Learning of a father's legacy

SM/Sgt. Joseph E. Puett Sr.:
My Dad
Joseph E. Puett Jr.

When I first met my dad, he was just a man I had never seen before. I was only maybe 18 months old when my mother took my older half-brother, who was 18 months older than me, and myself, who was still in diapers, to meet someone. At the time I couldn't tell you where we went, since I was too young to realize and was more interested in just playing on the floor where my mother had put me. I couldn't know how long we were at this place where we were, but from outside came a loud roar. Shortly after the sound stopped, people started coming in through the door from the direction the sound had come from. Most were men dressed in tan or brown clothing, who were met by their wives or girlfriends who hugged and kissed them before leaving hurriedly out through another door. But, when one tall, lanky, dark-haired man dressed in the same kind of tan clothes that the other men wore entered the room, my older brother leapt to his feet and ran to meet him. I just continued to play on the floor, but then the man came over to me and started to talk to me and my mother, who was standing over me. I wasn't sure I liked this man or not, so really didn't want anything to do with him. I just wanted to keep playing on the floor. Little did I know that he was just coming home from Japan and Korea after having been gone for some time. You see, I was born at Fort Riley Army Hospital on Sept. 26, 1951, just about a year and a half before the reason for this child's account of when I first met my dad.
Recently I received a late-night phone call from Lynnita Brown, a representative from the Korean War Educator website at www.koreanwar-educator.org, who had told me that she was researching the name of my father in conjunction with something that had happened during the Korean War while he was serving with the United States Air Force. She referred me to an air battle that had taken place on Oct. 23, 1951, called Black Tuesday, where U.S. B-29 aircraft had been on a mission to bomb an airfield in North Korea called "Namsi."
Having never been told anything about my dad's deployments, even from him, I had no idea what she was talking about--just that I knew that my dad had been a flight engineer for most of his career and I had seen some picture albums that my mother had kept hidden from us kids when we were young. These were lost some time long ago and were not available for my adult viewing.
He had met my mother, who was from Junction City, Kan., while stationed at Fort Riley or the airfield at Topeka, Kan., or at a newly-built airfield in Salina, Kan.. He had spent time training at Chanute Air Force Base at Rantoul, Ill., where he was trained as a flight engineer and ended up deploying to Japan sometime after hostilities broke out between North and South Korea. In my entire time growing up Dad was very much a closed-off, stoic individual who didn't talk that much about what he did during his wartime deployments.
It took the phone call from Lynnita Brown and the little bit of information she gave me to put me on a path that I knew little about. Even after spending time myself with the USAF during Vietnam and having been deployed to the Far East for two years, my dad never talked about his missions over North Korea. I do remember that he always insisted that he did not dream, or that he had blocked out whatever he had done during that period in his life. I now wish he had been more open with me, as I had spent two years roaming around the Far East. I was stationed at Yokota AB, Japan, from November 1970 to November 1972 after having been trained in automatic flight control systems at Chanute.
My dad and I were not as close as a father and son might have been. Because of differences, my father and mother got divorced sometime around my 10th birthday. I spent the rest of my teen years with my mother until going out to visit my dad in California in the summer of 1968. You see, Dad had remarried and retired from the Air Force at Travis AFB in California in 1966 after having been a flight engineer on many different aircraft over the years of his career. He made flying missions to and from Vietnam on what he told me was the "Coffin Run," bringing those who had died in battle home from Vietnam. After having to perform this soulful, solemn duty for some time, he felt that he had had enough of war and retired as an Air Force senior master sergeant in 1966.
Under his leadership and control, a wild, directionless kid (myself) decided to finish high school in California. I went from D's and F's in Kansas to a high B average at a school in California, but had to take six solids and a night school class in American history to graduate. I didn't have any time to get into trouble and learned that school wasn't quite as bad as it had been back in Kansas. After graduating from high school, Dad let me kick around for the summer, but one night sat me down for a father to son talk about where I was headed in life. He asked me a simple question, "Son, do you think you're ready for college?" to which I said, "NO!" Then he asked the question, "Do you think you could do better going into the service?" to which I replied, "Yes, Dad, now that I will probably be going anyway when I turn 18 because of the draft." The next day he and I went on a man's journey to the Air Force recruiter in Vallejo, Calif., where I was introduced to the Air Force and its many options and where I was given a little time to decide if I wanted to join.
Officially I joined the USAF in July and reported for induction in August 1969 at age 17. I had to get permission from my mother back in Kansas because of my age. Dad sent my draft notice to me after I turned 18 as I was in basic training at Lackland AFB in San Antonio, Texas. We had a pretty good laugh at the absurdity of it because I was already in the Air Force.
When I received the late-night phone call asking about my dad, I was at first surprised as it was about 9:30 at night, long after telemarketers can call. But once my wife answered the call and handed the phone to me, I tentatively answered the questions that were asked of me. I know I was kind of short and cryptic, but, hey, it was late and it was a pretty out-of-the-blue phone call. But it put me on a path of research into what the lady had talked about, which led to my researching the subject of Black Tuesday and B-29s over Korea - which led me to look on Amazon for a certain book by Earl J. McGill, Lt. Col. USAF (Ret.) called "Black Tuesday Over Namsi." In it, my dad, who I'm named after as a junior, was listed as being a crew member on one of the planes involved in the mission over "Namsi." In one of the pictures of an aircraft and crew on page 30, my dad is standing in the middle of the back row almost directly under the hole in the tail section of the plane he was flight engineer on.
I'm sorry to say that Dad died in Vallejo, in Solano County, on Oct. 25, 1983, of an aortic aneurysm. According to his wishes, he was to be cremated and his ashes were to be scattered over the Pacific Ocean from a small plane as he had flown over this ocean many times during his long Air Force career. At the time of his death, I was attending a small junior college in northern Arkansas. It was just after I had reported my midterm grades by phone to him. We had made plans, he and I, for me to move back to California after finishing my associate's degree in business and data processing. I was to join in business with him at his Northern California insurance brokerage firm. Due to the distance involved and the timing of his desires, I was not able to be at his planned-for and quickly-scheduled burial as were his wishes.
I struggled with his untimely death for some time, but was able to finish my associate's degree. After losing Dad I felt I no longer had a reason to return to California. My stepsisters out there even said that was a better decision on my part. I did what Dad always told me--that when you start something you need to finish what you started. I finished my degree and continued here in the Arkansas Ozarks. I have for the last 23 years worked for a major poultry processing company here in the Ozarks, was able to go back to school to get a second associate's degree in general studies, and have been able to complete my bachelor's degree in Professional Studies in Information Technology in 2014. I am soon to graduate with a Masters in Information Systems and Technology Management from Capella University by way of their online courses.
So, Dad, if you are up there in the wild blue with other members of your long-ago crew, I've done what you said to do. I've finished what I started. Maybe now I've become the "educated idiot" that you warned me about!
I sincerely thank you, Lynnita Brown, for putting me on this very interesting search into memories of long ago. I was not quite a month old when my father was on this fateful mission. I do still have his burial flag and his last Air Force dress uniform that his second wife sent to me. I've also received his enlistment records from the National Personnel Records Center, but still need to acquire his deployment and assignment records if they're available.

Joseph E, Puett, Jr. USAF 1969-1973