Born 1945 in Fairmont, MN
Currently lives in Fairmont, MN
U.S Army Vietnam Veteran
Tom Westcott joined the U.S. Army in September 1963, heading to Missouri for basic training. He finished basic and remembers the day well. “It was November 22, 1963. It was the day John F. Kennedy was shot.” As the nation was in mourning, Westcott entered 12 weeks of aviation (maintenance) school in Virginia before shipping out to Korea. “I worked on a variety of aircraft over there, including the single engine, fixed wing L19 “Bird Dog,” and the ten-rotor CH-21 Shawnee “Flying Banana” helicopter, among others,” he remembered.
By March of 1964, Westcott was back stateside at Fort Benning, Georgia's Larson Field to begin his work with one of the Army's true workhorses of the Vietnam-era, the C-7A Caribou twin prop engine cargo aircraft. “There were 35 Caribous stationed at Ft. Benning, and all flew to Vietnam in December of 1965.” Westcott headed over with the aircraft as part of the 135th Army Aviation Company, (258th Transportation Detachment), known as 'F-Troop,' named after the popular 1960s TV show. “We kept them in the air,” he said proudly.
Westcott was stationed in Vietnam at Qui Nhon in Central Vietnam for a while, then the large air base along the coast at Cam Ranh Bay. He spent a total of nine months in the Southeast Asia during the war and “flew nearly the entire length of Vietnam, but I didn't fly south of Saigon,” he recalled. “Our aircraft hauled everything from live animals, ammo, Agent Orange, furniture and even bodies.”
During a supply mission, one of their Caribou aircraft crashed in the jungle near Dak Pek. Wescott and a group of fellow Army aviation maintenance soldiers were sent in to try and repair the damaged plane. “We were in there for four days at an underground Special Forces camp,” he explained. Except for a couple of buildings up top, everything was housed underground in an elaborate complex of concrete bunkers, offices, and sleeping quarters, dug and built with the help of South Vietnamese.
“We got that aircraft repaired,” he remembered. “It wasn't pretty, but the Caribou flew back to base.” That mission earned Westcott an Army Commendation Medal.
When his tour in Vietnam was over, the Fairmont native headed back home and found a job doing sheet metal work for Johnny's Plumbing. In 1968 the U.S. Air Force came courting Westcott hoping to prompt a move to Youngstown, Ohio to work on various aircraft projects. “I had quit at Johnny's and was ready to move, but I needed to be in the reserves to take that job,” he said. “I turned down the job when I found out there might be a good possibility of being sent back to Vietnam.” Sure enough, Westcott mused, eight months later, that Air Force Reserve unit shipped out to Vietnam.
Westcott remained in the Martin County area and became a master plumber, working for 35 years with his Fairmont Plumbing company. Recently, Westcott has been busy in semi-retirement with his specialized valve testing firm. But he says he will “fully retire” as of December of 2016.
Image and Story © 2016 Joseph Kreiss Photography