James Crowley

As Interviewed by Josh Crowley, February 19, 2018

James Crowley: In His Own Words


Well we had these cables that went underwater to different places, and the Army decided to build something down on the beach. And they sent a guy down there with a bulldozer, and he was digging and broke our cables. The next day we went down to the beach to fix the cable. We were working day and night so we were down there in the middle of the night. The Vietnamese fishermen used to go out on the bay in their fishing boat with lanterns, and the lanterns would attract the fish to the boats. Well, apparently what happened was the Viet Cong told all the fishermen to take the night off and they took over the boats and went out there with the lanterns, and we didn’t think anything of it. Then all of a sudden all the lanterns went out at one time and then they started shooting at us. So we had to dive down into the hole that we were digging to fix the cable and bury ourselves under the sand.

The other time was when I was just on the base and the Viet Cong would shoot mortars at the base and you would have to get down into a bunker behind the sandbags. Near the end they started shooting rockets at us which are a lot bigger than a mortar -- that was pretty nerve-racking. There’s a big difference between a rocket a mortar, and you knew it when it hit.

They didn’t have enough room for all of us on the base and I was an NCO [Non Commissioned Officer] and we were supposed to get a separate quarters from the guys that weren’t NCOs -- the Privates and Airmen First Class. So they had rented hotel rooms for us downtown. One day I got up late and I missed the bus. Two blocks from the hotel the bus stopped to pick up some guys up from a different hotel, when the bus stopped a guy came by on a motorcycle and threw a grenade in the bus which killed a whole bunch of guys. So if I hadn’t overslept, I might have not come back.

[Additional Excerpts]

Why did you choose to join the US Air Force?

When I was younger my parents took me to an air show, and as I was watching the planes doing crazy tricks in the air I immediately knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. Even though I never actually got to fly a fighter jet, it means a lot to me to know that I helped over a dozen people who were pilots and wouldn’t have been able to do their job without people like me.

How did you stay in contact with your loved ones?

I would write letters back and forth with my family, and they would send me these little care packages with supplies that you couldn’t get in Vietnam like certain candies. My family would also send me civilian clothes and update me on what's happening in the family.

What was your main source of entertainment while serving in Vietnam?

We had many sources of entertainment, but our main source was gambling. We would go to the local bars and hope to earn some money from the Vietnamese locals. We had a lot of very competitive gamblers in our unit, so it was a big deal when someone lost or when someone won because they’d usually buy a round of drinks for everybody.