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Interview with William Donald Sinclair [4/2/2004]

Vick Fast:

This is 2 April, 2004. We are at Bill Sinclair's home at 3007 Chelton Drive. I'm Vick Fast, the interviewer. The cameraman is Jason Brown. We are interviewing Bill Sinclair, State Representative of Colorado. Bill, tell us about your early life.

William Donald Sinclair:

Well, I'm -- I was in World War II and I've earlier been interviewed on that, and then I got back out of the armed forces, went back to school and I was, in 1947, I was contacted by mail and asked if I would like to compete for a regular commission in the new United States Air Force. So talking to one of my family members, who was an army officer, he encouraged me to do that and so --

Vick Fast:

Not the old Army Air Corp?

William Donald Sinclair:

Not the old Army Air Corp. I had been in the old Army Air Core in Italy in World War II as kind of a punk 19-year-old kid. But I did get commissioned and then I got out. I had wanted to go to pilot training, but I was a navigator in World War II in B-24s and flew 17 missions and then came home and went back to college. And so when this letter came, I did apply and I went to Fort MacArthur in San Pedro, California, and there were dozens and dozens of other fellows there and I was just a lieutenant and I was pretty low on the totem pole and here were all these majors, lieutenant colonels, generals, and so on. And I was taking these exams and about the second day, it was a three-day affair, I'd said well this is crazy, you know. I'm not going -- they are not going to take me. Look at all these guys with all these ribbons and decorations and stars and I'm just nothing. So I called my uncle, who was counseling me, and said I'm not going to finish this. And he said, you get back in there right now and you finish those exams. And he was right because they didn't want all the stars. They wanted a Christmas tree and the base was made up of hundreds of thousands of lower ranks and when you got to the top, eventually there was one Chief of Staff of the Air Force. So I did get a regular commission and many weeks went by, and then I received some orders and telling me I had to report to what was then called Fairfield-Suisun Army Airfield, later Travis Air Force Base. And I thought to myself, well, what are these crazy folks doing sending me orders to go on my Reserves. I had been in the Reserves at Long Beach, California. To go on two weeks' active duty in the middle of winter? And I called -- well, I think I mentioned earlier that at class, one of my profs said, you know, Bill, there were two F.B.I. agents here looking for you today and I said, whoops. And so I got on the phone and, to make a long story short, they said get yourself up here. So I went to Northern California from Southern California and I reported in and they all said, oh, you're the one. The general wants to see you. He can hardly wait to get his hands on you, I guess. And I did go in and see and it was General Archie Old. He was a brigadier general. He later became a lieutenant general and was the commander of the 15th Air Force. And he said, what is all of this nonsense that you want to resign your commission and go to West Point? Why would you want to do that? And I said I want to go to pilot training, general. And he said, lieutenant, there is almost 1,500 officers on this base and only five of them are regular officers, and I'm one of those five, and the other colonels are the remaining three and you are the fifth and you are talking about giving up a regular commission. I can send you to pilot training. So indeed I -- he said you go back to your quarters, think about this for 24 hours. You report back down here at 8:00 tomorrow morning and tell me what your decision is. If you want to resign your commission, you know and I know that you can do that. Nobody can keep you in. Now keep in mind that this was 1948 and things were a lot different. Nobody wanted anything to do with the military and the military was very hurt and hard put upon to obtain personnel resources. So anyway, I, of course, listened to the wisdom of this older man and said I will go, and he told me that they would put me on the line flying as navigator on the Hickam Run. And a month went by and nothing happened and then I was switched around to be a route briefing officer and I thought these were all just interim duties. And finally a young lieutenant of my experience in my own squadron got orders to go to pilot training and his name was Hal Mott. And I remember him to this day and I said -- we had a little farewell party for him and at the party we all had a drink or two, and he was loose-lipped and I said, you know, Hal, I don't understand. You are going to pilot training and I'm not going. And he said don't you know you are not going. And I said what? And he said, yeah, the wing personnel officer said you are a smart ass, young lieutenant who is hobnobbing with generals. He is going to fix your wagon so ha-ha-ha. Well that was -- that was pretty bad news, and I still was just civilian enough to know that there was something amiss there and I was going to take care of that. So I did, indeed, go down the next morning late in the morning when I could get away to the wing personnel, and it was lunch hour and I went in to see the personnel major. He wasn't in. The sergeant major was there. I asked him where are my orders? Where are my -- where are all those papers I filled out? And he said I don't know anything about it. I said fine, I'm going to see the general and his -- yours is the name I'm gonna give him and he said, now, wait a second, lieutenant. I have nothing to do with this. And I said well you better make up your mind right now because unless you give me some information, you are going to be the fall guy on this. And so he went like this to me {gesturing}, and in this big, empty roomful of desks, took me up to a little platform with the bigger desk and picked up the out basket and there were all the papers I had filled out. They had gone nowhere. And the plan was to send me to Guam to be a route briefing officer. So I hustled down to see the general, and when I got in there, I told him, I said, you promised me that I could go to pilot training and you are not keeping that promise. And he said what do you mean? And I explained what had happened. And he kind of turned all red in his neck and he said, lieutenant, you go back to your quarters, you clear the base, you pack your bags and you be here with bags at 8:00 in the morning. And at 8:00 in the morning, I went back to see the general and he handed me orders shipping me to Randolph Air Force Base to begin my flight training.

Vick Fast:

Texas?

William Donald Sinclair:

Texas, right. And guess who went to be the route briefing officer in Guam?

Vick Fast:

The major?

William Donald Sinclair:

The major, yeah. And the message here is don't mess with those generals. They can be good guys, but they can really be bad guys, too. And so that's what got me started in my second phase of my military experience, which was the Korean War. I went to pilot training. I graduated in July of 1949. I was at Randolph Air Force Base, and when I finished there, I went to the fighter school at Williams Air Force base in Arizona. And I got orders to go to Hamilton Air Force Base to fly jets. They were F-84s, which was a big airplane in those days. In the Air Force, you got to fly lots and lots and lots. I finished my career at 6,000 hours, but in those days, in a fighter, I was really flying three and four missions every day. It was incredible. And when I wasn't flying a jet, I was towing a target in an F-51 and I was just crazy. There was no limit as to how much I could fly. It was really marvelous. But I had gone through my flight training at Williams Air Force Base in F-51s, and then when I got checked out in jets up in Hamilton Air Force Base, I continued to fly the F-51 in a tow capacity, so when the Korean War came, we were immediately directed to send all kinds of personnel to the war. And I don't know how others felt, but I felt we were terribly unprepared for that war. There were some really bad things that happened. But then they looked at my records to send me, they said, my gosh, you've got all this F-51s. We are going to send you to F-51s, a propeller driven airplane. Well I didn't want to do that. That was going backwards in my career and I had no choice. They rammed that down my throat. So I went to the Fighter Gunnery School in Las Vegas, Nevada, and when I graduated there in December of 1950, early in January, I left to go to Korea and I was assigned to F-51s. The trip over was uneventful. We flew, as opposed to World War II when everybody went on boats -- ships I should say. And we went to Japan, which was the staging point and Tachikawa Air Base was the place where all of the personnel actions were taking place to process people there up into Korea. And at this stage of the war, the Chinese had come clear south and pushed the American forces back to what was called the Pusan Perimeter in those days. In fact, I was stationed at Taegu Air Base, which is in southern Korea, and they were actually mortaring portions of the base at that time on and off. When I got in Japan, my uncle, who was the colonel I talked about earlier, was the J6 on MacArthur's staff, and so he -- when I called him, he said come on over right away and I said, well, I've got all these friends of mine. He said how many are there? And I said well there's six and he said -- including me. And he said, fine, we'll have bedrooms for all of them. Well, we went to this magnificent Japanese home and it was one of the Mitsubishi's, which our occupation forces had taken over all of those kind of properties in Japan. So here we were second -- six lieutenants all living in private bedrooms in this one home. It was amazing. I was very impressed with that. I remember that very well. Eventually I went over to personnel at Tachikawa and I said, you know, this is terrible. I mean, I don't want to go to F-51s. I want to be a jet fighter. That's what I've trained for. That's -- isn't there anything I can do about this? And so the sergeant who was in charge says, you want to go to jet fighters? And I said, yes, can you do something? He said sure, Sinclair, you just went to jet fighters. I got such a kick out of that. All these grandiose personnel plans that they had and here is the sergeant just changing the whole world for me. I loved that.

Vick Fast:

The little sergeant.

William Donald Sinclair:

Yeah, the little sergeant, yeah. They are not so little. Anyway, I did go over to Taegu and that was a real shock to the system because when I got there, the weather was bitter cold. And we lived in hooches where there would be maybe 20 or 30 officers sleeping on cots in a big, wooden building with tarpaper roof. And we got checked out very quickly, and when it -- when the wing commander found out that I had been trained in Mustangs and not in F-80s, which was the airplane that we were flying in that wing. This was the 49th wing, and I was assigned to the 8th Fighter Bomber Squadron. And he called me down there and said, how did you get here? And fortunately, I knew a lot of people in that unit and one of them was a Captain Bizusco (ph) and he said, colonel, this guy can fly anything. Let me give him three rides and a trainer and I guarantee you, he will be a fine addition to our cadre here. So he bought off on it and away I went and I started my missions. And I remember getting checked out and these airplanes were really the first jets that the Air Force had, F-80s. They had a trainer version, which we called the T-33, which had two pilots in it, but these airplanes had huge wing tanks on them and you had to learn how to rotate the airplane on takeoff and in the -- when the summer months came in Korea and it got hot, there was a lot of trouble getting them off. In fact, we used to use JATO to get off occasionally. If you had a good bomb load or lots of rockets and you had these huge wing-tipped tanks, it was important to know how to do that and one of the -- one of the fellows that came along afterwards was a friend of a friend. My friend in that wing, was who came after me, was Colonel Jack Broughton. He wasn't a colonel, he was a lieutenant just like me, a West Pointer. And incidentally, the whole West Point class that preceded that was wiped out in the Korean War. They really took it on the chin, most of them in the ground forces. And where we had heavy losses, they lost all of these young lieutenants. It was really a tragedy. Part of that I chalk up to the terrible way we were prepared for that war. We were totally unprepared. He had become an occupation force in Japan, and we just really weren't ready to fight a war on a combat, tactical level. In any event, this individual I'm attempting to describe, we took off and I had Broughton on my wing and I was leading the element, and he took off just ahead of us and he over-rotated the airplane on the take-off and crashed. And he had napalm on the airplane and it was just a huge fireball. He was killed almost instantly. And we flew right through that fireball in the airplane after him, which was dangerous because it can get flamed out, and that close to the ground, you could be in really serious condition. But we had a lot of terrible accidents like that. These were the days when jet airplanes were very new, and today, if you were to read the book The Right Stuff, Thomas Wolfe describes that era very well when he's talking about the astronauts and how in those days we killed so many people. It was just incredible because of lack of experience and advancing technology, new kinds of airplanes, trying to train in combat, really. I flew a hundred missions. That was a tour. And I signed up for a second tour so I could stay. Yeah, I was young and foolish. And I had eight missions on my second tour when they found out that Fifth Air Force in Japan, which was the controlling Air Force agency over in that part of the world, was keeping all this combat talent and Air Force headquarters came down and really hammered them and almost literally overnight, three or four of us were picked up and sent to Japan, not home, but to Japan. And we were sent to the 35th fighter group, which was made up of various Air National Guard units in Mustangs, F-51s. And again, because I had this experience, they didn't let me go home. They sent me to Japan. And these units were not combat-ready and we were trying to get them to be combat-ready and they were really in bad shape, frankly. There were people from Wyoming and Arizona Guard, as I remember, and various guard units, kind of a conglomerate group from various states that had been folded together and made into a combat unit. And they were training. I know you are interested in what I thought of Taegu. It was -- it had no charm. There was no attraction there for me. I loved Japan and later had two assignments there and later in my later military career, but I never had any love for Korea. It was a bitter, cold nation surrounded on all sides by water. The people were -- the culture was so alien to me as a young man that I didn't have any attraction to it. And the North Koreans were such vicious enemies and so brutal, but we took care of them, and air power in that war was predominant. In fact, I remember a particular mission when we caught a mixed Chinese and North Korean division in the open, and we just attacked them with napalm and we killed hundreds and hundreds of Chinese and North Korean soldiers. They were -- I couldn't see how they could possibly stand in the midst of all of this conflagration. I remembered distinctly one soldier standing under a little tree. They don't know what big trees are like we do here in Colorado, but -- and around him was just devastation, bodies everywhere. Later in my tour in Korea, I was sent to be a forward air controller, and I was sent to the 101st Airborne, the 147th RCT, and I did two months' duty with them, and that was a great experience for me. I loved it.

Vick Fast:

On the ground?

William Donald Sinclair:

On the ground, yeah. And I was ashamed because I was supposed to be able to deliver the air, and the equipment I had was so poor, it was highly unlikely that I would ever have been able to make it work. I had a Jeep with radios that had big vacuum tubes that high, and you were driving over rocks and all of this. You could imagine how difficult that was. But the paratroopers really took good care of me. And we went in at Moonsoni and that was a big push to test the Chinese and see what they -- how they would react. And I remember so well that the battalion commander that I was assigned to was very concerned about our being cutoff up there. We were penetrating. What do they call that, reconnaissance enforce, that sounds like to me if I remember that term. We had some fire fights. I did not get endangered in any way. I remember real well the battalion commander pulling me into his tent and talking to the other officers and said don't let this man get killed. I'm charging you not to let that happen. It made me feel good, but it wasn't the way things really should have been. Because, he said, he's the only guy that can get us air, and air was important in that war. It's just as important as the ground forces were. The navy had a lesser role except at Wonsan, which was very famous and I won't address that.

Vick Fast:

Supply, navy?

William Donald Sinclair:

Yeah. Yeah, that's right. Well they had a -- we had a brilliant Commander in General MacArthur, in spite of his egotism. Everybody was trying to tell him he couldn't do that at Wonsan Harbor, and they had all the reasons, the tides, the weather, the dangers, and he insisted he knew what he was doing. And I remember reading history, signed a piece of paper saying if anything goes wrong, it is my fault. And of course, it was a huge success and strategically brilliant. But we had different missions and one of the things I remember about this era is that -- your booklet asked to talk about the food. We had terrible food. It was terrible. It was so inconsistent and you would have thought that, you know, being in the Air Force that they would have, and having a mess hall and such, that everything would have been terrific, but the supply was so irregular that I remember that for three days one time we just ate one kind of food. That's all they had, breakfast, lunch or dinner, that was all. Not a tragic event. But another humorous entrant was that the code word for rockets was graham crackers, so we ordered a lot of new rockets, and what they sent us was tons and tons of graham crackers. Oh, these crazy things that happen. When I left the army, my replacement there was a young lieutenant from my squadron, and he came early which surprised me because most of us didn't want to go on that. We wanted to continue to fly combat missions. And I left two days early on account of his being so eager, and two days later, he was killed. They were overrun by the Chinese, and my replacement was killed. If I'd have been there, I guess I might not have made it. The -- one of the things that was unique about this wing was that we had a sister air field in Japan, which was called Tsuiki. It was on the Japan sea and on the main islands of Honshu, and we would fairy airplanes back and forth. And the commander of that base is still here in Colorado Springs. He is a very famous colonel from those days. We would, if we had real serious maintenance problems with an airplane, we would fly it back and pick up a new one and bring it back into Korea and use that for combat until something broke. Now this is not to say that we didn't have maintenance. We did. But upper level maintenance, we didn't have that capability or it was delimited, and so we crashed a lot of airplanes. I got all shot up on a mission one day up near Wonsan and when I came back, I -- I had no brakes on the airplane, so I landed in a normal landing, when I applied brakes, nothing happened. They were gone because the hydraulic lines to the brakes had been shot out. And I crashed into a stack of PSP, pure steel planking, which was our runway. They'd stack this stuff up and they would have to replace it. They were planks, you know, about perhaps 24 to 30 -- 24 to 30 inches wide, and they interlaced with each other and they provided a steel surface with holes in it so you could stop. And they would stack these replacements up along the side of the runway, and when I first applied my brakes, one brake connected and the other did not, and so the airplane veered very slightly, and as I went down the runway, I finally hit one of these stacks of airplanes, tore the gear off the airplane. There wasn't any -- I wasn't injured in any way.

Vick Fast:

But that stopped you?

William Donald Sinclair:

That sure stopped me, yeah. And I have pictures of that somewhere. We had some really -- I mentioned earlier some missions where people were killed because of lack of experience. I recall one mission when a fellow by the name of Becker, who was very popular, could not drop his napalm. He could not release it on the target. He had to carry it. It wouldn't come off. Usually if they don't drop automatically when you push the button on the stick to release the armament, then you have a panic button which you can push and it will drop away on that, but nothing would work. And he came back and landed, and the hitting of the airplane on the runway released these tanks who went rolling down the runway and then exploded and he roared into all of that and crashed. And I remember so well. We all rushed out there and he was there. He was all -- he didn't live but maybe an hour or two, but he was conscious though and he was so burned I never seen anything like that, like hamburger steak. And he kept saying, Moto, that was the name, a nickname of one of my friends. Moto, I'm burning, I'm burning. And the fireman who was there was so emotionally involved, he turned the hose on him, but that rolled his body down, you know, this runway. And this individual, Moto, just hauled off and socked that fireman. Emotions which get away. After a fair amount of missions, you got so much R and R and Japan was the place you went, and the Japanese people were very hospitable. You know, you either like the Japanese or you do not, and I liked them very much. I think there are many, many traits in their culture that I admire, and they made available some of the finest hotels in Japan to the army, army, navy and air force people to have R and R. And I remember going to the Fujiya Hotel, which was a very unique hostelry of the first order, very five-starish in today's terms. And we would -- the thing that I found was fascinating that I wanted salad. I never saw a tomato or a leaf of lettuce in Korea, but there, you could get just about anything you wanted. And we would tease the Japanese waitresses and they were very emotional and became very attached to people who they would serve you at your table. And over a period of ten days or something, they got to know you pretty well, and we used to tease them and we would wait until the, until the meal was all through and we had had dessert. And keep in mind now, this is a kind of -- for those days, a pretty posh menu, and then we would say more mash potatoes and gravy. And they would -- they would get all excited and really rip them up. They didn't understand that at all. And when we would leave, these young girls who are waitresses would also cry, and you know, the Japanese don't display their emotions very much. But there were, well, you know, if you told them we are going back to combat, you know, they would get very emotional. It was kind of interesting. Another interesting mission we had was one in the middle of the night. Actually we took off. It was really dark and flying formation and taking off is more difficult at night than any other time. And we went clear up to North Korea and caught trains out. They moved their logistical support around on trains at night because then we didn't harass them. So when we got word of this, we planned a special mission to go up there at night so that we would arrive at twilight, not quite yet dawn. But we took off and flew up there and it was very dark when we took off and it became twilight and we caught -- I caught a train in the open and there wasn't any train when we finished. It was really amazing because these cars, the engines began to explode as we'd shoot them up. And the boxcars had munitions, obviously, and some of them would go off. A really spectacular thing that sticks in my mind.

Vick Fast:

Fireworks?

William Donald Sinclair:

Yeah, fireworks. Very, very good analogy, I agree. I got a DFC for that one, and so that was something that sticks in my head. Oh, one of the interesting things that happened when I was there was Bob Hope came. And Bob Hope, for those that are viewing this, is and was a very famous comedian, very prominent in World War II and very famous for entertaining the troops. And so at -- I was appointed as his goffer. You know, I was the project officer. I was his Batman. And he was really a nice guy and so at one point in the -- it was still, the show was put on that night and it was recorded on movies and then sent back to the states, but before that happened, he -- we were walking somewhere and he said, I have to go to the latrine. And I said, oh, okay, come on, I'll show you where it is. So I took him over to the officer's latrine. Now you have to understand that we were in the field, more or less, not like the army but -- and the facilities we had for bathrooms, toilets, were benches with holes cut in them and a trough underneath. And outside we engineered this 50-gallon drum with a little electric motor that would pump water into this 50-gallon drum, and there was a spring device in there so that when it got enough water in it to weight, it cocked and let all of this water come down and flush out that trough. Well the only thing that was wrong with that is we were receiving very occasional mortars and so I forgot to tell him about the 50-gallon drum because it was some -- it was like somebody hitting that thing with a sledgehammer. And Mr. Hope was ensconced I take it. I wasn't physically in the room. The whole place was empty except for him and that thing went kaboom and he came running out with his nickers around his ankles saying, geez, what was that? And I said, oh, my gosh. So that night, he got off his standard Bob Hope line and said something to the affect that Taegu, that's the place where you can go to the latrine and get combat fatigue. And so he broke everybody up. They all knew what he was talking about, but I'm sure the audiences that viewed that show never knew what he was talking about. But that was kind of a funny thing that sticks in my head. Another thing was my squadron commander was a very famous -- he later became a brigadier general. His name was Ben King, and he was totally selfless. He flew all the missions. He had over 200 missions when I joined that squadron and he was pushing 300. And you can't do that very long without not being around very much. And I greatly admired him. I know that I flew one mission with him where we were trying to blowup a tunnel and we had delayed fuses on our bombs and the idea was to skip this bomb into the tunnel, and then it would go off and do huge amount of damage, and that would keep them from using that rail line. And so he sent me in first, and I went in and skipped my bomb in and it went off and dust and everything came out. And he came down, and they had incorrectly fused his bomb, so it, when it hit, it went off instead of skipping and he almost -- he had a lot of damage on his airplane from that and he almost got blown out of the sky. We made it back home.

Vick Fast:

He must have been a hell of a flyer?

William Donald Sinclair:

Yeah, well he was a great, great leader, and he's still alive as far as I know and very -- he was a great tactical leader, a man of the field. I can't say enough about Ben King. They had all kinds of tricks that the Chinese, particularly, that they would play on us. One was, almost devastating trick, was that we had a radio homer beacon on the base, so you came back home on this beacon, and did approach, procedure if the weather was -- usually you'd fly your missions at say 20,000 feet and let down, and if the ceiling was below 5,000 or something, you had to do an instrument-type approach. And what the Chinese learned was that they could duplicate that homer so that up to the north of the field, about 60 or 70 miles, they had a false homer. And on this mission, we came back and we were low on fuel. We were always low on fuel because we constantly cheated to try to give close air support or try to destroy the target or particularly if the migs came to try to get us and we'd use up more fuel and we had cheated. And so when we let down on the false homer, there was no air base and, gosh, I'll never forget this, and the flight leader said I don't know where we are. I have no idea where we are. And my indication was that I was getting signals further south on my radios. And so finally I asked him, we were just kind of flying around trying to figure out what to do, and our fuel was dangerously low, and so I asked him for permission to break off and go on my own. And he said anything you want, and I did. And I did, I climbed up and flew to where I thought the base was, and I let down and it was the base, but the totalizer on my F80, which is a numerical depiction of the balance of gallons of fuel, was running backwards. That was terrible. And one of the -- let's see, there were three other guys. Bizusco {ph} made it back later, and one of them crashed in a riverbed and he was injured, but not killed. And I can't remember what happened to Bill Savage. But I do remember when I came back and I was trying to land and on the final approach, I got cut out by another airplane, panicked, you know. And so finally I'm on the ground and I can't believe that I'm still flying this airplane. It's incredible. It probably should have -- in today's world, you would have jumped out or ejected. And I remember Colonel King climbing up on the ladder and saying where, where is your flight? What's happening? What's going on? And I said I don't know. I didn't know. He must have thought I was an idiot. Later, the one fellow who was injured was -- we had a MASH, a medical team there on the base, a big central place mainly for army personnel who were wounded, and they took Becker over there and I went to see him right then as soon as I got out of the airplane and got debriefed and could go over on the other side of the field where this medical outfit was, and that is not what you saw in the TV. Nothing at all like -- it was very gory, really depressing, and a lot of guys getting arms amputated and things, blood all over the place. I mean, that's common I guess for a field hospital for a doctor, but I had never seen anything like that. He shoved his leg, on the crash, he shoved his leg right through the side of the airplane. It was fractured in numerous places. And he was cut up and broken up in some other places, but he wasn't going to die, and he later was evacuated. It was something. Let's see, what else to talk about. I think I told you about the game the Chinese played. They did other things. For instance, they would park a tank car, a rail tank car at the foot of a hill. A single tank car. And they -- if this was the track and this was the hill, they'd put a tank car right here and that was for green pilots who would see that and go after it and fly into the hill, and I was one of those. I almost got killed because I was so fixated on causing that thing to blowup and there wasn't anything in it, so it wasn't going to blowup, but I didn't know that. And when I looked, when I adjusted my vision looking out of the side, looking up, I realized that I was going to fly into the hill, I rotated the airplane and you have this sensation that the airplane is not going around a loop like this, but it's going down flat. As a pilot, you pick all of that up, and I missed that hill so that my jet stream dusted off on the top of the hill and that taught me something really important. Don't do that again. Let's see what else can I tell you about.

Vick Fast:

You could -- you could maybe mention something when you came back?

William Donald Sinclair:

Yes. Well, I'm going to tell you a little bit about there is three of us that still hang together. Keep in mind that I came back in September of 1951, and I got a spot promotion to captain and, of that group, three of us, four of us still hang together. Only three of us were Vietnam vets in this experience where we were all, two of us were both colonels, retired as colonels. The other fellow retired as a major general, and we hang together very tight now. And the fourth person was one of those who went through all the previous units with us, but when we got to Las Vegas, he broke his, he went skiing and broke his leg, so we lost him and he never got to our outfit in Korea. He went somewhere else, and I don't remember where it was, but the four of us still hang together and I think that's important. One thing that I think is interesting, because it's in the textbooks, we had, at Taegu, we had a reservoir on the base on a slight hill and one man's duty was to protect the water by adding disinfectant and so on to the water, and he went away on leave and no one replaced him. So everybody on a certain day on the whole base got sick and, as you know from the Orient, you can really get sick very quickly over there because we causations are not -- we don't have the same immune system and many, many people, the wing went down out of combat readiness because of everybody on the base being so sick. And of course, I'm sure that when they found out what had happened, and I being only a lieutenant in those days didn't know, but somebody's head probably fell off because you do not lose a wing for combat readiness because of that kind of an incident. But it actually did happen and it's taught in the textbooks at the Air War College and other places.

Vick Fast:

Bad water menu?

William Donald Sinclair:

Bad water, yeah, really bad. I remember being so sick myself, I didn't know which end was up. After they got wise to the fact that the 5th Air Force was keeping this repository of combat experience and not rotating it back to the Air Force, General Vandenberg was the Chief of Staff of the Air Force in those days, and when he found that out, he really blew his cork and there was a mass exodus of all the experience out of there. Going back to all the units in the states, because at that time, we were starting to buildup the air defense command. Keep in mind, we are talking about 1951. That's over 50 years ago. So when eventually that caught up with me, I was in at Johnson Air Base and outside of Tokyo. It was known to the Japanese as Iruma, the home of the Baka bomb. The Baka bomb was a piloted bomb kamikaze type of operation, and I was summarily called forward and said, hey, you are going home very quickly. Go pack your bags. How about going tomorrow? And that's what happened in that at that particular time. Okay, let's take a trip. Let's take a break here a moment. [Break taken and started abruptly] We are not going to fly on that. Actually, the latrine overflowed and flew down the aisles. There were no seats. It was kind of buckets. And I did reach home and the interesting thing is that my home was Los Angeles and I was -- I got orders to sign at Long Beach Air Force Base, where I was for my next assignment. There's -- this isn't like I was not continuing my military career, so unlike many of my peers, I wasn't home and going to get out of the service. I didn't want to. In fact, I went on to have a 32-year service period. And it seems to me that one of the things that needs to be said is that there is currently going around, for instance, a clip that says things like this: It isn't the politician who wins the war, it's the soldier. It isn't the journalist who tells the story, it's the soldier, and so on. And this is repeated and repeated for all the various levels of commitment. That was my second war. I was still going to have one more in Vietnam, but at that time, of course, I did not know that. I think that the one thing that's important to recognize for those who will be looking at this video is that I wonder where we get men like we had in those days. Where do we get such men who go off to defend their country, who ask very little and receive very little, frankly. Without them, those who might be viewing this video might not have had the privilege to view it. And I'm very impressed that someone would be interested in my meager contributions to the Korean War as a young lieutenant flying fighter planes, and I think it's quite significant that these conditions prevail so that those who are looking at this now have the freedom to do that; otherwise, if we hadn't had the capability and the wherewithal to go and defend ourselves in that great scrap which later ended with the collapse of communism, I think that probably people would not be looking at this film now. And I think that's about all I have to tell you.

Vick Fast:

Freedom isn't free.

William Donald Sinclair:

Freedom isn't free. Very well put. [Next segment]

William Donald Sinclair:

And now we are going to talk about the third world war in my lifetime, which was the Vietnam War. And this was a different experience entirely than the other two wars because in both of those wars, I was either a lieutenant or a captain, a young pilot officer, and I was involved in individual missions, and I understood some of the tactical implications. But then some 20 years later, I am selected to go to Vietnam, and I'm a full colonel in the Air Force and the perspective is immensely different because the job I had there, which I'll talk a little more about later, had to do with commanding control of the air battle. And I had access, in fact, part of my job involved was to know what the air battle was going to be each day and to oversee that air battle. And so it was a different perspective entirely. I had been at Georgia Air Force base in the 31st tact fighter wing checking out in F-4s to go to Vietnam when I had a recurrence from some previous surgery. I pulled a lot of G's one day and I came unzipped. And so I was sent through a series of hospitals to do much surgery and I'm sporting as I talk to you a square inch, I mean a square foot, of Mylar mesh in my abdomen. And that came about because when I was in the embassy in Tokyo, I had a ruptured appendix and it was misdiagnosed and the wrong medication was given to me, which caused my intestine to tear open. And then two medical doctors got in a fire fight over who was going to do what with me and, unfortunately, the internist won, and so I laid in bed all night leaking liquid stool into my abdominal cavity. So it was a very terrible experience and my family, including my wife and my mother, were informed I wasn't going to live. And I was hospitalized for 69 days. I was in a coma for about ?60?, but let's not get into it. The point is that I had three surgeries. The first two were supposed to be successful, and when I was training in the F-4, I pulled a lot of G's and tore everything open again and I had to go through a series of subsequent surgeries, and then I finally was transferred by Air Force Headquarters from the 479th fighter wing to the 63rd airlift wing at Norton Air Force Base. And it was from there that I went, I was promoted to colonel, and then I was sent here to Colorado Springs to serve as a director of maintenance engineering, and then it was from that position that I was selected to go to Korea, I mean, correction, to Vietnam. And going to Vietnam as a colonel was a different thing than I had been counting on because I was a lieutenant colonel when I was going through my F-4 training; nonetheless, it turned out to be very, very interesting. I think that the first thing that I think about was how I arrived there. In the first two wars I was in, we lived in very, very demeaning conditions, tents, 2 by 4 block houses, eating out of mess kits, you know. It was rough in terms of the quality of life. When I arrived at Korat Air Base in 1972, I wheeled up on my, in my own private airplane. I'm just joking, of course it wasn't, but I did get a ride through my contacts in the military airlift command directly to Korat on the C-141. And when I got off the airplane, the staff car was waiting for me. When you are a lieutenant or a captain, you never know anything about staff cars.

Vick Fast:

_____+.

William Donald Sinclair:

That's right. And then they took me to my quarters which was a very elaborate trailer, and I had two bedrooms and a kitchen, bathroom, complete -- just -- and I knew something was wrong right away with this war because that's not the way I had any experience in fighting wars. And the base was amply served by all of the resources, officers' club, enlisted club, NCO club, great food, every trailer came with the Vietnam, a little Thai girl to clean up. She was part of the contract of the base. It was just amazing to me. I couldn't believe and consider the amount of money we were spending in that war was just incredible to me. Well my job there was to be director of commanding control for the 7th Airborne Command Post. And we had seven airplanes, seven C-130s that were, of course, of the Air Force that are still flying and still working and literally they are still producing. It's amazing. We had these airplanes and we had a capsule which slid right into the inner, the storage compartment of the airplane, and in this capsule, there was space for 12 or 14 controllers and it was equipped with what was then the most advanced communications instruments, equipments. In fact, on numerous occasions, I was flying over North Vietnam and talking to my wife on the telephone here in Colorado Springs. And the only thing I couldn't get her to understand that she used to have to say over to signal when we were transmitting back and forth as people in the military will understand this. The mission of the 7th ABCCC was to take control of the air battle each day, and in order to do that, we kept an airplane on station over North Vietnam seven days a week, 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, day in and day out. We had seven airplanes and we could do that with seven airplanes. And they -- there were five teams called orbits and each orbit commander was a colonel, and he had a complete commanding control team that went on board that airplane and did the work. The airplane was equipped with high frequency. It was equipped with wireless teletype. It was equipped with the latest communications facilities. You could even send printed messages via radio in those days. Now they are much more advanced, as you know I'm sure. To do this, to do this mission, what we would do is we would send somebody, like me, or one of the orbit commanders down to Saigon, and the day before, and we would receive a briefing on what the air battle was for the next day. And we had the authority to divert all the airplanes or send them anywhere that we needed to on the approval of the director of operations of the Seventh Air Force, which was located in Saigon. In those days, General Vogt was the commander, he was a four-star, and I worked for a two-star general whose name was Turner. And we would get briefed on what the targets were going to be for the next day, whether it was going to involve the SAC airplanes, the B-52s or whether it was going to be the 105s or the F-4s. We were equipped so that if a pilot got shot down, we could divert airplanes over there, we could call in the helos to rescue him. We could have ground suppressing fires, we could bring in the A-1s, and it was really a very interesting job. And the thing that was so different to me was that I had a perspective that was completely alien to whatever I had already been involved with prior to this time. That is that I understood how much influence the media was having on the war and how debilitating that was on the military trying to prosecute that war. I can remember one time when I went down and I was briefed for the mission the next day and the general said, I'm going to -- Bill, I want you to divert all of the airplanes over to this part of Vietnam, North Vietnam. And there wasn't anything over there. And I said, well, I don't understand. And he said, he said, I remember, are you arguing with me? And I said, no, I'm not, but I'd sure like to know why we are doing this. He wanted to put all of these rookies in. He wanted them to have escorts so that in case somebody got shot down, they would be there to protect them and/or in case they sent some migs down. And the reason for this was that the New York Times had published that we had destroyed 14 little villages there. There was never a finger laid on them. There was nothing. And he was diverting the air battle to prove that the New York Times was lying. And did they ever print a retraction? No, they never did. That happened on the television on occasion with people like Walter Cronkite, and it's a sad commentary to see that the air battle was controlled completely by the Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, and the White House, and obviously the Secretary of Defense, who was really the guy in this equation.

Vick Fast:

That's why the generals were ______+?

William Donald Sinclair:

No, by the _______ generals. In fact, the President Lyndon B. Johnson was quoted as saying, "They can't even bomb an outhouse without my permission." That's a verbatim quote. And so the civilians were running the military war and, as a result, we didn't have success. We could have had success any time we chose to, but we chose not to. In fact, if I recall my history right, L.B.J., Lyndon B. Johnson, shut down the air war seven times during his tenure in office in an attempt to bribe the North Vietnamese to cooperate. It never did any good because, "In a war..." the only substitute -- "...there is no substitute for victory." There isn't. That's a quote from MacArthur. It was a tragic war. It was a waste. We'd lost probably 50,000 of our own troops and airmen and many, many more were wounded and injured and seriously hurt, and it was a sad, sad commentary.

Vick Fast:

Senator McCain _______+ mission was shot down _______+ rescued?

William Donald Sinclair:

Yeah, incidentally that makes me think that when -- I was there when they repatriated the first movements of the prisoners of war out of the Hanoi Hilton and because I had a very good friend, Carl Crumpler was his name, who was a POW, I flew down to Clark. Now the fellow in charge of that repatriation was a one-star by the name of Dick Abel, who I know very well. I haven't seen him in years, but he brought in the C-141s and a lot of people don't remember or don't recall this, but in the middle of the repatriation, the North Vietnamese said they were going to stop everything now and we want some more out of this deal. And the president, then Nixon, said okay, reflex the B-52s. So they had little ships all around Okinawa and down off the coast of Thailand where we had a wing of B-52s, and when that happened, they went crazy because, see, we had used the airpower the way it should be used during the Linebacker missions. We had two Linebacker missions. These were attacks on Hanoi. And the media here misled the American people about those, you know. They said we were bombing hospitals and all kinds of crazy stuff. The precision with which those bombs were delivered is overwhelmingly accurate, just incredibly accurate. Yes, there was probably some collateral damage, some civilians that were killed, but when you are bombing a city, what's going to happen? But every time there was an effort to bring the North Vietnamese to heel, those actions were reined in by the President. And I remember very well in Linebacker II, as I remember, Linebacker is a code word for bombing Hanoi. Linebacker II, the French had a delegation there. Now keep in mind that after Dien Bien Phu, the fall of the French to the North Vietnamese communist, that there was a sort of a pseudo-peace declared and they were supposed to meet periodically. And there was a French delegation in Hanoi, and when they came out, they said, geez, you know, that was the most terrible thing we ever experienced in our lives, the B-52s dropping bombs on Hanoi. And we had records, telephone conversations we listened to where the Vietnamese in the field called into the headquarters in Hanoi and said, you said this would never happen. You said this would never happen. Stop them and do everything -- don't let them do this anymore to us. They never -- you never heard that in the United States, did you? That was a sad commentary. In fact, I can remember the Vietnamese general who was in command of the forces there said, and I have a quote from him somewhere in my papers, that they actually lost the war at Tet and that they knew that the media would lose the war for us. And they were counting on it. He said that. He said that that was the main reason that they kept fighting because they knew that we would get tired of the war.

Vick Fast:

Tet Offensive?

William Donald Sinclair:

Tet Offensive, yes. And that's a sad commentary. I think that Robert McNamara, who was then the Secretary of Defense, who has the first responsibility for what happened over there, should be tried for murder because he has said in his book that he just, quote, went along, closed quote, in not telling the civilian leadership, the president, and others of what was really unfolding there. And, to me, that's -- for us to have lost thousands of men over that issue is inexcusable and he has the Medal of Freedom as the highest award a civilian can receive, and he's unworthy of it. He's not much better than Jane Fonda in my eyes. It was a sad, sad war and there were some interesting side lights. At one time, you may remember that we -- that President Nixon had moved troops into Laos which was, as I understand it, illegal. The congress has passed some restrictions. And so in order -- when that was uncovered, they had been running a tactical air control center out of the American Embassy in Phnom Penh.

Vick Fast:

Laos?

William Donald Sinclair:

Yes.

Vick Fast:

Fishhook?

William Donald Sinclair:

Yes.

Vick Fast:

And so one day, Colonel Hoge came to me and said we are going down to see the general, and I can tell you what we're going to be asked to do is to control the ground forces from the air, and this has never happened in the history of the military. And all I want you to do is say, yes, you can do it. Yes, you can. I can do it. Yes, I can do it. And I said, what? And he said, just shut up and let's go, you know. So we went down to Saigon and the -- and that's what happened. Essentially, what happened is that we reequipped our airplanes. We would fly to Phnom Penh, land, and put Laotian generals and colonels on our airplane in these controller seats and give them communications to talk to their own forces on the ground. And we'd buzz around, and we did that. And I think it was probably the better part of two or three months, as I recall, that we -- we controlled the ground battle from the air, which was interesting. There were a lot of innovations like that. And I remember that, you know, there were -- there was basically two things you could do in this kind of a situation as a military officer: you could work 16 hours a day, and I don't know whether you are aware of this, but officially we are supposed to be working 12 hours a day. You could work 16 hours a day and sleep and eat the other eight hours. Or you can go get drunk all the time, and a lot of people did do that, which is a sad commentary, but true. And I worked 16 hours a day, and I used to be so dang tired it would accumulate. I could remember the feeling of flying and doing all this groundwork and everything, and then I would get up to a place where after six weeks or something, I'd have to get a couple of days off. So I'd take off and take a bus down to Bangkok and stay in the Chaophya Hotel, which was a beautiful hotel. It was really fantastic. Now, what they have there far exceeds -- my wife -- that's another example. My wife, they made it -- the war was so corrupted that they made it possible for the troops to bring their wives over to, to Thailand at half cost on Pan Am airways and stay a week or two or three or whatever they could afford to stay, and they'd go home. And many people did that. And my wife, we had little kids in those days, and she wouldn't come because she wouldn't leave the kids. But now she says, will you take me back to Bangkok and I said, no, I'm not going back to that lousy place. But anyway it was interesting.?

Vick Fast:

I bet it was exhausting. Exhaustion beyond exhaustion?

William Donald Sinclair:

Yeah, that deep, deep tiredness that you feel when you just keep doing the same thing. And I think, when I think about that, I think of the guys in World War II on Corregidor who must have -- there was no letup, never any diversion, and people who were prisoners and things like that, is really -- it's a sad take. But anyway, I did go to -- I mentioned that I went down to see if I could intercept Carl Crumpler. I did not intercept him and I went -- I was there when the first plane landed and saw all the guys getting off and being greeted and welcomed home. And I think that was another thing that really upset me was our willingness to just let those guys stay up there when they knew the treatment they were giving them. And -- and to think that someone like Jane Fonda could go there. I, me personally, I heard her one night. I'm going in my orbit up over North Vietnam and we are tuning in the radios and she's broadcasting to the airmen of the Seventh Air Force.

Vick Fast:

From Hanoi?

William Donald Sinclair:

Yes. And she's saying, you should be ashamed to maintain these airplanes. You should be ashamed. You should leave and refuse to serve. She encouraged betrayal. I heard that with my own ears. And -- and yet it's sad, but I've been told that Robbie Robinson, who was one of the great heroes of -- one of the fighter heroes, they asked him to testify against her, but he was, and as were almost everybody including my friend Carl Crumpler, they came back, and they were never any good after that, after all the mistreatment they received. Yeah, they look like you and I do and they walk around. Some of them who were there less than the others probably survive better, but being treated like that in that war as prisoners of war, it was inhuman and it took something out of these guys. And he did not want to be involved in trying her for treason. He just said, I just can't do it. I cannot go through with it. And later, I am told, he had said he wished he'd had. He can't go back now. And she's still sporting around and trying to live down her reputation as a traitor, but I can tell you that no Vietnam vet who knows anything about this will ever forgive Jane Fonda for what she did.

Vick Fast:

Her actions ____+?

William Donald Sinclair:

That's right. And all of those people were prosecuted and put in prison, but she's still sporting around. But that's a sad commentary on the way we ran the war. We never -- we never even opened the dikes. All we had to do was bomb the dikes, which kept the water on the rice fields, and they would have starved to death. They would have. You know, you are over here, you are -- you've got a flight of four F-4s attacking some guy with a bicycle full of rice, and right next door in Haiphong is they were unloading Russian ships. And if you -- if you hit them, and some guys did, you are court martialed. And we did court martial people over this sort of thing. And, in fact, I remember very well because I knew him well, Jack Broughton, who was a commander of a wing over there and he -- they sent a flight of four in there and these guys turned their guns on the ships and then when they came back, he found that out because of the gun camera film, and he destroyed it, the gun camera film. And then the -- I think it was Kosygin, who was the Russian Premier, complained to Johnson in a meeting and Johnson made an inquiry and it was denied and they said, we didn't do that. Why are you accusing us of that? And Kosygin brings up camera pictures with the buzz numbers on the airplanes. So they went back to Jack Broughton and he -- and said you better tell the truth because you are talking about the Commander in Chief. And he said, sure, I destroyed the gun film. Why should you pick on these guys that are only trying to prosecute the war. And so he was relieved of his command, banished, and he's written two big books about the back bad days, and those were the bad days. It's a sad commentary. But we lost the war -- we didn't lose the war. We did not win the war because we chose not to win it, and I can look you in the eye and tell you that it's my firm belief that we would have won that war if we chose to win it, but we chose to let the civilian leadership control the actual air battle of who was going to -- what the targets were, when they could be hit, when they could not be hit.

Vick Fast:

So if you left MacArthur alone, he would have won that war, too?

William Donald Sinclair:

Well, yeah, he probably would have if he'd run that war, too. Well, later in that tour, I went there and I got there in May of '72 and, of course, this is late in the war. I'm a Johnny-come-lately because of this physical thing I've described. And the -- I think I got there in May. I'd gone through all the schools and the jungle schools and escape and evasion and all of that, and then I started flying missions. And I flew 83 missions. And in March of the following year, I was called in by the wing commander there who was a one-star and said his name was Mel Vojvodich. He has since died. I just recently read his name in one of the military magazines as having passed on. And he said, I'm going to make you the base commander. We are going to get rid of the guy that's here. He's not doing his job right, and so, and I want you to take this job. Will you do it? Of course, what am I going to say, no, I won't do it? I took that job. So I was basic commander and that was really kind of a big step forward. I would have liked to have had that -- I would have liked to have gone there because we had 12,500 men in pilots and every stretch of human dignity there on that base, and we had billions, literally billions, of dollars of equipment, airplanes, and all this sort of thing. And it was a big operation and I took care of that myself, and I continued to fly whenever I could. But when the summer, when June or July, they asked me, came to me and said, why don't you extend? You're good and we'd like you to stay here and take this job for a whole year. I'll send you home for 60 days. And I said, {gesturing}. I didn't like that war. Not because of the war aspects, not because of all the terrible things that were going on to rank and file soldiers, marines, and airmen, but because it was determined we weren't going to win and I could see that. And it was very, very discouraging. So that's kind of the saga of the war. I think that we need to -- those people who will be viewing this need to look at history and read the story behind the story and don't forget that if you are going to ask the military to prosecute a war, let them do it. Don't put fetters on them. Do not withhold their ability to achieve victory. We have to learn that. And in recent years, particularly in the last 25 years, we've really done some bad things about that, and I'm not so sure that the present situation we are in today isn't going to end up the same way because the media is again telling the American people all the bad stuff, which is there, and it should be revealed, but they are not telling any of the good stuff. So I don't think I have a great deal more to say about that experience. It was very negative. I did -- I wasn't -- I never considered myself in danger because we had a radar stationed right up on the front lines, and when our airplane was 100 miles north of there over North Vietnam, on occasion, the Vietnamese would try to shoot that down. Because, see, if they could get all the codes out of that the airplane, just think of all the damages they could have done.

Vick Fast:

With ground fire?

William Donald Sinclair:

Well, no, airplanes.

Vick Fast:

Airplanes?

William Donald Sinclair:

Yeah. And one night, I remember they launched, I was on what's called Moonbeam. Moonbeam was the night crew. And I might just show you this. This is a -- this is a series of patches signed by all of the fellows that I served with on the backside, which you can see afterwards. It would not show up on the camera, but these five circles here indicate what we called the orbits. And my -- the daytime orbit was Hillsboro and the nighttime was Moonbeam. And there were various other times and special actions that they would show this with. And back here, as you probably won't show up on the camera, is a lot of people signed this. But on this particular evening, we got a call. And I don't remember the callsign -- isn't that odd, but it's 33 years, I can't remember all that stuff -- saying they are launching to come after you. And the radar picked them up. They sent a single fighter up to come and try to shoot us down. And of course, we were defenseless. We had no way of --

Vick Fast:

A mig? A mig?

William Donald Sinclair:

A mig. Well, I don't know for sure, but it was assumed it was a mig. And all we did was turn and go towards our base and descend rapidly because at lower altitudes, a jet just eats a tremendous amount of gas. Up there, where you are 25,000 where you are on station, they could fly up there all day long. So they would -- they would -- they had tried this several times and, inevitably, when we would get notice, and I have to assume that they knew the radar folks had a watch on this certain base. So whenever they would see an airplane take off, they'd say stand by, you got one taking off. And they'd say he's turning towards you, you better get out of there. And we would turn and start to descend as fast as we could go and they never caught us. They did that several times. But I -- only once when I was on board. And that's the closest I ever came to getting injured. Not to compare with the guys that were flying the F-4s and the F-105s. They were the real heroes of that war from the Air Force point-of-view. So I think that kind of gives you a perspective of my personal views of the Vietnam experience. It came late in the game because remember that that war ran from -- for nine years. It's the longest war we ever prosecuted or tried to prosecute. And Kennedy introduced the first forces, which were really only token, and then the buildup started after that and got bigger and bigger until it exceeded 500,000 troops.

Vick Fast:

Kennedy. Then '63 to '72 or --

William Donald Sinclair:

Yeah. I think I've covered all the bases. I don't think there is any more that I can say.

 
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  October 26, 2011
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