By JOHN FERGUSON
Jim Bevel can recall the incident at Da Nang airbase over 50 years ago with sharp clarity as if it was yesterday.
Bevel was an Air Force mechanical tech that helped with the ejection seat mechanisms for B-52 bombers and F4 Phantom jets during the Vietnam War.
He was based just south of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) in Da Nang while serving in I-Corps.
If dodging the almost nightly 122mm rocket attacks weren’t enough, one F4 had landed and gone off the tarmac.
Two things made this incident worse. The jet was stuck in the mud and only the pilot had been able to get out while the co-pilot was still a prisoner of the plane that landed.
Bevel and others knew this was an emergency since the harness was tied into the ejection seat. No one wanted the ejection seat to work now since the F4 was already on the ground.
Everyone worked intently on the situation to free the co-pilot.
During the tedious work, Bevel looked down from his perch as the co-pilot was freed and saw two 500-pound bombs that had not been dropped during the mission.
The last thing anyone wanted was to ignite the bombs now.
“We had to be careful not to set off the ejector, too,” Bevel said recently during an interview at the Wagoner American Legion Post.
Of the rocket attacks, the enemy wasn’t as interested in hitting multiple aircraft, but hitting one already loaded with bombs that could explode and take out other jets, too.
Bevel worked on the F4s at Da Nang and the B-52s in Thailand where he spent a short time. The B-52s took off from Thailand and Guam to attack North Vietnam.
“The B-52s were the biggest thing I saw in my life,” Bevel said.
As Americans celebrate Veterans Day on Nov. 11, Bevel and his wife, Susan, recalled life in the military.
Bevel is District 2B commander for four counties and eight Legion posts. He is also Legion Post 153 Vice Commander. Susan is president of the Legion Post 153 Auxiliary.
Bevel spent 21 years and 5 months in the military. During that career, he and his wife made 16 moves in 21 years.
“Every 13 months,” Susan said.
Bevel joined the Air Force in January 1962. He was assigned to B-52 maintenance and later cross training into Egress Maintenance systems (ejecting seats), like what he worked on that fateful day in Da Nang.
The moves included stops at Lackland AFB in Texas, training in Amarillo, Eglin AFB in Florida, Grand Fork AFB in North Dakota, Barksdale AFB in Louisiana, that short stint in Thailand, four years in Germany and three years in Alaska.
His time in Vietnam was one tour from 1967-68. Bevel followed that with a stint at George AFB in the desert of Victorville, Calif.
Bevel retired on Sept. 3, 1983 as a senior master sergeant with numerous medals and decorations.
He’s been married to Susan for 51 years. The pair has two children (one of which was born in Germany) and a grandson.
Military life was tough on all families, especially those who relocated constantly.
Bevel is doing his best to help veterans through his work with the local Legion Post.
“We’re veterans helping veterans,” he said. “We’ll try and help them.”
Bevel is considered a 100 percent disabled veteran and survivor of prostate cancer.
“There were a lot more veterans that did a lot more than I did (during the Vietnam War),” he admitted.
But, Bevel does his best to honor and help those who have served in any way possible from his Wagoner home. A home in which he does not have to move from every 13 months or stand on two 500 pound bombs to help an airman stuck inside a F4.