Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Vince Small

Born 1947 in Fairmont, MN
United States Air Force Vietnam-Era Veteran

The Vietnam War was the lead story on the nightly TV news and in the daily newspaper headlines when Vince Small graduated from Fairmont High School in 1965. After a couple years of college education under his belt, Small made the decision to enlist in the United States Air Force to help the war effort.

Once through basic training, the Fairmont native was assigned work in accounts control at Nellis Air Force Base near Las Vegas, Nevada. “It was basically an office job,” he admitted.

But Small’s duties weren’t limited to desk work. He also worked on the flight line with the new F-111A swing wing fighter aircraft with the 474th Tactical Fighter Wing. At the time, the swept winged jet had experienced several crashes during sorties over North Vietnam, not due to enemy action but caused by wing and tail structural defects. The aircraft losses caused a storm of criticism in the U.S. over the safety of the fighter plane. Small recalls the Air Force was still testing the airplane and making modifications to improve its reliability when he was stationed at Nellis AFB.

One of his most memorable jobs was working the flight line. “One of the jobs we did was to clean any radioactivity from the wings of the F-111As after they returned to base following a mission.” The Air Force was working with the aircraft’s manufacturer to replace parts and improve the reliability of the cutting-edge moveable wing airplane. “We were trying to do something to help make that plane better and possibly help save lives of the servicemen flying them,” Small said. “Our function on the ground was to be part of a team to get those aircraft back up and in the air again.”

Following his honorable discharge from the Air Force, Small joined the Air Force Reserves and returned to Southern Minnesota before heading to Big Rapids, Michigan to earn an accounting degree at Ferris State University. He was given his final discharge from military service in 1971. Small became a certified Public Accountant and runs a CPA practice in Mankato.

Story and Image © 2017 Joseph Kreiss Photography
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