Interview with Sgt. Mac
Sgt. Mac is the owner and author of Sgt. Mac’s blog, a family history site where he talks about his personal military service as well as the service of most of his family members. We recently had the opportunity to ask Sgt. Mac a few questions about his site and his experience with VA benefits, including VA loans.
Q: You have a pretty interesting story of your first encounter with the military on the homepage of your site. Tell us a little about your family history with the military as well as your personal military service history.
Family Military History
My family’s military history dates back to the Pennsylvania Militia, the Civil War, and the Revolutionary War. But my first knowledge of anything military occurred when I was five years old, and found an old bomber jacket in a closet at my grandmother’s home. The next day, my mother pinned my dad’s navigator wings to it and informed me that he had been in the Army Air Force as a Navigator Instructor. I later learned that he taught navigation on B-17’s, B-24’s and CATS-Catalina Flying boats, and had been a Flight Engineer on B-29’s.
A week after that, I was shown a dusty picture of a man in uniform. “Sonny…this is a picture of my father…Samuel Howard Hindman…your grandfather. He served in the Army during WW I and was in France.” (He was a First Sergeant in the Army and served in the Signal Corps). Until that day, I never knew I had a grandfather, and never got to meet him.
Personal Service History
A friend and I agreed to join the military, rather than get drafted in 1966. We were going to join the Marine Corps together, however his time came up before mine. I ended up in the Air Force in 1967.
I was sent to Lackland AFB in Texas for basic training. After basic, the Air Force canceled our leave and told us we were headed to Vietnam. We were surprised when 1/3rd of our flight was sent to technical schools in the states, 1/3rd was sent to Germany, and that last third, including me, ended up in England! When I arrived home for leave before heading overseas, I learned my Marine Corps buddy had been KIA.
My first year was spent as an Air Policeman, at RAF Lakenheath-a Tactical Fighter-Bomber base. I started out as a guard, but after six-months of anti-war protests by civilians and restrictions to base, I volunteered for a transfer. I ended up at RAF Sculthorpe in East Anglia. Our main duty was to guard maintenance and storage facilities that held spare parts for various aircraft.
After two years at Sculthorpe, I became homesick and put in for a transfer back to the states. I wanted to go to the west coast, but ended up on the east coast. I was stationed at Plattsburgh AFB in upstate New York. It was home to the 380th BG-Bomb Group, and a fleet of B-52 heavy bombers and KC-135 tankers. I spent a few months back on guard duty, but was promoted to base security where I worked the main gate and base patrols.
I was discussing the potential of re-upping for a second enlistment when I learned my father was in a bad car accident. My family wanted me to come home and help operate his construction business. I left the Air force in 1971 and returned home. Dad made a full recovery, and I went to work for his company.
Tell us about what you do now.
I am currently semi-retired, and working as a school bus driver. I enjoy continued research and writing about my family’s military history. I have four grand-kids and spoil them every chance I get. I love to walk, like photography, and dabble in video editing and blogging.
Explain a little about MacsMilitary.com. What have you accomplished and what do you hope to do with the site moving forward?
Macsmilitary.com/sgtmacsblog, features stories of my family’s military history as well as general military history. The blog features a historical look back at WW I, WW II and the Vietnam Era, and various subjects that go along with each.
Over the past two years, I have been able to gradually expand the scope of the site, and have made a number of contacts and friends, not to mention subscribers. I have plans to update the theme of the site and continue to expand it. The site is growing so fast that future plans may include a full website so that more in-depth stories and information may be displayed.
What is your most memorable moment from your military service? Any funny or unbelievable stories that you care to recount?
Once I was stationed on guard duty, adjacent to the main runway. My job was to patrol a certain area to the east and to the west. Every so often we were allowed to take a break inside a small shack made of plywood that had windows in it. It was a hot day, so I went inside and held the door open with my foot.
Suddenly, a great whooshing sound grabbed my attention. I spotted a small rescue helicopter not more than a few hundred yards from me. Hovering in place, a small door slid open on the side of it, and a one man raft floated to the ground.
A minute later, a crew member clad in his green flight suit and white helmet with visor was lowered by a cable to the ground. After unhooking himself, he dragged the yellow life raft to another location to my left, and then laid down in it. With a wave of his hand the tiny chopper flew off.
I watched the man in the rubber raft for minutes on end. Five minutes passed, then ten, then fifteen. No sign of the chopper. I took a swing of water from my canteen, and then glanced back out at the man in the raft. He had gotten out and was roaming around it, looking up to the sky.
After twenty minutes I took another swig of water and this time he noticed me. He ran over to my location and begged for a drink, which I gave him. “How long are you going to stay out there?” I asked. He replied that his crew-mates were supposed to pick him up within five minutes but thought they might have had mechanical problems. He asked if I could make a call on my radio and find out what happened.
A call back on my radio confirmed that the chopper had landed back at the rescue pad, but the crew was nowhere to be found. It was assumed that they had a malfunction.
The crewman asked if I could call for one of our units to pick him up but they were all busy. Cussing like a sailor, the crewman walked back to his tiny raft. I watched as he turned it over and put it on his back. He slid the upper end over his head like a hat, presumably to protect him from the sun. I watched as he vanished into the distance, all the while cussing out his bad luck.
It was later discovered that the whole scenario was a practical joke. After dropping off their crew-mate, the chopper crew had flown back to their pad. A search found the pilots at the local officers club, sipping ice cold beers as their teammate sweltered in the hot August sun!
What has been your experience using VA benefits? Good or bad?
I left the Air Force in 1971, married my sweetheart, and started a family. I was working for my dad as a construction laborer at time. A growing family demanded more income, and in order for that to happen, I had to get my Journeyman Carpenters License. I used my VA educational benefits to go to a 4 year technical apprenticeship school, where I earned my license.
It was around 1976 that we outgrew our rental and wanted our own home. My dad was a homebuilder, and had subdivided a small tract of land where he wanted to build some starter homes. I informed him that we were interested.
As I recall, he put us in contact with a real estate agent he often worked with, who dealt in VA/FHA. We applied and were accepted for a VA loan. I believe it cost us a total of $25.00 out of pocket.
The wife and I wanted to do a lot of the work, but due to a building schedule set by the bank, we had to scale back our efforts. We ended up framing the house and installing the siding. Everything else was completed by sub-contractors. We were happy as heck to have a new home. It was especially gratifying to have done some of the work ourselves.
Is there anything about the system that you would like to change?
Back in those days, I don’t think one could have gotten a better deal. The home was paid off and years later, I applied for re-establishment of a certificate of eligibility. I received a statement with the new eligibility limits, but never used it. My recollection is that the loan value had increased, but that if this was a second go for a VA loan we had to pay the closing costs.
As we are a site that helps veterans with their VA loan benefits, what advice would you give to those who have not yet used their benefits?
Don’t be afraid to use your benefits! If you served your country, it’s the country’s obligation according to law to help you out with your first home, or refinance a VA loan that you already have. It’s a relatively painless process.
If it’s your first home, your chest will fill with pride, not to mention that the wife will give you a big hug when you hand her the key! If you are refinancing an existing home, nothing beats the feeling of saving a few bucks.
Any final thoughts or parting wisdom that you care to share.
Do your homework, talk to other veterans, and select a reputable lender and real estate agent.
Sgt. Mac is retired after serving for 4 years in the Air Force. His last rank was E-4.