Jerry Vance of Hilliard is a 75-year-old Vietnam War veteran who served two tours in Thailand as a U.S. Air Force pilot.

The first in 1968-69 was part of a 60-day temporary-duty assignment with the Young Tigers aerial refueling wing stationed in U-Tapao, about 87 miles southeast of Bangkok near the Gulf of Thailand.

As a Young Tiger, Vance flew Boeing KC-135 Stratotankers, which were responsible for refueling the U.S. military's tactical fighter aircraft in midair, usually after the fighter's aircraft strike on a target and en route back to the base.

"It was really a busy, rewarding job to give them what they needed to get their mission done," Vance said.

He said each aircraft has to be refueled at a different speed. For example, he said, a Republic F-105 Thunderchief supersonic fighter-bomber has to be refueled at a faster speed than a North American F-100 Super Sabre supersonic jet fighter.

"We were in orbit most of the time in Thailand just to keep our positions, and they would come and find us," Vance said.

The fighter always comes up from behind, he said. Even if a Boeing B-52 Stratofortress subsonic strategic bomber were approaching from the front, the B-52 would fly overhead and return to the rear of the KC-135 refueler, he said.

Vance also said it was never just one aircraft being fueled per flight.

"It was a minimum two, sometimes four, you're refueling," he said. "So they just took turns."

The biggest challenges -- or "most exciting times," as Vance describes it -- were in inclement-weather conditions.

Vance returned to the United States for a few years, learning how to fly Bell UH-1 Iroquois helicopters -- commonly known as Hueys -- while in Little Rock, Arkansas.

His second tour in Thailand was in 1973-74, this time in Nakhon Phanom, just west of the Makong River in eastern Thailand.

As part of the 21st Special Operations Squadron stationed at the Royal Thai Air Force Base, Vance was flying Sikorsky CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopters.

The transition from southern Thailand to the United States and back to eastern Thailand wasn't so difficult, he said.

"The big shock is switching over from a fixed-wing airplane to a rotary-wing airplane," he said.

The mission there, he said, was to take people and supplies into "places Nixon said we never flew."

"We would take anywhere from five to 50 people in the back of our helicopter; we would take them out in the middle of nowhere; we would put them on the ground," he said. "We'd leave them there one, two, three days, depending on what the mission was, and then we'd come back and pick them up -- always in a different spot."

After the war, Vance remained in the Air Force until 1987 and spent time at the Hickam Air Force Base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, helping to recover space capsules.

He later moved to the Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico, training pilots to fly Sikorsky HH-53 "Super Jolly Green Giant" helicopters.

Vance's decorations include the Meritorious Service Medal with three clusters, the Air Medal with Silver Oak Leaf Cluster, the Air Force Commendation Medal, the Air Force Achievement Medal, the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award, the National Defense Medal, the Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross with device and the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal.

Vance was born in Pensacola, Florida, and moved to Pickaway County, Ohio, when he was 4. He graduated from Darby Township High School (now Westfall) and attended Ohio State University and the University of Southern California, earning his bachelor's degree at Ohio State and master's degree at USC.

Vance joined Ohio State's ROTC pilot-training program.

He and his wife, Connie, have two sons, Jeff (Lora) and David (Rebekah); a grandson, Jarod; two granddaughters, Emily and Sara Rowe; and two great-granddaughters, Lilly and Delilah.

shummel@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekNews

Marching Orders playlist