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Ashe County Veterans History Project: Virgil Joiner


Virgil Joiner's Photos

Virgil Joiner's Story

Virgil Joiner was born in Baton Rouge, LA, on November 17, 1948.  He now lives in Grassy Creek, North Carolina. His granddaughter, Katy Cotten, recorded these memories of his military service during the Vietnam War.

Virgil enlisted in the Air Force, serving from December 1966 until August 1973.  He completed Basic Training in Amarillo, Texas. He also took some college courses while in the Air Force at University of Indiana, where he trained as a linguist, becoming fluent in Russian and Lao languages.  He was assigned to a special communications group, 6922nd Squadron out of San Antonio, TX, and stationed at Clark Air Base in the Philippines.  He was also assigned to the 6990th Security Group when stationed in Okinawa, Japan.  

Virgil says he enlisted because he didn't want to go to college and he chose the Air Force because it looked the easiest. His father was relieved, since he didn't have to pay for college. He also overheard a woman once saying that Air Force guys are nicer than other branches.  Some character traits highlighted in basic training were: attention to detail, military courtesy, and discipline. 

One vivid memory of basic training was of running for miles in cold weather.  "Not used to the cold and dry climate of Amarillo, running made your lungs burn so bad that it caused foaming at the mouth!"   Another memory was during survival school training in Spokane, Washington.  "There was simulation of being taken as a POW and you were isolated.  They tried to trick you into giving the U.S. a bad name."

During survival training, men were assigned twelve to a group and given minimal equipment.  They had to make things out of parachutes, such as tents, backpacks, and sleeping bags. "Once while walking we came across a snowshoe rabbit and everyone attacked it. The rabbit escaped, outsmarting all of us.”   The best part of the survival experience was at sea, practicing parachute landing in the water.  "It was like going to the beach, beautiful and warm."

The worst part of training was the mean discipline technique that the instructors used.  They would insult you, yell at you, and make big deals out of small things. You had to keep your mouth shut and say “Yes sir!”

Virgil recalls when once his unit was called to attention, they lined up so badly that they had to do it again.  They had to check to be sure all soldiers had their boots latched.  When the National Anthem began to play, everyone snapped to attention, a U.S. flag was raised, and everyone had tears in their eyes. “You don't really appreciate America until you are somewhere else."

Keeping a friend was not easy, they are only around for a short time.  On base since there were two people to a room, your roommate was your closest friend.  Most friends were linguists, met in Lao language training.

“During off-time I mostly wrote letters to my parents.  I brought a typewriter and tape recorder to send recordings and letters.  While in Texas, we would occasionally go off to the boondocks to practice shooting and ride motorcycles.  We rarely went out drinking.  In the Philippines we would practice with bows and arrows.  When stationed in Okinowa, I loved to snorkel in the South China Sea.  I once had a German Shepard puppy, named Pup.  I spent a lot of time walking Pup and chasing balls.”

He remembered a humorous event from Lacklan Air Force Base in San Antonio.  His whole unit was already there while he was in Amarillo for training.  He rode up to Lacklan later with a friend in a Volkswagen Beetle with flower stickers all over it. Someone called them “hippies.”

Though they were taught to bail out of aircraft, they never thought of anything bad ever happening.  The majority of the Air Force never got on a plane.  A flying assignment meant you were part of an elite group. Virgil enjoyed flying. “I was an analyst communicator.  I communicated to the ground.  It was a fairly laid-back, easy position … lots of waiting.”

Virgil decided not to reenlist after his time in Okinawa.  He was worried about forgetting things, but when he got home it wasn't a big deal.  “You had to pick up where you left off, but all my high school friends were gone.  It was kind of tough without friends.”

He decided to work in small jobs at first, for a concrete block plant, digging ditches for water pipes, etc.  On reflecting back over those years Virgil realized that he entered the military at age 18 and left at age 25.

“Those were my formative years.  I grew up in the Air Force.  Attitudes and ways of approaching things came from being in the military.  For example, you should obey rules even if you don’t agree with them and there needs to be a boss.  Being in the military taught me to REALLY love our country and the flag.  I have a lot of respect for older veterans … more than someone who hasn’t served.  I have tremendous respect for decorated veterans.”

One important life lesson came from an incident while stationed in the Philippines.  “One Saturday someone set a typewriter on my desk where it wasn’t supposed to go.  I went to move the typewriter and picked it up wrong, dropping it.  I fixed it and forgot about it until Monday when a tech sergeant asked me about it. I lied and said I didn’t know what happened.  Soon there was an investigation and someone covered for me, but finally I confessed that I had dropped it.  Luckily the sergeant said okay and that was the last of it.  What I learned then was: always tell the truth!”

-- Interviewed by his granddaughter, Katy Cotten