JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas –
Forty-two years ago this week, a special event marked the end of an era for a unit with ties to the 12th Flying Training Wing at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph.
On Nov. 17, 1971, the 12th Tactical Fighter Wing, which engaged in air-to-air missions and attacked ground targets during the Vietnam War, was inactivated at Phu Cat Air Base, South Vietnam, at a time when the United States was reducing its role in the war. The base was turned over to the South Vietnamese Air Force.
Retired Col. William Wojciechowski, who was serving as commander of the 12th TFW's 12th Headquarters Squadron, was on hand for the inactivation ceremony.
"Because of a torrential rainstorm, the ceremony was moved into one of the hangars," he said. "To the best of my recollection, there were representatives of the South Vietnamese government and the office of the U.S. ambassador to South Vietnam, a Vietnamese general officer and members of his staff, the 7th Air Force commander and members of his staff, the 12th TFW commander and staff members, and a representative from the office of the Secretary of the Air Force. There were a lot of brass floating around."
Wojciechowski, who followed 28 years in the Air Force with a 24-year career as president of Pratt Community College in Pratt, Kan., said he stayed briefly at Phu Cat AB as one of the advisers to the South Vietnamese Air Force following the ceremony, then became executive officer to the 7th Air Force inspector general at Tan Son Nhut Air Base outside of Saigon. He was later assigned to Randolph Air Force Base, playing an important role in the formation of the Community College of the Air Force.
Wojciechowski recalled his stay at Phu Cat AB as "exciting times." Forty miles inland from the South China Sea, it was home to numerous aircraft, including the 12th TFW's F-4C Phantom IIs, and was the base of operations for air-to-air missions, bombing and strafing missions, searches and rescues and other missions.
Three years after it was activated at MacDill AFB, Fla., in 1962, the 12th TFW began its first deployment to South Vietnam at Cam Ranh Bay AB, which was located on the South China Sea southeast of Phu Cat AB.
Retired Maj. Ron Matsuda, who lives in California, flew combat missions for the 12th TFW in the backseat of an F-4 from November 1966 to September 1967.
"The 12th TFW supported the war effort by providing close air support to our allied troops in South Vietnam, interdiction missions along the Ho Chi Minh Trail in South Vietnam, Laos and the southern part of North Vietnam, air-to-air escort missions to prevent enemy aircraft from attacking our radar and communications aircraft over the Gulf of Tonkin, and escorting EB-66s as they jammed the radars of North Vietnam's surface-to-air missiles," he said.
Wojciechowski and Matsuda now belong to the 12th TFW Association, a group of former Air Force officers, enlisted personnel and civilians bound by their common experience during the Vietnam War. Wojciechowski said he has been asked to chronicle his recollections of his time with the 12th TFW at Phu Cat AB for the association's next reunion, April 23-26, in Pensacola, Fla.
The unit traces its roots back to November 1950, when the 12th Fighter-Escort Wing was activated at Turner AFB, Ga. Over the years, it was redesignated as the 12th Strategic Fighter Wing, 12th Fighter-Day Wing, 12th TFW and 12th FTW, which was activated in May 1972 at Randolph.
Everett J. Sherwood, a former F-4C maintenance crew chief for the 12th TFW at Cam Ranh Bay AB who now handles member communications for the association, said the reunions "create new friendships by meeting others who served with the wing, but in differing capacities.
"Belonging to the 12th TFW Association allows me to meet many others who served or supported the wing over the years and at various bases," he said. "I have learned that military veterans speak a different language and have a strong bond to those that also served. If the unit they served in was the same, then the bond is even stronger."
Wojciechowski said he looks forward to the association's reunions.
"They're a great bunch of guys," he said. "The reunions are always fun. There are a lot of stories and some keep getting bigger and bigger."