Cordoba resident Jim Myers jokes that he dodged the draft during the Vietnam War.
“It was hot and muggy in Vietnam, so I joined the Air Force,” Myers, 77, said. “I joined the Air Force to avoid being drafted. I thought it was a little safer in the Air Force than in the Army.”
Originally from Orangeburg and raised in Branchville, Myers was the first member of his immediate family to join the military.
Entering the Air Force in April 1966 at about age 22 as a basic airman, Myers went to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, where he was stationed for about a month.
“Spinal meningitis broke out and they let us go,” Myers said.
From there it went to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana until 1968.
“They put me in as a heavy equipment operator,” Myers said. “I trained on it for two years. In 1968, that’s when I went to Vietnam.”
He was in a store with a dozen other guys and was the first to get orders. In two weeks, all the men received their summons.
In Vietnam, Myers served with the 819th Red Horse Squadron (Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineers).
Myers flew to Bien Hoa Air Base, then traveled to Saigon and was stationed at Tan Son Nhut Air Base.
At the time, Tan Son Nhut was the busiest airport in the world, with round-the-clock supplies and military planes landing and taking off continuously.
The Red Horse Squadron was responsible for all base construction projects, including the construction of a military hospital and a jet engine test bed.
Myers used bulldozers and was a crane operator. He was responsible for lifting the modules into place in the construction of a modular hospital.
“We did two a day for about three months,” Myers said.
The thing Myers remembers most when he landed in Vietnam is the smell.
“The smell was there the whole time, the 12 months I was there,” he said. “It was a bad smell. You didn’t want to take it home.”
The only time there was major fighting at Tan Son Nhut Air Base was during the Tet Offensive in February 1968, when the Viet Cong attempted to overrun every base in the country. This was before he arrived in July 1968.
As a result, Myers personally never saw the battle.
“The Army and the Marines did all of this,” he said. “I was on the air base there.”
But he was not spared from witnessing the horrors of war.
“I saw two guys get killed in a jeep,” Myers said.
Myers also recalls how the bodies of American soldiers killed in Vietnam—all of those bodies brought to the Tan Son Nhut morgue—would be loaded onto military planes and brought back to American soil.
“They were washing them,” Myers said. “They were all swollen from being out in the field in the sun. You sat in the sun there in 100 degree weather. It doesn’t take long for you to swell when you’re dead. I remember that. “
Myers also recalled how young they were.
“They were my age, 18-20 year old guys,” he said. “I remember it for quite a while.”
Myers said the letters from home helped him during his year in Vietnam, but looking back, he simply said, “You just got over it.”
He was discharged from the Air Force in July 1969 as a Staff Sergeant (E5). Myers remembers going home.
“I was not welcome home,” he said. “I had an aunt who asked me why I went there. I said, ‘Well, I took an oath for one thing when I joined the army.’ She and I didn’t get along after that.”
Myers received a Vietnam Service Medal and Good Conduct Recognition.
Myers said that although there was controversy over the Vietnam War, it was necessary.
“We were fighting the Communists,” he said. “We are still fighting the Communists.”
When Myers returned from service, he worked at the Greenwood Mills plant in Orangeburg. He then joined Albemarle Corporation (now SI Group), where he worked for 27 years as a chemical operator before retiring in 2005.
Although Vietnam is over 50 years old, it still suffers from some scars.
Myers has diabetes, which he says is linked to Agent Orange. Agent Orange was a defoliant that the US military sprayed in Vietnam to keep the enemy from hiding in jungle vegetation.
“Anyone who entered this county was exposed to Agent Orange,” he said.
He also suffers from PTSD due to his war experiences.
A patriot at heart, Myers is the Commanding Officer of Post 2779 Veterans of Foreign Wars in Orangeburg and is a member of the American Legion.
“I felt like I needed to be a member,” Myers said, noting that veterans’ groups provide good service and continue to serve as voices for veterans in Washington.
As for his retirement, Myers enjoys spending time with his wife Belinda and three dogs. They have six children and six grandchildren.