area and helped to unload them. I received a nice letter from the munitions commander.

These were personal achievements; I didn’t get any medals or awards for them. To some, they probably seem trivial to what they and others have gone through and accomplished.

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?

I’m proud of all the ribbons that I wore on my uniform, but I didn’t do anything special to earn any of them. Most of them are for being stationed at a particular place or that I was in service long enough (Good Conduct). As I review them now, there’s not one that’s more meaningful than others. The culmination of all of them, to me, showed I did my part.

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

There was a Senior Master Sergeant (E8) in charge of the Motor Pool while I was stationed at Ellsworth AFB. I don’t remember his name, but he was so easy to talk to. He listened, and he tried hard to make a difference for a better workplace. He was one of the NCOs the Air Force got rid of towards the end of the Viet Nam era. If he had stayed in, I might have stayed in also. It seemed like they were always getting rid of the Good Ones.

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.

Enlisted Men’s beach, Cam Rahn

I was stationed at Travis and CRB with William E. Hall. We both started in OJT at the same time; we went to Aberdeen, Maryland, to school together, another school at McCullen in Sacramento, Ca, before going to CRB. Also went on RR to Sidney together. Bill loved the Temptations. That’s all he listened to. Sometimes I would catch him dancing; by himself. Spent a lot of time at the Navy Enlisted men’s club at CRB. Last time I saw Bill was at SEATAC when he boarded a plane back to Pennsylvania. I didn’t get his home address, and I don’t think he got mine. We were just too happy being back in the states. I’ve tried to contact Bill several times over the years with no luck.

A few years ago (about 2016), I was contacted by Art Phillips. Art and I were stationed together in Utapao together, the same job driving Ukes. I hadn’t seen Art since I left Utapao in 1973. During our correspondence, he talked me into joining the Utapao Alumni Association, and I went to one of their reunions in Dayton, Ohio, in Sept. 2017. It was great seeing and talking with Art again. We still pass messages on Facebook.

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?

While stationed at Cam Rahn Bay (70-71) in the Packing and Crating Section, we were assigned to load hundreds of 55 gallons drums full of tar onto trailers to be shipped to South Beach.

From there, they were loaded on barges and shipped off to Thailand. It was a 24-hour operation that required some special lighting for nighttime. At times, the forklift operators would accidentally puncture a drum that leaked tar. When the last drum was loaded, we were all covered in tar, almost head to foot. We had to throw away uniforms, boots, and gloves.

Went back to the barracks, hungry and tired; and covered in tar. Felt like crying at the time – but I laugh about it now.

Another time at Cam Rahn, a forklift caught on fire. Nothing available to fight the fire, so I was all pissed on it.

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?

Restoring the Yankee Air Museum’s Boeing B-52D Stratofortress

Six months after being discharged in Dec. 73, I joined the Mason City Police Department in Iowa and spent the next 36+ years there. I was retired as a Captain. Held the positions of Patrol Officer, Sergeant, Lieutenant, Captain, and I was the interim Chief of Police for six months. I tried being a Detective, but it only lasted a few months.

During my time in the Police Department, I had joined the Iowa Army National Guard. We were activated in Sept. 1990 and went over the Desert Storm before Thanksgiving. I got to eat a Thanksgiving meal at an Air Force chow hall (Tent Version) in Riyadh.

I drive a semi now. I was over the road driving through 4 states hauling Hormel Pepperoni. Now It’s just one long day, and I’m home at night hauling for Ruan running a tanker full of liquid eggs. It’s only 2-3 days a week now.

In November 2016, I fell out of a truck and injured my shoulder, which required surgery. Six months of rehab didn’t help. The retracted muscles didn’t come back, so now I can’t climb ladders or up the side of a semi to get into the cab.

Currently, I’m working at a nearby Casino as a Surveillance Agent part-time. Interesting work.

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

UTAPIO Alumni Association

I’m a member of the U-Tapao Alumni Association, and I’m going to attend my first reunion with them this September 2017. Art Phillips saw my name on this site and got ahold of me. We were stationed together at U-Tapao back in 73, towing B52s and KC135 tankers. He got me to join, and we’re going to meet for the first time in 44 years and looking forward to it.

Life Member of the VFW.

Member of the Cam Ranh Bay Air Force Association.

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?

When I finished high school, I didn’t have the money or grades to get into college. The December 1969 Draft was coming up. I was afraid that I was going to be drafted. I had heard how the military treated draftees, so I enlisted. I hadn’t really grown up yet, so the next four years in the Air Force was my education to becoming an adult. My military experience tried to discourage my career choice of wanting to be a law enforcement officer. Still, I believe my military experience helped me grow up and get an LEO job. Four years of military service (2 tours overseas), one in a combat zone, looked good on a resume. I got a high number on the draft, so I wasn’t going to be drafted, but I figured it would catch up to me sooner or later. I really wanted or needed to belong to something that was bigger than me. The war in Viet Nam was what was going on at the time.

Law Enforcement is a para-military type organization, so I fit in fairly well. I always tried to treat people with respect. I think there was a need for me to feel well-liked by everyone, so I tried (sometimes really hard) to get along, both in the Air Force and in law enforcement. The Air Force taught me to look at a problem, understand it, think of options to fix it, pick one and go with it. Law Enforcement is the same.

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

Soon After Arrival in Cam Rahn

I would tell new airmen to treat their time in the Air Force as a stepping stone to a career, whether or not the career is in the Air Force or not. Always be careful to who you speak negative things to, and try to stay away from airmen/people who do talk negatively. In the back of your mind, always think that a voice recorder or video recording is running, picking up everything you say and do and will be used against you at some date.

Be very careful about using social media. You think that you deleted it, but it’s there, somewhere. Be especially careful about posting photos (FB, etc.).

Always be striving towards what it takes for promotions. Always be looking ahead for a school/class to that endeavor. Don’t shy away from volunteering.

Show up early – Work hard – Stay late if necessary, and don’t bitch about it.

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

TWS and the US Air Force

Sorry to say, but I don’t remember the names of many Airmen that I was stationed with over the four years.

One Airman, Art Phillips, saw my name on the website, and we have gotten together over the phone, emails, and Facebook. I hope that someday, others will see my profile, remember me, and try to contact me in some way. I don’t know if it’s my age or what, but I do spend a lot of time thinking about my time in service and the bases I’ve been stationed at. I regret not taking enough photos or writing down names and addresses.

Boot Camp, Units, Combat Operations

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Tags: Aberdeen Army Proving Grounds, Air Force, Army National Guard, Ellsworth AFB, Mason City Police Department, OJT at Travis, Phang Rang, Travis AFB, TWS, U-Tapao


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