Trinity Geary: My name is Trinity Geary, and I am here with Mr. Billy Fred Newman. Mr. Newman, first of all, what branch of the military did you serve?
Billy Fred Newman: I was in the United States Air Force.
Geary: How long were you in the Air Force?
Newman: 20 years and 30 days.
Geary: During that time, did you serve in any war?
Newman: Vietnam War
Geary: What were your duties during the war?
Newman: I was cargo load master on a cargo aircraft.
Geary: How long were you in Vietnam?
Newman: Well, I was on flying status on my time in the service, and we were just flying in and out. The closest place that I was stationed overseas was Taiwan close to the Chinese border. I was there 13 months, and we were flying in and out of Vietnam there for all that time. I mean, sometimes I was in there for a month at a time, so I never was stationed there, but I got plenty of time in Vietnam.
Geary: Okay. Do you mind taking a few minutes just to tell me your story? Maybe things you remember going through? Maybe things that many of us do not realize about the war?
Newman: Well, all I can say, I was on a cargo aircraft, and we ere hauling supplies in and out when the war was going on. Throughout Vietnam, the country itself, there were several airbases, and there were thousands of troops at each base. I mean, we went to the Army, re-supplied the Army what they needed, hauled Army stuff in and out on the big cargo aircraft, and you don’t...when you’ve got a bunch of people like that, they need everything. They need a cold drink; they need a pair of shoes, so we were busy all the time, re-supplying the bases everyday.
Had a lot of flying time over Vietnam. Time going in and out. And one thing I remember about Vietnam, one day I was walking across the flight-line there at Tan Son Nhut Air Force Base that was in Saigon, and I hear a feller calling my name, and he was behind me, and I turned around and looked, and it was Bobby Cupples. He was stationed there, and I didn’t even know it. So that was a big lift in my time over there while that war was going on to see somebody that I knew and, you know, grew up with and knew nearly all my life. That’s just one of the things. I mean I was glad to serve, but everybody took their own opinions about wars. I don’t believe we should have had that one.
Geary: Do you mind telling me what it was like for you after the war? When you came back home, did it change you or affect you?
Newman: Well, I don’t think so. I might have had some health problems from it. I had a five bypass heart attack, and the Veterans Affairs, they passed a deal that they said this Agent Orange might have caused my heart attack. They said I had…it makes your arteries close up. Systemic heart disease. That’s what the doctors said I had. Like I said, I had to have five bypasses, and I think that was one of the reasons for the war I didn’t like too much. But I mean, it was good to get back home, but if I had my life to live over again, I wouldn’t get out at 20 (years). I’d stay a whole lot longer if I had it to do over again.
Geary: Do you have any regrets about serving your country?
Newman: No ma’ma. I could say if I had life to live it over again I’d have served it a whole lot longer than I did.
Geary: Out of the three airplanes that you drove, which one do you think…
Newman: Well now, I wasn’t a pilot. I didn’t drive any of them. The cockpit is say from here to the nose there, okay? I was in charge of from here to here ‘cause our lift would be full of cargo, and so that was my job, loading it and not messing the plane, you know, not tearing it up. That was my responsibility – to load it safely. And other than hauling cargo, we dropped heavy equipment loads and personnel drops, Army troops mostly. We’d go to Fort Campbell Army Base and Pope Air Force Base in North Carolina and drop troops ‘cause they had to have so many jumps, and they had to jump so often to be eligible to draw their jump pay. At that time they got $55 monthly or more to jump out of that airplane.
The air crew is responsible for Uncle Sam a bunch of money. About seven to eight million dollars just that one little airplane. The air crew, every six months, you had to have someone giving them a standard evaluations – a check ride. You had to have that. Somebody was over you, watching you do you job. Say you make a heavy equipment job. You had to load it, tie it down and drop it safely, and anytime that there was safety involved or they didn’t know their job then they had to sit down. They failed their check ride, and they had so many days to learn their job correctly before they could fly again by themselves. Sometimes, if they couldn’t make it, then they lost their duty as the load master. See there’s load master, flight engineer, a pilot, co-pilot then a navigator, and every position on there had to have a check ride every six months. My last 10 years in service that was my job of giving standardized check rides. You had to be an instructor plus being a flight examiner.
They had to do their job on the airplane plus come into their office and take a big written examination that coincided with their check ride on the airplane.
Geary: During the war, did you see anything that scared you or was heartbreaking to you?
Newman: Well, I felt bad when I had to haul guys that lost their lives over there, hauling them out and stuff like that. I mean, I didn’t let it affect me. I think I’m alright.
Geary: Is there anything else you want to share?
Newman: I was with (The Thunderbirds) two different times to my recollection. One time was a month. About nearly every day we’d have to load their equipment and go from base to base all over the United States, and they’d put on the air show. Every day, I’d have to load that same equipment and, when we’d get to that base, we’d have to offload it. That was kinda neat, watching them for a month, ‘cause there’s plenty of people who don’t even get to see them one time perform.
The, what I’ve called, third world countries, the smaller countries that’s overseas, most of them come to Little Rock Air Force Base down here in Arkansas. That’s where I retired from. That’s one of the biggest training bases that the United States has got, and all these other people from all these other countries overseas comes there to learn how to be a load master, flight engineer, pilot, navigator and all that. They come to Little Rock. They’re down there for months at a time training, and when they get completely checked out, they go back to their countries. About nearly every country in the world’s got the C-130. This airplane came out in 1954. The first one, they called it the A model. It just had three props. This ones got four. It’s run all the way through that now they’re making a J model. It’s identical to this except it’s 15 feet longer. It’s been flying since ’54. The C-130 is the longest airplane that’s still in production and been flying that long. About nearly every afternoon, if you’re outside at a certain time, there’s one that flies over the house here. It probably has a run it has to make everyday dealing something to somewhere else.
This is a hard drop. Now that’s just a dummy drop, what we call a dummy load. They’re just training load masters. That might be full of rocks, or it might be anything, and that right there is what they call an extraction chute. To start with, it’s hanging on a deal up here called [inaudible], and the pilot’s got a button up in the cockpit, and at the one minute warning, he’ll count it down, and when that one minute has passed and he pushes that button and that extraction chute goes out, it pulls this load out of the airplane. Now, this chute here, this is actually still in the airplane. This is right on the ramp, fixin’ to go out in mid-air. This and this is what we call an extraction chute. It’s pulling that load out, but this is still hooked to those – you see those black things right there? – that’s a cargo chute. Those are 100 foot diameter cargo chutes. From one side to the other, it’s 100 feet. One parachute, cargo chute, can handle that down safely 3,500 pounds. So that load could be weighing up to 7,000 pounds, and it wouldn’t more than like dropping it off from the edge of the house down to the ground. Goes down there pretty slow. That was my job, too. That and dropping paratroops and hailing general cargo and rolling stock, you know like big vehicles. It all was combined into a load master core field. But I really loved it.
This is what I’ll say. When that load goes out, if you blinked your eye, you’d miss it ‘cause that parachute was like a bullet pulling that load out, and then we’d go back and close the ramp door – clean up the airplane.
When you got a thousand hours, they give you a thousand hour pin. It went to two and then five thousand, and that’s as high as they give the pins out when I got out. That’s five thousand hours I was on that and still had five more years to go before I retired. I was on it for five more years after that. And this is my discharges. You had to have 50 combat missions to get an air metal. That has to be when they’re having a war, and I’ve got two of those, so that’s over 100 combat missions in Vietnam. So you can go by that. What they mean by a mission – every day when you took off if you were in country and your were flying ever day, that was a mission. So if you were there for five days and you flew five days then you had five missions that one week, so you can tell how many times I took off and landed in Vietnam. And like I say now, don’t get me mixed up, I am not a pilot. I was an enlisted feller. A pilot’s an officer.
Geary: Okay. Well, Mr. Billy Fred Newman, I want to thank you for your time, and I want to thank you for serving the United States of America so that I could live in this great country. Thank you.
Newman: Thank you.