The week before Thanksgiving 1967, Dan Roblyer received a postcard from the U.S. government.
“Greetings,” it read. “You will report to the armed forces induction center in Los Angeles on December 9 for induction into the Army.”
Though he had been in conversations with recruiters since mid-1967, his draft notice accelerated his search for military service, and he enlisted on Dec. 8 in the Air Force.
Unexpected turn of events
Roblyer had hoped to study security and law enforcement, but after taking the ASVAB tests, he was shuttled into an unexpected field.
“I scored reasonably high, and they decided they were going to make a meteorologist out of me,” said Roblyer. “From an academic standpoint, it is probably one of the hardest career fields because in six months they crammed in about two years of meteorological studies.”
However, after just two years serving as a combat weather observer, Roblyer was told he would be attending officer training school and then would be trained as a weapons controller.
“I said ‘What the hell is a weapons controller?’” said Roblyer. “And the simple analogy is ... everyone knows what FAA controllers are, whose fundamental job is to keep airplanes apart. The fundamental job of a weapons controller is to bring airplanes together, either for intercept, refueling or to get into a proper situation for bombing missions. We also controlled rescue operations.”
Roblyer arrived in Thailand in the summer of 1970 at Nakhon Phanom AFB. Located in the northeast corner of the country on the Mekong River, radar systems at the base were capable of controlling airplanes over Hanoi and other areas of North Vietnam, hundreds of miles away.
He soon found that a primary responsibility, in addition to guiding aircraft on bombing runs, would be directing rescue missions.
“To me the most gratifying job I had to that date is whenever we performed a successful rescue,” said Robyler. “We had 130s, 123s, 119s and ‘jollys’ (short for Jolly Green Giant, a nickname for helicopters). They had a major intelligence operation that was there, and we had the A-1E Skyraiders, which to me were probably the greatest fighter plane we had at the time. They were slow, very, very heavily armed and they would stay providing cover for ground troops and rescue missions for hours, the whole time taking incoming rounds.
“Those were the busiest missions because one or two controllers might have 20 aircraft involved, all in a small area,” he continued, about rescue operations. “And quite often you would lose one of your rescue aircraft trying to pull someone out. So (then) you had someone else to rescue.”
Rescue missions were particularly hazardous operations due to the need for slow, low-altitude flying which exposed helicopters and other aircraft to sometimes intense ground fire.
“By ‘70, ’71, we pretty much owned the skies, and that’s why the (surface to air) missiles became so dangerous to our crews,” said Roblyer. “The SAM sites weren’t mobile at the time I was there. By the end of the war, in 1974, they started to get mobile SAM sites. And the F-105 pilots loved those. The F-105s’ Wild Weasel program (an anti-radar program) was so good, if they had that SAM radar identified for five seconds, it was dead. They (the North Vietnamese) could turn it off, but the F-105s had locked on. And towards the end of the war, we were so good at killing those they would just shoot missiles up in barrage like artillery with the hopes of hitting something.”
Invert to the rescue
Roblyer’s call sign was ‘Invert’ and he regularly had communication with pilots that he never met. However, one situation did result in a face-to-face meeting.
“I had an F-4 that was shot up pretty bad and he actually had come out of one of the northern bases in South Vietnam, but came in under our control and he called for a precautionary, maybe emergency notification,” remembered Roblyer.
Roblyer gave him vectors to the nearest F-4 base, Ubon, and continued his contact with the pilot.
“He said ‘Do you mind if we stay with you until you turn us over to the tower?’” Roblyer continued. “I said, ‘No problem’. We are talking, and he said, ‘Invert, eliminate the precautionary, I think we have an emergency. I just had a flame out on my number one.’ His number one engine was no more. … He said, ‘We have a little smoke in the cockpit,’ and just before we turned him over, his number two engine went into stalls.”
The pilot did land at Ubon safely and shortly thereafter, called Roblyer to thank him and invite him to dinner at the Officer’s Club.
“We went there and I said, ‘what took so long?’ and he said he had to change his pants!” said Roblyer. “He was very thankful.”
A phone proposal
Roblyer had another special phone call that year, but it was one he made rather than received. In July 1970, before his deployment, he had reluctantly agreed to a blind date with a woman named Barbara, who was also unenthusiastic about the date. The pair had several dates before he left for Southeast Asia, and they continued their communication while he was gone. Later in the year, he proposed via a MARS phone call, with an unknown stateside ham radio operator serving as a go-between for the big question and Barbara’s “yes” answer. Roblyer returned to the U.S. and the couple had a wedding and short honeymoon in April 1971, before he headed back to Thailand for the remainder of his tour.
Continuing work in the military
Roblyer left Thailand later in 1971 but his involvement in the Vietnam War did not end. Once back in the U.S., he trained as a photo intelligence officer and moved to Omaha in 1972 where he was involved in choosing targets for Linebacker 2, the bombing campaign of Hanoi that helped encourage the North Vietnamese to re-enter peace talks.
While in Omaha, the couple adopted their three children, Laura, Todd and Scott. A year later, the family moved to Guam where Roblyer served as Chief of Imagery Exploitation for the 8th Air Force, plotting bombing missions in and around Vietnam from 1973 to 1975.
Towards the end of 1975, he received word that he would finally get an assignment in the security field that he had long sought. The family followed the offer to Hickam AFB in Hawaii and later to Norton AFB in California. He retired from the military in August 1988 and took various jobs in security with private contractors, including LSI Logic, where his security efforts resulted in the company receiving the prestigious James S. Cogswell Award from the U.S. Department of Defense.
Life in Cody
In 1998, the Roblyers relocated to Cody to be near their daughter’s family, purchasing and renovating the original Cody Country Club for their home. In addition to pursuing his “addiction” to basset hounds, he is active in the Cody Elks Lodge 1611, Cody Eagles Lodge 818, Cody American Legion Post 0020 and is a lifetime member of the Cody Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2673.