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Interview with Thomas Ernest Tafoya [4/11/2004]

Tammy A. Reynolds:

Today is April 11, 2004. My name is Tammy Reynolds and I am interviewing Thomas Ernest Tafoya who served in the Vietnam War.

Tammy A. Reynolds:

Were you drafted or did you enlist?

Thomas Ernest Tafoya:

I enlisted in the United States Air Force to serve my country and to take on a new challenge.

Tammy A. Reynolds:

Where were you living at the time?

Thomas Ernest Tafoya:

I was living in Pueblo, Colorado.

Tammy A. Reynolds:

Why did you join?

Thomas Ernest Tafoya:

There were no other jobs in Pueblo at the time so I took this opportunity. I also wanted to go to college. I got thirty-six months of credit towards my education.

Tammy A. Reynolds:

Why did you pick the branch of service you joined?

Thomas Ernest Tafoya:

The Air Force seemed to be a branch that was more similar to a civilian job. The hours and type of work were related to a civilian job.

Tammy A. Reynolds:

Do you recall your first days of service?

Thomas Ernest Tafoya:

Yes. I remember the orientation was a challenge. It was as if they herded us from one station to another like cattle. We had to get physicals, we were issued fatigues, complete our paperwork and get on the plane. We were shipped to Lackland Airfield in San Antonio, Texas.

Tammy A. Reynolds:

What war(s) did you serve in?

Thomas Ernest Tafoya:

I served in Vietnam from August 20, 1965 to January 31, 1969.

Tammy A. Reynolds:

Where exactly did you go?

Thomas Ernest Tafoya:

I went to KI Sawyer in Marquette, Michigan. From October 1966 to May 1969 I spent a year in Utipoa, Thailand which was a strategic air command. We were the support team for the B-52 and KC main airplanes.

Tammy A. Reynolds:

What was your job or assignment?

Thomas Ernest Tafoya:

I worked as a supply clerk in the warehouse and drove five ton trucks. I worked as an officers' quarters' clerk checking officers in for overnight stays and ran a small concession stand for official convenience.

Tammy A. Reynolds:

Did you see combat?

Thomas Ernest Tafoya:

Yes. I was in a combat zone in Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam.

Tammy A. Reynolds:

Tell me about a couple of your most memorable experiences.

Thomas Ernest Tafoya:

During my tour of duty in Thailand we were informed by our first sergeant that our base was soon to be under attack. Fortunately it turned out to be a false alarm so we resumed our normal duties. Another point that stands out to me while I was in Thailand was the memory of having lunch with a friend and a monk at a Buddhist temple. During this lunch fish heads and rice were served. Another memorable moment was when I returned to San Antonio, Texas from Vietnam and placed on Kelly Airfield. I was promoted to E-4 and given more responsibilities. Periodically I would go to the store on base which was called the Basic Exchange to shop and it would bring back memories of my basic training days. As I entered the airbase I would be saluted by the new recruits as I drove through the gates.

Tammy A. Reynolds:

Were you awarded any medals or citations?

Thomas Ernest Tafoya:

I was awarded the National Defense Service Medal, the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal, and the Air Force Good Conduct Medal.

Tammy A. Reynolds:

How did you stay in touch with your family?

Thomas Ernest Tafoya:

Mainly through letters and occasional phone calls. The letters could take up to two weeks for me to receive them, because they were sent by airmail. I remember one time I was able to call my mom for two minutes from Vietnam. It was a free call that was given to the veterans like a walkie talkie system.

Tammy A. Reynolds:

What was the food like?

Thomas Ernest Tafoya:

Unlike others I tended to like the food that was served to us for our meals. I especially liked the food that was served in Thailand which consisted of cow pot (fried rice), seaweed and water buffalo, which was the main meat that was served.

Tammy A. Reynolds:

Did you have plenty of supplies?

Thomas Ernest Tafoya:

Yes.

Tammy A. Reynolds:

Did you keep a personal diary?

Thomas Ernest Tafoya:

No.

Tammy A. Reynolds:

Do you recall the day your service ended?

Thomas Ernest Tafoya:

Yes. January 31, 1969.

Tammy A. Reynolds:

Where were you?

Thomas Ernest Tafoya:

I was in Kelly Airfield in San Antonio, Texas.

Tammy A. Reynolds:

What did you do in the weeks and months afterwards?

Thomas Ernest Tafoya:

I loaded up all my possessions and returned to Colorado.

Tammy A. Reynolds:

Did you go back to school?

Thomas Ernest Tafoya:

Yes.

Tammy A. Reynolds:

Did you join a veterans' organization?

Thomas Ernest Tafoya:

No I didn't. I'm currently covered under the veteran's administration health center. Later Years. . .

Tammy A. Reynolds:

What did you go on to as a career after your service?

Thomas Ernest Tafoya:

After being discharged from the service I returned to Pueblo, Colorado. I then got married and had three daughters. I went on to receive a bachelor's degree in behavioral science and later a masters' degree in social work. I currently work in the field of social work.

Tammy A. Reynolds:

Did your military experience affect your thinking about war or the military in general?

Thomas Ernest Tafoya:

No.

Tammy A. Reynolds:

How did your military service affect your life?

Thomas Ernest Tafoya:

The challenges and obstacles I faced made me a better man.

Tammy A. Reynolds:

Is there anything you would like to add that we have not covered in this interview?

Thomas Ernest Tafoya:

No. We thank you, Thomas Ernest Tafoya for participating in this interview today. Your interview will become a permanent part of the Veterans History Project at the Library of Congress so that future generations will understand your service to our country. .

 
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  October 26, 2011
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