A Vietnam Retrospective
. . . .
The Life & Times of
Fredrick B. Thompson
WO1 & CW2
With A Capsulated History of the Dolphins and Sharks
of the 174th Assault Helicopter Company
May 1970 to June 1971
Webmaster note: This story by Fred is very long and chocked full of unit history and personal memories so many of us will appreciate.
To make the story more manageable, I've divided it into 20 bite-sized parts. --Jim McD.)=============================================================
My Father, Willard Blaine "Tommy" Thompson was a Lieutenant in the Army Air Corp, flying C-47's out of North Africa, during WW II. He was of English / Irish / Scotch descent. My Mother, Gunhild Viola "Tiny"
Hagen, was an incredible cook with the Women's Army Corp. She was of German / Norwegian / Swedish descent. They met in Cairo, Egypt and returned to the States, after the war, to be married in North Dakota.
My Father had been born in North Dakota but raised in Los Angeles after the death of his father in 1927. His father had been the elected Sheriff of Cavalier County, North Dakota. My Mother was born in Montana and raised in North Dakota, where the majority of her family resides to this day. Her grandfather had been a
stagecoach driver through the Black Hills. At the time of his death, he still had an arrowhead in him from a confrontation with Indians. My Dad had a series of flying related jobs in post war Southern California, to include Air Ambulance pilot for Schaffer Ambulance, before becoming one of the premier aerial photographers with firms such as Fairchild and Hycon Aerial Surveys. Both these companies had acquired salvage Lockheed P-38 Lightenings and converted them to perform high altitude survey work. They had extended the nose to accommodate cameras and a photographer and pressurized the cabins to fly altitudes above 10,000 feet.
My older brother, Ted, was born in January 1947, and I came along in October 1948. We were somewhat a family of airport gypsies, living in rented houses and motels, near airports, across the western United States until about 1955 when my folks bought our first home in the San Fernando Valley. We attended public schools and later helped out with the family business; Thompson Aerial Photography after my Dad bought his first airplane, a Cessna 180 and some surplus aerial cameras. Throughout the early sixties, he and my Mom (the cameraman, er woman) were very successful and he began adding other aircraft to his collection; Cessna 172, Cessna 190, Beachcraft AT-11 and a Beachcraft AT-12. My Dad mapped extensively throughout the western United States to include stints in South America (Peru & Chili) and in Africa (the Sudan).
When he was home, my brother and I were the center of his world. We lived at the very end of a cul-de-sac and there were about ten other guys, all our age, that we had for neighbors. It was great. We were active in everything available, including little league baseball, Boy Scouts, swimming and diving lessons. My Mom had us in a church choir, ballroom dancing, tumbling and fencing. One day, she comes home with two accordions and the next evening, my brother and I are practicing to become a Norwegian oom-pah band. Never a dull moment. I had been named Fredrick Lynn Thompson at birth, but a kid on my street had the first name of
"Lynn," and my Dad hated the kid. He was an only child and spoiled rotten. He was a notorious 'momma's boy' and lived on cartoons. Well, I was unaware of just how much he disliked this kid until my Dad comes home this one day from meeting with an attorney and declares my middle name has been changed from Lynn to Blaine, just like his. What a guy!
We got involved with quarter midget racing when I was in the 5th grade and by the time I started the 7th grade we had set a world record in a classification referred to as double A (or AA) Master. My brother worked on the car and engines out of our garage with my Dad and I was the chauffeur. We raced locally and participated in national gatherings throughout California, Arizona and Nevada. We'd load up the racecar and family into one of the planes and off we'd go. It was a blast and about the most fun any youngster could have until surfing and girls were invented.
The United States involvement in the Vietnam War was well under way when I graduated from high school in June 1966. The 174th had arrived in Qui Nhon and Maj. Dirick "Dick" Overhamm had received word from Gen. Robert Scott that the Flying Tiger teeth were appropriate on the Shark's B-models. I enrolled at L.A. Valley College in September 1966 but was more interested in chasing skirts, waves and listening to rock music than
pursuing anything academic. My grades were O.K., but by September 1968 I'd completed over two years of college credit, was nearly 20 years of age, and still had no vocational direction. My father had fallen fatally ill with cancer and the family unit had begun to dissolve before my eyes. My older brother was off at Long Beach State and most of my friends had joined the National Guard or Army Reserves to avoid Vietnam duty. I, not unlike them, was cautious of the whole affair, as I knew many schoolmates and friends who had served, been killed or wounded there.
The newspapers published lists daily, if not weekly, of the casualties from our area. It was a scary time. But there was also that underlying fascination and curiosity to see first hand what it was all about. I'd watched enough newsreels to know that the life of a grunt was like checking into the Hotel Hell. I had, and have the utmost respect for, the job those guys had to do, but I could not see myself surviving in that role. The R.O.T.C. (Run Over To Canada) was never an option as both my parents had served and that would have been just too difficult an atmosphere around family gatherings.
My curiosity would begin to be satisfied in October 1968. I received my induction notice near my 20th birthday, and upon arrival at Fort Ord, took a battery of tests that identified me as qualified for Warrant Officer Candidate ~ Rotary Wing Flight Training. I recall calling my Mom to let her know what I'd gotten myself in line for, and half expected her to say: "What's wrong with you?" Her reply sealed my fate: "Oh. Your father would be so proud!" Ohhh, swell.
I completed Basic Training at Fort Polk, Louisiana, and it was on to Fort Wolters, Texas. I would come to find out, as we all did, that in the military, a soldier's only source of individual identity is directly tied to his time-in-grade, regardless of that grade. A primitive form of pecking order. It was like entering junior high school again, for the first time. The term "new guy" seemed to be the flavor of the week as a term used by everyone who had fifteen minutes of time-in-grade on anyone else. Aside from this curious, rather rude form of
salutation, actual flight school was exposure to some of the most animated and outrageous characters I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. Much of the ground instruction at Wolters was by courageous, fire scarred heroes who attempted to instill 'attention to detail' to keep us from making crippling, if not fatal, errors in judgement. Volumes have been written about the flight training at Wolters and 'Mother' Rucker, and I assume our experiences were similar with few exceptions.
Many of our group survived their military service and know what their friendship means to me today. Many didn't survive and my thoughts drift to them almost daily, even after all these years, wondering what they would have been like, had they not perished. I recall my own last night in my mother's house before shipping out for Vietnam the following day. After going to bed, looking down at my body, wondering if I'd be able to see all the same parts, intact the following year. The Flight School Graduates in the photo on the left are (l-r):
Steve Larabee(KIA), Chris Warnock, me, Chuck Olson and Scott Reed. ------------------------
End of Part 1 of 20 Parts.
Click on the beacon to go to Part 2