SIOUX CITY, Iowa (KCAU) – Leon Stevenson was in the Air Force during the Vietnam War and supported his men on the front lines by loading fighter jets with weapons.
“Flying in, you could see out the window of the airplane that the whole country was pock marked where bombs for years and years and years had pock marked it. So you pretty well knew you were going into a war.”
During his time in the Air Force, Leon Stevenson was based in Phu Cat Air Base as a weapons specialist
“We had what we called the scramble birds, which meant whenever there was a firefight going on somewhere close by in Vietnam, they would call us and say we need four F-100’s, and they would give us the orders. There was 500 pound bombs, 250 pound bombs, napalm or rockets.”
And the Viet Cong saw his air base as a target.
“Phu Cat air base was up in the central highlands of Vietnam, but we’re on a flat plateau, and there were mountains around us. So the V.C. [Viet Cong] would go up into the mountains and lob mortars down onto the base. They wanted to blow up those airplanes. They would have suicide missions come in with jackets of explosives on them and try to get up underneath an airplane and blow themselves and the airplane up. Never got to the airplane. Never lost an airplane the whole time we were over there. Killed several V.C.”
Besides Stevenson’s encounters with the Viet Cong, he also had to handle napalm.
“Napalm was the most dangerous weapon that we loaded because we would get them in and they would be leaking and Napalm is like Jell-O. The consistency, it’s like gasoline. Very explosive. Back then they were using a lot of napalm, not only on the enemy, but we cleared an awful lot of jungle. If the VC were sneaking up and getting in somewhere, we just totally went in and napalmed it and there wasn’t anything left, bare ground.”
After exactly a year of service, Stevenson was eligible to come home. A moment he was eager for.
“Everybody wanted out. Everybody no matter what branch of the service you were in or anything else, you wanted out. You wanted to get back home.”
But when he returned to the United States, he wasn’t greeted with the warmest of welcomes.
“So on the street I get spit at for going, and consequently, these pictures haven’t been out of the trunk for 53 years. I don’t talk about it. All of my buddies, the buddy next door was in Vietnam, the buddy over here was in Vietnam. They don’t talk about it. The country made us ashamed of the fact that we went over there and fought for America.”
If there was one takeaway from his time in Vietnam, it’s that life in America is taken for granted.
“Anytime you visit a Third World country of any kind, anywhere, whether there’s a war or not, you learn a lot about America. You come back and love it because we’ve got it better than anybody else.”
Stevenson said that after his service was over, him and his men gave up cigarettes, alcohol, and swearing before landing in America, habits that he said he left back in Vietnam.