Coffee with the General

In March 1966 I was a young crew member on a Marine KC130 transport plane, not long out of Paris Island and training, stationed in Vietnam. On one of our routine maintenance flights from Da Nang Air Base in Vietnam to MCAS Futenma on Okinawa, we were called back to Da Nang. It seems the next day we had to fly Maj. Gen. McCutcheon, CG of the 1st Marine air Wing, and Lt. Gen. Krulak, CG of FMF Pacific, to Saigon to meet with Sec. Defense McNamara, Army Lt. Gen. Westmoreland, and Lt. Gen. Lew Walt, CG of the 3rd Marine Amphib. Force and of the 3rd Marine Division.

On the flight back from Saigon to Da Nang, Lt. Gen. Walt, who had just been promoted, flew with us. Thank God I was too green to be as nervous as I should have been with three generals on board. Shortly after takeoff, Gen. Walt’s aide asked me if we had any coffee. Fortunately, I had just brought coffee from the mess to fill the pot in the galley the day before. “Yes sir,” I said. He followed me to the galley. The aide filled one cup up to the top with coffee for Gen. Walt, and another with water for Gen. Krulak, and then handed me the cups. My mission was to get the cups to the generals without spilling them, at least on the generals. I was thinking to myself, day old (at least) coffee – I wouldn’t drink it, but he’s probably had worse, and what the hell, it’s all that we have. I worked my way over to the generals, a cup in each hand, splashing around with each step, and praying for no air pockets for at least the next couple minutes. Somehow, I made the hand off with nothing spilling on a general. Mission accomplished.

We shut down the plane without the GTC (gas turbine compressor) - to keep the noise from inconveniencing the generals as they left. Then, I opened the crew door to check for rotation on the props and safe shut down. The next thing I see is ABC, NBC and CBS TV cameras in my face. We, actually, the generals, made the news that week. The pilot’s wife said she saw him on TV. Good thing I didn’t spill that coffee on Gen. Walt’s lap.

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