Newton Digital Collections

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Gaylord Santaman Interview


Gaylord Santaman Interview


Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Veterans--United States


Audio interview with Vietnam veteran Gaylord Santaman...


Santaman, Gaylord


Newton Public Library, Newton, Kansas










Santaman, Gaylord, “Gaylord Santaman Interview,” Newton Digital Collections, accessed June 14, 2024,

Kristine Schmucker


Gaylord Santaman


Harvey County (Kansas) Historical Museum


This is Kristine Schmucker, and I’m interviewing Gaylord Santaman about his experiences in the Vietnam War. It’s October 31, 2018 and we’re at the Harvey County Historical Museum.
Schmucker: So, I’ll start by you telling me your name.
Santaman: Okay. My name is Gaylord Santaman and I currently live here in Newton, Kansas.
Schmucker: Tell me a little about where you were born, your parents?
Santaman: I was born in Clay Center, Kansas. I grew up on a farm outside of Clay Center. My dad was a farmer. My mother was a housewife. I had a brother and a sister. My brother was four years younger than me and my sister was about 14 years younger than me
Schmucker: Tell us a little about how you got interested, or what caused you to join the military.
Santaman: The year is 1965, and the draft was on. There was no lottery at this time with the draft. You had to register when you got to the age of eighteen, and so, I did that, and then I got notice that I needed to go for my draft physical. Went to Kansas City, did that. Came back.
The results were that I was classified at the top of the line draftee. It was a short time after that, my mother received a call from the draft board secretary. Mother knew her and she called her one time to see how far down the list my name was. She said, Well, at the current time, it was down the list a ways. And, so anyways, that was right after I took the physical. Then, one day my mother received a phone call from the secretary said the draft board had met and my name came up as being on the next list for draftees from the county.
She asked my mother, Did your son do anything? Because she knew I’d been talking to the Air Force recruiter and my mom says, No, not yet. And, she says, Well, your son’s name came up last night.
So, Mom came out, and I was helping Dad farm at the time, and Mom came out and told me my name had come up and wanted to know what I wanted to do. And I said, Call the Air Force recruiter and see if he has any openings available. So, my mother called the Air Force recruiter, and he had one opening left. I went ahead and I enlisted in the Air Force. I was gone off to basic training real quick, I think it was ten days to two weeks after I enlisted, I was gone.
Schmucker: What were you feeling at that time? Did you family support you or…?
Santaman: My dad had served in World War II and he was the one who wanted me to join the Air Force. He didn’t want me to join the army. He didn’t want me to get drafted. He was always impressed with the Air Force. Of course, prior to this time, there was Schilling Air Force Base at Salina and he was always impressed with the soldiers there that were in the Air Force. He thought that was a good fit for me, whit it turned out to be, it was.
Smucker: So, you talked about going quickly to basic training, can you describe what basic training involved?
Santaman: Okay, well, you gotta remember this is 1965. The Vietnam War was really gearing up and there was a push to increase the personnel in the Armed Forces. I went to Lackland Air Force Base for my basic training. I was only there about a month for my basic training. It was long enough to get my vaccinations that I needed. To figure out where they was going to place me and to give me a little bit of military basic training, you might say. From there, they transferred me to Chanute Air Force Base up by Chicago, and that’s where I received my technical training in aircraft maintenance.
Schmucker: Tell us a little about what your job was in the Air Force and where you were stationed.
Santaman: I was being trained for aircraft mechanic over two engines. In the Air Force there aren’t three engines. It’s either four engines or eight engines. I ended up being trained on B-52’s, which had eight engines. It took me a while to go through tech school because of all the backlog of people that they had going through tech school at this time.
I went to, actually it was in November when I went off to basic training, and I remember doing Thanksgiving. That was the first time I’d really been away from home at Thanksgiving and I remember having Thanksgiving dinner at basic training. Then, it was about the middle of December when they transferred me to Chanute Air Force Base. I got to spend Christmas there.
Both laugh.
My folks came down to see me. And, it wasn’t until, oh gosh, maybe the first of March is when I finally got to go to school. In between time, they was having us do all kinds of military stuff and everything: KP duty and all that fun stuff.
Tech school lasted about six weeks, if I remember correctly. After that, I was stationed at Clinton-Sherman Air Force Base, which is out in Western Oklahoma. That was a heavy bomber base, they call it. It was the 70th wing and it was part of the Eighth Air Force at that time. The base had B-52’s and KC-135’s, which was the refueling aircraft that they used to refuel the bombers after they were once in the air.
I spent all my time at Clinton-Sherman Air Force Base, with the exception of six months. The Wing received orders to go to Okinawa, Kadena Air Force Base in Okinawa. They sent the whole wing TDY, which was, I called it, temporary duty. We were sent over there for six months in support of the war in Vietnam. Our plane that we were assigned to, I was on a maintenance crew of five and we had a plane assigned to us. Our plane flew a mission every day we was over there, the whole six months, during typhoons and everything else. It never did miss a beat; our plane was flying a mission over Vietnam every day. Yeah.
Our planes were always loaded with munitions. The planes carried 500 pound bombs in the bomb bay at the main section of the aircraft. And, then, under the wings, they had bomb racks. Sometimes they carried 500 bombs under the wings. Most of the time it was 250 pound bombs. They loaded two semi-loads of bombs in the bomb bay and underneath the wings. I think there was one semi-load of 250 pound bombs. My memory is a little fuzzy.
Schmucker: There were a lot of bombs.
Santaman: Yeah, there were a lot of bombs and the plane always came back empty. If there was a bomb left on the plane, it was because of a malfunction.
Schmucker: Tell us a little about life that six months.
Santaman: Okay.
Schmucker: And, what was your day like?
Santaman: Well, the day was broken up. You didn’t have an eight-to-six job or anything like that because our assignment was we had: Preflight the aircraft, we had to launch the aircraft. The aircraft would be in the air; it depends on where the mission was at; but, most of the time, the flights were nine to twelve hours long. The longer flights were over North Vietnam. We knew that’s where the plane was going because of the amount of time it was in the air. Shorter times was probably on the Demilitarized Zone. I never did fly with the aircraft. Some of the maintenance personnel, they did have clearance to go with the aircraft. I never did volunteer for that. That wasn’t my thing.
Schmucker: Uh-huh.
Santaman: Some of them did it because they got extra pay because then they were over a combat zone, so then you got combat pay.
Schmucker: Okay.
Santaman We were not officially in a combat zone on Okinawa. So, anyhow, I stayed on the ground.
Both laugh.
Schmucker: I don’t blame you. (laughing) If you think of something else about this later, you can add it. Maybe tell us something about when you completed your assignment with the Air Force. I mean, how did you feel when you came home? What was the response? That kind of thing?
Santaman: That’s a tough one. I came home in ’69. I got out a few months early. When I had originally signed up with the Air Force, it was four years of active duty and then you had two years of reserve duty, inactive reserve duty. So, what they did was, in March of ’69, I was offered the opportunity to re-enlist or they would give me an early out. I took the early out with the understanding I’d still have to complete my time in the inactive reserves.
So, anyhow, I came home and helped Dad farm, and I decided that wasn’t going to be for me. I did have the GI Bill available to me so I started off to school. I went to three different colleges. I started out at Miltonvale Wesleyan College. I went there a semester until they closed the school down. Then, I transferred to Kansas State College, which is in Emporia. I went there about a year and a half. During this time, I got married. My wife got a job at Shawnee Heights School District east of Topeka. So, we moved to Topeka
and I finished my schooling there at Washburn. I graduated with a business degree with a major in accounting. From there, I worked at farmer coops: worked in Southeast Kansas, came to Central Kansas, worked there a while. Then I worked out in Western Kansas for about 25 years. Went out there as a controller for a company, and ended up as general manager for the last six years I was there.
You know the time I came back home, in ’69, that’s when a lot of protests were going on about the war and everything, and I never will forget this. I went to church one Sunday morning and the minister that we had at this church, he had been in the Army as a chaplain. He said, I’ve been asked to red this letter from the church. He says, I’m not stating an opinion on it, but I’ve been asked to read it, and, he said, That’s what I’m going to do.
What it was, was a letter denouncing the war. The church was saying it was wrong; it wasn’t human. I don’t remember all the details about it, but I do remember after the church service, there were several people in the congregation that were upset with the letter because of the statement that the church took at this time. Of course, that’s when we had a lot of demonstrations on college campuses and everything. Some of the fellows that came back, they were called all sorts of derogatory remarks. I never did have that happen to me. But, anyhow, I tried to associate myself that I wasn’t a member of the military or anything at this time when I came back.
Schmucker: Going back to that letter, was it a letter from just someone from your church, it was it an overall…?
Santaman: It was a letter that the denomination had crafted, and they was asking all churches in the denomination to read that letter that Sunday morning in worship service.
Schmucker: Which denomination was it?
Santaman: It was the Presbyterian Church. Yeah, it was the United Presbyterian Church in the USA at this time.
Schmucker: I guess I should have asked you what was your rank.
Santaman: I was an enlisted..., I went in as an Airman, Basic and I got out. During the time I was in they changed the rank of enlisted…because when I got out, I was an E-4, which was a sergeant. When I went in an E-4 was an Airman, First Class, but they changed rank while I was in. I think part of the reason they did that was they had a lack on noncommissioned officers because there were certain jobs in the Air Force that required rank of sergeant and crew chief on an aircraft you had to be an NCO, They wanted NCO’s as…, but the problems that they had was they had such a shortage of personnel at this time. They changed ranks so they could fill that.
Schmucker; Made it work?
Santaman: Yeah. Pencil-whipped it, is what they did.
Both laughing
As far as pay or anything like that, it was still the same, even though you received the title of sergeant. When I got out, I was an E-4, a sergeant.
Smucker: You said you sort of distanced yourself when you got out, right after you got out, but I know now you’re involved very much with the veterans. Could you tell us a little about how that came about?
Santaman: My dad was a member of the American Legion. Of course, he was in World War II. So, that was a different type of situation, World War II. He was a member of the American Legion. After I came home and I was helping farm, one day he brought me a piece of paper and he stuck it underneath me nose and he says, Here, sign it.
And I says, What am I signing? And he says, Why, it’s your membership in the American Legion. And I said I didn’t want to join any veterans group or anything like that.
He said I’ll tell you one thing: If you every get any benefits, it’s because the American Legion was there fighting for you. So, I went ahead and I signed it. Parental influence, sign it or else.
Both laughing
And, so, anyhow, I signed it and I’ve probably been a member twenty-some years. And, when I went out to Western Kansas, I never was active in the Legion. I paid my dues every year, though. When I went out to Western Kansas, they had an American Legion post there in Sublette where I was living. One day a young man came up to me and he said, We need help with our color guard. You were in the military, weren’t you?
I said, Yes. Well, he said, We need help with our funeral detail. We have our firing squad and our color guard. I said, You don’t understand. When I was in the military, all I did was carry a tool box. I didn’t carry a gun.
Both laughing
And, he says, That don’t make any difference. We’ll have a place for you. Later, I found out he was in the Air Force. He was in the active Air Force Reserves and he was an E-7. I started helping them out with funeral details and it was amazing to me the response we got from family members of a deceased veteran. They were very appreciative of our graveside service that we did, and so forth.
He came to me one day and said, I need an adjutant for the post. I said, Well, what does it all include? He said not that much. You just got to take care of the memberships. At this post, it also meant that you were the finance man. I said I guess I could do that. So, he got me started with the American Legion.
Then, I went to a district meeting several years later. The next thing I know, I’m a district commander.
Both laughing
Because we’d go to district meetings, district conventions, and shoot there was only a dozen of us out of the whole district who would show up. This one convention, they looked around at everybody and we was having election of officers. At this time, I’d already accepted being finance officer for the district. They looked at me and said, Well, you haven’t been commander yet. I said, You don’t understand, I’m still working fulltime. I was working for a farmers coop. That was almost six days a week, ten hours a day. I said, I just don’t have the time. Well, we’ll help you out. Famous last words, yeah. So, anyhow, that’s how I got really started in the Legion. I had a friend and he was real active in the Legion. He was District Commander before me. He says, You really ought to think about moving up, moving up in the ladder of the Legion. From district you go up through department level, which is state level. You start out as Master of Arms. You move up to Vice-Commander and you’re commander for the state.
You know, one of the things I learned, and this is when I was Vice-Commander, there were a lot of veterans out there, especially Vietnam vets, because they got treated very badly by some of the American Legion posts because of the conflicts there were with various opinions of the war during this time and they weren’t welcome in the American Legion posts. A lot of them had physical issues that I was aware of. They really needed help.
I never will forget one situation. I was out doing membership revitalization. It was down in Harper County. What we were doing was calling on former members of the Legion that had not renewed. I had this name on the list. He had been in the Air Force at the same time I was, was about the same age as me, and he hadn’t renewed his dues.
We went to go visit him, me and another Legion man. It was out in the country. When we drove up to the house, you could tell they probably didn’t have a whole lot. They had a beat-up van they used for a vehicle. The house did not look like a whole lot. So, went up to the door, knocked, and a lady came to the door and I asked her did so and so live here. Yes, that’s my husband. He’s not in too good a shape. And, I said, Oh, really. Yeah, she said, he suffered a major stroke about two months ago. He’ll still trying to recover from that. I said, Do you mind if I come in and visit with him? No.
And so, I went in and I talked to him for a while, found out that he was in aircraft maintenance. The only thing was he was in fighters, so he was actually stationed in Vietnam. And I said to him, I says, Have you been to the VA? His response was, What do I want to go to the VA for? And, I says, You’ve never been to the VA? Nope, never have been. I said, You ought to go because you’d qualify for help. If nothing else, you’d qualify for some doctor care and other things if you’re on medications, which he was, why he would probably qualify for that. An, I said, Are you getting any kind of disability pay or anything from the VA? Of course he hadn’t applied for anything with the VA. No. He wasn’t getting nothing. They just volunteered they were basically living on Social Security was all they was living on.
Anyhow, I told he, You need to go to Wichita. You see a gentleman there. I gave him the service officer’s name. I said, You go to the American Legion’s office there and they will be able to help you, I think, quite a bit. I knew the service officer in Wichita and several
weeks later, I asked him if this fellow had been in. Yeah, he’d been in. He says, we were able to help him quite a bit. That’s how come I’m still active in the American Legion is because of the veterans who are out there that don’t know that they can get help.
You know, I’ve been to the VA. I can’t get help.
Both laughing
Because they have an income level and I’m above that level. I asked the lady Okay tell me what the level is. It’s about $30,000 per year, which is not a whole lot. If you’re under that or if you’ve been fulltime in the military and you’re retired from the military, why then you can receive benefits and it don’t matter about your income level then.
Yeah, so I don’t qualify for…Now, I say that. It’s on the medical side. I’ve received help with my house mortgage. As far as any direct benefits out of the hospital, medical or anything like that, I haven’t received anything.
Schmucker: Was it a good experience for you?
Santaman: As I look back on it now, it was. They took a boy off a Kansas farm that didn’t have much knowledge of what the world was like. You go to a foreign country, like Okinawa, and you see what the indigenous people there live like. Jeez, my dad’s cow barn was in better shape than some of the shacks that some of those people was living in. It’s a sad situation. It really is. Of course the military was real heavy on the island of Okinawa because there was two air bases. There was like two army forts, two navy bases. I think there was even a marine base. The whole island was US military, you might say. Of course, people was up in protest from us being there. You could see them outside the gate. They were protesting us being there. And, I’m thinking, Okay, guys, if it wasn’t for the military, you probably wouldn’t have any economic…
Schmucker: Well, jobs…
Santaman: Yeah, in the barracks, there was a young man who came around and he wanted to make our bed for us, shine our shoes, and this type of stuff. You know, and it was peanuts, oh, I don’t know ten dollars a month. Took my clothes to the laundry. They had laundry there that was very reasonable. You’d take your fatigues down there to get them washed and pressed. No, I really felt for the people. If it wasn’t for the military, they wouldn’t have nothing. I understand the reason why they was protesting, too. It was a Catch-22 you might say.
Schmucker: Yeah, it is.
Santaman: Yeah. Anything else?
Veteran: Probably one of the saddest things about the Air Force is the Marines have a reunion process; the Navy has a reunion process. I don’t know about the Army, but the Air Force doesn’t.
And, two years ago…I think it was two years. Or three years ago…I had a roommate that I stayed with, or that we bunked together at Clinton Sherman Air Force Base, and, anyhow, I never did know what happened to him.
So, after I got hooked up with the internet and everything, I typed in his name, and the town I thought he was from…He was from Ohio. It brought up a name just like his and had a phone number. So I called him up and I said. William Gifford was his name.
I said, Is this Bill?
Well, yeah, he said.
Did you serve in the Air Force between ’66 to ’69, somewhere in there?
Yeah, sure did.
Well, were you stationed at Clinton Sherman Air Force Base?
Interviewer: Laughing.
Veteran: Yes, Yes, I was. (William Gifford replied)
And I says, Was I your roommate?
Interviewer and Veteran laughing.
Veteran: Yeah, and he was. So, when Janelle and I went back to national convention, I think that was in Cincinnati, why we stopped to see Bill and his wife. Of course, I did not know his wife because he got married after he got out of the Air Force. Anyhow, why we had a good reunion and so forth. That was one of them I got to meet that I served with in the Air Force.
Just this year, I was at Manhattan at Boys State, the graduation ceremony that they have. They have department officers and district officers sit up at the front. Then, there was a time during the graduation ceremony they introduced us all. So, the graduation ceremony goes on and its done and Janelle and I were walking back to the car that’s in the parking lot.
This fellow comes up to me and he says, looks at me and says, Do you remember me?
Interviewer and Veteran laughing.
Veteran: I says, Yeah, well, you kinda look familiar. Well, he says, My name is David Walker.
I said, My god. He said, When they introduced you, I remembered you.
We served in the Air Force together.
One of the things I left out is that we were on alert duty. Every now and then we had to pull alert duty and that was with the E-craft (inaudible) because we had six planes there that was loaded with nuclear weapons. We was in a secured area. We had guards guarding this whole area. We had to go through a special barracks for this week and spend a week in the barracks on this duty, 24/7. So, anyhow, that was part of the duty, too.
Interviewer: Thank you very much.
Veteran: Well, I bent your ear enough.
Interviewer and Veteran laughing.
Interviewer: No, that’s okay.
Veteran: Okay.

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