Oral History Transcription
Inland Northwest Memories Project
June 2, 2005
Subjects: United States Air Force; Defense Support Program, Space
Systems Acquisitions; Forward Air Controller and Air Liaison Officer;
Vietnamese First Army Division-Third Regiment; Vietnam War; Ashau
Valley Special Forces Camp.
Dates of Service: August 31, 1958 to April 5, 1985
Interview with Mr. Clyde R. Magill Jr.
Birth Date: January 23, 1935
Place of Birth: Hendrickson, MO
Introduction: Whitney Burr conducted this interview on June 2, 2005
as a part of Inland Northwest Memories Project by TINCAN, interviewing
Clyde R. Magill Jr. of 6518 S. Woodland Ct. Spokane, WA 99224.
WHITNEY BURR (WB): This is Whitney Burr on June 2, 2005 in
Spokane, Washington interviewing Clyde R. Magill Jr. Clyde is our
next-door neighbor and a friend. He served in the United States Air
Force and the Vietnam War.
WB: Clyde how did you first get into the Air Force and how old were
CLYDE R. MAGILL JR. (CM): I first went into the Air Force in August of
1958, I was twenty-three years old and I was a Reserve Officers
Training Corps (R.O.T.C.) (2nd LT) graduate from the University of
Wyoming Engineering College.
WB: Did you go in with friends or on your own?
CM: Just on my own.
WB: What kind of training did you have to go through to get there?
CM: Well to get there I had to spend four years in the Air Force ROTC
from 1955 to 1958, actually four and a half years, and then I got a
commission in ROTC and attended pilot training.
WB: How did you decide that was what you wanted to do?
CM: Well, when I was about eight years old (1943) I had two things I
wanted to be, one was a pilot and the other was an engineer and so
that’s what I did. I went to college and became an engineer and
became a pilot through the ROTC commission.
WB: Did you have family who had been in the Air Force?
CM: Yes, I had uncles that were different crew members of airplanes in
World War II and one uncle got shoot down and spent three years
in concentration camp. So, yes I did have uncles that were in
World War II.
WB: Did you have any favorite memories or had times while there?
CM: Um when?
WB: Just in training.
CM: Any good memories or…
WB: Just any memories anything fun.
CM: Oh, fun memories, um yeah, actually all my children were born
when I was in the Air Force and each time I had one of them it was
a happy time. I had four children. Every time you got promoted
you were happy because that meant you got to stay a little longer.
WB: Do you remember any favorite officers or people that you meet
while you were in the Air Force or people you still stay in contact
CM: Well, I do, you mean do I remember some of them today?
CM: Oh, yeah. I remember a lot of them even some from my basic pilot
training in 1958 and 1959. I remember some of the guys there,
Jackie Dunkin is one I remember, Jackie was from Alabama. Then
later on I can remember guys that I worked with down at Cape
Kennedy), like Jim Fritag, Jim later became a general. He was a
young Lieutenant when I was there in the sixties, early sixties.
That time at Cape Kennedy started my twenty-two years in the
space business. I worked on the satellite programs a lot, one of the
general officers I remember was Forest McCartney, he retired as a
three star general and I also worked with him when he was a
Colonel. So, yeah you remember a lot of guys.
WB: Have you gotten in touch with any of them since?
CM: Uh, no, not really , the ones that I kept in contact with after I got
out of the service in 1985, were some of the Colonels that I had
worked for and with, um, the contact wound up being in the
company I went to work for after I retired. Both were upper
management, Art Connor a retired Colonel, and Tom Rutten a
retired Lt Colonel. I was working for both of them at Hughes, the
strange thing about Tom was he was also in college with me in
1958 and we were roommates our senior year. So here we were
both working for Hughes after all those years.
WB: Cool, where did you first serve in the Air Force?
CM: Uh, the first place I went was to Lakeland Air Force Base in San
Antonio, Texas and that was where I, well I did my records and
stuff to go into the Air Force and then I went to pilot training in
WB: When did you go to Vietnam and how long were you there for?
CM: I went to Vietnam in November of 1965 and I was there until
November 1966, it was a one year tour in South Vietnam.
WB: What was your job while you were there?
CM: I was a Forward Air Controller and an Air Liaison Officer for the
Vietnamese Third Regiment of the First Army Division, which was
up in the city of Hue, Vietnam.
WB: What was a typical day like for you?
CM: Well, you usually got up at seven or eight o’clock time frame or
depending on the time of year, how early things were. But, uh,
you’d be flying and you would fly either once or twice per day. I
would fly for about three hours on a flight, which was a typical
day. When I wasn’t flying you would do things like play tennis, play
cards, and watch movies at the complex. Of course you could
hang around the bar if you wanted to.
WB: What were you fed while you were there?
CM: Well, we were fed American food that was prepared by Vietnamese
females that worked in the complex kitchen and we always thought
that we were getting portable water, which is pure water that our
food was being processed in. It turned out that the females
washed our dishes in local water. That was not good for us to have
in our systems. The result was that our food went through us fast
even though it was good American food. I stayed the same weight
the whole year in Vietnam even with lots of food every day.
WB: Did you always have enough supplies?
CM: Yes, always had a supply of regular food but we never had ice
WB: Sad, did you stay in combat the whole time or did you have
anytime for breaks?
CM: Yes, I had two breaks. I met my wife in Hong Kong for thirteen
days and then I met her in Hawaii for seven days.
WB: And what did you do during them, just met with family?
CM: No, I didn’t get to see my kids, just my wife and it turns out that
when we went to Hong Kong in 1966 there was a typhoon in the
area and we were staying in the Hilton hotel on the island. It
turned out that the hotel basement was flooded and the streets
next to the hotel were like rivers. We stayed there and had a hard
time going out and seeing things, but it was still a good thirteen
WB: How did you stay in touch with your family?
CM: Well, the only thing you had was probably once or twice a year you
might be able to make a phone call, if you waited in line with
others trying to call home. I did that when I was preparing to meet
my wife in Hong Kong or meet her in Hawaii. Other wise it was
writing letters and sending tapes back and forth (recordings of the
children talking to me and me talking to the children). I also sent
pictures. It took fourteen days for you to ask a question in a letter,
and then wait for the answer. It took seven days both ways for you
to get your mail in Vietnam. That was how we communicated. I
wrote 365 letters which I still have today. I also have my wife’s
letters that she wrote me. The best policy in our area was to put
your wife’s letter with your answer in the same envelope and send
it back to the United States. The object was to reduce anything
(tapes, pictures and letters) in your room that could be used by the
enemy if you were captured.
WB: How old were your kids while you were there?
CM: Well, when I went in ’65, I went in November and my son was born
on February 19 of ’65. So he was only about seven months old and
my oldest girl was three and my second girl was two, those were
the kids that I left when I went there.
WB: What was the biggest battle that you were in?
CM: Well, probably the Ashau Special Forces Camp, the camp was
overrun by the North Vietnamese on the March sixth, seventh time
frame in 1966. I was involved in that battle for about five or six
days of activity. I was flying forward air control missions out in the
Ashau valley. The missions were directing air strikes, directing
helicopters for rescue, conducting reconnaissance for the five or six
days I was involved.
WB: How long was the battle? Were you in the whole battle was it five or
six days long or longer?
CM: No, that was about it actually the Special Forces Camp fell after
about two days of actual combat in the Special Forces Camp. The
camp had seventeen American advisors and about 220 South
Vietnamese. The camp got overrun in the first couple of days and
then friendly forces were running all over the jungle trying to get
away from the pursuing enemy. The U S forces rescued probably
about 180 or so people. Of all those people the U S forces rescued
by helicopters it occurred over five days. Art Fisher, a major in
the Air Force landed and rescued his wing man and got the Medal
of Honor for that. The rest of the U S forces had five helicopters
shot down out of about fourteen or so over several days, but all the
crews got rescued from those helicopters and like I say the U S
forces rescued about 180 or so Vietnamese and Americans that
were in that Special Forces Camp. An AC-47 gun plane was shot
down and had to be bombed to destroy the gattling machine gun
left in the crash site. All crew members except one of the pilots
were rescued by helicopters. The pilot held off the enemy to help
his crews rescue. Two other planes went down during the battle
(A-1 fighter was shot down and the pilot rescued and a Navy A-6?
fighter crashed into a surround mountain range, no rescue).
WB: Did you get any sleep during that?
CM: Oh yeah, because the planes that I was flying were fuel limited to
about four hours flying time. I could only be in combat three
hours and if you circled back for fuel, which I did on several of
those days, twice out there it was like from early in the morning till
late at night that you were running back and forth getting fuel and
going back. Our unit did not fly at night and I was able to get rest
each day I supported the battle.
WB: You wrote down earlier that you were awarded many medals how
did you get them?
CM: Well, it turns out that if I flew combat in Vietnam at the time I was
there you got an Air Medal for cumulative missions. At first it was
twenty missions, I’d get an Air Medal. It changed to twenty-five
missions per Air Medal, and then it changed to at least twenty-five
missions and no more than one Air Medal per month, which
meant if I flew thirty, forty missions in a month I still got one Air
Medal. I wound up getting nineteen Air Medals. I was trying to get
twenty-one so that I could wear four silver oak leaf clusters on my
Air Medal, but, due to the changed rules, I only got nineteen. One
was for an individual fight and the rest of them were for whatever
the quotient was at that time.
WB: So how important were these medals to you and your fellow men?
CM: To who?
WB: To the people you were with, was it really important to have all
these different medals and badges?
CM: Well yeah, it was well it turned out that way, when you're in
combat it really doesn’t mean a hell of a lot to you because you are
being exposed to being killed everyday. And you get the medals
usually after you’ve done it after the fact when you done something
you are written up for it and you would eventually get the medal,
but the thing that make a difference for you was like I went to
Vietnam in 1965 and I had three ribbons on my uniform and my
wings and my rank and my other emblems, that I had to wear at
the time and when I returned I had thirty-three medals. I picked
up thirty different medals nineteen Air Medals and then all those
other medals I had got and I’ve wound up with a whole bunch of
other medals now is that important. You in my picture as I later
became eligible to major and to make Lieutenant Colonel and
Colonel, I was, I pilot with a lot of combat ribbons and it makes a
difference in the boards when they pick you.
WB: So how were these presented?
CM: Well it turns out that in the combat situation sometimes it’s not
very rewarding because it will be on your desk when you come
back from flying and you will say ‘hum”, that’s nice I got a medal
and I have it lying on my desk. But where you felt really good was
when they actually had a ceremony and the commander, usually a
Colonel in Vietnam would present you the medal with other people
who were receiving their medals and that was a little more
rewarding. When you came back from Vietnam you still had some
you were going to receive when you’re stationed at your next base.
Then of course your family gets to attend and those are nice. The
commander of your organization makes the presentation and those
probably are the ones that you get a little more pride of the award.
When it is presented to you, they read the citation of why you are
receiving the award and what you did and whatever.
WB: What rank did you go in to Vietnam as?
CM: I went as a Captain and was lets see ’65 I’d made Captain in
probably ‘63 or something like that.
WB: What things did you bring with you when you left the states?
CM: Well, you couldn’t take a whole lot of stuff with you and you
couldn’t take any firearms or things like that. I basically took my
military clothes and not much civilian items. Of course you took
pictures of your family and that kind of stuff, but I didn’t take
anything special or anything other than just the normal things you
WB: What did you carry with you in battle in your planes?
CM: What did I carry with me? Um, well, I used to have a M16 rifle that
we had and we had it propped up in the cockpit on the right side.
A good place to get a hold of it if you had to and then you carried a
38 pistol around your waist, I had a cowboy belt that we had made
by the Vietnamese and I carried the rounds in the little loops
around the belt just like the cowboy did. I had a flack vest which
helps you if you get shot at by the enemy; the vest had a bunch of
pockets in it that we put things in. I used to carry 200 rounds of
M16 in clips that we taped together in the end to end so you could
flip twenty rounds and flip twenty more and shoot forty rounds in
fast sequence if you had to fortunately I didn’t have to.
WB: Was it hard to stay clean?
CM: No, it’s actually that’s the thing that was strange in this war as a
pilot you tend to live in French hotels. That’s in a MACV
Command facility. Which is a military assistance command
in the Army and it’s housed in an old French hotel. So you have
your showers and your own bathroom, you got all your bathroom
stuff and it’s up to you. Your hygiene is based on you, but it turns
out if you fly two or three times you’re sweating a lot over the
Vietnam jungle and sure need to clean up at the end of days flying,
WB: You said earlier that the water wasn’t as clean as you thought it
was how sick did you become?
WB: Did you get sick from the water?
CM: Yeah, if you will, I guess you would call it sick when you had the
runs or you had diarrhea a lot and if you didn’t have diarrhea it
still went right through you. It was because the water was not, you
know, compatible with our system and the way you were used to it,
it just went through you fast so I did not gain weight; actually I lost
weight in Vietnam in the year that I was there.
WB: Did you serve in any other wars?
CM: No, that was the only one.
WB: How long did it take you to get home?
CM: Um, you mean after I was transferred from Vietnam. Well, it’s a
strange story because I took my last vacation (Hawaii) to meet my
wife the last week of my tour; normally you would think that the
government would let you go directly home after your vacation.
But, no, I had to fly back to Vietnam and spend two days in Saigon
waiting to catch a military plane to fly back to the United States. I
was exposed for two more days to potentially being killed, you
know in a bomb or something, in Saigon and I could have went on
home from Hawaii, but that’s not what the policy required.
WB: What was the first thing that you did when you got home?
CM: Well, I obviously met my wife at the Denver airport. She had my
little son who was then a year old, one of the things that she had
done was have a picture of me in my uniform on the bottom of the
refrigerator. When my son was crawling around on the floor, he
knew that his dad wore a blue uniform and he was looking at other
people with their uniforms on and his mother would say no! no!
when my wife saw me, she said that’s the one! So that’s how I met
my girls and my son.
WB: Do you have any other stories that you wanted to share?
CM: Uh, what type?
WB: Just about your experiences in the Air Force.
CM: In the Air Force well yes, I would like to say that probably the most
exciting times as far as excitement was probably in Vietnam, the
fact that you got to come home and you were still alive, but it was
exciting, challenging and so forth that year. Before I went to
Vietnam and after I came back from Vietnam I was involved in the
space program both at Cape Kennedy (1963-1965) and at
Vandenberg Air Force Base (1966-1971). I was involved for twenty-
two years of my twenty-seven years in the Air Force in space
programs. I had the fortune of being involved in about sixty-eight
satellite launches in my career, actually got to punch the launch
button on about six of them myself.
CM: Then as I went on through my career, I wound up being a program
manager of two different space programs. I retired in 1985. I was
the Director of the Defense Support Program in Los Angeles. They
were exciting years, working on the launches , getting to see
launch crews push the button, watching satellites go into space
and knowing that they work when they get on orbit. The satellites
cost ranged from about $100,000,000 to $800,000,000 that you
were launching, so it was an exciting time.
WB: What was the mission for the satellites?
CM: Well, all of them were different and a lot of them were classified. A
web page on the internet now describes the Defense Support
Program, it was an early warning satellite program and it’s still a
live going program.
WB: Well, thank you so much for your time, I appreciated it.
Follow up questions June 2, 2005
WB: This is Whitney Burr and we are doing follow up questions for the
interview with Clyde R Magil Jr.
WB: Clyde what was your job in the Defense Support Program?
CM: Well, as I was saying earlier in your little synopsis that you were
trying to do a summary of my career, Here’s some more, I was a
junior officer from 1972-1979 in the Defense Support Program. I
was an engineer in software and hardware on the space craft; I was
involved in testing and launching the space craft. I was the
Program Manager of the Defense Support Program from 1983 to
1985 which meant that I managed $500,000,000 of government
money every year.
WB: How did you get into the program?
CM: Out of my Master’s degree program in 1963, I requested that I be
assigned to the space business; I was fortunate to get an assigned
to Patrick Air Force Base, FA. Wow! Cape Kennedy in 1963, that’s
how I got started in space programs; I spent most of my career in
space (22 years), the rest of my career was flying and attending
professional schools. I retired while I was working in space
WB: And how did you decide you wanted to do space stuff?
CM: Well, if you think about the time that I went into the Air Force
(1958) and when I got my Master Degree (1963), the progress in
space at Cape Kennedy was really exciting. NASA was launching
Mercury capsules (John Glen had already sub-orbital gone around
the world and recovered, Gemini capsules (all the other guys in the
original seven astronauts were all down there at the time). So, it
was the thing to do in the Air Force to get into the space business
even though I was a pilot and so I did.
WB: What would you tell someone who was interested in joining the Air
Force about the space program?
CM: Well, I would say that it’s an important program for our country.
The Air Force worked with NASA and also has its own programs,
but the thing that’s important, is that our country needs to develop
new space programs. The Air Force is part of those programs, so if
someone wants to get in space the Air Force is a good place to do
WB: And how did your parents support your decision to become a pilot
and an engineer?
CM: To the best of my knowledge they didn’t, I was raised during WWII
and one of the things our parents didn’t do was restrict us from
playing Army combat. I was five to ten years old and allowed to go
to the movies. Saturday morning matinees and stuff with war
things going on. I guess it was in that era that as a young boy I felt
being a pilot looked like it would be an exciting life. Being an
engineer basically came about, because on my own I was good at
mechanical things. I could take electrical things apart and fix
them and mechanical things apart and fix them. So I just thought
that engineering would be a good place to do that. I was
encouraged by my parents to do those things but it wasn’t like they
gave me the idea or made me pursue these goals.
WB: Where did you grow up?
CM: Okay, I grew up in Cheyenne, Wyoming. I lived there from 1937
until 1958 when I went into the Air Force. When, I say I lived
there, I commuted a lot to go to college and work between Laramie,
Wyoming and Cheyenne, but, I was basically home until, I
graduated from the University of Wyoming in 1958.
WB: How many siblings do you have?
CM: I have four children from my first marriage. My first wife died in
1986. I got remarried and my current wife has one daughter so I
really have five total children.
WB: And how many siblings do you have?
CM: How many?
WB: Siblings, brothers and sisters?
CM: Was the first one children, so siblings now, okay, how many, I got
one brother and two sisters. I got one older sister and younger
brother and a younger sister.
WB: And what did your brother think of you being in the space
CM: Oh, it turns out that’s very interesting, my oldest sister, you said
my brother, but my oldest sister married a man that worked for
Boeing and he was in the space system. Our careers crossed at
different places, Cape Kennedy and up in California, my brother-
in-law was in the space business and I was in the space business,
Hah! My brother went to work for Boeing in Cheyenne on the Atlas
missile and on the Peace Keeper missile and so he was in the space
program too. It turns out that a lot of the space programs have a
lot of security and both my sister, my brother-in-law, my brother
they were all involved in the same kind of programs. Now, for my
younger sister, she has never been involved in space programs, but
it was like we were all part of it.
WB: Do you think because you decided to be in the Air Force that
influenced your brother? Because you decided you wanted that he
wanted that same thing too because you were his older brother
and he looked up to you?
CM: Who, my brother, um, no my brother basically went to college
to hopefully get through it but he wound up not liking it that well
so he joined the Navy. So, he was in the Navy for four years and
then he went back to Cheyenne. My brother has lived there ever
since. He’s moved around a few times because of the space
company he worked for and missile companies, but he basically
just aspired to get ahead on his own. He does regret that he didn’t
stay in the military because he sees that I get the benefits of
retirement. If he’d have stayed in the Navy he wouldn’t have had
the life he now has. We’ve only got one life to live.
WB: And was it hard to be in the Air Force and in the Space Program
and have a family to or did you have lots of time off with them?
CM: Um, I would say that the only hard time in my Air Force career as
far as my family was concerned was when I was in Vietnam. I
didn’t see my children for a whole year they were young little kids.
I got to see my wife twice during that year but that was all without
the children. I would say that everything else in the military, like
my four kids they were all born in the military, I was home every
time that they were born. So, I wasn’t off flying, I wasn’t off at
work I was at home. My wife usually had her babies in the late
night and early morning. I was always there so I never missed any
of my children’s births. The only time I was really away from them
was in Vietnam.
WB: Do you have any stories about your experience in the space
CM: In the space?
WB: Yes, just any fun stories?
CM: What kind of story good, bad, happy, or what?
CM: Hum, well gee, in the space business, well, I can remember a story
that I was launching a satellite into space. One that I last
managed, we were down at Cape Kennedy launching the satellite
successfully, but we typically after a launch would catch a plane
back to California to go to the satellite check out facilitate. I was on
the plane with my boss (three star general, Commander of Space
Division) and was informed by my staff about a problem with our
space craft (it hadn’t deployed one of its solar panels). The forth
panel couldn’t deploy because the third panel hadn’t deployed. The
space craft was in an emergency situation.
The general calls me back to his seat on the plane and he says
“what’s going on?” Well, fortunately for me, I had been present at
the factory when the contractors ran the solar panel deployment
test and was able to explain to him how it works, I also knew how
the system fired and releases each of the four solar panels. The
contactor and my staff said what appears to have happened was
that the third solar panel hadn’t deployed. I passed this on to the
general along with drawing a picture to explain how the panels
deployed in sequence. The general express confidence in where we
were headed, and said, “Well, takes care of it”.
I flew on up to Sunnyvale, CA and the general deplaned at Los
Angeles, CA. It took us three days to figure out the problem. The
test team did all kinds of scientific tests, spun the space craft up,
looked at the solar cell charging, and looked at the panel heating.
The team finally decided that the third paddle was deployed
because everything said physically in space that it should be
deployed. (If the team had not done the analysis and prematurely
used the backup procedure to deploy the fourth panel the fourth
panel would have banged into the non-deployed third panel thus
destroyed something and it wouldn’t have been successful.) With
this decision it now let the team plan a manual back up to deploy
the forth panel.
But, as it turned out my aerospace team (scientific advisors)
advised me to do some more tests and I said no, no I don’t need
any more test, the team is going to deploy the fourth panel. I was
the one that decided to do the deployment without further test; the
general backed me to go ahead.
The team sent the command to the space craft to deploy the fourth
panel and “plunk “out it went, the space craft stabilized and the
deployment was successful. The space craft went on to have a
It was exciting for that short period of time and a happy Christmas
Eve present. I had to overcome technical experts that were trying
to advise more tests but I made the decision based on what we had
and fortunately I was right and it worked. So, anyways it turns out
that my commander supported my decision.
General Forest McCartney had a similar sort of incident on a space
craft about fifteen years earlier with the same aerospace (scientific
advisors). Different people by name, but they had advised him not
to launch the space craft. He went ahead and launched it and it
flew for eleven years successfully.
So, he had the same kind of philosophy as me, that’s probably the
only reason I got away without running more tests, because he was
gutsy, like me. You get enough data you just make the decision
and you go, it turned out it was right so it was a happy day for me.
WB: Cool, anything else you want to say?
CM: Well, let’s see anything else, um, all I could say to young people is,
a military career is a career that you have to think about, make a
decision and then get in there and try. If you try and your success
continues, you can do like I did. I did not say when I went in
(1958) that I was going to stay for twenty-seven years. I stayed
because I liked the job, I had challenges, and I was successful. I’m
not bragging about myself but, I mean if you get in there and work
hard and do the right thing in the military, it’s a good career and
as a result I get retirement from it and that’s basically what I do.
I’m retired from social security and from the military and now I
have V.A. benefits.
WB: Well thank you for your time.