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Interview with Arthur E. Roberts [7/14/2011]

Owen Rogers:

Today is July 14th, 2011. My name is Owen Rogers. I am interviewing Arthur Roberts for the Veterans History Project at the Simsbury Public Library in Simsbury, Connecticut. So, Mr. Roberts, for the record, could you please state your name, birthday and branch of service?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Yes. I'm Arthur E. Roberts. I was born August 18, 1942. And I was in the U.S. Air Force.

Owen Rogers:

And what was the maximum rank that you achieved within the Air Force?

Arthur E. Roberts:

That was staff sergeant?

Owen Rogers:

Okay. And now, Mr. Roberts, were you drafted or did you enlist into the Air Force?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Oh, no, I enlisted. I was several years before draft age back in '61, so.

Owen Rogers:

And what made you choose that branch of service?

Arthur E. Roberts:

I've always been fascinated by aircraft and aviation and it just kind of made sense.

Owen Rogers:

And where did you muster out of? Where were you living at the time?

Arthur E. Roberts:

I was in, at Denver, Colorado, actually Golden is where we lived, and joined through the recruiting service down in Denver.

Owen Rogers:

And I remember you told me the story off camera so I guess I'll--did you try to enlist in any other branch of the service?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Yes. I am also a ham radio operator, and I had two friends that were hams also and we'd get talking most nights, you know, late in the evening, and they were a couple years older so they had the draft board staring them right in the face, I mean to the point of sending letters. And we decided we better go down and talk to the recruiters, try to do something, because I knew I was going to go in the service. Just, college at that point just wasn't on the table. And so we went down and actually the Army was very interested because of our communication background. They even had a major take us aside, talk to you us about, you know, would amount to working for A.S.A., Army Security Agency, as spies working out of embassies in civilian clothes and stuff. So, okay, well, that sounded kind of interesting. So we went and took the physical and all the written tests, and they had a very extensive battery of tests that turned out all three of us scored extremely high on. Unfortunately, in the physical they determined I was color blind and said I was 4-F, which just floored me, especially since I grew up doing art work. My mother was a commercial artist, and went home and told her. She said, "They are out of their mind." But the next morning I get a call from the Air Force recruiter, "Say, we heard about your color vision, tell us, you know, what's the story." And I told him I didn't know I had a problem until yesterday. I did flunk the color vision test, very obviously, but didn't understand that. And so he said, "Well, if we throw down red, green and blue yarn can you tell us." I said, "Sure." He says, "Come on down." So I went down, identified their colored yarn and took their written tests and the rest was history. But I went in actually with the idea of being in electronics, and that held up through basic training and they sent me back to Denver, about 20 miles from where I lived, for training in electronics and fire control systems, F-105s. And about a week before school they said, "Well, we see there's been a problem with your color vision." So they retested me and of course I failed it again. And they gave me this sheet of paper, one page, with list of schools that didn't require color vision, and the only one on the list that was there at the base that we were at, Lowry, was photography. Well, I had taught myself photography in high school. The lab work. I'd been shooting pictures forever but taught myself how to do all the lab work and stuff. Never even gave it a thought for the service. But I said, well, you know, heck, I'll take photography. Because at that time it was all black and white except for slides so color vision wasn't required. And turned out that was one of those fairy godmother moments. It turned out to be extremely good move. So I went on and did my 13 weeks of photography, basic photography school, which was very interesting, and then went on to Japan from there to work two years in a base photo lab.

Owen Rogers:

So prior to that deployment what were your first days like in the Air Force?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Well, basic training, we were down there for five weeks and our recruiter told us, well, okay, go down, you know, they are going to scream at you and do all kinds of huffing and puffing and just look at him and think, gee, in five weeks I'll be gone and you'll still be here, and just don't take it too serious, just do as they say. And so that's basically what happened. I went down there, we had some good T.I.s. They--we had a good crew. The whole 60, 70 guys were pretty sharp. And they got us aside about the third or fourth night and they said, "Well, you kind of see what the story is here, as long as you look good out in front of everybody else, we are not going to bust you at all." And so we had, it was actually pretty good five weeks.

Owen Rogers:

Now did the pilots train beside the enlisted men? You know, were officers and enlisted men integrated into the same--

Arthur E. Roberts:

Well, no. We were all enlisted. At that time they did have the Air Cadet Program still in effect so if, you know, once you completed basic and you'd been in a year you could apply, you know, to either O.C.I.S., Officer Candidate School, or the Cadets and then go in and, you know, get commissioned and get, and be trained that way. But people, the guys or girls just going in to be an officer, they go through a different program, totally.

Owen Rogers:

So what was your deployment like in Misawa?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Well, that was fun. I was, I was over there in base photo lab, which meant we were out taking pictures of anything and everything and, being in a foreign country, any incident that happened on base or off we had to document. You know, even if you have, you know, in your personal car an accident downtown, we had to take pictures of it. If you lived off base or on base and somebody broke into your house, we had to go take pictures of that. So we did everything. A lot of information, P.I.O. or public information stuff. Officers' wives' club. You know, you had to go take pictures there. Just, you name it, we did it. And the P.I.O. work in particular ended being interesting because the other guys in the lab hated it. They didn't, they just didn't want any part of it. And I grew up in a social environment so I knew how to talk to these people and how to act and if I had to go up to the officers' club I would go up--they didn't make me wear uniforms. I would go up in coat and tie and take my pictures, put the camera in the corner and mingle. But I was known, you know, by that time I was known around, you know, amongst all the big wigs anyway, so they knew who I was and I behaved myself so never was a problem. I had a ball.

Owen Rogers:

What type of, what kind of airplanes were you flying at Misawa?

Arthur E. Roberts:

They at that time--we had F-100 fighter bombers or F-101s for photo recon and F-102 intercepters.

Owen Rogers:

Now at that point did you have any hand in developing photo reconnaissance photographs?

Arthur E. Roberts:

No. The 45th Recon, Photo Recon, was in, shared the same building with us. We shared a few facilities, like chemical and, you know, mixing and whatnot, but they were separate organization and they were pretty, pretty active, but--

Owen Rogers:

Well, I was going to say, Northern Japan is very close to the Soviet Union.

Arthur E. Roberts:

Yeah. Six minutes by air. So our defenses were, you know, you know, they--we had four 102s sitting out slightly off the end of the runway that could be launched off in a matter of a minute or two. And I went out, first time I saw them, you know, I saw this and of course Northern Japan gets a lot of snow in the winter and I asked the pilot that was kind of showing me around, I said, "Well, you know, I know you guys try to keep the runway clear but, you know, what happens if it's really, really snowy." He says, "We can fly this thing out of the hanger if we have to." Full afterburner and let go.

Owen Rogers:

Called the Delta Wing, right?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Yeah.

Owen Rogers:

That thing probably just flies right up.

Arthur E. Roberts:

And it was, it's pretty light really. They just carried missiles, that's all they had, so, but they scrambled out quite a bit.

Owen Rogers:

I can imagine the F-101 being a photo reconnaissance platform. Would that be the fastest aircraft of the three?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Yeah. Oh, yeah. That was their defense, because they were totally unarmed. They just carried a lot of fuel, but, yeah, more than once they came home full afterburner with a MIG hot behind them.

Owen Rogers:

So how long was your deployment in Japan?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Two years.

Owen Rogers:

Two years? And do you recall any exceptional circumstances, any events during that time?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Oh, yes. Of course, I was there for the Cuban missile crisis and that was a real tense time, and since then I have learned even more about it and realized it was even more tense then we thought and we was bad enough there. We had the F-100s with nukes hanging on them sitting out ready to go with the pilots in the cockpit, so people were kind of holding their breath.

Owen Rogers:

So the reverberations from the Caribbean--

Arthur E. Roberts:

Yes. Oh, gosh, yes. Well, even, even--I was there when Kennedy was assassinated and we went, as soon as word came out we went on high alert because we didn't know what was going to happen.

Owen Rogers:

Now, on the flip side of the coin, being Northern Japan, were you ever approached by Soviet photo reconnaissance platforms?

Arthur E. Roberts:

They had, I didn't see any but there were some stories of--I don't know if they were recon planes but I know there was one story of a Soviet fighter pilot calling our tower saying he was low on fuel and requesting permission to refuel, and after a quick little talk with the base commander they said yeah, they would let him come in and land. Of course, he was escorted. And they gassed him up and sent him on his way. So there's all kinds of stories, you know, that happened and, yes, it was the cold war, and there was another incident where one of our 100 pilots was out, got ambushed by a couple of MIGS, and they heard him yelling over the, you know, over the radio about it. And I can't remember if he--I know they shot him down but whether he survived I can't remember. But one of the pilots that heard this ran out and grabbed the first 100 that was parked out front, came back holding up two fingers and smiling, so.

Owen Rogers:

And did you ever see any of the Maritime Patrol aircraft, like Bayer bombers, anything like that?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Well, yes, one time. I had a deal. Our commander for the, or for the photo lab, amongst his other many duties he ran base ops and stuff too, but we had several of the North American T-39s, the little Sabreliner that they use for ferrying around, and the base commander and some of the other high officers would fly, you know, four hours or more a month just to keep their flight pay and their flight status and stuff. And Colonel Bineer (ph) told me that any time I wanted to, you know, hop on for a ride, just do it, just show up and there was an empty seat and I was welcome. So I did that on occasion. And one of the times we had gone a way up north up by Wakkanai, over Northern Hokkaido, and tried to sneak back in, you know, to play games with our radar, and the pilot came on the intercom and said, "See that light over there about a mile away, that's a Bayer bomber." So that's as close as I got to one.

Owen Rogers:

Now from Misawa--or rather I believe another off camera story. Were there ever any disturbances or riots at the base?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Oh--

Owen Rogers:

Kind of a loaded question here.

Arthur E. Roberts:

Not while I was there.

Owen Rogers:

Okay.

Arthur E. Roberts:

But I also heard that in Japan at least at that time the Communist Party was very active and it was perfectly legal. They could do, you know, just like any other, any other group, and they were known to protest and demonstrate out in front of our bases from time to time, mostly down in the Tokyo area, because we had a lot of bases down there, a lot of facilities. And while I was there I didn't know of one but I had heard and actually saw a picture of the plane one time before I got there that they had a big demonstration set up and actually did in front of the base, and so our guys, just as a little deterrent, parked an F-100 a few hundred yards inside the gate, let the nose wheel down, let the air out of the tires and dropped the nose, with torn rivet 20-millimeter cannons aimed at the gate. They didn't have any problems.

Owen Rogers:

A deterrent?

Arthur E. Roberts:

A little deterrent, yes

Owen Rogers:

So then from Misawa where did you go in the world?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Well, I took--when it was about time to leave the standard procedure was to let you go and make a couple of choices of where you might want to go if they had an opening. And I'd looked around and, you know, I had never been to Arizona but it looked real interesting, especially living in Colorado at the time. And so I put in for Luke and Williams Air Force base in Phoenix, thought, gee, that would be nice, get out in the sun, you know, after being, you know, two years in a climate very similar to New England only not quite as long a winter but probably as, at least as intense. And one day I get a phone call from personnel saying, "Gee, we got a special assignment for you, Westover Air Force Base in Chicopee, Mass." We had a vague idea of what was going on there, something very special, but had no other idea than that. And it was one of these things like, gee, I don't want it. No, you're going. They, turned out they had the authority to pluck anybody in the Air Force that they wanted--

Owen Rogers:

To--

Arthur E. Roberts:

Period.

Owen Rogers:

An offer you couldn't refuse?

Arthur E. Roberts:

That's right. And I guess because I had physics and science--physics and chemistry and all that in high school they decided that maybe they wanted me. So I ended up coming to Westover and liked it so much I ended up spending four years. I reenlisted and stayed there for the four years that we were allowed to say. That was our freeze. After that we were ripe for Vietnam and then I went to Vietnam. But--

Owen Rogers:

Your service at Westover, I noticed a unique military ribbon.

Arthur E. Roberts:

Yes. Oh, yes. I, and I can talk about this now because it was declassified in 1995 by President Clinton. At the time when I got there, though, this was a extremely secret operation. Wrong name on the building on purpose. We weren't allowed to breathe that we did photography. Of course, I show up one day with my ball cap from Misawa, which for identification purposes there out on the flight line said "base photo lab." Well, boy, they about ripped my head off getting rid of that thing. You can't tell anybody you do photography. Okay, well. It was a fascinating assignment. We did, at that time the work we did was all film. Digital didn't exist then. And we were doing satellite photography, and--

Owen Rogers:

What satellite series would these be?

Arthur E. Roberts:

It's a Corona, for the most part. There's some others but that was the major thing. But they do, they had a satellite patrol and they'd about once a month--well, we had other jobs come in too but once a month this one came in and we processed it and did dupe films. Not print, not paper prints but actually a clear positive print on a film that you could actually look through, and they used viorters that they could blow it up on a big screen and stuff.

Owen Rogers:

So what was the size of the original negative?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Seventy-millimeter. This was our primary mission. We also had a lot of nine-inch that we did too.

Owen Rogers:

Would nine-inch be from a different platform?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Umhum.

Owen Rogers:

Okay.

Arthur E. Roberts:

Yeah.

Owen Rogers:

Cube (ph)? Something like that?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Well, different places.

Owen Rogers:

I understand. Okay. ______+ around. So can you describe the process from start to finish, you know, from the satellite blasting off at Vandenberg to your receiving the negative?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Well, okay. Like I say, they have to say that they usually--this is all on the Net now so I am not giving away.

Owen Rogers:

They're all declassfied?

Arthur E. Roberts:

I am not giving away any big secrets. In '76 they actually quit doing film and it's all digital now, in real time. But they would fly for 30 days and take photographs and some places every pass, sometimes once a week, sometimes, you know, it just depended on the priority of the target. But at the end of the 30 days they would eject this package. It would reenter the atmosphere out near Hawaii and there was an organization out there that went out and actually snagged the parachutes as they were coming down and retrieved the package of film. It would be sent back here and we worked with Kodak and they, we shared duties there, and we'd process it and then make numerous copies for various organizations that were--

Owen Rogers:

Now how long, how many prints would be taken on one of these patrols? I mean, how many negatives would you have to process or develop?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Well.

Owen Rogers:

Can you give an estimate of the length of one of these film reels?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Well, there was probably a mile of film.

Owen Rogers:

And how many prints would you make?

Arthur E. Roberts:

I don't--well, we'd do like 20 or 30 copies of each.

Owen Rogers:

Twenty or 30 miles of film?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Yeah. It took a while to do. And to give a little idea, of course as time went on the processes improved and speeded up we found better ways and faster ways to process the film, but when I first got there there were several times we worked for 30 days without a day off, doing 12-hour shifts.

Owen Rogers:

What were the developing machines like?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Well, they were pretty, I mean, more to say they are state of the art. They were the art. We did, it wasn't immersion like the old, like the regular guys used. This was all spray process. And it was fairly fast. It just, trying to keep the, because this stuff when it was processed had to be perfect. There was no room for error. I mean, we were, precision photo processing technicians were our title and they meant it. This stuff had to be right on. And we did a lot of research and development while we were also doing, doing a production job. And they, they learned a lot as they went along and they found faster ways and, you know, more efficient ways of getting the job done. We ended up with one machine for our primary mission that ran 270 feet a minute. It was a huge machine. That thing could empty itself in a heart beat. You were doing a lot of rethreading then if you had a film break, but.

Owen Rogers:

So what kind of conditions exist in this facility?

Arthur E. Roberts:

It was a clean room environment. As I was, it was explained to me, there were bigger clean rooms but they weren't as clean, and there were cleaner clean rooms but they weren't as big. This thing was huge. The building itself was amazing.

Owen Rogers:

So sealed suits, gloves?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Oh, yeah. We had the bunny suits, the whole bit, air showers. Very, very clean. Very clean. You're dealing with film that you can look at with a 50 power microscope and see the breed of a dog. You want, you don't want dust spots.

Owen Rogers:

So how does that compare to public access satellite technology?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Google is a joke by comparison. Well, I mean, it's neat, you know, it really is, but in the sixties what we did was unbelievably better.

Owen Rogers:

Now is there any way to develop a three-dimensional print from numerous two-dimensional photographs?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Well, there we use--there was two different ways of doing that. One is these--when you are shooting recon film, whether it's an airplane or satellite or whatever, or drone, they, you do it so they overlap, and the idea being if you lose one frame you have enough overlap that you still have all the coverage. Well, because you have these staggered frames you can take a stereo viewer and look at 'em and it will pop right up in stereo, in 3D. On our project we actually ran two cameras so we shot in stereo automatically anyway, but that was partially in case one of them failed and we still had recoverable.

Owen Rogers:

Now, are there any safety measures in satellite film? Let's say if one of the--what would it be, like a C-119 or a C-130?--wasn't able to pick it up?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Well, they were designed so if it hit the saltwater it, there was plugs that would dissolve and they would go to the bottom and the saltwater would go in and ruin the film, and so.

Owen Rogers:

There was deniable.

Arthur E. Roberts:

Yeah. No retrievable information.

Owen Rogers:

And--

Arthur E. Roberts:

Never lost one though that I am aware of.

Owen Rogers:

Only imagine the things that would happen to the pilot.

Arthur E. Roberts:

(Laughter)

Owen Rogers:

But now how would you retrieve the film from Rochester?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Oh, yeah. Well, a lot of times they processed the original. Sometimes we did. We both had set-ups to do that. But if we were, if Rochester, Rochester, New York, home of the big light father in the yellow box, they, if they processed the originals, instead of doing like they did at the base with nuclear stuff when they were transferring it and having a hundred cops around the thing, our guys, there were two couriers who went fishing for a few days. Took their personal station wagon and disappeared. Side arms. Being watched like a hawk, I am sure. But just very low key. They would come back with the job.

Owen Rogers:

So considering the sensitive nature of your work, what kind of personal security did you have on the base? Or even what kind of surveillance would you have on your person?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Oh, boy. Yeah. When I first got there I did a lot of touristing. Having grown up in Oklahoma and then a little bit of Colorado and never been back here and this, the history and stuff in New England is just amazing. I put many, many miles on my car traveling around the little byways around New England and my roommate usually went with me. And short order we found out when we got back that, we were told where we had been. We were watched very closely to see who might be, not that we were going to get together with anybody but somebody might try to get to us, and they wanted to know who we were associating with and if you were known to be associating around the wrong people you left.

Owen Rogers:

Now, did the Air Force give you a cover story for what you did at the base?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Not really. They just, just don't talk. You know, one of the guys said, "Well, I was with Tom, a B-52 pilot." But at the time in our fatigues they not only had your name but instead of saying "Air Force" they'd of had your actual, your organization, and ours at the time was the 6594th Test Squadron. Well, people in the chow hall, they would see us, you know, "What do you guys test?" And we'd say, "Personnel endurance. How many 12-hour shifts can you work?" So.

Owen Rogers:

So what would have happened, what was standard operating procedure if let's say somebody goes out on a Friday night and starts to talk about what they did?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Well, one of the things that we were told is if you heard somebody spouting off you, the kind of the code word was, you know, you'd say "that's garbage" as you bury your fist in his mouth, put him out of commission.

Owen Rogers:

That ever happen?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Not that I'm aware of. Our guys were pretty careful. They liked where they were. They didn't want to jeopardize it.

Owen Rogers:

Now can you put a dollar amount or kind of a comparative value to the facility established by the Air Force in Westover for satellite reconnaissance developing?

Arthur E. Roberts:

God, I don't know how many billions went into that place. It was, I keep telling people I think it was worth about half of what Chicopee was worth. But if you saw it, especially after some of the remodels they did and stuff, the lab was like walking on the set of Star Trek. I mean, it was just unbelievable. Very state of the art and then some. We had three computer systems that helped run things and that's when computers were really just evolving, you know, to being really useful. But we had a system that ran just the air conditioning, because each room had its own temperature control, pressure control. Pressure was critical because the cleanest areas had to have the highest pressure and the dirtier areas had lower pressure so that it pushed the stuff out. So you had a computer that ran that. You had one that ran the processor, the chemical processing of the film, that kept track of all that, you know. Another one that kept track of the material as we printed it so we knew, we made sure we had everybody's work done that needed to be done.

Owen Rogers:

So did the Air Force ever shoot in color, was it all black and white?

Arthur E. Roberts:

What I saw there was strictly black and white. Now in Vietnam we did some color, infrared color.

Owen Rogers:

Now what were the benefits of using infrared?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Well, the primary thing was at night, with infrared all that nice green foliage that was over there showed up bright red. If you had fake foliage, like camouflage, it was dark green, the color it normally was. So when we had a downed pilot in the middle of the night we'd fly the area with infrared, bingo, there he is, they'd send a chopper in and pluck him out.

Owen Rogers:

So moving on to Vietnam. Okay. So you get off the plane in Tan Son Nhut--well, actually the night before.

Arthur E. Roberts:

Oh, yeah.

Owen Rogers:

Get off the plane in Tan Son Nhut and I believe that's where the story starts.

Arthur E. Roberts:

Yeah, we left, we left Travis Air Force Base. I was very fortunate, too. My roommate at Westover, well him and I both ended up getting married fore we left, but we were roommates for three plus years of the four years I was there, but we ended up getting orders to Vietnam together. Same outfit. We ended up sharing a bunk in the N.C.O. barracks at Tan Son Nhut. But, anyway, we flew over together on this, it said "Braniff" I think. They were one of the chartered flights. And we got into Hawaii for, you know, our little gas stop and stuff, and they claimed they had radio problems. I don't know if they did or not after what went on when we got there. But they put us up overnight in the Reef Tower Hotel overlooking Diamond Head and Waikiki Beach. So we got to cruise around there for about a day before they got the plane ready. And the next night we were flying into, well, we went from there to Clark Air Base in the Philippines, which is now closed, but it was even hotter than Vietnam. We were there 4:00 in the afternoon. It was horrible. But then we went and we got into Saigon like seven, eight o'clock at night, something like that. And I say we were on a commercial airliner. It was a chartered job. And they told us, you know, that when we got in near landing they were going to kill all the lights in the plane because they didn't want to be a target and they'd go in hot. And they said if you happen to hear a loud noise in the back of the plane it's the speed brakes. I'm going, speed brakes on an airliner? Okay. They were--they didn't deploy them but we went in hot and there's flares hanging in the sky all around as we're landing. And walk off the plane and it was like walking into a shower. I mean, it was hot, humid. But we eventually got dumped out in a barracks area. There were some old French barracks they were remodeling that were cement, which was not usual there. Most of them were wood, screen wire stuff, but these were cement. And they said, you know, grab a, grab a air mattress and blow it up and, you know, camp out for the night, we'll see you back at personnel in the morning and if you feel something nibbling on your ears it is just one of the rats, you know. Okay. Thanks.

Owen Rogers:

Welcome to Vietnam?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Yes. And then we decided, you know, after all this we needed to go find a bathroom. Or latrine. Military jargon. So we start out, you know, there's rows in a row, you know, rows of buildings, so we would go out on the sidewalk and soon enough we'd see a G.I. hiking along. It's all dark because the base is under attack, or we're hearing on the radio--down a few doors down they had a air police guard shack and we heard the radio talking about stuff going on. And so we asked this fellow, you know, where the latrine was. And he said, well, that's where I am headed, just follow me. So, okay. So we go down a few more buildings and go inside and get in where the lights are. I graduated high school with the kid. You know, like, what are you doing here?

Owen Rogers:

Small world?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Yes. And that wasn't the only time I ran into somebody I knew but that was quite a surprise. And so we ended up, you know, spending the night there. About one in the morning--oh, during that time, too, he did say, "If you have a radio with you turn it to 99.9," which we did. There was what they call Lone Star. That was our little base station and they played music all the time, unless something was happening. Then they would come on and say, you know, we got incoming or whatever, just to let you know what was happening. So we had that playing in the background. About 1:00 in the morning we hear whap, whap, whap. Rockets start falling around us. About that time Lone Star says, "Oh, we got incoming." Ah, yeah. And landed probably a half mile away over at the heliport. But, anyway. So it was welcome to Vietnam.

Owen Rogers:

So would these be RPGs or something bigger?

Arthur E. Roberts:

They were the one thirty, ah--

Owen Rogers:

B-40s?

Arthur E. Roberts:

The 117-millimeter rockets. I think there's, what, 105 or 117? I'm sorry. God, it's been a while. But, anyway, it was the rockets they usually fired at us. It was not unusual it turned out.

Owen Rogers:

How did they launch those? How far away were they firing from?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Well, I am not sure just what their range was but because we put so much pressure on them normally they didn't get to use their launchers. I understand during Tet they did. In fact, some of the guys over, living off base down in one of the hotels downtown during Tet hit actually sat in the window and watched these guys right out in the street with a launcher firing off these missiles. Well, we--a night like that usually what they did is they went out and set them up with a couple of sticks to hold the thing up and have an alarm clock with a battery to set it off. They'd set it for like one o'clock and go home, go to bed. At one o'clock this thing went off and, but it went to whom it may concern. You know.

Owen Rogers:

You think that was more of a psychological warfare weapon than anything?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Yeah. Oh, yeah. Very definitely a terror weapon. When they used their launchers they were deadly accurate. I mean, they hit what they were shot at.

Owen Rogers:

These were probably Chinese or Soviet made?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. Well, I think they were Russian. They also, we had a Chicom recoilless round hit one time and kill a kid. It was the only casualty that I was aware of, and he was, had been a G.I., came back as a tech rep. Fired into one of the hangers nearby. But most of it was Soviet stuff. But they, you know, they, sometimes they go for days when nothing would happen and other times we would get hit a lot. But it almost always at night.

Owen Rogers:

So what exactly were your responsibilities in Vietnam?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Well, there we had a photo recon operation. It was about 30 trailers that were set up. These trailers were designed usually with machines already in them. Each had a function. And they had a bigger trailer for where the, a big table and cabinets and stuff for, you know, plotting stuff or whatever. I mean, they were multifunctional things and they were designed so they could actually load in C-130s and fly them wherever. And they had trailers for mixing chemicals and you had all the connections that you could, you know, connect the whole thing up. And it was quite an extensive operation. I think we had nine film processors and a bunch of printers, and I don't remember all the specs but it was big. I got there just as it was cranking up. The first--we were flying 20 to 30 missions a day. We--our--we were one of three photo operations there. We were the 460th and then we did North Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. The 16th was right next door to us in another set of trailers and they did South Vietnam. And then the 12th Ritz was in a building over by 7th Air Force headquarters, and they did, they were inside. They did U-2, drones and other assorted stuff that came along.

Owen Rogers:

More of a CIA organization--

Arthur E. Roberts:

Yeah. That's special stuff. But our operation, the first month we did a million feet of film, and it went up from there. That's how many missions we were flying.

Owen Rogers:

What kind of airplanes was this, reconnaisance 101?

Arthur E. Roberts:

The RF-101s, RF-4Cs primarily, the RV--66th RV-57s occasionally, but mainly the 4-Cs and the 101s.

Owen Rogers:

And how were those cameras different from satellite photography?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Oh, geez. Well, they, they, the 101s used two nine-inch cameras. They shot high altitude, usually about 40,000 feet, and they covered a big area, you know, the nine- by eighteen-inch frame that showed quite a bit. The 4-Cs shot five-inch primarily and they, they were in a fan array. They could shoot, you know, straight down but they also off to the sides. They also had one that shot at, at oblique, looking looking down at an angle from the nose. They also had two other cameras and I'm trying to--can't remember now if it was 70-millimeter or five-inch, but they had a low pan and a high pan. The high pan they didn't use as much. It went from horizon to horizon in a sweep. But the low pan was the real good one. It did the same thing, horizon to horizon. It was a spinning lens. Didn't have a shutter, had a spinning lens. They usually would fly at a thousand miles an hour at 500 feet and by the time somebody knew they were there they were a mile away and they already gotten their picture. Very effective.

Owen Rogers:

______+

Arthur E. Roberts:

Yes. It was hauling.

Owen Rogers:

You have any casualties among the aircraft?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Not that I am aware of. Occasionally we'd have a pilot come and sit on the machine that was processing his negatives. He says, "I got shot at and I want to make sure these things came out okay." Now whether he got hit or not he didn't say but he knew he had been shot at so.

Owen Rogers:

Both those aircraft are high speed, right?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Yeah. Well, the danger we ran into with, when I got, when I first got there was that the North, they had some radar controlled guns, three-inch anti-aircraft guns, that were accurate at 40,000 feet, and that was a real threat to the 101, so they make a big push to locate those sites and take them out right away.

Owen Rogers:

So explain a little more what would be--was it mission oriented, mission specific choice to use black and white or infrared film?

Arthur E. Roberts:

I think they, I'm not sure what actually brought them into the infrared but I think it was primarily when they had a pilot they were looking for. Because otherwise you just had a big sea of red, you know, of all the foliage, you know, but it, but something that wasn't natural stood right out.

Owen Rogers:

______+ like that?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Yeah.

Owen Rogers:

So up north and in Laos and Cambodia, what photographs, what targets were they looking for?

Arthur E. Roberts:

I'm not sure.

Owen Rogers:

Very sensitive?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Yeah. Well, we would go over to the photo interpreter shop. They were in a nice air conditioned building. We would go over there quite often just to see what they were up to, especially, sometimes even if they were looking for something specific, you know, we would grab a roll of film and go through to help 'em out. But there was also briefing booklets that came out every day that, different organizations, some of them secret, some of them top secret, that made some interesting reading, too. But as a photo interpreter you had to be intimately familiar with the area you were looking at as far as the history, the geography, the current events, so that when you looked at that picture it made sense to you.

Owen Rogers:

Context?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Yeah. And also, you know, sometimes you are looking at a change from day to day to day.

Owen Rogers:

So with all the photography did you get acquainted with Soviet Block equipment at some time?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Well, I can't say that--you know, we saw stuff from, you know, there, but it, didn't necessarily identify it as being, well, that's an S.A. whatever, you know. The only thing I actually really saw was a kind of flukey thing. They had a very poor example of a tank. It's more like an armored personnel carrier than a real tank, what I saw of it. But, anyway, it was down near Saigon and one of our recon pilots spotted it. Of course, the 101s didn't have any, you know, any armament on 'em but he had a couple fuel tanks, and I think he was just heading out. So he went in low and deposited a couple fuel tanks on it, burned it to a cinder, killed the crew. And they towed it into Tan Son Nhut and we got to see it. But, fortunately, they didn't have any real tanks down there. I gather up north they did, but.

Owen Rogers:

So now did you ever experience any combat experience, any attacks on the air base? Were you there for Tet?

Arthur E. Roberts:

No. I got there right after Tet. In fact, the day we got there they'd had a battle right next to our, where our barracks were. Our barracks were in a containment area that was right on the edge of the base but it was on the Saigon side. And right across the fence, or three fences, was a French girls' school and an old French cemetery. And our guys had actually pushed this battalion of North Vietnamese regulars, they weren't V.C., they were regulars, into that graveyard and killed them all off. And, over time. It took a while. And they had the Sky Raiders dropping 500 pounders, just boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. They said the barracks was bouncing. Now, this all happened before, while we were enroute. But the idiot kids when we got there, they were sneaking out there some way or another--I don't know how they got through the three fences--and plucking up souvenirs off these dead N.V.A., which--

Owen Rogers:

Were there mines between some of those fences?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Yes, there were. So I don't know how they got there. I don't know and I really didn't care. It's just totally insane.

Owen Rogers:

______ rocks together?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Yes. I was, I was a little older than a lot of them and I guess maybe common sense prevailed.

Owen Rogers:

So can you describe, it seems like almost every Vietnam veteran has had some kind of interaction with the Republic of Korea Marines?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Oh, yeah. Well, mine wasn't Marines, mine was Air Force. During about the eight or nine months after we were there we had a little space--like I say, this was, the barracks was right there on the perimeter, but there was three fences and there was mines between two of 'em and then there was a roadway that went around. And a lot of the air crews and stuff went out jogging and stuff so they, because they had to walk out in the jungle, you know, they'd be in shape. So there was--and in one spot there where there was kind of a bend there was a bigger open area, and it turned out that they built a couple of barracks there that were for South Korean Air Force. They camped out there. And they were welcomed greatly. We did whatever we could for those boys, because the North Vietnamese, Viet Cong were scared to death of them. They played dirty.

Owen Rogers:

The rules of engagement were a little relaxed?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Yeah, I'd say. And so we never had any, any concerns after those guys were there. I mean, didn't stop the rockets but as far as any personnel coming through there, no, that wasn't likely to happen.

Owen Rogers:

So do you recall any interactions with C.I.A., intelligence, anything while you were overseas?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Not directly.

Owen Rogers:

I mean, I don't know how they would, I mean, they probably didn't dress like James Bond--

Arthur E. Roberts:

Oh, no, no, no.

Owen Rogers:

--or wear safari suits.

Arthur E. Roberts:

No, no. No. At Westover actually did work with them but I never had any direct contact with them, but a lot of our project involved them greatly. Now, later on, when I was in Oklahoma working at a photo lab, actually ran one of four labs that this fellow owned, I had a customer come in who had been in Vietnam, too, and he was one of the very first to go back to Vietnam on one of these tours for exG.I.s. It was one of the very first they did. And he had a videotape that they had produced, you know, for this trip, or during the trip. And he wanted some copies made of it and, you know, we got talking and stuff and he said, "Well, make a copy for yourself." Which unfortunately I don't have anymore. But "make a copy for yourself too." But then talking with him, I have an idea he was C.I.A. His story that I, you know, I knew enough to know what I was hearing and, but, and there were a lot there. They just, when the embassy got attacked they were knee up to here in that, believe me, trying to protect the embassy and stuff.

Owen Rogers:

I received pictures coming out of men in short-sleeved shirts and ties--

Arthur E. Roberts:

Umhum.

Owen Rogers:

--carrying tommy guns.

Arthur E. Roberts:

Umhum. Yeah.

Owen Rogers:

You know, men demonstrating their autonomy.

Arthur E. Roberts:

No. No. No, no.

Owen Rogers:

But, so are there any exceptional circumstances, any events that come to mind during your Vietnam service, stories that stand out in your mind?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Well, my personal thing, I also did, being a ham radio operator, photographer and whatnot, I also acquired an interest in broadcasting. And A.F.V.N., Armed Forces Vietnam, was, they're of course in Saigon. They also were around other, some of the other areas of the country. They even had the aircraft that flew at night running movies and stuff so the guys out in the boonies could see stuff. But the big station there was in Saigon. In fact, if you ever saw Good Morning, Vietnam with Robin Williams, of course it wasn't filmed there but that was the story about Adrian Cronauer and his thing. Well, I got to V.N. right after Adrian left. And basically the Army ran it but they multi, multiservice. And I told them, you know, my background. I says, "Hey, if you don't mind, I'd like to come in, do a little volunteer work, you know, on my days off." They welcomed me. So I did T.V. production work. You know, I would spend a day and a half down there while I was off from the Recon. And ended up generally from five--from the six o'clock news till sign-off I ran the audio board right next to the director who's doing the video. And during the day we'd do production stuff. They'd have some visiting entertainer or whatever. They'd do shows and we'd, you know, videotape them. So it was fun. It was a different aspect. Turned out, unbeknownst at the time, there was a gentleman who was just another rat G.I. like me named Pat Sajak there at the station. And, obviously, he's done a lot better for himself than I did. But that was an interesting aside. But it was fun. And they did A.M. radio, they did F.M. and they did T.V. A.M. radio was rock and roll. It was a show just to watch the D.J. in there doing his thing. And Gary W. Geers ended up taking over from Adrian when he left and followed his tradition with the Good Morning, Vietnam stuff. Unfortunately, Gary is not with us any more. He died at a pretty young age. But he had very extensive background from Chicago, though, in radio. And most of the guys there were broadcast professionals. They either got drafted or volunteered, you know, and went, got accepted into doing that kind of work because they had the background. So one kid, it was kind of fun, I got to be pretty good friends with, we did F.M. and he did the classical, more of the classical side, which I enjoyed, and I would sit in the booth with him while he was doing the show and we would talk, you know, while records were playing. And he'd try to project this, you know, image of by the fire with the pipe in your mouth, you know, and really do it up. But the funny part was the kid stuttered, until that mike came on and he was perfect. But that mike went off and he said, he made fun of himself about it. Anytime he wanted me to know he'd go R-R-R-R-Rick. But I think Mel Tillis is another one that's like that but, you know, he's, when he has to be good he is, but.

Owen Rogers:

On the topic of entertainment, did you ever see a U.S.O. show while you were in Vietnam?

Arthur E. Roberts:

I saw some of them come through the station and we did stuff. In fact, even in Misawa we did, we helped out with the audio sound system with some U.S.O. shows. So, they're, yeah, they're greatly appreciated. In fact, something we were talking about a little bit ago, while I was in Misawa Raymond Burr came to the base and just made a stop, and we took a picture of him stuffed into an F-102, because he is a big gentleman. Later, while I was in Vietnam, I really didn't know that much about it at the time but learned a lot towards the end of it or afterwards, that he came to Vietnam a lot. Not known. But he didn't want people to know he was there, didn't want the publicity, wasn't like some of the others. But he would go not to the big shows like in Saigon, he went to the fire bases, out where they were getting shot at. Boy had a lot of guts and was highly respected. Very well thought of. He wanted to be out with the guys. So that was good. But we--actually, Bob Hope came there while I was there and I didn't go there. Actually, I went and saw Billy Graham. He put on a heck of a program, too.

Owen Rogers:

You remember any of the venerable personalities in country? I think Caldwell (ph) went down there and--

Arthur E. Roberts:

Oh, god. Most of the ones I met at the station, well, Gypsy Rose Lee was one, but was country, country singers and stuff, because most of the lifers were from the south and they liked country music and so that was a big draw. But I can't think of all, there's just all kinds of people came through there. One of the ones that, you know, I thought was interesting too was a performer who is, was, obviously not now, was an active duty Marine was Martha Ray. She was a major or lieutenant colonel. Martha Ray. That was--I was--just astounded me. Because you don't get to be a marine officer and just be horsing around. Those guys earn what they have?

Owen Rogers:

You got that. So due to the sensitive nature of your work, just like Westover, photo reconnaissance in Vietnam was probably pretty sensitive. Would you have any travel restrictions?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Well, I, my restriction was because of Westover. Yeah.

Owen Rogers:

Did the legacy follow you there?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Yeah. As far as what we did actually in Vietnam, yeah, it was, I guess most of it would be considered secret but it wasn't, you know, super thing. It was a combat operation type of thing. But because of my time at Westover I had a restriction that I was only allowed at Tan Son Nhut or Saigon city, period, no where else in country under any circumstances. Had a thing in the front page of my record, had a copy of it on me at all times that I could not be put where I could be captured.

Owen Rogers:

So with that in mind, and also being a staff sergeant, were you ever issued a personal sidearm or?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Yeah. We were allowed to--that was, it was kind of an outgrowth of Tet. The Air Force always seems to be a little behind on arming their people. They're technicians, they're not infantry. Change back to Korea when all the Chinese in the world came down the peninsula, the only people left to defend the base were the cops. They were the only ones that even had weapons available. They evacuated everybody else as they could. After that they started at least training the guys and saying, okay, here's how you shoot an M-1. But in Viet-, at Tan Son Nhut they, I guess they started handing out weapons, you know, when all this started coming down and the only real casualties, no fatalities but only guys hurt, was from our own guys shooting each other or shooting at each other because they were scared. And they were, you know, young and inexperienced and didn't live with a weapon like the Army does, you know. So when I got there you had to be an N.C.O., a staff sergeant or above, to have a sidearm or M-16. In which case if we were going to go downtown or somewhere on the back side of the base or something we could check one out. Otherwise, unless they were coming through the gate, no. Or coming over the fence.

Owen Rogers:

So that means, did you have to qualify on a variety of weapons?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Well, yeah. The M-1 carbine. The M-16. In fact, before I went to Vietnam we stopped for three days at Hamilton Air Force Base to get better acquainted with the M-16 and booby traps and whatnot, and we shot 'em full automatic and even had one with a grenade launcher with a 40-millimeter grenade. We shot those and they taught us about booby traps and stuff.

Owen Rogers:

I remember looking at your service records, you are a small arms expert?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Yeah, I am. Yeah, I can hit what I want. Actually, I grew up shooting a bow but I got--

Owen Rogers:

The Air Force didn't issue those?

Arthur E. Roberts:

No. No. I just, if I had been out in the field I would have had one, guarantee you. Actually, it was something that could probably help there was again at Misawa. We had a tech sergeant that lived in the barracks I lived in who was on the base shooting team. And so he kind of took me under his wing and we'd go out to the base range sometimes on weekends. And they're shooting an M-1 Grand at 500 yards and hitting consistently with a peep site. Well, you're prone at that range, but still. But, anyway, so I had some good training. So, but, you know, qualified M-16, M-1, the Grand. That was basically it. But over there some guys brought their own pistols with them. Occasionally you have somebody with a shotgun. The cops on base used shotguns so they shot towards an airplane they didn't just pepper the skin, would put holes in it.

Owen Rogers:

What kind of base security did you have?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Well, we had the cops, you know, the air cops, of course. And then we had 82nd Airborne all around the place, but.

Owen Rogers:

______.

Arthur E. Roberts:

Yes, they did it. Tell you what, we'd take our hats off to them every chance we got. They were super.

Owen Rogers:

Did you have any, was it dusters from Point Defense?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Oh, there, now, there was a, there was a Quad 50 that was a 450 caliber machine gun that was mounted on the, you know, quad array on the back of a six-by, and they would park that up by the main gate at night in case somebody decided to come through. And in the morning you would hear them clear it (sounds), but never really had any big thing happen. A few times saw--they had some commando cars, too, that are like little mini tanks but with big wheels, big tires on them and stuff, but they had a 105 recoilless and some other machine guns and stuff, and we'd see those doing about 70, 80 mile an hour up to the main gate sometimes, but. They do fly. And, also, we had a couple tanks around. Saw those go up there occasionally. But they were, if anything happened it was kept there.

Owen Rogers:

So following your deployment at Tan Son Nhut what was it like working at Beale?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Okay. Yeah. After a little, short break in service there I ended up out at Beale Air Force base in Northern California, up above Sacramento.

Owen Rogers:

My understanding that you're still in photograph or reconnaissance?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Oh, yeah. I got back in photo recon. They were the 9th Strategic Wing. They were flying the SR-71, the Black Bird, and.

Owen Rogers:

I guess, I suppose for the camera it probably, you know, what is the significance, what is the purpose of the SR-71?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Well, the SR is a kind of plane that can go wherever it wants to when it wants to. Most times you don't even know it's there and if you do it doesn't matter, you can't do anything about it anyway. And it flies very high, very fast, very high, and can photograph a huge area at one time. They can--one of the missions we had was China and they were, they could photo map all of China in three hours.

Owen Rogers:

Now, would that be with side looking camera, side looking radar?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Well, there was, it was optical sensors and they did side looking radar. I--whether they--I never--I saw the units but I, and I occasionally saw the film, but our primary thing was the optical sensors.

Owen Rogers:

So they have all been replaced now?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Yeah. Oh, yeah. Oh, yes. And the big mission then was Vietnam because it was still, '70 to '72, so Vietnam was still very active. And they--a lot of it was Saigon--or not Saigon but Hanoi and Hai Phong, one thing, to try and keep track of where our prisoners were because the last thing we wanted to do is hit near them. But, you know, the real close in bomb assessment, I mean, you know, we see the smile on the guy's face.

Owen Rogers:

So a, so you went from the Freedom Dog satellites to --

Arthur E. Roberts:

No. They was good. They were, when you figure, well, they weren't up as quite as high as the satellite but they were high.

Owen Rogers:

So as opposed to the RF-101, the RF-4C, what kind of cameras were placed on a SR-71?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Honestly, I can't remember. That's embarrassing. I've been all over that bird, too, but I don't remember just what cameras they were using.

Owen Rogers:

Well, I think--what was the name of the operation for photograph recon?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Giant Dragon

Owen Rogers:

And what kind of targets? Like nuclear powers plants and things like that?

Arthur E. Roberts:

They, they just, they just overflew the whole thing and they, I am sure they had their targets that they looked for. I never got into the intelligence side that much there. It was such a big operation. Our building was an old SAGE center, which may not ring any bells except for the old timers. SAGE was a computer-driven interceptor, was like the--

Owen Rogers:

Like a Nike?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Well, they, more like, no, it was, I think it was the 106, F-106, another Delta. But the idea was they would make the acquisition on radar and they would fly the plane, the pilot would take it off, turn it over to the SAGE system and it would fly him out to the target.

Owen Rogers:

Almost like a U.A.V.?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Yeah. And but this building was like six stories high and a block, and the only windows in it was down by the entrance. It was all, one time it had been all computer. It was old tube type computers, you know. Thing was huge. Well, we took it over and we were doing our photos and stuff in there. But there was only one entrance.

Owen Rogers:

Now the frequency of the S.R. flights, would it be per operational requirement or was it satellite control--

Arthur E. Roberts:

Well, normally they, they flew at least once a day but when I was there they started flying two times a day because of--and they are flying, actually flying out of Okinawa is where they were, Kadena Air Base, but, because they wanted that close, you know, keep that close an eye on what was happening. In fact, because they were doubling the flights they were--actually packed up some stuff and were sending over so they could do more processing at Kadena and I was supposed to have gone with them on one of these deployments but since my son was due to be born during that time they didn't make me go so I never did get to Kadena, but talked with them quite a bit, because we did, while I was waiting to get my clearance updated, this happened to be a ham radio operator happened to paid off because otherwise we'd been out mowing the lawns. But I happened to mention to the first sergeant that I was a ham, and he said, "just a minute, I got somebody to talk to you." So he calls Don down the flight line and he says, "What kind of license you got? And I said air--at that time it was general class. He says, "Good, come on down." So we did phone patches on ham radios between Ok---because at that time Okinawa was still U.S. territory. And we did phone patches so the guys could talk to their families a couple times a week on the ov--or on the over radio. The over phone.

Owen Rogers:

So, speaking of which, how did you keep in touch with your family while you were overseas?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Oh, well, I was in Japan. I wrote occasionally. But I got to where I learned to write letters. You don't write 'em you don't get 'em. But in Vietnam I didn't--in fact, I had just gotten married three weeks before I got orders for Vietnam. Didn't leave for four months. But my wife and I met actually on ham radio. She was a ham. So, not now but she was then. And so they, at Tan Son Nhut they had a MARS station set up and Barry Goldwater had a station that via the phone patches ran through it and there were several other guys had big stations set up, and that's what they did, they ran patches all day, you know, as long as the conditions held up. And so I would go over to the MARS station, you know, typically at least once a week and see, you know, if the conditions were good. Well, there were some times they were marginal and they weren't good enough that the average guy who would think they were talking on a phone. And I says, hey, you know, I am a ham, my wife's a ham, we are used to talking through static. So I would go back and sit on the radio with my headphones on and we'd talk for--it kept the circuit open and, you know, we might miss a word here or there but we could talk. In fact, how good it was, the day I got to my--well, it was, I guess it was the next day after we got to Tan Son Nhut. After we went through personnel we went right over to the outfit and I was in the, in the front trailer, and I said, "Well, you know, if you don't mind I want to call the MARS stations." Because used to be the thing was you'd--they'd send messages. You know, not phone calls, just messages. You know, "Hey, I'm here." "You made it okay." "Hi." You know, whatever. And so I would call the MARS station and I'd just send her a message. And he says, "What's your phone number?" And I'm going, I don't know. Because when we were dating she had her own phone and I knew that number cold but she'd moved back with her parents while I was in Vietnam and their number I hadn't dialed that much. Amazingly it, I pulled it out of my head. Gave it to him. Thirty seconds later she's on the phone.

Owen Rogers:

Quite a difference.

Arthur E. Roberts:

Yeah. I was, I was astounded. I says, wow, this is neat, you know, I'm here, you know. So, but then we, you know, over the time we talked some on the radio. But tremendous set-up.

Owen Rogers:

Now, were you able to access, access like military antenna? What kind of--I mean, you're broadcasting from thousands of miles away.

Arthur E. Roberts:

Yeah. The MARS stations had, it's what's called Military Affiliate Radio System. They had their own antennas, their own transmitters and stuff. There they were operating on military frequencies or on ham frequencies like we were between Beale and Okinawa. But it's a supplement to, to the--now of course they got satellite and, you know, and, and quite frankly, between Kadena and Beale you could do satellite but not personal calls. If they heard you say, "Hi, honey," click. You know, just didn't happen.

Owen Rogers:

What was the final phase of your service like, when you were stationed in Pennsylvania with the Air Guard?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Oh. Okay. Well, yeah. I got out of active duty in '72. Then in 1985 and here I found myself in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. And workwise I, after doing some law enforcement sales, and all that died when Reagan shut off revenue sharing, but in the meantime too I had put in an application, they ran Navy base, Navy ships parts control center there at Mechanicsburg. And the veterans guy down at the state employment said that's the only place they even consider really. He says, you, your background, you're made for them. So I put in a thing and it took a few months but they hired me. I worked on buying spare parts for missile launch systems on submarines. And turned out to be kind of interesting, the other extreme from my high altitude reconnaissance and now working on subs, but the--and then the project I was on was actually working for the Royal Navy. The UK had four missile boats that were their boats but our Alliance system on it, and--

Owen Rogers:

Shared the same delivery system?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Yeah. We supported their sys-, their launch system out of our supply system. It's a unique treaty we had. They're the only people we did that with. We sold parts all over the world but we didn't supply anybody out of our supply system except on this one project. Now, what time this is, I imagine that went away because those boats are retired and they have been replaced by Trident class type subs. But I--

Owen Rogers:

This was still--what would that have been?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Poseidon.

Owen Rogers:

Poseidon?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Yeah. They were Poseidon boats. And, but I thoroughly enjoyed being part of the project because their headquarters for their special projects in the U.K. was Bath, and my family, my father's side of the family came from Bath so I felt right at home involved with that. And it was fun. I enjoyed it. But while, after I got on there I also went and joined the Pennsylvania Air National Guard out at Middletown, Harrisburg International Airport, and we had the 193rd Special Operations Group out there that's psychological operations.

Owen Rogers:

_____ with your previous clearance ______.

Arthur E. Roberts:

Well, I did--actually, this guy--some of this I haven't told you about. I, I'm also an E.M.T. or was an E.M.T. And when I was in E.M.T. class there in Pennsylvania to get certified for Pennsylvania my partner I ended up with was another young fellow who shared the same birthday I have, although I was more his father's age, and he was a ham, and he was in the Air Guard. And he was in the radio, as ground radio operator. And he mentioned that one of the guys had gone AWOL or just disappeared, you know, just decided he didn't want to do it anymore. Well, never thought more about it. Well, a little later I thought, well, gee, I wanted to, you know, join the Guard. Went and talked to 'em. Took all the physical. Was honest with them and told them I was color blind, so I shot myself out of some jobs there. But he, you know, I--he just asked me if I was color blind. He didn't even test me. But I was honest with him. And then he tested me to figure out exactly what my problem was. Because he had time, nobody was, there weren't anybody else there so, but anyway, they were then trying to figure out what to do with me, you know, where could they put me as a staff sergeant, you know, where could they plug me in. And the only thing he came up with right off the top of the head was as a parachute packer. I thought, whatever. You know. I went over to the shop, I said, I can do this, you know. At least anymore you don't have to jump in one of them, so, you know, just make sure you are doing them right. But, so, okay, you know, at least it'll get me in, I can do something different later. Well, the major that was going to swear me in started talking to me about, you know, prior service. A lot of the guys in The Guard are. But he says, you know, "What's your background?" Well, I went through all the stuff I had done. He says, "What the heck have they got you going into?" I says, "Parachute packing." He says, "Ah, not on my bet." He went to the recruiter and he says, "You plug him anyplace that he wants. I don't care if it's an overreach or not." And I said, "Well, I am a ham radio operator." And the guy says, "I think we are missing a guy in the radio shop." I says, "Yes, you are, I happen to know about that." So I got put, I went in there, so I was a ground radio operator.

Owen Rogers:

Talk about what was N.B.C. drill? You know, the nuclear biological chemical?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Oh. Oh, yes. Well, we, chemical suits were a big thing then because our supposed mission, if the guys in Europe got sent like to the Middle East, because, you know, in the eighties there was still stuff going on there then too, that we would go to Europe to supplement, to take their place, and of course then chemical threat was a big thing. So we had our little chemical suits that we had to wear periodically. You want to lose weight in a hurry. Gas mask, the whole bit. Well, because we were radio operators and we typed messages when we got them, every three months we had to take a test, and the standard typewriter for ground radio back then was an MC-80A. It was a manual typewriter that only typed in caps. And we had to take this test wearing our full chemical suit, with gloves, chemical--gas mask and all, and do 25 words a minute. I can do it. When these secretaries complain about doing secretarial work, I say, "Dear, try this."

Owen Rogers:

I'm sure the chemical gloves --.

Arthur E. Roberts:

Oh, right, you have to do it like this (indicating). I'm not a fast typist anyway but I was, I was astounded I could pass the test, though.

Owen Rogers:

Like the _______ process for the Air Force?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Yeah.

Owen Rogers:

The Air Force _______?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Yeah. But, so they were, they were interesting. It was--but then the operation itself, they had eight C-130s and four in one configuration and four in another. They went out and messed with people's minds. It was the most active reserve or guard unit in the country. There was not an active duty unit doing this. They were the ones doing it.

Owen Rogers:

Did they go over to Granada?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Yes.

Owen Rogers:

That a deployment?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Yeah. They were, they had a plane there two hours before anybody else got there. They were messing with their minds early on. They were very active. The thing that made me kind of mad later when I got shot down out of doing with my color vision is they also did communications. That's in fact what I ended up in was the communications squadron. And the N.C.O. that ran it said, "I wish you'd been able to pass that color vision." He said, "I needed a telephone guy in Germany for months." I worked for the phone company in my younger days. I would have loved it. And he showed me the different colors. I could tell him what colors they were. The deal was done. I could have gone T.D.Y. over to Germany for a while. That was before I, before I got fully involved there at the Navy base. But, anyway. So.

Owen Rogers:

Mr. Roberts, it sounds like you've had a very broad experience of life in the Air Force.

Arthur E. Roberts:

Yes.

Owen Rogers:

Are there any, is there anything else for the camera? Well, first of all, I suppose I should ask you, did you earn any medals or service ratings?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Well, nothing too dramatic except for one. The usual, you know, the Longevity, the Good Conduct, the medals for being in Vietnam. But, yeah, the Westover, we, in fact I didn't even know we had these coming to us until I was there in the Air Guard and the personnel went and researched everybody in the unit and got all their decorations and actually made them up on a thing, you know, on the thing for them to wear. Five--I had the Presidential Unit Citation with four clusters. In the four years we earned it five times. So our mission was important.

Owen Rogers:

Now, did your life in the service, did your performance, did your duty influence the way you think about war and love?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Well, it gave, gives you a little better insight into what is going on, yes. That and, believe it or not, when I was in Japan, I tell you, we were six minutes from Russia by air. I had a ham station set up plus we had the MARS station which was right behind the photo lab so I had use of both. And the Russians greatly encouraged ham radio operators and a lot of airplane flyers for that matter, because that is the future engineers and technicians, and so there was a lot of hams that I talked to were Russian, spoke as good or better English than we do. And we could tell by their call signs if they's a military station or not. They were just rank G.I.s like we were. It's--we were careful not to say certain things to keep them from getting in trouble. I mean, not that anybody was going to come down on us but we didn't want them to get something done to 'em or yelled at because of something that was discussed. So, but it was fun. In fact, some of them, we got to, you know, kind of got to know 'em a little bit. Yeah. Like I say, they were just G.I.s like we were. Kind of gives you a little different view of things.

Owen Rogers:

Now, did you join any veterans organizations?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Yeah. A long time I never did, but I got back here to Simsbury and joined the local V.F.W. A good group. Most of the gentlemen there are World War II; a few, one or two Korean War. I think I am the only Vietnam vet and then there's one from Desert Storm I think.

Owen Rogers:

And a question that's common among Vietnam veterans, their shared experience, did you ever experience any discrimination when you returned home from your tour?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Not the way some did. The disappointing thing to me was that, one of, particular one of the places I worked, nobody there had ever been a G.I. I was the only G.I. there. They didn't look down on me about it. It was just kind of like, gee. I did work for the telephone company for a little while and they purposely hired exG.I.s because they knew the quality they would be. But I never had anybody throw things at me. Now, they may have looked the other way sometimes when they might have been nice otherwise. I know I did apply for one job here in Simsbury, I won't name the company, but I had--the guy--actually, yeah, I didn't know if they were hiring or not anyway but I was just hitting all the possibilities. And he says, he did say, "I just hate to do this." He said, "I never turn away a G.I. but," he says, "I just, I've taken people I can't even, I don't have a place for now, I just can't do anything." I mean, he was sincere. You know, I was, hey, don't worry about it, you know, I understand that side of it. But so, there were some that really cared, you know.

Owen Rogers:

______.

Arthur E. Roberts:

Yeah.

Owen Rogers:

Now, are there any stories that you feel like you would like to share in this interview that we perhaps haven't covered?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Oh, my. We've talked here so much. Oh, I mean, I guess because of my ham radio work, you know, lis-, talking to people all over the world, my work in recon, you know, looking at people all over the world, and the intelligence stuff, but I'm on the Net all the time. It's just a constant learning thing. And also something that, going, thinking back to something you mentioned whenever we were talking before we did this, you were talking about taking, studying a particular type of history: I, when I went--I did go to college finally in the eighties.

Owen Rogers:

Did you utilize the G.I. bill?

Arthur E. Roberts:

No. Actually I did that when I worked for the phone company. This was past that. I didn't need it. $13 a semester hour? At a state university with there's a PhD teaching the course. You know, that's fine. That's fine. But, you know, I had high, of course history in high school. It was a joke. I got into history in college, then you find this, all this went on? You know. Then we're just scratching the surface. You know, I was like, good grief, while I, you know, study. Of course, I like the history channel and all this stuff on TV and just, just fascinating to really get into. And of course now after Vietnam a lot of stuff comes into play. You know, with my knowledge of what I knew at the time, it fills in, some of this fills in places that I didn't know about at the time. It's interesting. Although seems like people can't learn. They talk about history repeating itself.

Owen Rogers:

Well, hopefully this interview will bring another layer of insight in our human ______+ into the 20th century?

Arthur E. Roberts:

Yeah. Yeah. It's--I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the service. I, actually, when I went to Beale I planned on doing the 20 at least. And just when my son was born his mother had some medical problems and they wanted her back close to the family and that was here, not in California, so, and there wasn't any way I could get reassigned close so the option was to get out, so.

Owen Rogers:

Either way, sounds like you spent many years in the service and I would like to thank you for your time in the Air Force.

Arthur E. Roberts:

Oh. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I, it was strictly a fluke that I ended up in photography but I had fantastic experiences.

Owen Rogers:

Well, once again, Mr. Roberts, thank you from the Veterans History Project.

Arthur E. Roberts:

Thank you for taking the time to interview me. It's been fun.

 
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  October 26, 2011
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