Thanks to an Honor Flight, Farnhamville man learns there’s a new attitude towards Vietnam veterans now
FARNHAMVILLE — When Mike Ewing returned to the United States after a year of Army service in South Vietnam, he didn’t receive a rousing welcome.
His reception consisted of people insulting him and spitting on him in airports.
“That has bothered us for a long, long time,” the Farnhamville man said of himself and t
housands of other Vietnam War veterans who received similar treatment when they came home.
“People today can’t realize why people would do that,” he added.
This year, Ewing found out in a dramatic fashion that Americans have changed their opinion of the Vietnam War veterans. He went to Washington, D.C., on the May 7, 2016, trip of the Brushy Creek Area Honor Flight. When he and the other veterans stepped off the plane and into Dulles International Airport in Virginia, they were mobbed by hundreds of people cheering, clapping and wanting to shake their hands. Ewing said there were people lined up three and four deep along the airport corridors to greet them.
When their plane returned to Fort Dodge Regional Airport that night, another jubilant crowd greeted the veterans.
“The people, the crowd, was just absolutely great,” Ewing said. “So great that it made me cry, especially when I got back to Fort Dodge.”
“I’m so proud of that — that people now appreciate those who serve in the military,” he added.
Ewing’s service in the military began in 1970. He had graduated from Cedar Valley High School the year before and was working at Franklin Manufacturing in Webster City. Believing that he was going to be drafted, he decided to enlist. Enlisting in the Navy required a four-year commitment, which seemed like forever to him. An Army enlistment entailed a three-year commitment, so he chose that branch of the service.
When he enlisted in the Army, he was able to pick what he wanted to do. He chose air conditioning maintenance.
Ewing went into the Army in March 1970, and was sent to Fort Lewis in Washington for basic training. Then he went to Fort Belvoir in Virginia for training as an air conditioning mechanic. While there, he worked as a clerk for awhile. It was a position that made him pretty popular, he said, because he was the person who typed up the weekend passes that soldiers needed to go off the base.
When his training was completed, he flew to Cam Ranh Bay in South Vietnam. He arrived in November 1970.
In South Vietnam, he was assigned to a communications unit called the 41st Signal Battalion. Keeping the unit’s radios and other equipment cool was essential in the hot and humid climate, so Ewing’s skills were needed there.
He maintained gear in the battalion’s base in Qui Nhon, which was close to the China Sea. Ewing said there was a guard tower right next to the beach.
Occasionally, Ewing would fly to a remote radio tower aboard a helicopter to make repairs.
He also worked in the base’s motor pool.
“Once they figured out I was an Iowa farm boy they thought I could drive anything, which I could,” he said.
His favorite vehicle to drive was the classic Jeep. He also drove a kind of truck called a deuce and a half because it could carry 2 1/2 tons. A larger version of that truck could carry five tons.
Ewing also drove a big forklift which was nicknamed Lucifer for reasons he never found out.
Guard duty was another major chore Ewing had to complete. He said the base at Qui Nhon was surrounded by two 10-foot-high fences with rolls of concertina wire in between them. There were guard towers scattered throughout the base.
The base was hit by enemy mortar rounds regularly. Ewing recalled that a round landed in a nearby ammunition dump, but disaster was averted because the round was a dud.
He said there were South Vietnamese civilians working at the base, cooking and cleaning.
“What their real affiliations were, we never knew,” Ewing said.
There were civilians in the area that were opposed to the American presence and one day they rioted at the front gate of the base. Ewing recalled the people yelling and throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails into the base. A Jeep parked near the gate was set on fire, he added. After about six or seven hours, the rioters left.
He returned to the United States in November 1971 and was sent to Fort Knox in Kentucky. He was assigned to the motor pool, but he wasn’t there for long. Ewing said the Army at that time had a policy which allowed soldiers who had been in combat zones to serve their last year of duty with the National Guard in their home state.
Ewing came back to Iowa and became a member of the 3695th Ordnance Co. based in Fort Dodge. He was discharged in 1973.