PITTSBURG — “SSgt Clarence stokes [drove] the ammunition truck out to the end of the runway, under fire, a tire shot out, so he stops and he fixes it, and then continues his mission.”
This quote is one from several stories from United States veterans who were in the Vietnam War. These experiences were noted, collected and then shared with the 50th Commemoration of the Vietnam War program to be then used in educational posters in classrooms across the U.S.
From stories, and just being there, Pittsburg resident Richard “Rick” Fulton was adamant that the story of the Air Force Security Forces — military police and security — during the Vietnam War be told. Fulton, who was in the U.S. Air Force during the war, said he knew he needed to share their stories.
The U.S. Congress had funded a program, managed by the Department of Defense, for the 50th commemoration of the Vietnam War, to commemorate the service and sacrifice of Vietnam War veterans and their families.
In charge was U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Claude M. Kicklighter, who also happened to know Fulton from their time in Korea. Fulton sent his congratulations to Kicklighter in a short note, in which he shared that Kicklighter’s late friend USAF Gen. Louis Menetrey, would be proud of him.
A couple of weeks go by and the phone rings.
It’s Kicklighter and according to Fulton, he asked Fulton to become one of the first commemoration volunteers. At that time, he was just organizing the program.
In 2012, because of his involvement, Fulton was invited to the Vietnam War Commemoration National Announcement and Proclamation Ceremony at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Washington, D.C.
The conversation about commemorating soldiers from the Vietnam War didn’t end there. The project continued, and continues, to make an effort to share the stories of these soldiers.
“Kicklighter, looks at everybody and says, pick a subject you are interested in and develop it,” Fulton said. “That was the marching order.”
“I thought long and hard for about half a second and decided that Air Base defense was going to be the subject I was interested in.”
He wanted to make sure enlisted Air Force, especially the cops or security, were remembered in this commemoration because they protected the air bases, Fulton said. He spoke to a lot of people, Vietnam Security Police Association, Air Force Security Forces Association, people currently serving as security police and various veterans groups to collect information to send to the program.
“Sometimes it was men on the street,” Fulton said. “One I time ran into a man at Sam’s Club wearing a 7th Air Force hat.
“I’d start talking to them, where were you at during the Tet Offensive and he would tell me this story.”
After a while, Fulton distances himself from the program because he lives in Pittsburg and away was away from the group. However, he continued to do research from afar and sends in information he collected to the program.
Fulton was unsure if this information was ever going to be used, he said, but to his surprise he received an email, “I sort of lost hope, then early in June, email from the colonel in charge of history and legacy and he said ‘Rick we got the poster’.”
Fulton on the Air Force Security Forces
Fulton started his career in the military as a sentry dog handler with the 7272nd Air Police Squadron at Wheelus Air Base, Tripoli, Libya between 1962 and 1964. He became a sentry dog handler with the 97th Combat Defense Force in Blytheville, Arkansas when he reenlisted because of the Vietnam War.
Now reenlisted as a journalist he was at first in Korea and then assigned as a member of the 7th Air Force Directorate of Information Combat News Branch, based at Tan Son Nhut, Vietnam until 1969.
Stationed at Tan Son Nhut, he covered Air Force support from the perspective of ground forces and did combat missions on various types of aircraft all over Vietnam.
Vietnam was divided into four tactical zones and each zone had an air base, some had several air bases. Within each of these bases were what resembled mini towns — there were truck drivers, chaplains, bakers, typists and so on.
“Then you had to have this protected, which means you had to have law enforcement inside,” Fulton said, “but you also had to have security all the way around.”
They had a parameter to defend, Fulton said.
“I found myself writing a lot of stories about who these security police were, what they were doing, how they trained, what their job was, what the challenges were,” he said. “They had some pretty major challenges, they had the battalions and regiments to attack the airbase, sometimes the enemy would be out here in the brush and they would shoot rockets or mortars.”
One of the big problems in Tet were snipers, Fulton said.
“When the Tet Offensive happens and you had major attacks coming in all away around had snipers out here shooting the place up — it was a real attention getter,” he said.
Fulton’s job was to run the phone network inside the camp structures where he sought shelter under a desk and to call the colonel to tell him what’s going on, he said.
“Then he would have me call command posts and gather information and try to find people,” he said.
Going on outside the building, however, was a different scene. Soldiers were in gun fights to protect the base.
This memory serves as motivation for Fulton to make sure the soldiers who protected the bases during the Vietnam War were remembered, including two of his friends Rick Ramsey and John Kopfer, both listed on Panel 40-E at the Vietnam Wall.
The posters, entitled Air Base Defense in the Vietnam War, can be found online at www.vietnamwar50th.com. It was created with the help of several volunteers like Fulton.
“I think it’s an honest poster, they had this PhD guy who looked at all of the notes [from the volunteers] and pulled it all together and he told this story and I think he told it well,” Fulton said.
Fulton said he was surprised to see his name mentioned, and would have declined because “the names that should be on it, should be security police.”
“These were brave and competent people and I’m pleased I was one of them for a time before Vietnam, but the people who actually served in Vietnam, had the stress of actual war I never had that, and they protected the rest of us,” he said.
Mark Franklin, branch chief of History and Legacy Branch of the Vietnam Commemoration, applauded Fulton’s efforts in sharing his research with the program.
“I’m sure he was humble about his contribution, but Rick didn’t give up … and it’s a good thing he did,” Franklin said. “He was a major contributor as far as I'm concerned and he’s a great advocate for us in your community.”
According to Franklin, the Vietnam War was controversial, and many veterans faced adversity because of that and were not recognized for their service.
In addition to the Vietnam War Commemoration National Announcement and Proclamation Ceremony and the Vietnam War posters, to make sure all veterans, POWS and families are recognized a community partner program was created to reach all 50 states and territories, Franklin said. This will run approximately until Veteran’s Day 2025. Local partners include: Labette Community College, Pittsburg State University ROTC Department, PSU at large, and Walmart (nationwide)
People can learn more about the community program by contacting the U.S. Vietnam War Commemoration. Educators who are interested in receiving commemoration posters can also contact the commemoration program through its website at www.vietnamwar50th.com
Fulton, who will soon be going to a reunion with people he had served with in Libya, said he hopes to donate his poster to the Air Force Academy.
“It’s our desire — our group at large — to present this to the cadets,” he said, “and what I’m pushing for is it goes to the library out there, I think that will be the ideal place for it.”