OKEECHOBEE — Veteran Wayne Corbin was born and raised in Belle Glade. He joined the Air Force because he had no interest in college, and back then there were not a whole lot of choices, he said. You either went to college or got married and started a family or you went in the military. His brother had been in the Air Force and enjoyed it, so Mr. Corbin decided he would join. He graduated from high school on June 2 and enlisted on June 3. He did not leave right away, though. He had to report on Dec. 21, and his dad was not too happy about that. He didn’t mind him going but did not like them making him leave right at Christmastime.
He did his basic training in Amarillo, Texas. Most of the guys going in went to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio. Right after he left Amarillo Air Force Base, they shut the base down and gave it back to the University of Texas.
After basic, he was sent to Witchita Falls, where he trained to be an aircraft mechanic and became a crew chief. He was there for a little over three months before being sent to Charleston, S.C. He worked on C-124s, which was the biggest freight hauler in the world at that time. They could carry trucks and things like that. He didn’t work on jets but on what he called piston pounders. They had four of the biggest engines made at that time on them. He was there about seven months before receiving orders for Vietnam.
When he got to the Tan Son Nhut Air Base, he worked on Gooney Birds, DC-3s. He was in a squadron called the 360th TEWS (tactical electronical warfare squadron). The planes had radio operators in them and antennas on the bottom, They could fly over an area and count troops and let them know where everyone was and other things. His job was to keep those planes flying. “When they came back with bullet holes, all shot up or had engine problems or maintenance problems, that’s what I did,” he said. He was there for 11 months and 29 days. He got to go home three days early. One of the things he remembers most about Vietnam was the long hours they worked. They did get very small amounts of time off and were just outside of Saigon, so there was entertainment nearby. They generally worked six to six-and-a-half days a week, though — 13 to 18 hours a day. At that time, Tan Son Nhut airport was the busiest in the world. “There was a plane taking off and landing every 30 seconds, 24 hours a day,” he said.
He arrived back in the United States on Nov. 21, 1969, and was home for 45 days before being sent to New Hampshire. “I thought they were sending me back overseas. I had no idea where New Hampshire was,” he laughed. He got up there on Jan. 4, and everything was white! He had never seen snow before and about froze to death for the first few days until he was issued his arctic gear. All he had was his standard-issue field jacket, but it was not enough when the temperature was 4 degrees below zero. He was not prepared for that, he said. He grew up in Florida and then had just spent a year in Vietnam, where the weather was just like Florida’s. The coldest weather he experienced in Vietnam was in the 60s.
In New Hampshire, he was cross-trained into servicing jets and worked on the KC-135, the tankers, the in-air refuelers. It was actually a 707 that they took everything out of and put fuel tanks in so it could refuel other planes in the air.
The following year, he was sent back to school, where he learned to work on F-111s. The wings on this plane could move from straight out to back. “It was a very controversial plane. It came out at the wrong time,” he said. “It was a good aircraft, but it just came out at the wrong time.” He was there for almost two years before he was discharged and went home. His enlistment was for four years.
“I really liked being in the Air Force and if I hadn’t decided to get married, you probably couldn’t have run me off,” he said. “I was around a bunch of good guys, and we always had a good time together when we weren’t working.”
They moved back to Florida and he went to work with his brothers at the fish camp in Belle Glade for a short time. He became a firefighter and was a paid firefighter for about six years and a volunteer for about 20. He also worked as an electrician at a chemical plant in Belle Glade and stayed there for 22 years until the plant went out of business. He went to work for the South Florida Water Management District after that and was there 14 years before retiring.
He and his wife, Kendra, have been living in Okeechobee since 1995. Mr. Corbin has two sons. Neither went into the service. He also has a stepson and a stepdaughter, and all are doing well. Between him and his wife, they have six grandchildren.