Vietnam Air Force vet tours Mississippi airbase

  • Published
  • By Capt. Sabrina Dalton,
  • 186th Air Refueling Wing

KEY FIELD AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Miss. - With Veterans Day approaching, the 186th Air Refueling Wing was honored to host and provide a tour to a Vietnam veteran Nov. 6.

James William Roberts, 82, from Brandon, Mississippi, was a U.S. Air Force boom operator stationed at Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi. He served from October 1958 to September 1966, with four years on the KC-97 aircraft and four years on the KC-135 aircraft.

His service included a tour in Vietnam from December 1965 to April 1966, during the height of the war. He shared many stories about his time as a boom operator, refueling B-52 bombers and other aircraft.

"I had some good times and some scary times too," said Roberts. "I really enjoyed today and appreciate it more than you'll ever know."

Lt. Col. Brad Anthony, a pilot with more than 25 years in the Mississippi Air National Guard, and Tech. Sgt. Joshua Schultz, a boom operator with more than 14 years in, both with the 153rd Air Refueling Squadron, led the tour of a KC-135R Stratotanker aircraft.

Anthony said it means a lot to him and everyone at Key Field to have Roberts visit the base. "For Mr. Roberts to get to come here and relive this," Anthony said. "It really made our day."

Roberts was able to lay in the back of the aircraft in the boom pod, which was his job while serving in Vietnam.

Schultz said the best thing about the day was meeting someone who pioneered the way for the boom operator career field.

"You don't get to hear too many stories from Vietnam," Schultz said. "Getting to listen to Mr. Roberts and hear about all the aircraft he refueled was just great. I'm glad he got to come out and see where his job is in the future."

Roberts told the group of crew chiefs and other Airmen he enjoyed seeing how the aircraft have been upgraded.

"You folks have taken a huge load off the active-duty Air Force and probably do more wartime than a lot of others (branches)," Roberts said.

Roberts' son and daughter-in-law, Keith and Susan Roberts, also attended the tour. They said Roberts enjoyed traveling to local patriotic events and air shows and is always willing to help out those in need.

Roberts offered a few words to anyone interested in joining the military: "There are great training programs, and you can get an education. If you don't know what you want to do in life, it's a good place to find out."

He also joked: "Just read the job description before you sign up. I thought boom operator meant heavy construction, and here I am on an airplane!"

Boom operators are responsible for pumping thousands of gallons of fuel to other aircraft midflight, so they can complete their mission.