By 1965, Ken Good, a Powell, Wyoming native, had his life planned out. Four years earlier, as a junior in high school, he had purchased some land and intended to make farming a career. However, in the spring of that year, with the war in Vietnam escalating, Good believed that being drafted was inevitable. So, at the age of 20, he enlisted in the Navy, hoping to spend his military service on a ship. Instead, he ended up pursuing his childhood passion – aviation.
After basic training in San Diego, California, and flight mechanic school in Memphis, Tennessee, Good was assigned to the VR-21 squadron at Barbers Point on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. While his duty station may have been glamorous, his first job certainly was not – cleaning oil and exhaust dirt off planes returning from flights.
Moving on up
But he quickly moved up to more demanding jobs, and in 1966 after many months of schooling, he was made a flight engineer, serving with nine other crew members on the Navy’s C-118 cargo planes.
“On that particular plane I sat between the two pilots,” explained Good. “I started the engines and set the power on takeoffs and landings. Once we were at cruise altitude, I got into the copilot seat and stayed there and kept track of all the engines and all the systems on the plane.”
Good made sure everything was running smoothly and at the correct temperature. He kept track of how much fuel was used, how much fuel was left and transferred fuel between tanks when needed. That first year Good logged 942 hours of flight time.
“Our squadron supported the Pacific Fleet, and so we flew all over the Pacific Ocean supporting ships and whoever needed something, we would fly it to them,” said Good.
First flight into Vietnam
In 1966, Good made his first flight into Vietnam and remembers the experience vividly.
“The first time I flew, we flew into Tan Son Nhut Air Base next to the city of Saigon,” said Good. “We flew in there at night and came in from high altitude. They were shooting rockets up from the base to light up the whole base. They’d shoot those rockets way up in the air, and they would deploy a parachute and a flare. And they were all over. It seemed like there were hundreds of them in the air at the time lighting up the whole air base. It was just a beautiful sight to see all that.”
But the beauty belied an unsettling reason for the lights – protection from the Viet Cong.
“They wanted to be able to see everything on the base to protect everybody,” said Good. “I guess they did that every night, all night long.”
Missions into Vietnam
A trip to Vietnam from Hawaii required 40 hours of flight time, with stops on Midway Island, Wake Island, Guam or Japan for refueling. The 10 men took turns manning the plane, a crew of five flying while the other five slept. Once back in Hawaii after a mission, Good began checking the flight boards for his next assignment, which usually came three or four days after returning.
In addition to the sometimes unknown cargo items he flew in, Good noted that he and his crew often flew Marines and Navy Seals into remote dirt airstrips in the Vietnam countryside, including on one flight, one of his former boot camp instructors.
“We’d visit a little bit. A lot of them were I think on pretty bad missions,” remembered Good. “I know a lot of times they were quite inebriated when they got on the airplane. Some of them were so drunk they couldn’t hardly get on the airplane. But they told us where they were going so we kind of understood, I guess. I think most of the troops were sent over on private airliners, except ones who were going on these bad missions where they were being flown right into the jungles and I think we took most of them in.”
Dangers of flying
Though any flight carries some risk, Good said one of the only times he felt fear was watching another plane crash.
One day while in the states taking a flight physical, alarm bells went off on the base and ambulances went rushing to a nearby runway where a plane had crashed during takeoff.
“They had a load of Navy Seals, and when that happened, they threw open the passenger door and they threw out a rope,” said Good. “The crew, I guess, slid down the rope, burning their hands because the plane was pretty tall. And then the Seals all jumped out of the airplane, rolled once and took off running.”
This stark reminder of the dangers of flying, even in non-combat situations, made Good pause and think, “… maybe I shouldn’t be doing this.” But he remained undeterred and years later, recounting this story to one of his sons, the young man remarked, “You know, I think I might want to be one of those Seals.” And he did just that, recently retiring from 23 years in the military, much of that time as a Navy Seal.
Good said another close call involved not enemy fire, but danger created from the general every day chaos of war.
“Another time we were landing at Tan Son Nhut and they told us at that time that it was the busiest airport in the world,” said Good. “They have two runways there side by side and it was just constant in and out. One particular time they put us in a holding pattern flying over a mountain. They were fighting on the ground and they were dropping napalm bombs with fighter jets. This one fighter jet dropped his load of napalm, and he comes straight up and almost hit us. He missed us by it seemed like just a matter of feet. We could see the belly of his jet as he flew straight up in front us. And our plane shook as we went through the air that he disturbed.”
When Good enlisted, he told the recruiter that he intended to serve for only three years. He actually served just less than three years. During the Christmas of 1967, Good was in Japan and picked up a copy of the Stars and Stripes newspaper. It announced that 34,000 troops were to receive early outs.
“I got to reading the ranks and I was included in that, so as soon as I got back to Hawaii I think I had four days to get out of the Navy,” said Good. “So I was in the Navy for 2 years and 10 months, which has to be about a record I think.”
After his discharge, Good returned home to his farm in Powell. He married, raised two sons and a daughter and farmed sugar beets, malt barley and alfalfa until his recent retirement. He and his wife sold the farm to Good’s cousin and continue to reside there, assisting in the spring and fall with farm responsibilities.
Eighteen years ago, Good joined the local honor guard started by his uncle. Since then, the guard members, wearing uniforms from their time in the service, have provided final honors at approximately 350 burials of veterans from the Powell area.
Today, Good remembers his time in the military as one of excitement and adventure and of duty fulfilled.
“I guess I never did feel that anything would happen to me,” he said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better tour in the service.”