OKEECHOBEE — Vietnam veteran Mike Spaulding was born and raised in Battle Creek, Mich. He graduated from high school in 1966, and then went to school in Indianapolis for tool and dye machine design and graduated in 1968. He knew there was a possibility he could be drafted any day so he took his tests and physical for the Air Force just in case, but then went ahead and got a job in Akron, Ohio working for Babcock and Wilcox as a draftsman. Two months later, his dad called to tell him he had a notice in the mail saying he needed to report. He gave two-weeks notice, packed up and went home to face the music.
When he went to the Air Force recruiter, they only had one spot available. He was very happy about that because otherwise, they would have put him in the Army, he said. They sent him to Texas for basic training, and because he was overweight, about 225 pounds back then, he said, he had to spend about two extra weeks in basic training to work off the extra weight. By the time he left, he was down to around 170 pounds, and none of his clothes fit him anymore, but no one could call him overweight, he said.
His next stop was Lowry Air Force Base for Tech School, where he worked on fighter aircrafts like the F100 and 105 and the new 111. He ended up spending an extra three weeks there because they lost his secret clearance, and he needed that.
Next, they sent him to North Dakota to a SAC base where he loaded nukes onto B52s for about 11 months, he said, and then orders were cut for him to go to Thailand. Before he left, he was allowed a 30-day leave to go home to see his family.
In May of ’69, he arrived in Thailand, and the schedule was tough. They worked six days a week, 12 hours a day, and they rotated 30 days on days and then 30 days on nights, which just about killed his skin, he said. He is very light-skinned, and just when he would finally stop burning and get a little tan going, they would rotate him to night shift. It was so hot that they couldn’t keep their shirts on. “That sun was a killer,” he said.
Over there, they didn’t mess with nukes, he said. They loaded conventional weapons on the planes. They had about 15 to 20 B52s there along with the smaller supporting aircraft. When they were needed, his team would load the bombs on the planes so they could be flown to Cambodia or Vietnam, maybe Laos. He can’t remember for sure.
Working with bombs was something that made them very careful, he explained. You had to use common sense and caution, which is not easy when most of the people doing the work are just kids, he said. They didn’t have many accidents though. He does remember one time when one of the bombs fell off a cart and it sheared the nose right off, he said. Nothing happened though. He also remembers once when someone sneaked onto the base to try to blow up the engines, but they didn’t have much luck, he said.
He met and married his wife, Noy, while he was stationed there. Noy was a native Thai, and their oldest son, Robert, was born there as well. When Mr. Spaulding had been in Thailand for two years, they would not allow him to stay any longer, and he had to leave his wife and son behind temporarily. He went to work on a base in Alamogordo for seven months, and then from there he went home to make arrangements to get his family. Finally, in 1972, he brought them home, and in 1974, they had a second son, Rick. The family settled in Michigan where Mr. Spaulding worked as a draftsman for several years until he was laid off.
In 1982, a friend was offered a job at Pratt Whitney in Florida, and he told Mr. Spaulding about the opportunity. The Spaulding family packed up and moved to Florida and have been here ever since. “We liked it here,” he said. “We decided to stay.” Mr. Spaulding joked his wife, Noy, could stick a baseball bat in the ground and it would grow. “She was so good at gardening. She was good at most things,” he said. “She passed away a few years ago, and I still miss her,” he said. His son Robert lives in Okeechobee, but his son Rick was killed in a car accident a few years ago.
Every Veteran’s Story is a weekly feature in the Lake Okeechobee News. If you would like to recommend a lake area military veteran to be interviewed for this feature series, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with the veteran’s name and contact information.