FRISCO – Gary Haseloh appreciates the patriotism that’s arisen from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. It’s long overdue, he said. Today’s sentiment is in stark contrast from the hostile response Haseloh received coming home from Vietnam in 1974.
“That was the hardest thing about going to Vietnam when the anti-war effort in the U.S. was at its peak – to know that when you came home, you wouldn’t be supported. The early and mid-’70s were not a good time. Individual soldiers were blamed for the government’s decision,” Haseloh said.
As a U.S. Air Force pilot, Haseloh flew F-4 fighter planes in Vietnam. The F-4, which since has been phased out and replaced by F-15 and F-16 aircraft, was the backbone of the Vietnam war effort. The planes were used for bombing and protection against enemy aircraft.
Haseloh entered Vietnam as the U.S. was decreasing its war efforts. His flight missions focused on providing air cover for the evacuations of Saigon and Phnom Penh.
The stand-still point in the war, combined with antiwar American sentiment, made the job difficult.
“It was a lose-lose situation by then. We should have gotten out long (before),” he said.
Facing separation from family was another hardship for Vietnam pilots.
“Half of those in my training class were married at that time. Now you’ve got the Internet and cell phones to communicate. Then it was just mail.”
The passion for flying that led him to join the Air Force kept Haseloh on a flying track when he returned home.
He spent five years in California, Arizona, and Florida as an Air Force instructor, training pilots to fly F4’s. He also served in the International Guard for 15 years.
Haseloh now flies domestically as a captain for American Airlines. He commutes from his Frisco home and flies out of Denver.
Although commercial flying isn’t as exciting as flying fighter planes, he still enjoys the challenge.
“Flying is all I’ve ever wanted to do and all I’ve ever done,” he said.
A recent training class reunion gave Haseloh reason to reflect on his pre-Vietnam flying days. He joined the Air Force after graduating from college and spent 1969-’70 at flight training in Laredo, Texas.
Two weeks ago, 26 members of his training group came together for a long weekend in Phoenix.
“We picked up where we left off,” Haseloh said. “It didn’t seem like we had a 30-year gap.”
The trainees were a closely knit group, as there wasn’t much to do in Laredo, Texas. Haseloh said his training year was the best of his 25 years in the military.
When training ended, the group scattered, and hadn’t seen each other for 32 years before the reunion. Some left Laredo to fly fighter planes, while others flew cargo aircraft or worked on tankers and bombers. All of those who went to Vietnam came back alive. The Laredo base was permanently closed in 1973.
Since they’ve reunited, the pilots plan to stay in better touch. Another reunion is planned for 2005.
Haseloh and his wife already have two or three couples coming to visit them in Frisco. His place will be a “headquarters for skiing,” he said.
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