BUFFALO, NY (WBFO) – This weekend, the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station will welcome back many to the installation who, 50 years prior, were welcomed back after serving in Vietnam.
Members of what was then the 107th Tactical Fighter Group were called to duty in early 1968, and were first sent to South Korea to serve in a support role after the USS Pueblo had been captured by North Korean forces.
“We were in the Airborne Radio Communication Shop,” said Robert Hull, who along with Kurt Alverson sat with WBFO at the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station to look back on their assignment. Hull was working for an electronics company in Grand Island when he heard in a radio news report that the 107th had been activated.
Alverson, meanwhile, was in the back seat of his boss’s car on the way to lunch when he, too, heard of the call-up on the radio. The timing of his departure was difficult, because his wife was nine months pregnant.
“I didn’t get to see my daughter until she was almost a year old,” he said. “She was baptized right here on the base, by the chaplain.”
After about six months in South Korea, members of the 107th were stationed at Tuy Hoa in Vietnam. Their job was to keep aircraft communications in working order. There was pride in their work but also pressure to keep up, so that planes needed on very short notice were ready to go.
“Our shop maintained a vehicle which was kept on call 24 hours a day to prepare any of the aircraft that had a problem on launch,” Alverson said. “They had ready aircraft that the pilots had to get in and be off the ground, I think it was something like five minutes.”
Airmen who worked from this shop were afforded more freedom to explore the village and weren’t subjected to the same dangerous conditions that combat soldiers endured. But there was an occasion, on July 29, 1968, when trouble found them. It was a Viet Cong attack on their base in Tuy Hoa. Hull recalls trying to make sense of what was going on in the darkness.
First there were explosions, as two C-130 aircraft were destroyed and several others were damaged. Then, according to Hull, one could hear gunfire.
“Our Air National Guard’s first reaction was to get our new cameras and tape recorders thta we just got in Hong Kong, and get out there and see what the heck’s going on, and get some good footage,” Hull said. “That kind of went by the wayside quick.”
Then it was a dash to get to the guns they had available.
“All our weapons were located in the shop we worked in,” added Alverson. “We had to make, maybe, a mile run to get to those weapons. In the intervening time, we were subjected to scrutiny by the Army helicopter that was over on top of us, trying to make sure we weren’t the enemy. I think that was probably the most scariest moment that I ran into there, at that point in time anyway.”
Their assignment ended June 11, 1969 and the members of the 107th were returned to Niagara Falls. Both Hull and Alverson say they were not subject to the hostile receptions many combat soldiers received upon coming home.
“When we came back, we were part of the community,” Alverson said. “If you were in the regular Air Force or the regular military, you came from all different parts of the country and so there was not a lot of that synergy. But here, there certainly was. It was your neighbors. We were their neighbors.”
Three 107th Airmen serving in South Vietnam were awarded the Purple Heart, one the Distinguished Flying Cross and 43 received Air Medals. One who was killed in action, Captain Joseph L’Hullier, was awarded The New York State Medal for Valor.