by Jill Nieglos
The 707’s engines were revving up for take-off. It was always scary being on the ground in a war zone, even for only an hour, and all of us stews were glad to be leaving. The pilot applied full power, we rolled down the runway, and soon the lights of Tan Son Nhut disappeared from view. We had to climb out steeply in order to minimize the possibility of being hit by hostile ground fire. Sitting in an aft jump seat, I heard funny metallic noises, like something hitting the plane; I looked out my window and fear gripped my heart. I saw the red trails of tracer bullets hitting the right wing. “Holy shit!” I said to myself, “We’re being shot at!” Fortunately, we were already high enough that the bullets were spent and were just bouncing harmlessly off the wing. What a close call that was!
We climbed to cruising altitude without further incident. This was totally different than flying around Europe – my God, what a way to make a living!
During meal service, I noticed the name Martinez on one soldier’s shirt. While serving his meal, I said, “I know the name Martinez. There was a Tony Martinez in my high school class, and during our Homecoming game, he caught a “Hail Mary” pass with only seven seconds to go. I was a cheerleader and I was right there on the field. It was so exciting – I’ll never forget it!” With a surprised look on his face, he asked, “Where are you from?” “Paso Robles, California,” I said. “You’re kidding!” he replied; “Tony is my brother.” I told him I’d be back to talk more as soon as I finished serving.
When we had a chance to chat, he told me his name was Joe, and he really was Tony’s brother. We had a great visit. Joe told me an interesting story about Tony. Joe was leaving the post one evening, worried about getting on the road before it got too dark. As he was driving his jeep off the base, he was told someone wanted to talk with him. Traveling after dark was dangerous, so he decided to ignore the request. Before he could get on the road, the request came again, this time in the form of an order. Reluctantly, he returned to headquarters and was surprised to find his brother Tony waiting for him. Joe couldn’t believe his eyes; he thought Tony was way up north. Tony had been in the field for days and looked like hell. “How did you get here?” “Well,” Tony replied, “I conned a chopper pilot buddy to get me here, and in return, I promised him a cut of the booze I want to pick up for my squad. Hey, I’m a little short – how about lending me few bucks so I don’t have to buy the cheap stuff?” Joe anted up some bucks, and off to the PX they went; Tony returned to his squad the next morning, but not before he and Joe had put a major dent in their purchase.
I talked with Joe until I had to get back to work. As he was deplaning, I gave him a big hug and told him to say hi to Tony the next time he saw him.