Veterans’ Voices: Terry Stewart – Waco Tribune-Herald

Terry Stewart, of Groesbeck, served four years in the Air Force, which included time during the Vietnam War providing service support for aircraft.

Groesbeck resident Terry G. Stewart, 74, is the youngest of six children. Born in Big Hill, Texas, to a father who farmed, the family moved a lot. His father was drafted into World War II before Stewart was born.
The family eventually moved to the Groesbeck area and his dad went to work on the pipeline. Stewart attended Groesbeck High School, graduating in 1965. He attended Navarro Junior College for a year before his dad got him a job on the pipeline. He dug post holes, which he hated.
Stewart was tipped off that he was about to be drafted, so he went to Waco to join either the Navy or Air Force. “But since I didn’t like water, I chose the Air Force,” he said.
In October 1966, he flew to San Antonio for basic training. “We got there at 3 or 4 in the morning and that first day was miserable,” Stewart said. Drill instructors burst in yelling. They had no idea what was going on.
He eventually received orders to go to a Military Airlift Command base in Charleston, South Carolina. There he received on-the-job training for supporting air traffic worldwide. While he was there, he would service the aircraft with food, coffee and about 80 pounds of heavy straps and chains.
In August 1968, Stewart got a 30-day leave then was sent to Vietnam. They flew from Dallas to Seattle, then to Elmendorf, Alaska, where the “snow was 10 feet deep,” he said. “I wouldn’t live up there for nothing.”
Arriving at Cam Ranh Bay, he was sent to Qui Nhon Republic of Vietnam (RVN) in south central Vietnam to a joint Army/Air Force/Vietnam RVN airfield with one of the largest evacuation hospitals around.
Stewart’s job was to load passengers and baggage aboard the airplanes and helicopters coming and going, as it was a busy base. It was during the monsoon season, so it rained continually. Water was a foot deep in the streets, and “I didn’t see sunshine for three months,” he said.
Headquarters was 50 miles away. Stewart would load up a cargo truck and travel through enemy territory to get there. Members of the RVN protected the bridges with M-60s, but one never knew who might be a Viet Cong sympathizer. “Getting to Phu Cat was really scary. I didn’t trust any of them,” he said.
One year after the Tet Offensive of 1968, six sappers got on base. One was killed when they blew the gate, and he was shot. The other five got in with explosives strapped to their bodies to take out the communications system.
Stewart was in the barracks and he and his friend were blown onto the floor. They started crawling down the hallway, gathering their M-16s and other roommates. As Stewart crawled around the corner, he saw a guy and shouted out his name. It’s a good thing he did, as the soldier was close to getting shot.
One new recruit ran out of the barracks and was promptly shot, he said. The man’s leg exploded but he survived. The Army eventually ended up taking out the sappers. After that, everything went smoothly.
Stewart returned to the States after a year and was assigned to Bergstrom Air Force Base in Austin. He switched to administrative work and sat behind a desk. He left the Air Force as an airman 1st class after serving four years.
For eight years, Stewart lived in Austin. He was having trouble finding a job because the airports were laying off people. His wife, Donna Jo (Guy), ran a beauty salon and was a hairdresser for 54 years. The couple married in 1966, just before he went to Charleston. Married for 55 years, they have two daughters and one grandchild.
The family eventually moved back to Groesbeck in 1977. Stewart bought a convenience store and ran that for a few years. He also sold insurance for a while and went to work for a decade at Mexia State School. He was injured four times on the job from youths fighting. He quit after the fourth injury.
Today Stewart has diabetes and other health issues related to exposure to Agent Orange. Two of his friends who served in Vietnam died from diabetes.
He doesn’t regret his service.
“It was the best for me at the time. I don’t regret it at all,” he said. “It wasn’t a bad tour if you had to go to Vietnam. It was a good spot with good people.”
“Veterans’ Voices,” featuring stories about Central Texas veterans, publishes every Sunday. To suggest a story about a Central Texas veteran, please email veteransvoices@wacotrib.com. “Veterans’ Voices” is proudly sponsored by Johnson Roofing.
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He didn’t spend a lot of time in port. He made what were called Double Victor patrols, gathering weather data and standing by in case planes went down.
Terry Stewart, of Groesbeck, served four years in the Air Force, which included time during the Vietnam War providing service support for aircraft.
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