Jerry Bucknall

Born:  New York, New York (Bronx) June 1944. 

I’m one of the war time babies.  Grew up on the east coast in New York and New Jersey.  The 50’s was a great time to come of age.  Great cars, great tunes and good pals to hang around with!  My teenage years were very adventurous.  The crew I hung around with was quite an eclectic bunch…one very good childhood friend even became a priest.  As the “East Coast” saying goes; you grew up to be either a gangster or a priest. 

In the summer of 62 I started to lean toward leaving and going into the service.  One evening I remember, while sitting in a Diner on route 23, we were talking about the “Cuban Crisis” and how that would be affecting those of us of draft age.  Of course we didn’t know that Vietnam was just around the corner. There were three of us who decided that the Air Force might be just the thing to do.  Not much thought went into this.  As it turned out only I was able to join, my two pals were considered unacceptable.  So……off I went into the Air Force.  My exploits were as follows:  

In December of 62 I started basic training at Lackland A.F.B. and finished up in January of 63.  I was immediately sent to Sheppard A.F.B. to Helicopter Maintenance school.  There ended up being six of us for “Chopper School”.  There didn’t seem to be much call for helicopter maintenance troops at that time but it was coming.  Most of the training was book work with some practical’s on the H-21 and even some airframe instruction on the C-124.  I never understood how that applied but we did it anyway.  

1963: I received my first assignment to Minot A.F.B.  This was to a Base Flight unit on a SAC base.  Base Fight has a very diverse mission, we had a T-29, a Blue Canoe, and some H-19’s.    I was assigned to the H-19 section and Missile Support was our mission.  Since the base was a SAC base all attention went to the Bombers and Tankers with a little emphasis on the ADC compliment of Fighters, 106’s I believe.  Lots of great experiences during my first assignment, I became a Crew Chief and eventually got the opportunity to get on flying status. Lots of cross-countries.   I became quite proficient with lots of stick time in the left seat.  I was part of the crew to pick up the first UH-1F from Fort Worth in 1965.  That began the transition from H-19’s to Hueys at Minot.

Note:  Time at Minot was defined as “Winters Spent” not years or months as with other assignments.  All was not lost though as I met my wife Janie there.  We married in 65 just as I was leaving for my first overseas assignment. We met in June on my 21st birthday and married in September.  The best summer ever up to that point in my life. We just celebrated our 41st Anniversary.  

1965-1967:  Naha A.B. Okinawa.  I was assigned to the H-43’s in the 33rd ARRS.  Their primary mission was the HU-16’s and we had the LBR responsibilities at Kadena A.B.  No stick time but my first taste of actual rescue work.  I made my first pick up just off of Kadena when a Thud (105) driver bailed out. 

1967-1968:  Eglin A.F.B. Florida. I was assigned to a rescue detachment of H-43’s there.  It looked like the H-43 was going to become my calling.  I became pretty proficient at maintaining these birds but never got to get any stick time.

1968-1969:  Nakhon Phanom R.T.A.F.B. (NKP) Thailand.  Just when I thought the H-43 would be my “cup of tea” I was assigned to the H-3’s in the 21st Helicopter Squadron.  As Col Welch said during my incoming briefing “This was a great place to fight the war from”.  Quite an adventurous year as “Door Gunner/Flight Engineer”. The H-3 was quite the “Work Horse” and I learned to respect it’s capabilities almost immediately.

1969-1971:  Mountain Home A.F.B. Idaho. Back to H-43’s and an LBR Detachment.  Here is where we developed the MAST program for the area . Military Assist in Safety and Traffic.  Lots of hunting and traffic accidents. We worked hand in hand with the locals.  I also went out on my first F-4 crash with several more to follow.  That was grim work as we usually did not have a survivor to pick up.  

1971-1973:  Kadena A.B. Okinawa. Originally I was to go to Kadena with an assignment to the H-43 LBR but after arriving I was assigned to the H-3 Flight Engineers.  I elected not to fly anymore and went to maintenance.  

1974:  Hill A.F.B. Utah.  The assignment was H-3’s in the 1550th.  Mostly I worked the night shift.  It seemed especially cold at 5000 feet.

1974-1975:  Nakhon Phanom R.T.A.F.B. (NKP) Thailand.  Back again to the 21st Helicopter Squadron.  I was the night shift supervisor with a great crew of maintenance people.  We watched as Saigon fell and were involved with closing not only NKP but just about every base from north to south.  I slept in revetments and empty barracks during our recurring moves to vacate bases and move the choppers out.  We never knew where we would be from day to day.  Interesting experience!

1975-1978:  McClellan A.F.B. Sacramento Ca.  One of the better assignments of my career.  I was originally assigned to the 11th CAMS but upon arrival I was sent to the 41st Wing (41 RWRW).  I took up the Helicopter Managers position in the Logistics Section (LGM).  My first time as an administrator and found that I was well suited for the task.  Primarily UH-1’s, H-43’s and H-3’s of which I had experience on all of these airframes.  

1978-1980:  Clark A.B. Philippines.   I went over to the PI with an assignment to the Rescue Detachment of H-3’s but was reassigned to the base Quality Control Unit as an inspector in TAC.  I also became a Customs Inspector during this short stay.  This assignment was interesting to say the least.  I stayed there for about 10 months when I was then reassigned to the Rescue Unit as the Maintenance Superintendent. 

1980-1984:  McClellan A.F.B. Sacramento Ca.  I returned to McClellan as the Wing Maintenance Superintendent for Logistics.  I finished up my career in the Air Force with this assignment.  

A life time of experiences consolidated in a 22 year run. The high point would be meeting my beautiful wife and having two great children.  We now have eight grandchildren and a great future ahead. 

It seemed the Air Force never wanted me to settle down in any one place for any length of time.  We were constantly on the go.  Even when assigned stateside I was always on a TDY for something.  I have had the opportunity to meet some really great and lasting friends during my career and would not have traded my experiences for any other.  I feel honored to have served with all the people I have met and for this great country of ours.  May God Continue To Bless America!

Janie and I stayed in California where we brought up the boys and sent them to college.  Both boys moved down to Southern California where they attended college at San Diego State University.  They both married California girls and started their families.  Both the boys are now self-employed as Web Designers.  James, our oldest, remains in Southern California living in Brea (Orange County).  Joseph, our youngest, has moved to Colorado and currently is a partner in a firm called V-Moda.  Both boys are doing very well.  Janie and I have retired and soon will relocate to Colorado to enjoy the fruits of our past labors.  Life is good and we plan on enjoying all that is available to us!

Integrity, Honor, and Respect
Some of the best things cannot be bought, they must be earned

©2023 USAF Rotorheads   All Rights Reserved   |   Financial Statement