“That just rips my heart out” Vietnam Veteran recalls time in the Air Force

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MILFORD, Iowa (KCAU) – On September 4, 1970, Tom Arends boarded a plane to Vietnam to begin his service in the Air Force.

“It was Army, Air Force, Navy, everybody was on that plane. We got in at 2 o’clock in the morning… and it was ungodly humid,” said Arends.

During his time in Vietnam, Arends served as a Communication Center Specialist out of Da Nang Air Base.

“Our squadron was a, ARDF. Aerial Radio Direction Finding. What they did is, we had 7 or 8 missions a night that flew around North Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos, and South Vietnam. And they would intercept Morse code and linguist messages.”

When looking back on his time in Vietnam, an emotional Arends referred to his position as the second worst job in the Air Force.

“If they decided it was enemy, they would get a fix on that, and then it was my job… to send these targets B-52 squadrons. 95 percent of the B-52 airstrikes in Vietnam came from our squadron. There’s a statue in Hanoi… of a mother holding her child. That just rips my heart out because it was from a bombing. I guess it was something that I always thought I could handle it, but that part I can’t.”

Arends had to also deal with classified information.

“Everyone in our squadron, there was 136 of us, had a top secret comet 3 security clearance. If our commander came into my van, I had to cover everything up because he did not have the need to know. It was an honor, but it was kind of scary because if you screwed up, you could go to Fort Leavenworth.”

After 369 days in Vietnam, Arends returned home.

“We didn’t have Skype and cell phones. I called my wife twice from the USO in a year. And you could talk for 5 minutes for 25 dollars, and that was a lot of money when your paycheck was 98 dollars.”

And, he still remembers how him and his fellow veterans were treated when they returned to the United States.

“The Vietnam vet was short changed for 40 years. They were not appreciated until the soldiers started coming home from Desert Storm. In fact, my hat, I never wore this hat for 40 years. I didn’t feel comfortable being around people as a Vietnam Vet.”

When Arends returned home, he met his 10 month old son who was born 2 months after he was deployed.

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