Lonnie Frampton’s 20 years of Army service as a member of the Army Security Agency included a tour in Vietnam, where his skills at electronics repairs helped make the Army’s signal intelligence, sometimes referred to as Radio Research, possible.
Frampton joined the Army after high school to get his military obligation out of the way. “At that time in Somerset, a guy graduating from high school was sometimes hard pressed to get a job. They were reluctant to hire somebody they might lose to the draft in a couple of years. So in December of 1954 I joined the Army.
“Every story has to have a beginning somewhere,” Frampton said of his first tour in Vietnam. “Mine begins in Berlin Germany in 1966. The day before Thanksgiving I got a phone call from the personnel office at headquarters in Frankfurt. I got on the phone and this captain got on the line. He said ‘Sgt. Frampton, you’re due to make Warrant Officer on 1 December, however, in order for you to get it you have to accept assignment to the 509th Group. Do you know where that is?’”
Frampton laughed. “I assured him I sure didn’t. He asked ‘Do you still want your promotion?’ I said yes. So he said, ‘In order to get your Warrant you’ve got to be in country by the 20th of January.’ That’s how I got to Vietnam.
“That wasn’t my first time there. I’d been there in May of 1961 as part of a team that travelled all over the pacific installing electronic gear in our operational buildings. And one of our assignments was to go to Saigon in 1961 and set up this equipment. The had us travel in civilian clothes, and our medical records had a note in them that said if anything happened to us, it was to be reported as a training accident in the Philippines. What did we know? All we knew was we were going to get $300 to buy civilian clothes, and we couldn’t buy anything even semi-military, like black shoes. We felt kind of special, in the military but traveling in civilian clothes.
“When I got to Vietnam for my tour of duty in 1967, I was assigned to the 156th Aviation Company (RR) in Can Tho. I had never previously been assigned to an aviation unit of any sort, so that was all brand new to me. When I went to in-process at the supply shop, I got the usual type of stuff, but I didn’t see any firearms. So I asked the captain ‘What about a weapon?’ He said, ‘You’re going to have to wait until someone goes home because we don’t have enough to go around.’”
“I thought that was crazy. It was nothing like what I expected. You grow up watching a lot of World War II movies, Korean War movies, and you get a different picture from the movies about what war is like versus reality. I thought I’d get the traditional steel pot and a weapon, and instead I had to wait until someone went home. And then it was a .45 (pistol). Eventually I got a rifle, M-14, but it was just strange. Looking back on it I laugh. I supposed in reality, at the time, it wasn’t a laughing matter.”
“After that I got my orientation on the aircraft. I was an electronics equipment repair officer. My job was to take care of what we called the mission equipment on the aircraft, which is different from the electronics for navigation and communication. We had 12 RU-6A Beaver aircraft and three RU-8 Beechcraft aircraft. They were very good aircraft, solid, good aircraft.
Frampton is straightforward about having a relatively safe assignment. “The whole year over there I know for a fact I never shot at anyone. And if anyone ever shot at me, evidently they missed.
“I think the airfield was attacked once during my year. Some sappers came in and walked down the flight line tossing satchel charges in the aircraft, then went back out the gate. They didn’t hit the airfield heavier than that until Tet. And for some reason, nobody knows why, they never touched our aircraft. We had 15 of them sitting there, they never touched them. I often wonder why. Possible because they figured we weren’t of any harm to them, ‘cause we never shot at them.
“We only ever took one round through an aircraft. The only person who got killed in our company was a captain who went to the Philippines for jungle warfare training. A truck overturned and he was killed.”
But the whole time he knew he was in a war zone.
“The enemy was everywhere. In the Second World War, it was won by taking ground and keeping it. Vietnam wasn’t that way. You took it today and turned it loose tomorrow. Which, I guess, I know I wondered ‘What’s going on? Why? Why do you get all those people killed then turn around and walk off it.’ Hamburger Hill was an example of that.”
He could see the war from his quarters. “At night we could go on top of the roof and look across the river and see Spooky come in and turn their miniguns loose on an area. So it was that close. We were constantly aware if we came down somewhere we had to be ready to be combat troops.”
One of the highlights from Frampton’s tour involved the Military Auxiliary Radio System. MARS is civilian staffed by amateur radio operators who assist the military. They had the ability to interface their radios with the phone system.
“I was between assignments and didn’t have a mailing address, but my wife was pregnant and I wanted to know if the baby had come yet. So my roommate took me over to the MARS station. The operator asked for the phone number for our apartment, and got through, but there was no answer. We tried my mother, and got through, but she couldn’t get the hand of saying ‘over.’ But she finally understood, and she said ‘Oh, Fay’s in the hospital.’
“The operator got the number, called the hospital, and explained to the nurse that he had a soldier on the line from Vietnam calling about his wife. She’d had the baby and was sleeping, and the operator said ‘Go wake her up!’ So the nurse went to my wife and said, ‘Wake up, you got a call from Vietnam.’ I reckon that not that many wives get a call like that. I get very sentimental about family, because in reality it’s all any of us really have.”
Frampton had a smooth homecoming. “I never had any interactions with war protesters. I never had anything to do with anybody protesting. It’s a shame that they protested the G.I.s. The G.I.s (are) not the one who started the war; he’s not the one that said, ‘Go to war.’”
His opinion on war and the military is straightforward. “Nothing’s ever solved by war, you know that? Just a lot of people die.”
“All in all my Vietnam tour was positive memories. I have absolutely no regrets that I went, and if the circumstances were exactly the same I would do it again. I admit in later years, when I got to ponder the whole situation, I had some guilt feelings. And I know I shouldn’t, because it’s not my choosing that I got assigned where I was and that it was a relatively safe area.
“I think the military is a good experience. Sometimes I think it wouldn’t hurt if every one of our young people had to go for two years. Some of them, it seems like they have no direction.”
Frampton retired from the Army in 1975 and lives in the Carlisle area.