Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Career Advancement

THEUS: In the meantime though, I knew who that -- having completed now up to this time a lot of technical schools. I'd gone to the Armed Forces Staff College -- and I should talk about that, I'll double back on that when I get an opportunity.

BOND: Okay, sure.

THEUS: But anyhow, I knew that I needed to have a senior service school if I were going to continue to progress. So I'd hinted around, and you see, you can't apply for the Air War College, it's not an application process. It's one for which your commander and all of the people in your chain up have to recommend you for this one. So I decided I'd do the next best thing and that is to take the Industrial College of the Armed Forces off campus, by taking classes while doing it practically all of it correspondence. I did this and thought I'd checked that block and came down the line with a statement that I was a distinguished graduate of the Industrial College of the Armed Forces. And before I knew it though, within less than month after this came through, I received notice that I had been selected to go the Air War College in residence. And so, I think I mentioned the other night that this was very interesting. Again, I was successful in being a distinguished graduate of the Air War College. But en route to the Air War College, I had stopped by and talked to my friends in the Pentagon and telling them that I thought that I had done a decent job there before and I'd really like to get back to the area. Because I enjoyed being at that level with, again, exercising a bit of leadership in a different sort of way. I should say this, overall making decisions that affected the entire Air Force and I enjoyed that. I enjoyed that and making sure that I was right, making sure that these were the right decisions. But enjoying the fact that they were far-reaching, far-reaching.

So, anyhow, I waited for the detailer, as we call this individual, to come down from the colonels' group. And he did, came and had a stack of papers, much the same as you have in your hand now. And he flipped through them and he went from individual to individual, giving them their assignments. And every time he would turn his head toward me, I would raise my hand and try to get his eye and he would quickly turn away and move onto the next person. And so I was saying to myself, "Gee, I just wonder why this guy doesn't want to talk to me, he's my friend." Finally he got to me and he said, "Lou," he said, "I know that you were looking forward to coming to the Pentagon." He said, "but I have some good news and some bad news for you." And I said, "Okay, what is it John?" He said, "Well, you're to be assigned to Cam Ranh Bay." And I said, "Cameron Bay?" and I thought about it, and I said, "It's all right, that's fine," I said, "That's close to the Pentagon." I thought it was a joint assignment to the Army Station there, Cameron Station. So I said, "Oh, Cameron Station is fine for me." He said, "No, no, you didn't hear me correctly. I mean Cam Ranh Bay, South Vietnam." So I asked him, "Well, is it my turn to go?" And he said "No, no not really." I said, "Well, why are you sending me there?" He said, "Well, we were looking over your records and they look very good. You're doing very well indeed in your Air Force career," he said, "but you haven't been in a combat zone in a long time. We feel that you need to fill out your career brief by our being able to show that you have served in a combat zone." So he said, "Now are you a volunteer?" And I said, "Well,what if I don't volunteer?" He said, "We're going to send you anyhow."

And so I said, "Well, verify that I'll volunteer." So I went out to Cam Ranh Bay and there again, excellent opportunities for leadership because we had people out there who were there for only a year -- some of them, of course, against their own will. They didn't want to be there, they were separated from their families and so forth. So you really had to work at first of all, gaining their respect, gaining their compliance with rules and regulations, making sure that your people did the right things. For example, we had the controller shop there handling the pay for all personnel. I found that, much to my dismay, that some of the flight crews could not get adjustments to their pay. Couldn't make changes because they would fly missions and then they'd come back, and they'd be sleeping in the next day, or for various and sundry reasons they couldn't get over to the accounting and finance office during the time that it was open. And so I asked the young men who worked for me -- and women -- who worked for me. I said "Why, why, how are you letting this happen? We have people who are on the cutting edge of delivering armament to the enemy, and you're saying that they have to wait until you find the time to open and service their pay records?" And so, of course, I changed that immediately. Those are the sort of things that we did. We were very, very fortunate. We were on the peninsula upper level there and so we didn't have much in the way of problems from people from the outside. We had the Republic of Korea troops as our perimeter guards. But while I was there, President Johnson came out and visited with us.

BOND: I remember that.

THEUS: That was really quite an occasion. As you perhaps recall also, the news media was wondering, "Where is he? He's dropped from sight," and so forth. Of course we had already received these burn before reading messages, we knew that he was on his way to visit with us. Regardless of what your politics are, whatever you feel. You just had to have to get a thrill from standing out, looking out over the Bay, early in the morning and there's Air Force One on the deck, flanked by our fighters, coming in, the President, to visit the troops in the field. It was quite a thrill.

BOND: I remember hearing a great story about Johnson -- he's some place and a military aide says, "Mr. President, here's your helicopter. I think it's that one." And Johnson says, "Son, they're all my helicopters."

THEUS: Yes, yes, I don't doubt that.