Bill Swayney’s job was to keep Phantom fighter jets flying. He was a crew chief stationed at the Ubon base in Thailand. American Phantom jets were bombing North Vietnamese forces 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“It was a very long year for me,” said Swayney, a native of Asheville who now lives between Fuquay-Varina and Lillington. “I got married in December before I left to go overseas in January. It was tough leaving.
“And we rotated among three eight-hour shifts at the base. The first and second shifts were okay, but my body never got use to the third shift. My body knew I was supposed to be sleeping then.”
One of the most unusual repairs that he oversaw was when a cluster bomb, an antipersonnel bomb that was about the size of a baseball, failed to drop from the plane. The bomb detonated as the plane touched the runway.
“Our plane had little holes all over it,” he said. “We patched it up and it was full of two-inch patches.”
The worst accident at the base while he was there was when a pilot error resulted in a jet being 300 feet in the air and upside down soon as it was taking off. The pilot was disoriented and ejected directly into the runway.
“I didn’t witness it, but it was simply awful,” Swayney said.