By Jennifer Martin
Gary Benton enlisted in the Air Force before he could be drafted for the Vietnam War.
He still remembers the moment he stepped off the bus for basic training.
"You're terrified. You're a young kid. The average age is 18. And you're probably on your first time away from home and it just got progressively worse from that moment."
The training instructors were relentless.
"I think they did that to break us down to bare bones and then build us back up. It's the only way to take 40 civilians and turn us in to a cohesive unit."
Out of basic training, he was assigned to life support.
"We were responsible I guess what the title says, the life support of the pilots, as they flew, when they bailed out of an airplane when they were on the ground and escaping danger."
It would require intensive training in survival techniques in specific situations from cold weather to the water to the jungle.
"Our job primarily was broken down into a number of different sections in the unit. Some of us packed survival kits. Others taught use of the equipment or survival procedure. And then we had those who went out on the aircraft and stayed out on the flightline doing pre-flight on all the aircraft installing survival gear."
As Vietnam was winding down, Benton served in Thailand, checking B-52s pre-flight. His base stored a wide range of weapons and as air crews checked their guns in and out, they would fill him in on what was happening in the fight.
"I started to see in my minds eye the fact that Vietnam was going to fall. To me it was an emotional event. I had friends from my boyhood who had served and died and friends in the military who had been killed and for what? To this day it haunts me that... we just walked away. I think that's why there is so much anger from Vietnam veterans. People who served over there feel like we not only let that country down, but also our individual soldiers. There were no homecomings, no one welcomed you back with flowers or yellow ribbons. Someone would probably spit at you in an airport."
After Vietnam, he stayed in the service. He went on to work as a survival instructor, in industrial occupational safety and later in manpower.
He helped decide who would have to go to Desert Storm. He went on to work in ground safety in Alaska before he retired as an E-8.
"I am extremely proud of our veterans today. I'm a professional writer now and every book I write I dedicate to those veterans, past present and future."
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