Tom Duryea served in the USAF during the Vietnam War from July 1967 to August of 1968, based at Udorn RTAFB and Takhli RTAFB in Thailand, with numerous “TDY” missions into Vietnam.
Note: Tom has been a resident of the Veterans Nursing Home in Sandusky, Ohio since 2013. In 2003 Tom began experiencing severe headaches and mood changes. An MRI revealed a tumor on his brain that was untreatable. (This kind of tumor is often found in veterans exposed to Agent Orange yet not yet recognized by the VA in Tom’s case because he was only officially in Vietnam on TDY status.) Since 2003 Tom has developed a fairly severe case of dementia resulting in his only being able to recall small snippets of his past. As I sat with him, his face would brighten, his eyes would sparkle for short periods of time, as he recalled his favorite cars to work on, friends from Vietnam and his family, before fading away again. His dear wife Ruth serves as his voice at times, relying on memories collected throughout their fifty years of marriage.
Tom Duryea was born in December of 1945 to Barney and Lois Duryea from Findlay, Ohio. Tom has two siblings, Sister Neen, and brother Dave. As a young man Tom developed a love and skill for working on car engines. He was a “Dodge” man, stating his fondness for the Charger and Challenger models.
Tom graduated from Findlay High School in 1964. He chose to enlist in the US Air Force arriving at Lackland AFB for basic training in January of 1965. (He entered as part of the “buddy system”, along with friends Earl Waller and Dave Shimp. They stayed together only through basic training.) Tom trained as an aircraft mechanic, largely because of his skills developed by working on automobiles growing up. He worked on the Douglas B-66 Destroyer, the Convair F-102 Delta Dagger and the McDonnell F-101 Voodoo aircraft while in the Air Force.
While training on F-102’s in Texas, Tom became close friends with Jim Miller, from New Jersey. They would stay together until they were both discharged in 1968. “We always looked out for each other.” They received orders to Udorn in July of 1967, where they both became crew chiefs for F-101’s. In October of 1967 they were transferred to Takhli. Tom switched aircraft, quickly becoming a crew chief on B-66 bombers that were attached to the 42nd TEWS, (Technical Electrical War Squadron).
Tom recalls how the “stench was unbearable, and the temperatures were horrendous. None of the water was drinkable. We were never in dry uniforms as it was either raining or so humid, we were soaked in sweat within minutes.”
Tom was often sent to Vietnam "TDY" to repair damaged aircraft enough for them to be able to fly back to bases in Thailand.
“I remember on one such mission my buddy and I were told to grab the toolbox and run like “h***” to seek cover behind a block building while Special Forces provided cover fire for us. We were able to complete repairs on the B-66. We flew out on a C-130. I can still hear the bullets flying past our heads and pinging off the steel-plated runway. I couldn’t imagine how guys could deal with that every day!”
After finishing their tour in Vietnam, Tom and Jim were assigned to Dover AFB in Delaware, where they finished out their time, both being honorably discharged in August of 1968. (Jim passed away in 2013.)
While in high school Tom had met Ruth, a funny and very cute young lady, who attended the neighboring high school of Liberty Benton. They began to date and became very close prior to his enlisting. Tom came home for two weeks of leave prior to heading to Vietnam. When it was time to go Ruth insisted on driving Tom to the Toledo Airport, to see him off.
Ruth wrote to Tom everyday while he was in Vietnam. She did not have an APO mailing address for him at first, so her letters piled up. One day Tom reported to mail call where he was handed a box, with 40 days’ worth of letters inside! (This is a memory he recalls and again he smiled and the eyes sparkled!)
The couple would marry in June of 1969. They have two grown children, daughter Kim and son Brad. One of the family’s favorite traditions was to take a camping vacation as a family every year out West. As newlyweds they only had a pup tent to sleep in but over time, they upgraded to pop-up tents before finally purchasing a small motorhome.
Tom recalls, “I loved the West, the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone.” Ruth says the family has traveled to every part of the U.S. except the New England states
Shortly after leaving the military Tom was hired by Ford Motor Company to work at their Lima, Ohio engine facility where he would spend the next 31 years. He retired from FMC in 2000. After retirement Tom kept busy with his hobby of working on cars, trucks, “did I mention cars”, doing odd jobs and hanging out with family and friends.
Ruth got her first clear view of what bonds Vietnam vets had with each other when four couples met in Tennessee for a 25th year “reunion.” “For four days I watched the love they showed for each other. I finally understood what the term “brother” really meant.” The guys shared stories with each other that Tom had never mentioned to Ruth before. “Some stories were good, some bad, but that was how they got through it.”
Tom still has moments when he vividly remembers his dear lifelong Air Force friends, Gary Horton, Phil Mudge, Ed Hewell and his late friend, Jim Miller.
Thank you sir for your service to our country!!