Gary High School 1914-1978

The Coaldigger





By Louis L. (Buddy) Garay

A fellow Gary High School Alumni wrote a story about his first day in the coal mines. I thought it was a very good story, he kept me on the edge of my seat in anticipation of what would happen next. His story inspired me to write my own story. I hope I can do the same with my story of my first day on the job. No, I have never been in a coal mine, this is a different kind of setting.

In 1959 there was a major shut down in the McDowell Country coal fields, hence my Dad who worked at the #9 mine in Filbert was done as a coal miner forever. For about two years he hung on drawing unemployment till it ran out, then he tried other things, then started traveling to other states to find work but being illiterate it was not easy to find a good job. He finally landed a job in Maryland and in the middle of my sophomore year in 1961 we moved to MD. so it was goodbye to Gary High School and McDowell County.

 In June of 1964 I graduated from Bladensburg High School in Md. I worked as an auto mechanic at several garages and gas stations in MD and also went to CA. and worked as a mechanic at a Sears service center for a short time.

In January 1968 I joined the U.S. Air Force and off I went. After training I was stationed at Langley AFB in Virginia for less than a year. After having been in the Air Force for a little over a year I was transferred to CCK Air Base in Taiwan near the city of Taichung. I arrived at CCK in March of 1969. I had been trained as an aircraft mechanic on C-130 transport aircraft. As I was to find out the hard way the training I received left a lot to be desired.

On the morning of the third day I was there at CCK I reported to work on the Flight line at 0700 not having any idea what to expect. I was wearing two stripes on my sleeve and I was as green as my uniform. At Langley I had always worked with others never alone, but I had achieved my five level which meant I was now a worker no longer a trainee. I was told to get on the expeditor truck and I would be assigned as a Crew Chief. The expeditor truck was driven by a Technical Sgt. that controlled the maintenance on the aircraft parked on the ramp. This fellow was from the south with a heavy southern accent. He dropped me off in front of C-130 1791 along with my portable tool box and told me to check the aircraft forms for discrepancies, to preflight it and refuel it and get it ready for a 1400 go. Which meant I would have a 1200 crew show.

I was hopeful that the aircraft had no major problems because I was not confident in my ability to work alone as yet. No such luck, the aircraft was broke. After reviewing the aircraft forms, I almost panicked but I took a deep breath and calmed my self down. There were two radar discrepancies and an engine write up. No problem, I would call for a radar tech and an engine specialist. That done I calmed a little till I discovered on my preflight inspection that the aircraft had a bad main gear tire and a worn out brake assembly, of course they were on different axles. The C-130 has four main gear tires, each on its own axle with its own brake assembly. I called for a new tire, new brake assembly and an axle jack. 

After traveling all the way from MD to Taiwan I was very tired, I had not been able to sleep for several days, wound up tight and reeling with anticipation and the time change had me all messed up, taking into consideration that it was over a hundred degrees on the flight line and I was not used to the heat I got worn out fast. Not having ever done these tasks by myself I broke out the maintenance books to guide me step by step. The book did not take into consideration that I was a 135 lb kid by myself. A main tire is tall as a man and very heavy and hard to handle by one man. A brake assembly weighs over a hundred lbs, But I got R done. Drenched in sweat and in dire need of a drink of water I finally got the aircraft ready to go at 1130 hrs. The expeditor cleared the aircraft forms and said to me to go get my bags, because I was going with the aircraft. I asked where am I going, he replied " in country---?-----" I said "in what country?" With a big grin on his face he replied in his slow southern drawl, you going to V ie t Naaammm boy. I had thirty minutes to go back to the barracks grab my gear and get to customs for a walk through. I had heard that a normal input in country was fifty nine days duration so I brought all of my belongings. I made it through customs, raced to the aircraft and made it as the crew arrived. Two hours of preflight by the crew and then we were off, a long flight over the pacific ocean. Unable to sleep on the flight because of the noise of the four engines turbo prop military giant, 1791 was not a plush airliner. We arrived at Cam Rhan Bay in the morning and I felt like a zombie. Upon arrival the local expeditor met the aircraft, we did a maintenance debrief and I was told to ready the aircraft for a 1300 go. So there I was worn out, very hungry and very ripe, and I was doing it again. 1300 came around and I was off again with the aircraft

We flew to several bases around the Nam picking up and dropping off Army passengers and at our last stop we picked up ten litters with ten body bags, American G.I.'s killed in action. Which I had to help load. At 1900 hrs we came to a stop. I helped unload the litters and then thought this has got to be the end of the day. Wrong.... I was told to work the aircraft and get it ready for an 0700 go. A little after midnight the aircraft was ready to go and so was I. I was finally released from duty. I checked in at the orderly room, got assigned a cot in the barracks which was located directly across from the chow hall which was serving midnight chow as I arrived. That was the best breakfast I ever had even if it was just S.O.S. and few burned eggs. At 0130 I collapsed into my bunk thinking I could sleep forever. At 0200 I was abruptly awakened to the sound of sirens and people running out of the barracks yelling back and forth. I was told to put on my flak jacket and helmet and go to the bunker outside. So there I was in my under wear with a flak jacket and a helmet in a sand bag bunker at 0200 getting shot at with mortars, we were under a mortar attack. at 0500 the all clear was sounded. I had just enough time to get dressed and get to the aircraft for the crew show. At 0700 1791 lumbered into the clouds above and we were off to Thailand, where we picked up a load of 105's and ammo. That day we flew three shuttles into Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The airport where we made an assault landing three times was under constant fire. We arrived back at Cam Rhan at 2100 hrs and again I was told get R done.

The 59 day input I was told about came and went unnoticed. By this time I was a living, breathing zombie with no sense of time. After being gone 79 days without a day off we arrived back at CCK in Taiwan. After Maintenance debrief 1791 was out of phase time. She would be towed to the phase docks for a major inspection, she would be down for about a week. I was told to take two days off.

I returned to the barracks and made ready to dive into my bunk when a good friend, who worked in an office and never saw an airplane, came in and said "lets go to town and get drunk and check out the local fruits and vegetables" I told him "he was #1" and proceeded to crash and burn. As I closed my eyes I thought to myself "this is a heck of a way to make a living", I was paid $79.00 every two weeks.

A week later I was gone again. This time I knew what in-country meant. Little did I know what lay ahead.

Written by MSGT Louis "Buddy" Garay USAF Retired

JAMES DEAN oops!!!! BUDDY GARAY & MEME!!! Taken in 1969 at the Blue Bird Bar in Taichung, Taiwan

Thanks goes to Buddy  Garay for allowing me to post his story "My First Day" on The Coaldigger and share it with the world. bssims