Air Force major tells about service
McCLURE – Area residents packed the American Legion Post 942, McClure, on Sunday afternoon for a Memorial Day service that featured local entertainment and a borough resident who is a retired U.S. Air Force veteran.
Major Paul Heimbach (Retired) served in the Air Force during the Vietnam War era. Much of his service involved briefing and debriefing those who were involved in top-secret missions.
But his interest in the military began years earlier when, as a student at Selinsgrove High School, he did a research project on the aviation industry and a new – at the time – fighter jet called the F-104 Starfighter.
“To young men, speed is everything,” Heimbach said, and the F-104 was a fast plane for the military.
In college, he joined the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps.
“The day I put on that blue uniform, I was hooked,” Heimbach said.
His dad, however, wasn’t. Before he could join the ranks, a recruiter had to convince his father that “the Air Force would be a great career.”
Finally his father consented and “now that blue uniform was real,” Heimbach recalled.
Getting an education was one of his main goals, so Heimbach took a language aptitude test, passed it and was sent to Syracuse University in New York.
“There I studied Bulgarian for nine months,” he said.
He graduated valedictorian of his class and, as a reward of sorts, was given his choice of destinations – Greece, Cyprus, Turkey or Germany. Heimbach opted for Germany.
There, he became a crewman on a C-130 plane and had the title of voice intercept processing specialist. Still, he had an interest in education and was granted a stint at Michigan State University, which was relatively close to the location of his parents and sweetheart. He then attended officer training school in Texas and later went to Colorado.
But Heimbach also served overseas, particularly in Thailand. When he first arrived in Bangkok, he was sent to an orientation briefing led by an officer who had recited the ritual briefing so many times, “he was bored by it.”
Still, Heimbach remembers one of the man’s warnings: “He told use that if we were in a Thai taxi and it was involved in an accident, ‘You grab your bags and run like’ – uh, crazy – because passengers are responsible for all damages.”
During his early days in Thailand, Heimbach learned that F-105 jets, “one of the hottest … and fastest … airplanes at the time,” were in Thailand and bombing sites in North Vietnam.
“It was secret. No one knew about it except the Stars and Stripes newspaper. (So) everyone knew about it, but we couldn’t talk about it,” he said.
A typical work week for Heimbach and his colleagues lasted six days, 10 to 12 hours each day.
“On my day off, I always slept in, then after breakfast or lunch, I’d go downtown to shop for … nice mementos.”
One day he and his buddies were on a bus, seated next to a woman who was carrying a box. Heimbach thought nothing of it until he heard scratching noises coming from the box.
“A GI said it was a box of rice bugs. They would catch them with a net there, like butterflies. They were about 2 1/2 to 3 inches long and they were a delicacy … eaten raw or used in soups or stir fries,” Heimbach said, as members of the audience shuddered. “To me, they looked like giant cockroaches. Needless to say, I never tried any rice bugs while I was in Thailand!”