The Ascent into Becoming a Warrant Officer
Profilers: Toby Judge, Luke Keosaksith, and Rebecca Aviles
The Journey of Becoming a Warrant Officer: Prewar
(0:03) What is your name, and when did you serve in Vietnam?
Timothy Martin, and I was in I got into the country in the middle of March in 1964. I enlisted, and had no idea what I wanted to do. I ran into a girl who was at the University of Arizona, and her father was the Captain of the American Airlines. I took a package out to him one night for her to the airport, and he talked me into trying to become an airline pilot. We chatted for a couple of hours, and I decided I didn’t…I needed to try and get to learn to fly.
Toby: And the military was the way to do that.
Yeah! So, I enlisted in the army to be a helicopter mechanic, and at the time it was a helicopter program called the Warrant Officer Helicopter Rotary Wing School, and I went through basic training. I went to Fort Rucker, Alabama to become a helicopter mechanic in which I was finally accepted into the Warrant Officer program. And it was a rather long story, but after I had finished my maintenance program they asked me, and I’d been accepted. They asked me if I’d like to go to Fixed Wing Program that was just starting out up there in Fort Rucker, Alabama.
And because it was easy to get a helicopter ticket and much harder to get a fixed wing ticket. I said, “Certainly”. I hung around and peeled potatoes for a couple weeks and then started. I was in the first Warrant Officer Fixed Wing Class, and I graduated from the Fixed Wing Flight School in December of ‘63. The reason I volunteered to go to Vietnam was because through volunteering I also got multi-engine training. The army had mostly helicopters, but they had two fixed wing aircrafts that were a step up in aviation for a budding pilot. So, I volunteered to go to a multi-engine school through Vietnam through multi-engine school. The military was my formal education, and it was—and I owe everything to the education I got there. I had a long career in the airline, and it was just because I got good training in the army.
I volunteered to go to Vietnam, but I did it to get the time. And during that period, in the early 60’s we were advisors. We had to have a passport and visa to go over there, believe it or not. The first Marines came ashore into Da Nang in 1965, about as I recall early ’65 or late ’64 but up until then there were very few troops really in country. There were a lot of Special Forces who I mostly worked for, and we had, of course, advisors all over the country in different locations. It wasn’t a war as it became during the period of time I was over there.
(4:08) How old were you when you were there?
Let’s see, ‘63. I was there in ‘64. I had my 23rd birthday there. I was very young, and I was the youngest guy in my unit when I got over there. You know, I was just a really junior pilot. It was a learning experience from the very start. I enjoyed it for the most part. I’d do it again. I thought we were over there for the right reasons. Philosophically, I didn’t have a problem with it at all.
Aviation in Vũng Tàu
(4:41) What did your day to day look like?
We hauled everything from livestock to—to bodies, and it was—we took supplies out to the different advisory compounds in the country. Most of them had low, short dirt runways. A few of them had pretty nice runways because we had taken over a lot—several of the French rubber plantations. There were nice runways and good facilities in a lot of places. Mostly up in the center of the country closer to the Cambodian border.
(5:30) Did you spend any time in Cambodia?
We flew near it. We had at that time I’m sure it doesn’t matter anymore, but at that time the CIA operated aircraft out of Cambodia.
(5:45) What were your experiences interacting with the Vietnamese people?
I lived in town. In a town called Vũng Tàu, or as the French call it Cap-Saint-Jacques, so I had…knew a lot of people and you know, all the officers stayed in town and enlisted. Guys stayed out of the airfield, and so, yeah, I had an interaction with the Vietnamese people. We…I mostly ate at restaurants. My dinner meals were…there were some nice restaurants around, and you could either eat at the mess hall or eat on “the economy” as they called it. I usually ate on “the economy” because I enjoyed Asian food. Vũng Tàu was on a peninsula, and it was separated from the war really. And it was sad that the Vietcong used it as an R and R center and therefore no one fired any shots. Never felt worried about walking around town or anything, so it was a no sweat operation really, I mean we flew a lot. We were flying probably 70-80 hours a month. Lots of different missions, airdrops, flare drops during the night. All not near our base. All the rest of the country. Our unit had two bases—one up in Da Nang, they actually had three. One in Da Nang, one in Pleiku, and one in Vũng Tàu.
All our missions started out of Saigon, so every morning we would fly up to Saigon. We flew up there to start our day. A lot of it in that area was Special Forces, and we hauled everything for them–equipment, mail, supplies, everything.
(7:57) Were there any missions that stood out?
One was very interesting. There’s a mountain west of Saigon called Black Virgin Mountain or Nui Ba Den. It was west of Saigon. It was really flat except for this volcanic mountain that rose about at least a couple of thousand feet above the surrounding terrain. We used to drop and the Special Forces had a camp at the top of the mountain–an extensive camp–because it was great for communications and observations. It was the highest point around for hundreds of miles, and so we used to drop supplies into them at the top of this mountain. That was probably the most interesting flying, but with the short strips we had the airplane I was flying was a CV-2 Caribou, and it’s a twin engine plane built by de Havilland, and it was built for a short takeoff and landing, so it was perfect for the Vietnam operation. It could carry a couple of jeeps and a trailer in it, or about 30 troops. We dropped paratroopers, Special Forces, […] all of them were rated jumpers, so we did a lot of that. And we hauled a lot of groceries to the rest of the outfits in Vietnam. They were scattered all over the country these advisors.
By the time I got back, my next younger brother was in the Air Force, and he was over in Japan as a mechanic for the Air Force.
Of course when I came back, I remained in the Army for another year and 7 months. And I was a flight instructor at Fort Benning, Georgia. Excuse me, instructing in the same airplane I flew over there. Then the Air Force and the Army in late 1965, early ’66 signed an agreement that the Air Force would give up Armed Helicopters if the Army would give up Transportation Category AirCrafts. That’s what I was flying, a Cargo Aircraft—a Transportation Category Aircraft. It was a twin engine CV-2, not a big engine airplane, but it was a lot like the C1-23 that the Air Force flew. So, they wanted us out of that airplane because they thought we were encroaching on the Air Force mission, and the Army thought the Air Force was encroaching upon their Armed Helicopter programs which they were begin to.
That’s when I got back to the states, the 11th Air Assault Division was about to leave for Vietnam. They left about…I’m gonna say around August of ‘65, and they had many Caribou for the airplane I was flying. They call it Caribou. The Army names all their aircraft. They had, they probably…I don’t know for sure how many they had, but I would say in the neighborhood of 300 or 400 helicopters in that 11th Air Assault division. And over there they called it the Air Cav or the Air Cavalry, and they had armed helicopters galore. And the Air Force wanted to start arming their helicopters. And the two secretaries of the Army and the secretary of the Air Force, I suppose got together over a beer one day in Washington, and said, “You know if you give up, you know, an Armed Helicopter, we will give up Transportation”. My last real job in the Army was training the Air Force instructors that took over that mission to train Air Force pilots. We trained the instructors.
(12:37) How was the transition from the military to normal civilian life?
I was a little late to the game. They started hiring pilots in ‘63. I was hired in ‘66 and I didn’t go to school until ‘67, but it was…the transition was pretty good. I was well trained. I had a lot of hours. I’ve been an instructor which the airlines liked. So I got…I was hired by everybody I applied to. American…I went with an American because–once again Captain McCormick from my early…from my trip to the airport was with American, and I got married in ‘65. I worked…I was a Co-Pilot for 17 years and a Captain for 17 years.
(13:42) How would you describe your experience in Vietnam, and how has it impacted you?
I thought my time in Vietnam was probably the most interesting 13 months I spent in my life. And it was incredibly frustrating to see how the war was being handled by the politicians and the fact that the military had their hands tied. And I knew and I left that it wasn’t, unless things changed it was not going to be successful. Strictly because the politicians ran everything, so there is no doubt in my mind that unless things changed there would be a bad situation and it would be a black mark on the United States and its history. And unfortunately, it has become that and I think the military learned from that and remember it to this day. Unfortunately, the politicians did not learn anything from it. And continue to for the most part undermine the military and their mission. Even today, we see it, at least I see it. It was disappointing in that regard. I thought the anti-war protests were for the wrong reason. I thought they should be protesting for the fact that we didn’t go in and try to win the war. You can’t win the hearts and minds of the people you’re trying…you’re fighting and as soon as the war protestors had taken the other side and said “Let’s go win the war”, it would have been done years sooner. And I think they did a fair share to extend it all the way to ‘75.
(15:42) Do you ever feel like the war was a waste of time?
Oh, it was a terrible waste of time seeing how it turned. It was a good thing to begin, you know, the idea was right. It was to stop Communism, and if you believe in the Domino Theory which was the Military Theory back then. If you could see that happening, it was the right move. The French had tried it before us, and it had taken a terrible loss. We should have never gone in unless we were gonna go in to win it like we did in the Gulf War. And it never got any better. If you got a minute, I’ll tell you a story.
I was flying a mission out of Saigon up to one of the rubber plantations where the Special Forces were, and it took us about an hour and a half to get up there. And on the way we passed over a bunch of US Air Force A-6’s which were…I know they used them in the Korean War…as a propeller fighter. And they had a big radial engine, single engine, radial engine, and they were great fighters. I think they used them at the end of WWII and during Korea. Anyway, they still had them and they were base at Bien Hoa Air Force space, and they were circling about maybe 150 acres of woods surrounded by rice paddies. And in those woods, they said they had two companies of Vietcong that they knew were in there. And they were trying to get permission…permission mind you, to go in and attack this group of Vietcong. They estimated it to be a couple of hundred fighters, and they were talking to their commanders who were talking to whoever was running things for the Vietnamese to get permission to go in and strafe this area. So, I flew up the rubber plantation, landed and loaded up, and I flew back–flying back to Saigon. Same route, and the A-6’s were still there and running out of fuel and still couldn’t get permission to go in and strike this group of the enemy. And that has always stuck with me–as the most ludicrous thing I could have witnessed. I just…gross, negligence as far as the politicians were considered. To have to get permission from somebody you know, up the to go in and take which must have been an hour and 45 minutes to do it.
That’s exactly how…that’s a perfect example of how the war was run in my estimation. You will find people who say different things, but that’s what I saw. That was my experience. I’m very news conscious. My family will tell you if they talk during the news, they get their head chopped off. I pay particular attention to what was going on. Especially, with my brother in being such an advocate for the other side, and if we had just…If the military had just been left to do what the military does best. It would have been over in the early 70’s, I mean ‘71 or ‘72. But politicians just kept getting into it. It taught me a lot about the government. I’ll say that for it, but everybody, all the officers I worked for knew what they wanted to do. And knew how to do it, and they were trained to do it but just couldn’t get Washington to buy it. I left shortly after the combat troops got there. That’s a whole other story I could tell you.
(20:10) Final thoughts
In the 82 years that I have lived, I think it’s the saddest part of our government’s operation that I have ever seen. I think we have learned something from it, but I don’t think we have learned enough. It’s just sad that American people can’t get together and do what’s right.
Toby: Right, and share some common ground.
Right, yeah exactly.
(20:51) Did you remain in contact with anyone Postwar?
Interesting you should ask because I…about almost 3 years ago that one of the contacts I had with a Vietnamese local had produced a son. At the ripe old age of 79, I had a new family introduced to me. It was quite a shock, but it was also has turned out to be one of the best things to ever happen to my family. To get this wonderful is my oldest son, the rest of my family have taken to him like ducks take to water. They just love him to death, and he has three sons that are all really good guys. That was the best part of my experience in Vietnam I guess you could say.
The relationship I had with his mother was a one afternoon relationship, and we just called her “Smiley.” She worked at the hotel where about 30 pilots stayed. Since I met my son, he and I have talked about her quite a bit. She was a very interesting lady turns out—she was married to a Vietnamese soldier and had 2 or 3 kids and when I met her. After I left and a couple years later, she hooked up with another Army Officer and had twin girls by him, and I think all-in-all she ended up with 11 children. She was just the nicest lady. She just, I guess decided one afternoon that she wanted an American kid.
Tim and his Son, Lam
(0:01) How were you reunited with your son, Lam?
How did Lam and I get together? That was all due to his eldest son, who was interested in helping his dad find me. For most of his life, Lam’s mother told him that I was dead. And it wasn’t until about a year before she died that she gave him my name. His eldest son, Randy, went to one of the genetic outfits and sent in his genetic information to them and came up with a close cousin match who was Cameron Tuttle. So, then my cousin, Joey, called me up and asked when I was in Vietnam. And I told her and she didn’t tell me why, but why she was asking, except that Cameron might be writing a book. So…so I told her and she said, well, was, was your brother Peter over there also? And I said, no, he had been in Japan when I was in Vietnam. So she got back to Cameron and Cameron and Randy had a conversation. Then Joey called me up and said, “Oh, by the way, are you sitting down?”
She said, it turns out you have a son from your tour in Vietnam. I knew that his mother had been pregnant when I left, but I had been told that she had a girl. So I had told my wife that if your Asian lady came knocking at the door, it might be my daughter. So I was quite amazed when I found out I had a son.
Toby: That’s incredible. That must have been the most unbelievable surprise.
Toby: And it was Joey who reached out to you and told you?
Right. Wow. That’s a crazy long lost family story. Well, it’s not a very old story. You know, it’s only been a couple of years. I mean, that’s the most amazing part.
Toby: You go 50 years without ever knowing.
Oh, yeah. Well, there was no reason for us not getting together much sooner, except that his mother didn’t acknowledge that I was still alive. Well, she didn’t know.
Toby: Right. Right.
So, but I mean, she kept it a secret or, you know, for whatever reason.
Toby: Is his mother still alive?
No, she died about, I think about five or six years ago, but she lived to be 93.
She was a lot older than I. I did not realize that at the time. He was conceived, but she was 12 years, at least 12 years older than I was.
So anyway, Randy found out about it, and then Joey told me, and I got Lam’s phone number, and we started chatting on the phone. Actually, your grandmother met him—Joey met him before I did. He went to a wedding out in Sacramento and Bill and Joey went up to Sacramento, I think with Cameron, to the wedding and met the whole family.
(4:21) When Smiley was pregnant, did you know it was yours?
She indicated it was, but she was working around 30 other pilots.
Toby: Right, she was the barracks bunny? That’s what they call them, right?
Yeah. Well, I don’t think so. I think for some reason she just wanted a GI’s child, and she picked me because I was probably the youngest, and I was single.
Toby: Did you say she ended up marrying an American GI?
No, she hooked up with another American two or three years later and had twin girls by him. And she took the two girls and Lam and escaped from the country. And one of the girls was killed during that escape.
Toby: Wow. When was that?
I’m going to say in the late 70s. I’m not sure of the exact date.
Toby: Post the fall in Saigon?
Oh, yeah. Yeah, way post-Saigon. And they got to this country in ‘81. And they spent a year or so in the Philippines and Thailand on the way.
But it was a tough role for them to hoe. Lam’s wife is from Cambodia, and she and her family escaped Cambodia about the same time and lost their father.
In that escape. It’s a tough story, and it’s difficult for him to tell. We’ve shed a few tears together over it. It’s amazing what people go through to get away from Communism.
(6:16) When did you meet up with Lam?
Let’s see, that was about in…maybe May and I didn’t get out there until October because it was COVID. So…and my wife couldn’t go because she had…had COVID and they didn’t want her flying.
So I went out by myself in October a couple of years ago and met them all, spent a weekend with them. That’s where that picture came from.
Toby: Oh, that’s awesome. I love that picture. It was a huge hit at the presentation. People thought it was the cutest picture ever.
The interesting thing was that he…Lam and his family had planned a vacation in Florida for that summer and went ahead and went out there and met his half-brother, my other son, and they all got together before I got to meet him as well.
Toby: Wow, you were the last one to the party.
Yeah, I was.
Toby: So, I mean, it sounds like at least your other son was super open to meeting him.
Oh, yeah. He was excited. Yeah, he loved him. In fact, he said, they’re probably the nicest people I’ve ever met.
Toby: And how old is that son?
Chris is, let’s see, he was born in ’68, so he’s three years younger than Lam.
(7:56) Did you get married right after you got back?
I got married to an old girlfriend. We were married for five years, had two kids, and then got divorced.
Toby: Okay, I see.
And I got married again, and Katie and I have been married for 51 years.
(8:14) What is your current relationship with Lam
It’s just been a great relationship. We hit it off. We’re very much alike. The two families have the same political views and the same habits and likes and dislikes. It’s really a very great, it’s a wonderful relationship. In fact, today, Lam is with his middle son’s in Florida who…and they’re buying a house, and the middle son has been living with Chris for the last three or four months. It’s been wonderful. It’s probably been the most interesting part of my life.
Final Thoughts Part II
Out of all my experiences during that whole Vietnam era, for me personally, were very rewarding. But philosophically, they were contradictory and discouraging about the way our government operated.
But for me, they were very rewarding and I would have been glad to do it again.