For Fred Dimon, serving in Vietnam provided a bond like no other. He arrived in Vietnam in 1968, and flew a C-7A Caribou.
He still remembers his first day.
“When we arrived in Saigon, there was a big hole in the roof,” Dimon said. “You could look up through the ceiling. They told us they were rocketed, and some people died in that. You could hear small arms fire going off all around the base. They put us on a bus, and we rode around the base to where the Caribous were — I could have walked there faster.
“It’s a short takeoff and landing airplane,” Dimon said. “We were flying in where most other fixed-wing aircraft could not get to.”
The heat was another thing that Dimon remembers. He was thankful for the jungle survival training he received in the Philippines. It did not fully prepare him for what the heat was really like, but he did eventually get used to it.
His squadron was fresh out of pilot training, and they had not driven a plane similar to the Caribou for a while. He said it was a learning experience, and they started out slow. When he landed his plane, he experienced small arms fire, and even experienced mortar fire. He is thankful that the enemy did not have sophisticated equipment.
He flew into combat zones and sometimes thought he was going to die.
“It could be frightening,” Dimon said about his experience. “There were times of sheer panic. I was very fortunate. I was stationed near Bun Tau. It was in the country’s rest and recuperation center. When we were done with our missions, it was almost like coming back to the states. It was very nice. It was relatively safe.”
In one of his first missions he took on small arms fire. His commanding officers were very helpful. He learned more from them than in training.
“We took small arms fire, and they hit our prop,” Dimon said. “It knocked about four inches off one of our props. When you lose that much, it makes the engine go dingy. It really revs up, and vibrates. We shut down the engine. The guy got permission to fly back to our base. I thought (to myself), ‘Holy cow, we are going to fly this back to the base.’ After that, I thought I was never going to make it through the year.”
Dimon’s missions included everything from hauling parts, food and supplies to bodies. His missions were not scheduled. They were based on the need of the day. He never forgot the day a body bag opened up on him. He was in a rush, and then the unthinkable happened.
“It’s not the most pleasant smell, but it happened,” Dimon said. “You try to be as respectful as you possibly could, but there were just times where you heaved them on.”
Dimon was forced into the military because of a requirement from the University of Iowa. In 1962, in order to attend the university, Dimon signed up for the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps.
“When I went to Iowa, ROTC was mandatory for four years because it was a land grant school,” Dimon said. “My freshman year, I was in Army ROTC.”
Dimon had a bad experience while in Army training. He injured his ear, and transferred into the Air Force ROTC. Dimon knew he was going to Vietnam.
“Back then you only had four years to finish college; unless you went to graduate school you were going to be drafted,” Dimon said. “In fact, I had one of my best friends — he had five hours left to graduate, and they drafted him.”
From 1966-1967, Dimon was in pilot training. In his senior year, he was in the military’s flight instruction program. He was able to get about 40 hours of flight time. Dimon found out later that he could have received a private license. He graduated from Iowa as a 2nd lieutenant.
“Everybody in the air force went through the exact same training,” Dimon said about pilot training. “It made no difference what aircraft you went into. They changed that now. What we were flying were jet aircraft.”
Dimon knew he wanted to fly a jet, but the Air Force only let people with high marks in both academics pilot the jets.
“I was very good at flying. I think I ended up as the third-best in my class, but I was terrible in academics,” Dimon explained. “I ended up in the middle. Only the top six people flew fighter aircrafts.”
The bonds that he made in Vietnam will last forever. He eventually became an aircraft commander. Dimon went on a lot of dangerous missions, which he credits to his youth. He said that when he was young, he felt invincible. He was happy to make it out alive and is proud to have served his country.
Staff writer Matthew Shepard may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 425, or at email@example.com.