‘You grow up quickly when you land,’ Air Force veteran shares Vietnam War experience

Veteran Salute

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Former Air Force Captain Ray Mengelkoch said he met heroes in Vietnam.

“The real heroes were the Marines and soldiers out in those malaria-infested swamps.”

Ray Mengelkoch and many other airmen provided the support they needed to survive the war. He and his twin brother were farm boys, so they knew all about hard work. They signed up for the Air Force when they were just teenagers.

“Sure enough, the 26th of December, they picked us up, and our lives changed forever.”

His orders were for the Vietnam War, and he said they were about 80 miles from the Demilitarized Zone.

“You grow up fast, you know, from no threat ever in your life to being in a combat theater,” Mengelkoch said. “A lot of anxiety, I’m a 20 year old, and I’ve never been in harm’s way before.”

Mengelkoch was a sergeant in Vietnam and knew it was bad before they ever landed at Da Nang Air Base.

“I looked out the window, and we are being escorted by two F-4s, fully loaded with bombs.”

He was assigned to a special detachment, so they lived in the downtown Da Nang hotel at first.

“After five months, it became too dangerous for us to live there.”

He said that’s when they moved to a Quonset hut.

“Basically, slept in our sweat at night, protected by a mosquito net, and you really need those.”

He said the command center never stopped.

“That’s a 24-7, 365, I mean there is no question, but of course, it lightened up at night,” Mengelkoch said. “The enemy doesn’t do as much activity at night.”

He said they were constantly taking calls from the front line.

“The radio operator started cranking and cranked our office there and talked directly to the colonel.”

He said the enemy was everywhere.

“All of a sudden got outmanned, the enemy popped out of the ground,” Mengelkoch said. “They may have, you know, 150 men, and all of a sudden, there are 1,500 against them.”

That’s when Mengelkoch and the others would go to work, assessing.

“How many F-4s, fully manned 500-pound bombs?” Mengelkoch said. “How many to send out to that theater operation there to save those troops?”

He said the reality of war was constantly coming and going from a nearby MASH Unit. Helicopter traffic was constant.

“When one took off, one dropped in, and they landed there,” Mengelkoch said, “You grow accustomed to it. Eventually, you have to. Otherwise, you will lose your sanity.”

After the war, Mengelkoch traded his sergeant stripes for captain bars. He was also part of a team where only 1% of officers and airmen were invited to join.

“What I am most proud of was being accepted for the elite Air Force Inspector General team.”

The team traveled all over.


“I’d do it again. I’d go today if I could. I really would.”

FORMER Air Force Captain Ray Mengelkoch on vietnam war

“I saw more of the world, over 18 countries because of being on that team.”

He also remembers the times he could get to places like Italy and beyond during his time off during Vietnam. One visit to Thailand to see a very special sergeant stands out in his mind.

“My twin brother Richard was a staff sergeant, a jet repair and mechanic and a crew chief on those planes over there.”

Mengelkoch said he served 12 years in the Air Force and misses those he served with.

“I’d do it again. I’d go today if I could. I really would,” Mengelkoch said. “They are your family. The comradery there is untouchable, and it has to be because you have to rely on one another.”

During the interview with KSN News, Mengelkock shared some Wichita aviation history. He said Cessna made the planes that were key in marking targets in Vietnam.

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