Rich Creason may not have been on the front line with a rifle during his involvement in Vietnam, but that’s not to say each day was not just as potentially harrowing.
Creason, a former Harrisburg native and current New Cumberland resident, served as an Air Force translator during air missions out of Korea – spending upward of 10 to 20 hours at a time in the air as translators were flown around the area, listening for chatter. He was primarily stationed in Japan.
“I would fly on an airplane listening to Chinese traffic from ground control to airplanes or plane-to-plane, and I would transcribe it to English,” Creason said.
But Creason said this responsibility proved to be far from tedious. Possible encounters with enemy aircraft posed a consistent threat for those on board.
“Sometimes we had Russian (planes) come up on us and fly around us and do rolls, and it was no big deal,” he said. “But if North Koreans or Chinese came up on us, we were supposed to leave the area immediately. We had a shoot-down of a plane by North Koreans and that kind of prompted that. It makes things kind of thrilling for just a mundane position to a radio for 10 hours.”
Creason said his decision to join the military was spurred by a sudden push for more U.S. soldiers following the Tet Offensive campaign in South Vietnam.
“I think the Tet Offensive in ‘68 is what inspired it,” he said. “It was an inspiration to not get killed. People were being drafted left and right, and they needed a lot more people in the military suddenly. This was before the lottery system, so they were taking everyone and anyone. I thought, ‘What are my options if I’m going to be drafted?’”
Creason said his education gave him an upper hand in the difficult process of making it into the Air Force.
“It was hard to get into the Air Force because everyone was looking for another option than the Army or the Marines,” he said. “When I told them I had three years of college, they said they’d find a place for me. Suddenly they were interested.”
After completing basic training, he received training in Chinese at a language school in Monterey, California.
“Chinese was luck of draw because when you finish basic training, that’s when they start handing out languages,” he said. “If I had finished training the day before I did, all those guys got Vietnamese and were sent to Vietnam after that. The day after me was Korean, but the day I got out it was Chinese. A lot of the same guys I went to school with stayed with me after that. Chinese and Korean (translators) flew together.”
Creason remained involved in Vietnam until 1972, when he was forced to return home due to military job downsizing.
“There was a big financial cutback to the military in early ‘72,” he said. “If you had more than a year or less (of involvement) you were sent to Korea on permanent duty, but if you had less than that you were let go early. I got out in June of ‘72, about eight or nine months early.”
After returning to the United States, Creason earned his master’s degree in teaching English as a foreign language from the University of Hawaii. He then returned to Japan to teach English.
“The training I got in Chinese kind of directed me back to Asia,” he said. “That set the stage for what I wanted to do after that.”
Creason taught in Japan and later Hawaii before eventually returning to the Harrisburg area in 1985, and later retiring as a post office clerk.
“I met wife in Japan while teaching and we moved back to Hawaii at first,” he said. “Before I returned (to Harrisburg), most of my time was spent on the West Coast or in Hawaii or Japan.”
Reflecting on his time in Vietnam, Creason emphasized the fact that many different types of positions had a hand in influencing the events of the war – both directly and indirectly.
“The whole point is that there are a lot of jobs outside of just being in Vietnam – there were people who also had support duties that weren’t tied directly to it,” he said. “There were a lot of people in other places that actually had jobs that were somehow indirectly connected to Vietnam, but weren’t in the real fighting.”