|Download PDF of this full issue: v52n1.pdf (24.3 MB)
Sgt. Johnston 52 Years Later
By Bill Johnston
Taipei Air Station—April 1969.
Just on the edge of downtown Taipei, Taiwan (Republic of China) next to Taiwan National University and surrounded by houses, small businesses, schools and behind us was the university's experimental rice paddy. The path around it was our jogging trail. Best of all it was a friendly neighborhood and the 120 Airmen of the 327th Air Division no doubt provided an intriguing diversion for the Chinese around us. Especially the Children who found my friend Wayne's hairy arms and big nose a source of never ending entertainment on their walk home from school. Wayne was an AP and usually in the guard shack at the front gate as the crowd of uniformed kids surrounded him feeling his arms, wanting to touch his nose and mustache or—watch out!—feel his blue eyes. It was a great duty station and we were not in Vietnam!
It was warm and a beautiful evening as three of us walked out of the Air Station front gate and down Roosevelt Road teaming with people and traffic. We did what few young people do—pondered our futures as "old veterans"—"think of those pictures we see of Civil War Veterans with their long beards and canes." Frank was from Michigan—Jim from Texas and while Washington State had no involvement in the Civil War as their states had I was the great grandson of two Union Army troopers. I was brought up very much aware of their service. Today my great grandfather's cavalry saber he carried in the Battle of Nashville hangs on the wall of my den at home.
We pondered how we would be remembered. We had all joined the Air Force just ahead of the draft dragging us into the army and probably Vietnam. None of us supported the war we had been called on to participate in but our choices were few. We believed joining the Air Force had been a good one. But how would we be remembered? Like World War II Veterans? Veterans of "the good war." Admired as men and women who destroyed an evil in the world and saved democracy. One could hardly claim we were serving in such a cause. We didn't think so and at the time we were stationed in an undemocratic dictatorship with soldiers posted on almost every corner. A government of Chinese ruling over the Taiwanese who have a long history of independence from the mainland. What the hell were we doing there?
Looking back now I can hope the US had a somewhat stabilizing influence and helped create the dynamic open democratic country that Taiwan has become with Taiwanese elected leadership. Something to keep in my mind when wearing my "USAF Veteran" hat and I get a "thank you for your service" from someone in a store or out in the public. I always say "thank you but the army made me do it ." Maybe they get it and maybe not. What I do not like is the general referral to veterans as "heroes." No. In 1966 when you got your draft notice (unlike the draft dodger tRump) it was your citizens obligation to go "do your duty." We had a citizen military not a professional army like we have now. To us it was not our "job." Serve your time and go home!
I think the "hero" thing is a guilt trip left over from sending 58,000 of our generation off to get killed for nothing. Now here we are a bunch of old guys and it is hard to think about us running around the jungles shooting and getting shot at—maybe killed. Too many of us became cynics from that experience. The youngest of Vietnam Veterans are at least 65 years old, an age group that has the lowest opinion of the government's ability to solve problems. Unfortunately a majority of them voted for a political party and candidate who stands for nothing. We took care of each other as Airmen, Soldiers and Sailors and to not care about one another now is not heroic at all! Peace!
Bill Johnston was a Legal Specialist in the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate assigned to Taipei Air Station Taiwan (ROC) - 1968-69.