Jack Joseph Christensen, Jr.

A2C Jack J. Christensen, Jr. Lackland AFB 1967 Air Force Basic Training, in his early twenties. Jack J. Christensen, Jr. recent photo 2004,age 61, at home in San Antonio, Texas

San Antonio, Texas

April 8, 2004

Janet C. Rodriguez

Palo Alto College

History 1302 - Spring 2004

 

INTRODUCTION

Jack Joseph Christensen, Jr. was born on March 17, 1943. He was born to Jack Joseph and Gladys Katherine Christensen in Stuttgart, Arkansas. He has one sister. He lived with his grandparents during the first two years of his life, while his father served in World War II. Jack J. Christensen, Sr. served in the Army Air Force, thus the family lived overseas in Germany and in numerous states in the U.S. Jack J. Christensen, Jr. enrolled into college at Louisiana Tech, but flunked out. He then attempted Alabama Christian College, but was kicked out for skipping religion class. He then became a tree surgeon for about a year. In his early 20s, he knew he would be drafted, so he volunteered to serve in the Air Force. He went to Vietnam in 1967. Prior to leaving, he married Maria Socorro Guadalupe Carrisalez. He reported that her letters would alert his unit that he was missing in action. He stated that he returned home in 1968 on Christmas Day. What were his feelings then, and what are his feelings now that he can look back on it? Jack Joseph Christensen, Jr. worked and retired from a civil service job with Kelly AFB. He and his wife had a daughter and son. He now has three granddaughters, and one grandson. He spends his time doing maintenance work on cars and refrigeration equipment, at his personal workshop in his backyard in San Antonio, Texas. He enjoys occasionally playing racquetball and likes to stay up late watching television. He remarked, ďI am retired and donít have to get up early in the mornings, if I donít want to.Ē Jack J. Christensen is my uncle via marrying my mother's oldest sister.
Jack J. Christensen's place of birth was Stuttgart, Arkansas.

Present location Jack J. Christensens' home in San Antonio, Texas.

TRANSCRIPTION

What did you know about the Vietnam War prior to going?
Not very much at that time. We just heard it on the news, that's about it. I didn't even know where it was.

Map of Vietnam in relation to distance from the Continental U.S.

What type of media was was available to report about the Vietnam War?
On the radio and the TV. Not a whole lot, just regular old war stuff I guess.

Why did you enlist in the Air Force?
I was going to be inducted so I went to all the different places and the Air Force had the better deal...so I joined the Air Force. [His dad was in the Air Force, but that did not influence his decision.]

How did your parents respond to your enlistment?
They didn't think much of it. They knew that I was being inducted so they knew I would be in one or the other.

What was Air Force Basic Training like for you?
Well at the time, I was a tree surgeon, I was in good shape. It was kind of easy, actually.

Airman being yelled at by drill instructor
Do you recall any racial tension between basic trainees?
Actually, no. We were all together in one barracks. We were in one flight. As a matter of fact, our flight leader, he was a black guy. I can't remember his name. I got a picture of him somewhere. I got the whole flight picture.

Did you feel properly trained to face the Vietnam War?
For the Air Force, I guess we were. We weren't in the combat that much. In the field I was in--ground radio/equipment repair. That is what it was supposed to be, when we got over there I ended up being a radio operator.

What fears did you have about what you would encounter in Vietnam?
I don't know, I was just going to take it as it came. I didn't know what was going on or anything really. I didn't know much about it.

How did you meet your "bride-to-be"?
I met "Mari" at Brooks, AFB, when I was stationed there. We dated and what not. I remember she was in the coffee shop. She worked there; she was a secretary at the time...I think. It was a bunch of us guys and those ladies were all around there...and we got to talking. I think we sat around and talked awhile. Some of the other guys were dating some of the other girls. They went somewhere to a party or something, so I just invited her and that's how we got started.

Maria and Joseph in her backyard in San Antonio, Texas in 1967 (Private collection of Christensen)

What concerns did your new bride have about you going to Vietnam?
She wasn't too happy and I wasn't too happy either. We had only been married a couple of months before I went over. We had known each other eight months. We didn't know we was going to get married cause she wanted to get married in the church and I wasn't a practicing Catholic. I was baptized a Catholic, so the preacher got on the phone and he must of spent fifty bucks on phone calls to get the birth certificate. Mari called me up one day and said "We're getting married tomorrow." So I borrowed a jacket and my friends had asked why I needed it. I told them cause I was getting married. They had asked where at and they showed up. I called my parents and told them "I married."

Jack J. Christensen received orders enroute to Vietnam through San Francisco in December of 1967 Personal letter to his parents on the backside of his orders that read:  Dear Mom & Dad...Thought I would send a picture of us.  We were in a Bridal Party. 'ugh' Also sent this copy of my orders so as to answers; some questions.  Well they got me on the promotion list for February.  The slobs!  Went for my M-16 training yesterday.  Missed getting expert by 2 hits.  'heck.'  Well! Guess we will see you all in Nov. so! Love Jack & Maria Jack J. Christensen sent this photo, of him and Mari in a friend's Bridal Shower,with the orders and letter to his parents (Private collection of Christensen)

Do you remember the last words you to spoke to one another as you departed from San Antonio,Texas?
We said our goodbyes and smooched a little bit. She stayed alone with her parents.

What was your first day like in Vietnam?
We got there and for a month we goofed around--not doing anything. We didn't do nothing there. It almost seemed like a regular old place. We didn't even have weapons then or nothing. Every now and again you'd hear something off in the distance. I'd get up and eat breakfast. I'd go see a movie and then eat lunch. Then mess around--walk around, and try to figure out what was going on. Then go to bed--get up the next day and do the same thing. We were actually pretty bored. One of my friends was very restless and wanted to go out on the field. The movies were indoor and outdoor; usually western or military.

What Airman Christensen saw in Vietnam. He was unsure of exact place and date. 
 Military and civilians coexisting 1967-68. He remembered that the soldiers were bathing in the river naked(Private collection of Christensen)

What was your military mission or job while in Vietnam?
I was a radio operator-- A forward air controller. The Army would call us and I would call up airplanes and different bombs. We had a "rash pilot" and bring him up--so he could tell us how many airplanes he wanted and what for. Then we would call back to wherever we could find them. Sometimes we got Naval, Vietnamese, or Austrialian--whoever was available would send out aircrafts. Then I would give them coordinates and tell them what frequency to use to get a hold of the rash pilot. I wouldn't hear anymore about it, until the rash pilot needed more airplanes. That's kind of how it worked. The radio was on the jeep. It was a single side band, AM, Foxmiche, VHF/UHF radio piled into the jeep.

Some of the cities J. Christensen would travel through would include Nha Trang, Quy Nho'n, and Da Nang in Vietnam 1967-68

Airman Christensen at Vietnam 1967-68, serving as forward air controller (Private collection of Christensen) Christensen had been tasked to guard connexes being loaded into aircraft traveling in and near De Nang,Vietnam 1968 (Private collection of Christensen)

What was morale like in your unit while in Vietnam?
It wasn't too bad, we wasn't get ganged up on. We had it made. There were four of us in our Squadron. A case of beer would be brought in for each Squadron, it worked out good for us. A few beers--we were alright.

How were your new bride's letters able to make your unit aware that you were missing?
I went to guard some connexes. I remember there was a bunch firing at to the gate. We were worried. That's the first time I heard shooting going on. We loaded the connexes into a LST. We went up the Da Nang river, I remember it was the Tet Offensive. We went out to sea and came back the next day. I was at a Navy base, I remember I didn't like the place. Then I went with the Marines with the connexes. Some M.P.'s came in and asked, "Are you Jack Christensen?" I said, "Yes." They said to get my stuff and come with them. I went on a caravan with them. The only reason they found me is because the letters were there and my friend asked if he could take them to me. The Colonel there asked, "Cristensen, who?" I was worried they thought I was A.W.O.L. The Colonel apologized when he saw me. I had two boxes of c-rations. I had plenty. One time a Navy guy took me to a Navy place to eat. The only trouble he remembers that the people there didn't like us using their showers. When we got there, they put us in a big old shed with a concrete floor. We relocated some cots. I didn't like it there. I wrote everything down in my book. I remember that I left Vietnam on Christmas day and got to the states on Christmas day because of the time zone change.

Military map overlay of movement during the Tet Offensive DeNang airfield and base looking across Cau Do River during Tet Offensive

Christensen documented his traveling, while in Vietnam, in this small spiral Christensen's personal writing in keeping track of his travels while in Vietnam

Can you recall what you felt your first day back to America?
It was late when I came. I came home commercial. Your grandpa, Mari--a carload came. Then we went to the house to celebrate Christmas. I came home dressed in "1505's"--Khaki's. I don't think they have them anymore.

What was it like trying to assimilate back into civilian life right after Vietnam?
It wasn't too hard. I went back to work at the same place. I was still in the Air Force and got out in April of 1969.

What was it like seeing your bride again?
That was nice, we had a good time for awhile. We tried to get our old apartment back, but we ended staying in a trailer--for two or three months. Then we bought this house. When I was over there (Vietnam), I didn't have anywhere to spend my money cause there was nowhere to go. So I put all my money in a 10 percent savings and that's how we had the equity on the house.

What are your feelings about Vietnam, now that you can look back years later? I guess it was a waste of time--effort. It looks to me like if you're going to have a war with somebody, you need to go for the headman--you can't play around on the borders. So if you're gonna have a war, have it. They (Vietnamese) have been in war for so many years--they just go out and try to make some money. They're just trying to make it. You don't have to have a lot to live. There were people that had houses built on the side of the docks. They lived pretty comfortable, some even had TV sets. They'd sell soda water and ice--some beer, when they could get it. They had girlfriends/boyfriends and went out. They tried to stay alive and stay away from places that were bad for them.

Joke book by Kevin Melvin Copyright October 1967. Jokes to be humored with about Vietnam.

Joke book by Ken Melvin Copyright October 1967. Jokes to be humored with about Vietnam.

Are there any similiarities between the War in Iraq (today) and Vietnam (then)?
Yeah, in a way. At least they went for the head on this one. To me they need to be smarter than them guys are and make some traps--they should get some magicians up in Las Vegas to figure out some tricks. They did that in War World II. In Vietnam, we could see some people walking around stuff, they knew where things were and who is who. They act like they saw nothing. I think it was General Patton that said something like--The object of war is to kill more people on their side than our side--something like that. Today I don't think they (U.S) are doing everything they can. About a year so far in war is not bad. Our president is trying to get a democratic deal going, but they are different over there.

Recent photo of my uncle Jack J. Christensen and me (Janet Rodriguez) at his home on April 8,2004 Recent photo of Mr. and Mrs. Christensen in their home in San Antonio, Texas April 8, 2004.

ANALYSIS

My uncle surprised me when he became a little camera shy during the interview. At family events, my uncle is usually the one chasing relatives with his video camera. I guess he prefers to be behind the camera rather than in front of it. He was nervous at the start of the interview, but soon forgot about the camera and was able to relax. I encouraged him to take his time and not worry too much about specific dates. I told him I was more concerned about him being able to speak his mind of his personal account. I knew that his experiences of war would be deeply stored away and the memories may not surface fully intact. I knew I would probably have to fit the pieces of the puzzle together. I tried to avoid being too formal when asking questions during the interview. After the interview, my uncle shared additional information about his Vietnam momentos. He found it easier to talk about some posters and joke books that he had saved from Vietnam. I am a Staff Sergeant in the U.S. Army and was glad that my uncle was willing to allow me into his military past. He was honest in telling me that he felt that he joined the right branch of service--"the Air Force" because the Army and Marines had it really bad during Vietnam. I have been fortunate not to have been sent overseas near the frontline on our present war in Iraq, but I realize that in the future I could be and my uncle's words will be my strength. I am grateful for all those men and women who have served and continue serve in the U.S. military. I personally prefer world peace, but wars have been going on throughout history. Wars are difficult to justify. I do believe in defending our Nation.

ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHY

Air Force Basic Training. http://www.lackland.af.mil/info/heritage.html. The site provides the history, heritage, and static aircraft display. I chose this so people could better understand Air Force training.

Brooks AFB. http://www.brooks.af.mil/history/index.html. The site provides a historical timeline, training, programs, and oral histories about the base. It enables you to hear President JFK dedicatory of the base in 1963.

Ford, Daniel. Copyright 1997-2003. media http://www.danford.net/media2.htm. Veterans' Pre-War Interpretations, Experiences in Vietnam versus Portrayal on TV, Overall View of Television Coverage, Posted June 2003.

Johnston, Wayne R. Copyright 2002. The Tet Offensive. http://members.aol.com/foto16inf/Tet68.html. This site offers maps, photos, and background Information. It gives an account of how the 1968 TET Offensive begins, the 1st Battalion 6th Infantry, the 198th Light Infantry Brigade, Americal Division moves north, the Battle for Lo Giang and CAP Echo 4 and concludes with aftermath.

Kelly AFB. http://www.kellyforever.org/index.php3. The Kelly Field Heritage Foundation sponsors this web site, as a tool for those who wish to keep in touch with the Kelly family. The employees of the base were a family. At the "Kelly Forever" closing dinner, many people expressed the desire to keep in touch with one another. This site also gives a history about Kelly AFB.

Kimbrough, Kenneth L. Copyright, 1997-2004. A forward air controller. http://squawk-flash.org/505th_tcms/505th_tcms.htm. The site gives a brief account of the 505th Tactical Control Maintenance Squadron and its mission. Later on, around January 1967, personnel were attached directly to the Tactical Air Support Squadron's in their respective areas of operation.

Look back years later. http://www.vva.org/about_the_war.htm. This site gives elaborate information about the Vietnam War via the VVA's (Vietnam Veterans of America) Electronic Library with resources from assorted web sites. The diverse collection of links are provided as a courtesy. The contents of these web sites may not reflect the views of Vietnam Veterans of America. For use as additional information, review, and research.

Lyon, Rob. War in Iraq.. http://www.ntimc.org/newswire.php?story_id=596. The online article "This is George W. Bush's Vietnam" Socialist Appeal Wednesday, Apr 7 2004, 11:16pm. This article depicts the War in Iraq as President Bush being the problem, not the solution. It claims that Iraq is George Bush's Vietnam, and that the country needs a new President. It is impossible for all Americans to support the war in Iraq. This is depicts an opinion and you don't have to agree with it.

Powell, Wilson. San Antonio. http://www.lone-star.net/mall/txtrails/santonio.htm. This site describes how San Antonio came to be and what can be done to enjoy the city today.

Schroeder, Jay. Encounter in Vietnam. http://www.ehistory.com/Vietnam/. The site has histories about America's wars and you can select Vietnam. You can explore the Vietnam section and expand your understanding of the war. The Vietnam War section concentrates on the time period from 1960 to 1975, you will find material on the French involvement as well as the events after the fall of Saigon. This site has links to articles, books, essays/papers, oral histories, glossary, images/maps, and videos.

Stuttgart, Arkansas. http://www.city-data.com/city/Stuttgart-Arkansas.html. A collection of analyzed data from numerous sources to create as complete and interesting profiles of thousands of U.S. cities. It thousands of pictures, maps, satellite photos, stats about residents (race, income, ancestries, education, employment...), geographical data, crime data, weather, hospitals, schools, libraries, airports, radio and TV stations, zip codes, area codes, user-submitted facts, similar cities list, comparisons to averages. This site is meant to help in researching any city for any reason, from considering a move there to just checking where somebody you know is staying.

Tree Surgeon. http://www.ctcare.freeserve.co.uk/. This site is about a tree surgeon company, named Crofton Tree Care, that offers a complete arboricultural service and descriptions of each.

Vietnam. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/vietnam/. Vietnam Online was developed to accompany Vietnam: A Television History, the award-winning television series produced by WGBH Boston. It covers a timeline and reflections of Vietnam.

Vietnam War Prior. http://www.terragalleria.com/vietnam/vietnam-map.html. This site has photographs and maps of Vietnamese people, Ho Chi Minh, the Delta, the Center, and the North. This is an excellent site for capturing the real lives of North and South Vietnamese.

 

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