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Interview with Joe Pitts [10/8/2002]

Edwin M. Perry:

Today is 8 October 2002. I am Mike Perry. With me is David Taylor. We're from the American Folk Life Center of the Library of Congress. Today we're here to interview Congressman Joe Pitts from Pennsylvania as part of the Veteran's History Project. Good afternoon, Congressman.

Joe Pitts:

Good afternoon.

Edwin M. Perry:

This project is designed to document the service histories of members of the American public. And we've been asked today to come and interview you as part of that overall project.

Joe Pitts:

Mm-hmm.

Edwin M. Perry:

You were an Air Force officer.

Joe Pitts:

Yes.

Edwin M. Perry:

Did you have any familiarity with the service prior to entering into the Air Force?

Joe Pitts:

Well, yes. My father was a chaplain in the Army during the Second World War with the troops under MacArthur down in Australia. Went through New Guinea, through the Spice Islands, up to the Philippines to Japan. And after the Second World War, he took us as a family, a missionary family to the Philippines. So I grew up in a country that was war-torn, immediately after the Second World War. Played on real tanks and real antiaircraft guns, with real mortars. Yeah, all those kind of things. My young friends had been traumatized by the horror of that war, and so visited there -- My dad was still in the reserves -- Visited the air base in what they called Camp John Hay, then John Hay Air Base in the northern part of the Philippines, and down at Clark Air Force Base many times through the years. So, yes, I was familiar with the military.

Edwin M. Perry:

Well, your father was a chaplain and had a unique perspective then on military service. Did he talk to you at all about his service?

Joe Pitts:

Yes, he did. He told me that -- often -- different incidents. But I remember one that he told me about when they were in, coming into the Philippines. I think it was in the Leyte Gulf area that they were attacked by kamikazes. He remembers, you know, standing out on deck, the planes circling. He thought it was for his ship -- Missed. It went right over his ship and hit the one next to him. Talked about those kinds of incidents. And some of the aftermath and those things in the Philippines, you know, he related to us. Of course, when we were there, the buildings were still on their side, a lot of damage still. So, he would tell us a little bit about that.

Edwin M. Perry:

What years was this when you were in the Philippines?

Joe Pitts:

Oh, January of '48, and then through '57.

Edwin M. Perry:

So they were still in the process of rebuilding the Manila?

Joe Pitts:

Yes, yes. In, we actually left in '47. I think we got there in January of '47. I'm sorry, January of '48. So, yes, there were still -- there was a lot of rubble, damaged being cleaned up and being rebuilt at that time.

Edwin M. Perry:

So you then went back to the states and moved back to Kentucky?

Joe Pitts:

After high school, after graduating from high school, went back to the states, went to school, yes, in Kentucky. Met my wife there. We were teachers by training, both teachers. We could not make it when we started having a family on one teacher's salary. The salary then was $3,250 a year. So, that's when I looked into serving, you know, in the military and joined, went to Officer's Training School. And she could stay home with the family at that, with that.

Edwin M. Perry:

What motivated you to go to the Air Force?

Joe Pitts:

Well, I'd always for some reason as a kid liked the Air Force, and thought about flying, that type of thing. So it was just something I think that just came with me as a kid having been very familiar with the air base at Clark, and John Hay.

Edwin M. Perry:

So you walked down to the Air Force Recruiting Office, and say, I want to volunteer for Officer Training School?

Joe Pitts:

That's correct, and applied also for flight training. And they said well, all our pilot slots are filled. If you go to navigator training, you know, that's a good step, and then you can go into pilot training. So that's what I did, went to Officer Training School at Lackland Air Force Base in the summer of '60 -- um, let me think now.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Joe Pitts:

It was --

Edwin M. Perry:

'63.

Joe Pitts:

'63, yeah. And my wife -- we had one child at that time. She stayed with her parents for six weeks, and then when I was able to get an apartment off-base. She came down. I would see them on the weekends and of course, she would come over in the evenings, when I could. But basically for those -- for Officer Training School, I was in a barracks situation with the other guys.

Edwin M. Perry:

Today, it's about a twelve-week school. How long was it back when you went through?

Joe Pitts:

About three months.

Edwin M. Perry:

About three months? About the same period when you went through.

Joe Pitts:

Yeah.

Edwin M. Perry:

Was it all military? Was it a classroom? What exactly was the composition of the program?

Joe Pitts:

Well, it was, it was both classroom and physical and military history, that type of thing. A lot of discipline, the physical aspects, PT, and learning how to march and that type of thing.

Edwin M. Perry:

And that was Officer Basic Training?

Joe Pitts:

Yes, that's what it was.

Edwin M. Perry:

A little bit nicer?

Joe Pitts:

A little bit nicer, but it was still pretty Spartan.

Edwin M. Perry:

Who were the training captains? Were they officers or NCO's?

Joe Pitts:

We had officers for our class room -- we didn't call them professors -- classroom instructors.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Joe Pitts:

Yeah.

Edwin M. Perry:

And then for the drill and stuff, was that, again, officers or was that a mix of officers and --

Joe Pitts:

I think we had officers almost entirely. When I went to survival training, after Officer Training,| I went to navigator training, and then after navigator training, I went to Electronic Warfare Training. After that, went to Combat Crew Training. After Combat Crew Training, went to survival training. Survival training was NCO's.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Joe Pitts:

But most of the other was officers.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay. So you finished this twelve-week school. You are now a --

Joe Pitts:

At Lackland Air Force Base. I was a second lieutenant.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay. And then they say you are going to go to navigator school. Where was navigator school?

Joe Pitts:

James Connally Air Force Base in Waco, Texas.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay. So they're keeping you down in the Texas area.

Joe Pitts:

Yeah.

Edwin M. Perry:

For all the schools.

Joe Pitts:

And that was like a 13-month training.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Joe Pitts:

We flew T-29's. And I, I graduated from Officer Training as a distinguished graduate. When I went to navigator training, I didn't realize I was doing so well until fairly late in the process, and didn't realize I was possibly top of the class. I ended up what they call Outstanding Graduate Number Two. I was second. And really enjoyed it. Had a -- had an ability for navigation for some reason, seemed to do real well with navigation. So, after, at the end of my navigator training, they asked us, you know, what we wanted to do. And I chose electronic warfare, which was sort of a specialty for a navigator to go into.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Joe Pitts:

And that was -- primarily at that time, they were in B-52's, but we could have gone into a couple other types of planes, but thought at that time it would probably end up with B-52's. So from navigator training in Waco, went to Mather, California, in Sacramento, California.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Joe Pitts:

For the Electronic Warfare Training. And had our second daughter, second child, in Waco in a military hospital, and she cost a total of $7. Our first daughter, you know, we had outside, private hospital, about $1,000, and then we got into government healthcare.

Edwin M. Perry:

The training that you went through as a navigator, was it a slower pace then Officer Training School or -- since it lasted 13 months?

Joe Pitts:

It was probably not as much pressure as Officer Training School. The Officer Training School was more like a basic training.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Joe Pitts:

You know, the pressure they put you under and teach you how to conform and work as a unit, that type thing. It was much, I think, more relaxed, more of an academic type of thing.

Edwin M. Perry:

Weekends off?

Joe Pitts:

Yep.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Joe Pitts:

We did have maybe some flights on the weekend, but mostly off.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay. I saw that as a teacher, you did a lot of science courses. Was the fact that you had a math/science background helpful as a navigator?

Joe Pitts:

Yeah, I think it was.

Edwin M. Perry:

And perhaps that is one of the reasons you did so well?

Joe Pitts:

I don't know. There, you know, in map reading and, you know, using the instruments, it just seemed to come easy. So probably that math and science had an affect.

Edwin M. Perry:

Today, with GPS, folks would say, well, being a navigator is easy.

Joe Pitts:

Yeah {laughter }.

Edwin M. Perry:

What were some of the challenges as you were going through training program of learning to be a navigator when the technology was still rather -- I don't want to say primitive, but long distance flight was still sort of new?

Joe Pitts:

Well, I think some of the electrical engineering, electronic aspects were a little more challenging for me. We went through basic-type of courses on radar and Loran, and some those things. And I enjoyed that but probably that was the more challenging, sort of the more challenging parts.

Edwin M. Perry:

Now, Electronic Warfare School, was that also out in California? Or did you have to move --

Joe Pitts:

That was in California. I went from Texas to California, to Northern California, Mather at Sacramento, and that was about 11 months, I think that was. That was much more challenging for me. Because that was sort of like electrical engineering, some of that electronic stuff, and so I really had to work at that. And was it C-54's? I can't remember what we trained in there, but we had some flight training there as well. And basically, at the end of that, I selected B-52's and --

Edwin M. Perry:

What's the purpose, for those who may not know, of the Electronic Warfare Officer?

Joe Pitts:

That -- in a B-52, is a person who is in charge of bomber defense. Over water, over the ocean, we would help navigate. We would shoot the stars. But over the land with the target, we were listening to radars, listening to threats, evaluating, countering. So you had a number of receivers and a number of jammers, and you would then put jammers on your threats, deny the enemy the information they were looking to, for instance shoot a SAM at you. Our main threat was Surface to Air Missiles, SAMs.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Joe Pitts:

They shot antiaircraft artillery at us every mission, but it was not very accurate. We were flying up at 30-35,000 feet, so it was not very accurate. But the SAMs were a potential threat that we had to counter, and of course there was always the potential of them sending a MiG up, when you got up above the north or DMZ.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Joe Pitts:

And so we were listening to all of those potential threats, advising the crew, and countering them.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay. And the training program, as you were going through that, they are preparing them to do that type of work --

Joe Pitts:

Yes.

Edwin M. Perry:

-- as it gets assigned to you?

Joe Pitts:

Yes, you were learning to listen to the various types of radar, identify them just from sound.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Joe Pitts:

As well as frequency and the type -- sweep, and learning how to counter them with the appropriate jamming device.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay. Also flares, or did you do --

Joe Pitts:

Yes, we did. That was in case of a launch from a MiG, an infrared missile, being able to counter that.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay. Eventually -- my time line was a little bit off -- you were assigned to 99th at Westover.

Joe Pitts:

The 99th Bombing Wing -- after -- now, I went to Combat Crew Training over in Castle in Merced, California.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Joe Pitts:

And of all my time in the service, that was the most enjoyable, really very pleasant, not as high pressure stressful.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Joe Pitts:

Just hands-on type of training in actual B-52's.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Joe Pitts:

It was older models, but, you know.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay. So you finished the Electronic Warfare, and then you went to this con -- air --

Joe Pitts:

Combat Crew Training.

Edwin M. Perry:

-- Combat Crew Training?

Joe Pitts:

Combat Crew Training, and that was like a ten-week course.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Joe Pitts:

And we had time off with the family so we could take the girls swimming, and you know, it was a very nice little area where we lived, very pleasant. So really enjoyed that. Then went to survival training in Stead, Nevada, where --

Edwin M. Perry:

I hope that wasn't pleasant.

Joe Pitts:

That was not pleasant {laughter }.

Edwin M. Perry:

Ah, how long a course?

Joe Pitts:

That was just like a three-week course. That's with where they drop you off in the middle of nowhere and give you a map and a compass, and you can only travel at night, and you've got to get, you know, so far each day, end up at an end-point over mountain ranges. And then that is a simulated POW camp, with simulated interrogation and the way they treat you.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Edwin M. Perry:

When you were travelling, were you travelling by yourself?

Joe Pitts:

Sometime. But, hooked up with another guy, and you know, we would travel at night. If they caught you, they would take you back to the starting point. So there was good incentive not to get caught.

Edwin M. Perry:

They wouldn't take you to the POW camp but go back to the starting point?

Joe Pitts:

{Laughter} Yeah.

Edwin M. Perry:

How realistic was this training?

Joe Pitts:

Well, I thought it was pretty good, as far as the interrogation techniques. You know, they gave you the water treatment. And the little -- you know, cram you into a little box until you're numb and simulate interrogation techniques. I thought it was pretty good. I mean, there were ex-POW's.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Joe Pitts:

And ex-communists. They had ex-communists, um, military who had --

Edwin M. Perry:

Defected?

Joe Pitts:

-- defected, actually doing a lot of that. So it sounded -- you know, the way they talked, and the way they did things, it sounded like a foreigner.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay. Was the -- did they do any pre-training before they put you out there?

Joe Pitts:

Well, I think they did a little bit. Not much. I mean, we had to live off the land, and I lost about 15 pounds in 2 weeks. The only thing I could catch was frogs, and wild onions. I couldn't eat an onion for years after that.

Edwin M. Perry:

A little bit like Army Ranger Training, when they put you out there.

Joe Pitts:

Yeah.

Edwin M. Perry:

Survival escape and evasion.

Joe Pitts:

Yeah.

Edwin M. Perry:

So after you've gone on a diet for about two or three weeks, they eventually send you up to Westover?

Joe Pitts:

Up to Westover for, I was with the -- 99th Bomb Wing and the 8th Air Force.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Joe Pitts:

SAC, Strategic Air Command. And of course, when they got you there, they did a little training of their procedures and operations. I was assigned to the 346th Bomb Squadron.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Joe Pitts:

There were two bomb squadrons, the 346th and the 348th.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay. What else was in the wing besides the bomb squads? Did they have other type of aircraft with other type of missions?

Joe Pitts:

It was -- yes, they had KC-135's.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Joe Pitts:

For refuelling. But primarily, it was B-52's sitting on nuclear alert.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Joe Pitts:

And we would sit on alert for seven days, down in the mole hole. And then in '67, I think it was, we got orders to go to Southeast Asia with iron bombs, so they sent -- I went over with a small group, developed the procedures for our wing.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Joe Pitts:

And we were only there for two months in that first tour. Got 16 combat missions out of that.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Joe Pitts:

And for that received an Air Medal. Normally you need 20 missions for an Air Medal.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Joe Pitts:

So, in that two months period, we developed our tactics. One thing that occurred, when we started training, at first, we were flying in formation -- if you can imagine B-52's in formation {shakes head}. And when we were in, over in Guam, flying out of Guam to Vietnam -- it wasn't our unit, but in another unit -- of the three planes, one of the planes didn't hear the command of the IP to turn. And he clipped off the vertical stabilizer of the leading plane, and we lost two B-52's and crews in that accident, and a two-star general. And so after that, they changed the procedures of formations to stack them one mile behind each other.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Joe Pitts:

So that occurred while I was there. Then we went back for a six month tour of duty.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Joe Pitts:

And that was a normal tour, six months.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Joe Pitts:

We flew out of Guam, out of Okinawa and out of Thailand. We would rotate --

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Joe Pitts:

-- a month or maybe half a month in each place. And then the next tour I had was a six-month tour, but I had been extended on flying status, because of the war. McNamara extended all of us on flight status for a year. One of the guys took it to court and won. So amid my third tour, actually it was four months that I had already been there, he won his court case, and the Air Force said you're out of here. So my third tour was only four months out of the six. But in those two tours, I had a hundred additional combat missions.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay. Didn't you pick up a six-year obligation when you went to navigator school?

Joe Pitts:

No. It was a five year.

Edwin M. Perry:

It was a five year.

Joe Pitts:

It was a five year obligation, and McNamara extended us a year.

Edwin M. Perry:

Oh, okay.

Joe Pitts:

And then they were taken to court.

Edwin M. Perry:

And that was taken to court.

Joe Pitts:

That's correct.

Edwin M. Perry:

And back at Westover.

Joe Pitts:

Yeah.

Edwin M. Perry:

What was the base like, in the mid-1960's?

Joe Pitts:

Well, it was pretty active. We had planes and crews on alert, constant alerts, seven days a week --

Edwin M. Perry:

Did you pull both ground and air alerts, or was it just ground alerts?

Joe Pitts:

I never did have an air alert.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Joe Pitts:

I don't know -- some of the guys I think in other units had that, but we were always, at least while I was there, just on ground alert. Some of the guys had been on ground alert.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Joe Pitts:

So I don't know if any of our unit was on air alert. But I never experienced air alert.

Edwin M. Perry:

What was the routine on ground alert like?

Joe Pitts:

Well, we would check in to the mole hole. We would always do a lot of training. We were constantly training.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Joe Pitts:

Each, each position in the -- there were six positions, two pilots.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Joe Pitts:

A pilot and co-pilot; a radar navigator, and a navigator; and the Electronic Warfare Officer was a navigator. And then a gunner, who sat in the rear. He was a --

Edwin M. Perry:

Enlisted?

Joe Pitts:

Enlisted, yeah.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Joe Pitts:

And so each of our positions would train constantly. We were always going down to the simulator, training. A lot of that. We would often have alerts, you know, go out and start up the plane and taxi, you know. We would be sleeping at-the-ready, if you will.

Edwin M. Perry:

Mm-hmm.

Joe Pitts:

So, if the claxon went off, we would, you know, jump into our shoes and jumpsuits, and be running out to our planes. We could be out it there running {snaps fingers} in a matter of a minute, you know.

Edwin M. Perry:

What time line did they want you to get the aircraft airborne?

Joe Pitts:

Well, it was a matter of minutes, and if you were right at the mole hole and the plane was outside the door, I mean, in 30 seconds, you were at the plane; you know what I'm saying?

Edwin M. Perry:

Yeah.

Joe Pitts:

You could be starting up the plane in a matter of less than a minute. But most of us, it was a matter of minutes, and we wanted to get everybody off the ground like in 12 minutes, all the planes.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Joe Pitts:

So we were taking off in 15-seconds intervals.

Edwin M. Perry:

About how many planes -- uh, aircraft in your squadron?

Joe Pitts:

About 32, I believe it was.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay. You just described the mole hole.

Joe Pitts:

Yeah, it's an underground -- place that the crews stay that could withstand a direct hit. In other words, you were underground, and you ran out tunnels to the ground. In other words, running uphill to get out.

Edwin M. Perry:

Did you --

Joe Pitts:

Yes --

Edwin M. Perry:

-- live there during your seven days?

Joe Pitts:

-- yes. We could -- we could travel; we had pickups with lights so that we could travel to other parts of the base, certain parts of the the base. In fact, some of the crews lived in the BOQ and not in the mole hill. So -- but you had to be able to get in the had truck, with the siren going, and get down the plane within a certain number of minutes --

Edwin M. Perry:

Mm-hmm.

Joe Pitts:

-- you know, to do that.

Edwin M. Perry:

How many people were at this base at this time; do you remember?

Joe Pitts:

No, I don't. It was hundreds. It was a large base.

Edwin M. Perry:

Did your family live on-base or off?

Joe Pitts:

Yeah, we lived on-base. There were units of like four apartments together.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Joe Pitts:

And we would had one of those units.

Edwin M. Perry:

You talk about the demands of being constantly, or spending seven days in the mole hole?

Joe Pitts:

Mm-hmm.

Edwin M. Perry:

And the constant demand of those rigors.

Joe Pitts:

Mm-hmm.

Edwin M. Perry:

What type of demands did this place on the family?

Joe Pitts:

Pretty severe. I mean, our third child, our son was born while I was on alert. I didn't get to see him, you know, until I came off of alert. He was maybe five days old. You know, there were certain cases you could not go when you were on alert. They could come down and visit us. We could have a little picnic.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Joe Pitts:

On the grounds beside the mole hole. But, you know, when you are in the service, they're the boss. You follow the chain of command. You learn to live with that. So there are certain restrictions on what you can do and on your schedule. And if they said go, you had to go.

Edwin M. Perry:

At that time, did the Air Force have programs that helped support the families while you were on alert or while you were on deployments?

Joe Pitts:

Well, on deployment, for instance, in the -- we were always deployed during the winter. And the first winter, I think we got 98 inches of snow. The second winter, it was like 102 inches of snow. And the third winter, it was more then that. And finally, the fourth winter when I got out, I remember the snow was up to the windowsill. I mean, it was a lot of snow there. And my wife was -- the women who were home, we would call, and it was a radio kind of phone, so you would say --

Edwin M. Perry:

Like an old --

Joe Pitts:

-- like how are you doing, over? That kind of thing.

Edwin M. Perry:

Oh, okay.

Joe Pitts:

And you had to teach the kids to talk like that. But the women were having -- the spouses were having a problem just clearing the driveway. So I told my wife, call the flight -- the people down at the flight line and get one of the big snow blowers, you know. And she did, and they came up and cleared the parking area for them. So, you know, there was that kind of help.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Joe Pitts:

But they were pretty much on their own with other spouses.

Edwin M. Perry:

So the network was the spouse-support network.

Joe Pitts:

That was primarily, yes.

Edwin M. Perry:

Today, we have a much more expanded program in most of the services.

Joe Pitts:

Right. So we had a church locally that we went to, and they were very helpful to her, you know, if the kids were sick or she had to go to the hospital or something. There wasn't as much back then, for the families, as they things they have today.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Joe Pitts:

We did have, I would say, some amenities on the base. Like we had a woodworking shop.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Joe Pitts:

You know, of course, the other things like the BX. And we utilized some of those as a family, and I did woodworking. So there were some things like that that helped.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay. You joined SAC at a time when SAC was amongst the elite of the Air Force.

Joe Pitts:

Mm-hmm.

Edwin M. Perry:

What was the morale like in the, in your unit?

Joe Pitts:

Pretty good. We were all volunteers, and I had been given a regular commission.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Joe Pitts:

And thought I might make a career out of it. What changed my mind, I came home after being away for six months. I tried to send little packages to the kids and letters so they wouldn't forget me. But you know, when they're real small like that -- I came home and my son, I think, was about 14 months old. He was a babe in arms. And when I landed and went and held my hands out to him, and he smiled at that, and then turned away. He was afraid of me.

Edwin M. Perry:

Mm-hmm.

Joe Pitts:

And I said that's it. I've got three kids. There ain't another dad. I'm going to have to get out. You know.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Joe Pitts:

So that was primarily family, otherwise, I had been accepted into pilot training and could have gone. But I thought, well, I've served three tours; I've done my time. I think I'll get out.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay. As this period of SAC, it was still General LeMay's legacy.

Joe Pitts:

That's correct.

Edwin M. Perry:

Was he -- was that legacy still visible?

Joe Pitts:

I think so. I mean, we knew of, of his legacy, and it was a proud, it was a proud-type of a unit. There was a lot of pride, a lot of esprit de corp. I thought; I felt -- I felt that.

Edwin M. Perry:

Did you feel -- did the pilots fell competition with the growing ICBM folks?

Joe Pitts:

Well, I don't know about that. I mean, we knew of the units with ICBM's. I think perhaps we looked down at them a little bit, you know. The flight crews like they were on the front lines. So there may have been a little bit of that competition. But we were just sort of engrossed in what we were doing.

Edwin M. Perry:

Was it associated with the risk you'd have to take if you went on a penetration mission?

Joe Pitts:

I think so, yeah. We, for instance, overseas -- I remember one thing that happened, when we were -- I think we were in Okinawa at that time, and the Pueblo was seized.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Joe Pitts:

And so, I think it might have been Guam. But we were moving up to Okinawa. And we were planing to go in, and I was on the first plane to go over Wonsan Harbor. And we were going to carry antipersonnel-type things that filled their MiGs. They had MiGs there, about 54 MiGs. And they would have been scrambled by the time we came in, at a low level. And we would have filled with it holes, the Pueblo, and then turn said over and take pictures of it, and then I think some of the others might have been planning to sink it. Because it had a lot of sensitive equipment on it. But we found out at that time there were still a couple of our guys on the Pueblo. So they canceled that. But I remember gearing up for that and planning to go in, you know, with the plans and briefings, etcetera. And I think that that feeling of being in, in the war effort and, sort of at risk, gave us some esprit de corp.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay. How important were the personal relationships among the members of an air crew?

Joe Pitts:

Very, very important. You lived with them, you know, constantly, and so, that is very important. And the way the aircraft commander treats the crew is very important. We had one incident where some of the crew members didn't get along too well with the aircraft commander. And they made a switch; which was sort of unusual at that time, I think, in the crew. And we socialized, you know. We played golf and tennis and handball and, you know, go to movies. Anything we could to make the time pass. You know, we would fly all night and play all day. Basically, we were trying to fill our time with trying to spend up the time, going to a movie or playing golf or whatever. Because it got really -- you were separated from your family, and it seemed like a real long time to be separated.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Joe Pitts:

So, those interpersonal relationships were very important.

Edwin M. Perry:

What made a good aircraft commander?

Joe Pitts:

Someone who I think appreciated all the crew members and didn't deride them, you know, who tried to make everybody feel part of the team and unit.

Edwin M. Perry:

And, and --

Joe Pitts:

Some guys could be a little bit --

Edwin M. Perry:

Better?

Joe Pitts:

-- better than others at that.

Edwin M. Perry:

But you actually say they did move crew members around --

Joe Pitts:

Yes, they did.

Edwin M. Perry:

-- due to personal dynamics?

Joe Pitts:

Yes, they did.

Edwin M. Perry:

Did you ever do any personality or psychological screening --

Joe Pitts:

I don't know.

Edwin M. Perry:

-- that you were aware of?

Joe Pitts:

I wasn't aware of it, if they did.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Joe Pitts:

In 1965, they do start transitioning the B-52's to a tactical mission.

Joe Pitts:

That's right.

Edwin M. Perry:

That's when the J- --

Joe Pitts:

Iron bombs.

Edwin M. Perry:

That's right, the iron bombs. That's when Westmoreland asks --

Joe Pitts:

{Nods head.}

Edwin M. Perry:

-- in the spring of is 1965, if they will use it for tactical support. Were you aware of the arguments for and against the use of the B-52 in a tactical role, or were your jobs just flying?

Joe Pitts:

I really don't recall much of that debate. We were on alert with nuclear weapons at that time.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Joe Pitts:

And that seemed a very important mission. But when they, they retrofitted some of the '52's, we could carry something like 80 500-pounders.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Joe Pitts:

We had 750 pounders also under the wings. We could carry a huge load.

Edwin M. Perry:

Some 30-tons of bombs I think it is --

Joe Pitts:

Yeah.

Edwin M. Perry:

-- that you can carry.

Joe Pitts:

Yeah. It was a big explosion. So basically, they used us as airborne artillery. At any given time during Vietnam, of the 16 North Vietnams divisions, 14 were always in the south, wrecking havoc, killing leaders. And basically, they used us as airborne artillery around the borders and chasing these NV -- North Vietnams troops. We would even go into Cambodia and Laos after them to keep them from getting R and R.

Edwin M. Perry:

Mm-hmm.

Joe Pitts:

So, that was, I think, our primarily mission. If you've ever seen a B-52 drop, they would draw a box, and you know, we would fill it. And we had waves of planes coming in, filling that box. So there's not much left, you know, in that area where we bombed.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay. Did you look forward to these deployments? Or were they --

Joe Pitts:

Not necessarily. I had a family. So I didn't enjoy that deployment too much. I mean, we would have an opportunity for R and R in Japan or Okinawa or Thailand. We were were able to do is little bit of shopping and sightseeing there. But no, I didn't enjoy the deployments.

Edwin M. Perry:

Did you have a shopping list?

Joe Pitts:

Oh, yes.

Edwin M. Perry:

Did somebody give you a shopping list?

Joe Pitts:

My wife gave me, I had a lot of things and was able to do that. You can get some bargains. And I enjoyed the bargaining. A lot of jewelry.

Edwin M. Perry:

So you were actually based at various times at Guam, Okinawa, and --

Joe Pitts:

U-Tapao.

Edwin M. Perry:

U-Tapao, Thailand. U-Tapao, now, from what I gather, is a 747 base.

Joe Pitts:

Is that right?

Edwin M. Perry:

They use it a lot for tourism. I flew into U-Tapao in 1990 for a deployment.

Joe Pitts:

Well, that was really hot. We stayed in trailers that were air conditioned.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Joe Pitts:

But not quite so nice, you know, as Guam.

Edwin M. Perry:

To be in Guam, was pretty much established air bases --

Joe Pitts:

Yes, they were.

Edwin M. Perry:

-- so --

Joe Pitts:

So there were barracks and a nice officer's club. And as much, nice golf courses. In U-Tapao we played a lot of handball. I did lapidary, learned to, you know, cut gems. Listened to a lot of classical music. We had -- you wanted to be in air conditioning because it was so hot. So they had trailers that they fixed up for you to do some of this stuff.

Edwin M. Perry:

Were you there in monsoon season, or did you get to see more than one season?

Joe Pitts:

I got to see more than one season. We were deployed up to Taiwan one time when a, I guess a typhoon came in, yeah, so yeah, we saw both.

Edwin M. Perry:

So, basically, U-Tapao was the most primitive of the -- that was later in the war, since it was --

Joe Pitts:

That was in '68.

Edwin M. Perry:

That was in '68?

Joe Pitts:

Yeah.

Edwin M. Perry:

It would have been -- you said it was your last tour.

Joe Pitts:

Yeah.

Edwin M. Perry:

What was your routine when you went on deployment?

Joe Pitts:

Well, as I said, I tried to make the time go by. So if I had a morning, I would go down to O-club and buy a paper and get a waffle, something that I would enjoy. And just try to spend as much time, you know, reading the paper and enjoying, you know, that.

Edwin M. Perry:

Local paper or Stars and Stripes?

Joe Pitts:

It was Stars and Stripes.

Edwin M. Perry:

Yeah.

Joe Pitts:

And then we maybe -- we didn't do much training. We were actually flying every day in Thailand, every other day in Guam, so you would have to get your rest. The missions out of Guam were 12, 12 and a half hours; out Thailand were about 8, 8 and a half hours; out of Thailand, about 6, 6 and a half hours.

Edwin M. Perry:

Did you need to refuel?

Joe Pitts:

Yes.

Edwin M. Perry:

I understand Thailand, they based you there so they wouldn't have to do refuelling operations?

Joe Pitts:

That's correct. We would just fly around Cambodia, basically, over Vietnam.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Joe Pitts:

Out of Guam, we would refuel, a couple times, going and coming.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okinawa?

Joe Pitts:

Yes. I think we did.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay. So those were the long missions?

Joe Pitts:

Yeah.

Edwin M. Perry:

So they were every other day?

Joe Pitts:

Yeah.

Edwin M. Perry:

So --

Joe Pitts:

So during the day, when we had off, you would sleep, relax, do the things I mentioned, like golf, that type thing, to make time go by. And you really didn't have much training. Unless we got a new box, new equipment. And we were getting some new black boxes at that time, with new types of threats. So once in a while, we'd have some training on that type equipment.

Joe Pitts:

Okay.

Joe Pitts:

We'd have preflight briefing that would start maybe 2 and a half hours, 3 hours before takeoff. So everything revolved around those missions. So we'd go from preflight, and then you know, takeoff. You'd land about 3 and a half hours later. Do a -- a post- flight briefing, and then go get some rest.

Edwin M. Perry:

When you went on a bombing mission, when you were up there, were you targeting a particular location on the ground, or were you using radio beacons for your targeting?

Joe Pitts:

We used both, as far as coming in on a certain target, but we always had a specific target, a box, and a specific target that we were going after.

Edwin M. Perry:

So would it be a visual on it --

Joe Pitts:

No, a radar.

Edwin M. Perry:

-- or would it be done by radar?

Joe Pitts:

Yeah.

Edwin M. Perry:

Did you get feedback after your missions after you got back --

Joe Pitts:

Yes.

Edwin M. Perry:

From the people on the ground?

Joe Pitts:

Yes, we did. And we had those briefings regularly.

Edwin M. Perry:

How important was it for you to get that feedback?

Joe Pitts:

Well, it was very important, to see how effective you were. You know, gave you a sense of what was actually happening on the ground.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Joe Pitts:

We were there during Que Son.

Edwin M. Perry:

Right.

Joe Pitts:

And we bombed right up to the perimeter on Que Son.

Edwin M. Perry:

And that was one of the heaviest uses of B-52's --

Joe Pitts:

Yeah.

Edwin M. Perry:

-- in support of ground.

Joe Pitts:

Yes, so during those particular campaigns we would be getting regular briefings back from the ground.

Edwin M. Perry:

Would you see photographs at that time or --

Joe Pitts:

Yes.

Edwin M. Perry:

-- did that come later?

Joe Pitts:

No, we saw photographs, yeah. We even had guys go over and report back to us, you know, from our unit. So we had actual people from our unit go on the ground and saw some things and then came back to --

Edwin M. Perry:

In the preflight briefing, what would be some of the topics that would be covered?

Joe Pitts:

The type of threats we would have, for instance. I was interested in the type of threats, the target, of course, the proof that we would use, and then the tactics, you know, where we would fly and refuel and the type of fighter cover -- we always had fighter cover with us, that would be with us during, over target.

Edwin M. Perry:

How many B-52's typically would be on a mission like that?

Joe Pitts:

Oh, we would -- probably 12 or more. I mean, depending on how serious it was on the ground, we would just keep pounding them. You know, but often 12. Four flights of threes.

Edwin M. Perry:

Mm-hmm. As you went in, when did you really get nervous at the Electronic Warfare Officer on board --

Joe Pitts:

Well, when you over a target and you could hear a SAM {laughter}, that's when you got nervous.

Edwin M. Perry:

But what I was saying, during a flight, was there an hour or two hours period --

Joe Pitts:

Well, when you turned at IP, you were alert, you were there and you were engaged. When you were off the coast, it was much more relaxed unless you were refuelling.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Joe Pitts:

But there were deadhead hours there, before and after refuelling, or before you got to the IP and turned over the target. That's when everybody was really alert.

Edwin M. Perry:

Now, you mentioned the type of threats you faced.

Joe Pitts:

Mm-hmm.

Edwin M. Perry:

Could you just go over them again as you --

Joe Pitts:

Well, the Surface to Air Missile was the main threat. And they could, you know, hit you up to 90,000 feet. So at 30,000, we were no problem for them, and they could send it quite a ways. So you only had a certain number of seconds to react after lock-on. So you were constantly listening, alert, to hearing if you had a lock-on from a Surface to Air Missile. Then you had to react and advise the aircraft commander to take evasive actions, you know, if they launched a SAM at you. The airborne aircraft artillery, I mean, that would be used constantly, but it wasn't very accurate. You would see it going off.

Edwin M. Perry:

Mm-hmm.

Joe Pitts:

But it wasn't very accurate so it wasn't very scary. Because it just -- they just weren't very accurate. MiGs, if they launched a MiG and we heard -- and you know you hear, you heard that, then you were also going to be careful. But they really didn't bother us because we had fighter cover.

Edwin M. Perry:

How frequently were you locked-on by a Surface to Air Missile?

Joe Pitts:

Not very often. It would happen, but mostly it happened, you know, when they went up north, started bombing up north.

Edwin M. Perry:

Towards Hanoi?

Joe Pitts:

In Hanoi, and that's where they had a real problem. And we lost a number of B-52's there.

Edwin M. Perry:

You said you had fighter cover. Did you also have other electronic warfare contract supporting you or --

Joe Pitts:

We did. I don't know if they were supporting us or supporting other missions. But we were aware of that, and we did have that. A lot of times we also were aware of planes like fighters getting shot down, and we would hear the pilot going down or calling from the ground and we would relay to Jolly Green, to the rescue units, who were coming to get those guys who had been shot down. And that occurred a number of times as well. So we would hear a guy say, you know, he was hit, he was going down, ditching the aircraft, or he was on the ground and the VC were all around him, and you know, that type thing. We were relaying to Jolly Green for him, to help them get rescued.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay. What was the most nervous moment when you were --

Joe Pitts:

When you were locked on by a SAM.

Edwin M. Perry:

Did you have multiple of those? I mean, what was the -- if you look back at your entire experience while you were --

Joe Pitts:

It wasn't, it wasn't often that that occurred, because we would only fly up to the DMZ. When I was there, we did that a lot. And we would go to Cambodia and Laos. But the SAMs really were in the north. And if we went up north, then, you know, that's -- they had mobile SAMs, but we didn't know where those would be. But if you got up north, that's what you needed to worry about.

Edwin M. Perry:

Did you have any close calls at all?

Joe Pitts:

Not really. I mean, one time, a SAM was launched and went by the plane. They saw the con, you know, the contrail. But that was the only time that -- that I, you know, my crew ever was that close.

Edwin M. Perry:

When you talk about being in the aircraft, what did you see? What -- from you sat --

Joe Pitts:

Yeah, if you --

Edwin M. Perry:

If you did a 360 around where you was --

Joe Pitts:

Oh, I was --

Edwin M. Perry:

-- sitting, what did you see?

Joe Pitts:

Not much except instrument panels. I mean, I was behind -- the pilots were up front, and then there was an open space where I went up to shoot the stars. And I'd have to get up, out of my seat and shoot with the sextant, up there, and I'd go down with the navigator and the radar nav right below me, a little bit in front. But around me was nothing but instrument panels, receivers and jammers, and, you know, indicators for --

Edwin M. Perry:

So, if you got shot at, you may have picked up the radar --

Joe Pitts:

I would just hear it.

Edwin M. Perry:

-- but you would just hear it.

Joe Pitts:

Yeah. I wouldn't see it because I didn't have any windows, you know, where I was sitting.

Edwin M. Perry:

Now, you said you were still actually shooting with sextants?

Joe Pitts:

{Nods head} We were over the ocean, yes.

Edwin M. Perry:

Um --

Joe Pitts:

You know, when you're a couple thousand miles out over the ocean, nothing there, that's all you have for reference point. Radar won't see anything out there.

Edwin M. Perry:

And Oran wouldn't work either?

Joe Pitts:

No, it's too far.

Edwin M. Perry:

Too far.

Joe Pitts:

Yeah.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay. You mentioned that the real cause of you getting out was --

Joe Pitts:

Family.

Edwin M. Perry:

-- family.

Joe Pitts:

Yeah.

Edwin M. Perry:

The fact that after a deployment, your son was --

Joe Pitts:

Afraid.

Edwin M. Perry:

-- not too sure who this person was.

Joe Pitts:

That's right, this big guy.

Edwin M. Perry:

How aware -- was there any -- was the anti-war movement any influenced on --

Joe Pitts:

No, no. We experienced that and reacted against it a little bit. You know, it was something we read about and something that, or my wife or her family would tell us about. People weren't very nice to us back then for being involved in the Vietnam War.

Edwin M. Perry:

When you went back to Westover?

Joe Pitts:

Right. Well, outside in the community.

Edwin M. Perry:

In the community.

Joe Pitts:

Where, down in the Pennsylvania where my wife lived. There were these anti-war/peace activists. And they were pretty nasty sometimes. So you really didn't say anything very much about being involved --

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Joe Pitts:

-- in the Air Force. It wasn't something that you talked too much about because it wasn't very popular.

Edwin M. Perry:

In what ways did people show their negativity toward you?

Joe Pitts:

Oh, their comments. You know, it just was not the popular thing to do at that time, and some of them could be pretty nasty.

Edwin M. Perry:

Now, did you stick out with the military haircut?

Joe Pitts:

Did I what?

Edwin M. Perry:

Did you stick out with the military haircut?

Joe Pitts:

Oh, of course! Yeah, I'm sure. But, you know, we -- we got back at them a little bit. We put some names on some of the bombs before we -- {laughter}. You know, we reacted against the peaceniks, the ones who were protesting.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay. As you look back at your military service, what are some of the highlights that you remember today?

Joe Pitts:

Well, if you mean the times that I really enjoyed --

Edwin M. Perry:

Yes.

Joe Pitts:

I enjoyed, you know, where we had the family, we were together, and some things we did in the community. And --

Edwin M. Perry:

Is that unique to what you feel that the military experience made that family experience unique, or was it just typical of -- could that have happened anywhere else?

Joe Pitts:

It could have happened anywhere else, but you know, if you were -- if you were in a situation where your family couldn't be with you, it wasn't so pleasant. So I really enjoyed living on the base with the family and the seasons, going to the Mohawk Trail for the running of the sap, you know.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Joe Pitts:

Those kinds -- of visiting Stover Village, those types of things we did where we lived. I enjoyed the unit, you know, the camaraderie that you had with the units. It was a positive experience really, as I look back on it. It was very good, learning the discipline, and meet all the different kinds of people that I met, the travel, it was a positive experience. It is something that I would remember for everyone.

Edwin M. Perry:

When you got out, you moved down to Pennsylvania?

Joe Pitts:

Yes, we went back to where my wife's home was.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Joe Pitts:

And went back into teaching and started a small business.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay. And that's when you went back and got your master's degree in education?

Joe Pitts:

Yes.

Edwin M. Perry:

As you look back, as a member of Congress, do you draw on those experiences you had?

Joe Pitts:

Yes. I think it's very important. We deal with a lot of military/armed services issues. I never thought I'd be voting to for declaration of war or military action, some of the things that we faced. And as we have seen a decline in our military readiness over the past few years, that's concerned me because I really believe in that strength and deterrence through strength. And so this has a lot -- my experience serving in the military has helped a lot in these decisions.

Edwin M. Perry:

Did your military experience shape your vision of the country's role should be?

Joe Pitts:

Yes, and engagement that is necessary in the world. This is a much smaller world than it used to be. The world is a competitive marketplace. Our kids now are competing with kids in other schools. Our businesses are competing with other businesses in other countries. And with 9/11, you see how important good relationships are, and how dangerous with can be with some of these organizations, these extremist organizations. So the role of the military, the place of the United States and our ability militarily, as well as economically, and other ways, the whole, we're the symbol of hope and freedom and democracy in the world. And our emphasis on individual rights and dignity of individuals is so admired, and freedom, around the world. A lot of this is because we are strong militarily. And that we don't want anything for ourselves. We don't go to war to occupy and take over and dominate. We have gone to war to liberate and to free, you know, in the First and Second World War, and Korea and Vietnam -- and Afghanistan. And so, having the an appreciation for the military and what our soldiers go through really helps in engaging a lot of these other countries. It's very important that we maintain our military superiority. Because we are a deterrent to terrorism and tyranny and a force for freedom and democracy in the world.

Edwin M. Perry:

Fewer members of Congress have served in the armed services. You are one of about 190 now in the House and Senate who have served. Do your colleagues draw on your experiences at times?

Joe Pitts:

Yes, they do. I have started a task force, Electronic Warfare Task Force, a working group of about 35 members and staff, to watch the budgets, the line items, regarding the whole issue of electronic warfare, because that's one of the things that gives us our air superiority, our military superiority. And so, we on a regular basis bring in military defense industry people, brief us, try to educate the members, do briefings, white papers, lobby, you know --

Edwin M. Perry:

As part of the Air Force Caucus or is this a separate?

Joe Pitts:

No, that's separate. I am part of the Air Force Caucus, as well, but that's a separate group that sort of follows one specific issue.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Joe Pitts:

To try to help keep our military superiority.

Edwin M. Perry:

If you had one -- we've asked a number of questions and -- is there one thing we have not covered that you would like to record about your military experience, what would that be?

Joe Pitts:

Let me think. One thing that you haven't covered -- I would say the need to rebuild our military forces, our military remnants.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Joe Pitts:

I think we are dangerous -- we have been dangerously downsized -- {cut off}.

 
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