“We handled every supply known to man. I was high explosive and small arms ammunition,” said Jerry Ebbets. “We also handled dead bodies and live bodies and all things in between like clothing, food, everything.”
As a part of the supply system while with the U.S. Air Force during Vietnam, Ebbets was stationed in Da Nang with the 15th Aerial Port Squadron. He experienced many situations, from handling explosives to meeting USO personalities. Within the conflict, he and his crew found friendship and fun, including meeting two people associated with USO shows.
“I met Bob Hope and Mr. Greenjeans (from Captain Kangaroo),” Ebbets said. “I didn't know who Mr. Greenjeans was until someone in my unit said, ‘He’s Captain Kangaroo’s sidekick!’ I shook Bob Hope’s hand when he got off the plane — he was there for the Christmas Show.”
However, Ebbets didn’t get to go to the USO show.
“In 1971, they were trying to get the Vietnamese military active in the war ...” he recalled. “We supplied explosives and so forth ...”
Behind the scenes
The aerial squadron comprised many segments, including traffic control, line loading, passenger terminal, and ammunitions. They helped not only the Air Force, but also other lines of military service.
“We were behind the scenes,” he said. “They never heard of us (but) we took care of every branch of service.”
Also in 1971, he and a few buddies went to China Beach.
“We threw ourselves a nice big party,” he said. “They still had bunkers on China Beach, (but) it was a great place to relax. We went about three times.
“Sometimes you'd see a tower on the beach,” he added. “They weren’t for lifeguards — they had snipers — there were white sharks (offshore) because it was the China Sea.”
Joining the Air Force
Originally from Brooklyn, New York, Ebbets joined the Air Force after high school and was sent to Vietnam when he was 19. His father had served in World War II, and he shared with his son the experiences he had.
“He would tell me stories (of his time in service),” Ebbets said.
Even as a young man, he felt prepared for the war.
“I came from a high crime area — I'd seen (dead) bodies before,” he stated.
As an air freight man for the Air Force in Vietnam, Ebbets handled forklifts, pallets of supplies and drove the trucks to load and unload aircraft. He and his crew worked seven days a week, 12 hours a day. The port served many purposes, including the boarding and off-boarding of people.
“We (the squadron) took care of live people, the passengers, and we took care of the dead,” Ebbets stated. “People coming to Vietnam had to come through us and people leaving Vietnam had to come through us.”
Ebbets and his immediate crew took care of ammunition, including high explosives and rockets. One time he helped load and re-load 10 tons of artillery shells, part of which went to Army, he said.
“We had to break it down and get it pallet-sized for the Army and wait for a flight,” he recalled. “(The line loading section) had to load it on the flatbed, take it to the terminal. It would be off-loaded down there and then we’d start loading onto aircraft.”
During one of these occurrences the loadmaster, who controlled the loading of a C-130 plane, didn't like something, so he told the line loading men to unload the cargo and reload it. The men took a break before reloading plane. A missile hit the C-130 directly in the middle.
“The whole fuselage was pretty much gone but the wings were still attached,” Ebbets recalled.
Other dangers lurked on the air base.
“My friend Chuck Holter got his boot heel caught in a forklift tire and he was pulled under the wheels; he was going into shock,” Ebbets said. “I called up the hospital ... they had no idea where we were. I said, 'Come down to the airport terminal itself, and I'll meet you there.' So I ran about a mile and a half and flagged the ambulance down. They sent Chuck to the hospital in Japan and repaired his ankle. Then, they shipped him to Saigon to fill out the rest of his time. He came back (to the air base) and wanted to buy me drinks to thank me.”
About 160 men were in his squadron, Ebbets added. Bonding with those with whom one serves was not unusual – they became family, he said. That’s one reason he signed up for a second tour and considered a third tour.
“You bond with these guys and then you’ve got to leave them – so you figure they needed you and you were deserting them (when leaving),” he said. “I saw guys cry because they feel that connection. Our family was there (in Vietnam), so you're leaving your family.”
Da Nang, was called “Rocket City,” he said.
“Two weeks after I left, Da Nang got hit with everything in sight. It was part of the Easter offensive. “‘Nam was crazy, it was a crazy place,” Ebbets said.
To deal with the craziness, he and his buddies often turned to alcohol after their shift or during a leave.
“We’d go on a drinking binge, then you were ready to do it again,” he said. “Everybody did it, you weren't alone. I can't see fighting a war without drinking.”
Humor was another way to handle the bombings and the battles.
“Everybody would leave something behind so you would inherit the next guy's stuff — I got four pairs of socks and a Georgia flag,” he said.
Clean-up even had its humorous side, he added.
“It always surprised me when they shut a base down. They would have the guys police the area, pick up every cigarette butt ... making sure it was pristine — it was a war zone! Nothing about the war makes much sense.
“I know a lot of guys took the war hard,” Ebbets continued. “I know a lot of people took the war seriously. I feel sorry for them — they're the ones that go into PTSD. You can't take it seriously.”
Ebbets stayed in the Air Force another four years, two active and two inactive, after returning to the United States; he was stationed in North Carolina.
“I wanted to go into explosive ordinances disposal because I was comfortable around explosives,” he said.
Life after the military
After his military service, he returned to New York and to his job working with a defense contracting company. He served as an aerospace machinist, primarily on governmental equipment such as consoles for AWAC planes and detection microphones for Vietnam service. His company worked with the “Star Wars” movie producers and received an Academy Award for technical achievement. Ebbets stayed with the company, although it changed owners and names a few times, until his retirement in 2000.
“I liked working for them,” he stated. “They gave me 30 years (before retirement), and counted my military service. I spent very little time out of work. ... I was back at work a week after I got out of the military.”
New chapter in Wyoming
He and his wife came to Wyoming in 1998 for their honeymoon. They liked what they saw and relocated to Casper after his retirement. Ebbets said he is happy with their choice of location for this new chapter in life.
“I could afford to live here,” he said.
“Lack of population” is another reason he said they selected Wyoming for retirement.
“I came from a place that's overpopulated ... so I wanted to go someplace with low population,” Ebbets said. “Casper was low population.”
He is a member of the local VFW and still belongs to the Long Island American Legion. Ebbets bragged about Wyoming in a letter to the New York organization after attending the Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans event held in Casper in June 2015.
“I told them what a fantastic thing Gov. Mead (and others) did. I wanted to thank them, and tell (the people of New York) about Wyoming,” said Ebbets.