Don Hall spent less than six years in the United States Air Force, and at two places that couldn't have been more different: Alaska and Vietnam.
"I really loved Alaska," said Hall, who'd been sent there to repair radio equipment on uninsulated C-47 Skytrains. "I hated what I was doing; it was cold, it was noisy and it was boring."
So cold, noisy and boring that Hall switched jobs to become an air rescue specialist. It was 1964, the Vietnam War was heating up, and his commander agreed he'd be of more use pulling pilots out of the jungle than patching up radios.
Originally from Crisfield, Md., Hall enlisted after deciding that going to college and working full time was wearing him out. That point was brought home the night he ran his car off the road after working past midnight.
"The next day I joined the Air Force," he said. "I thought there was no sense in killing myself to go to college."
After only five weeks of training instead of the usual eight months, Hall found himself flying in CH-3 helicopters, the workhorses of the Vietnam War. He often rescued downed aircrews while hanging from a cable attached to the hovering aircraft.
Hall now is retired from Atlantic Aviation in Wilmington, where he worked for 41 years.
Q. What was your first experience in an airplane?
A. From the time I was a little kid, I'd loved airplanes. I used to sneak away from the farm over to a cropduster's place and he'd take me on rides, all without my parents finding out about it.
Q. But they did find out, didn't they?
A. One time we were flying and the engine caught fire. The pilot turned the plane upside down and told me to fall out and pull my parachute's ripcord. When I came home, my mom was waiting for me. But my parents were very understanding; they knew how I felt about airplanes. They just told me to let them know before I went there again.
Q. What was your most memorable experience in Vietnam?
A. We went out to rescue a pilot who'd been reported in a rice paddy. But he actually was under the jungle canopy, so I couldn't ride the cable down.
We landed and I ran out to get him. He was soaking wet and in his wet flight suit weighed more than 200 pounds. I got him back to the helicopter, but when I got there, I passed out.
I thought I'd taken a bullet. It turns out I'd ruptured an appendectomy scar from an operation seven years before.
Page 2 of 2 - Q. How did the military change you?
A. It matured me. It gave me a better respect for life, especially other people's lives. You don't center on yourself all the time. I think it matures young men and women, gives them a chance to be away from home and to develop their own adulthood and not be something that someone else has pushed on them.