Richard Kennedy was born in Kentucky on February 5, 1940. He voluntarily joined the Air Force in December 1960 and served until December 1988. He was discharged as a Senior Master Sergeant (E-8), earning awards for Marksmanship, Good Conduct, and Meritorious Service. During Vietnam he was a part of the 49th Tactical Fighter Wing and over the course of his military career he also spent time in Germany, France, New Mexico, Thailand, Korea, and Florida.
What was your first assignment after basic training?
I was assigned to Bien Hoa Air Base in south-central southern Vietnam, it was the first operational ground base.
Did you qualify with equipment?
I learned to drive military vehicles …Tractor trailers that we carried the missiles on…Weapons carrier and also small personnel carriers
Did you receive any promotions?
When I first started I made $37 a month. My first promotion had one stripe and a slight increase in pay. I was promoted over a period of 16 years: I went from an E1 which is entry level to an E8 which was next to the highest level. My title I retired with was Senior Master Sargent.
What was the hardest part of training?
Learning from a book about a military aircraft. I had to look at pictures and imagine what it would be like to do that…had to teach myself.
Were you in a combat, combat support, or combat service support role?
I was in a support role…I carried guns, but I was not in the jungle like the others. I was at the base working on the aircraft and bombs.
What kind of friendships did you form while serving?
I made friends, especially if I would get there in January and they would get there in January. But when you were assigned for only 6 months and they were gone after that, it was hard to keep up with them. I didn’t understand friendships, and I had very little social skills. I didn’t have many real friends.
What did you do for recreation or when you were off duty?
We would go into town…to the bars mostly… and I would go to the tailor shops. They made silk shirts and suits. It was the thing to have. Silk was hot but it was the same price as getting cotton here. I had a lot of good clothes.
Were there any funny or comedic events that happened while you were in service?
I remember ordering food in restaurants, and I didn’t know what I was getting. One time I ordered and I ended up getting frog legs; and other times I would order stuff I never knew what I was eating…but I ate it!
Richard worked on the Air Force First Ground to Air Missiles. This missile had a jet engine as opposed to the computer guided missiles. Some of these missiles included the MACE and the Matador.
One hard memory about Vietnam was of a night in the barracks and the sound of a lot of explosions. "We thought they was being bombed. Turned out one of the men working on the planes/bombs was removing the detonating part of the bomb. To prevent the enemy from getting the bomb, it was set up that if you turn the end of the bomb one way it would come off. If you turned it the wrong way it would explode. Turned out that one of the men working on the bomb turned it wrong and it exploded. The explosion set off a chain reaction. The next day I was assigned to help recover what was left of the men who died in the massive mistake."
How did you stay in touch with family and friends?
We wrote letters back then. My family wrote to me but I didn’t answer much because I didn’t understand the social skills that I needed to reply.
What was the best part of your service experience?
Working as a Scout leader with the Boy Scouts in Vietnam, France, New Mexico, and Florida. We went camping with the Boy Scouts in France a little way from the base. That was when the Summer Olympics was going on…There were Boy Scouts from five countries: France, Germany, England, United States, and Vietnam. We taught a lot of stuff, learned a lot of stuff, and created obstacle courses for the kids. It was so much fun.
In Korea I helped at an orphanage off-base. The amazing thing is we had to go beyond the Off-Limits area - This is an area you were not allowed to set foot in near the base. So we had to take a bus to the downtown area in Korea to help at the orphanage. I really enjoyed this and was recognized by the orphanage leader.
The favorite things about the military: Spending a lot of time in New Mexico and Florida. I loved the Scouts and leading. I also loved the orphanage and serving and helping the kids and leaders there.
Do you recall the day your service ended?
They let me retire 60 days before my end date and I went to Home Depot and started working there the next day. I retired from there 14 years later.
Did the GI Bill support your education?
It did in part but not fully.
-- Interviewed by Richard "Trey" Kennedy III