Ronald L. Kondler

KondlerGraduated from OCS in 1963 as part of Class 63C, the REAL journey then began: Attended ATC Flight Training School at Laredo AFB, Texas. Trained in T-37 and T-33 fixed-wing aircraft. Graduated in Class 64G, May 1964. (Lived in the same room off base as James Stewart did when he attended Laredo’s Flight School).

Assigned to Stead AFB, Reno, Nevada for Survival, P.O.W., and Helicopter School training. Graduated from Helicopter School in December 1964. I LOVED helicopters, as fixed-winged jets literally bored-the-hell out of me! 1st Lt. bars received at this juncture.

Assigned to 821st Combat Support Group at Ellsworth AFB, near Rapid City in S. Dakota in January 1965 flying crews and materials to Minute-Man missile sites. Flew the old reciprocating engine H-19’s and later the jet-powered UH-1F’s. The open-space plains of the Dakota’s were a great place to fully learn what this flying machine could really do, by practicing unusual maneuvers and power-off emergency landings…It paid off handsomely in Vietnam, having saved my life more than once!!

Sent to “Lucky Tigers”, 20th Helo Squadron, in Nakhon Phanom Province, Thailand to support the Vietnam effort in April 1966. Flew UH-1F helos. Worked with Royal Thai Armed Forces in shaping mass troop-insertion techniques employed in counter-guerilla warfare. Flew “high cover” for Rescue helos over North Vietnam due to extremely heavy losses of Rescue aircraft. Rescued Air-America crews, missions permitting. Rescued long-range Recondo teams that were under enemy fire in Cambodia, and Laos. Worked with Thai village forces and civic-action teams all over Thailand “winning the hearts and minds” of the populous…very diverse and rewarding work. During this time I was assigned to fly President Johnson’s family and other dignitaries near Bangkok, Thailand when Johnson went ‘Round the World’ on a political junket in 1966. Assigned back to Ellsworth AFB after six months TDY.

I returned to Vietnam three months later, being assigned to the 1st Air Commando Squadron stationed at Nha Trang, Vietnam. Most of our “Frags” took our squadron on a rotational basis to Plekieu, Kontum, and Dak To, Vietnam. We supported the Army’s Green Beret, long-range, 6-men Recondo patrols that worked behind enemy lines. The Air Force helo’s inserted teams into “critical” areas in early mornings, and extracted teams, usually under enemy fire, in the afternoons… I’ll tell you one thing: I sure-the-hell am glad that they were on OUR side! They were some mean, tough Sob’s!! Whoa!…..and am sorry to say that a lot of these mean, tough Sob’s, as well as many of our own Air Force helo pilots, didn’t return from Vietnam. It was a vicious job that was accomplished by any means possible, and the high losses of men and aircraft reflected this fact! I was fortunate as my aircraft was only shot down once near Pleikieu, and I escaped capture with no more of an injury than that of a ruptured disk to prove it. Other pilots were not “as lucky” during their tours.

I made “Captain” by this point, awarded the Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross, and Presidential Unit Citation with “V” device for valor. At the conclusion of this combat tour, November 1967, I was assigned to 1001st Helicopter Squadron, Headquarters Command, at Bolling AFB, Washington D.C.

The 1001st Squadron was, by mid-1968, re-named the 1st Helicopter Squadron and was moved to Andrews AFB, Maryland. I started out in the twin-rotor H-21 “the big-banana bird”, and flying the UH-1Fs. Later, our unit sent the H-21s to the “bone-yard” and I became multi-rated in the Sikorsky’s H-3’s and UH1N’s….both twin-jet aircraft. The work entailed flying Generals, Senators, and other dignitaries in the Washington D.C. area and surrounding States.

During my last three years at Washington D.C., I was assigned as Vice-President Spiro T. Agnew’s Aircraft Commander. I flew just about everywhere, loading the VIP UH-1N helicopter, and his personal limousine in a MAC C-141 aircraft and traveling worldwide. I enjoyed the work immensely, working with the Secret Service and seeing just how things are done “behind the scenes”. These years were perhaps some of the most pleasurable and rewarding of my career.

In ’74, I was sent to a “flying desk job” with the 743rd Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron, part of NORAD’s Air Defense Command. The site itself was located on a mountaintop, near Galena, Alaska. The 24/7 work entailed radar detection and tracking of Soviet aircraft that happen to have “strayed” into our continental airspace, and then we, in turn, deployed intercept fighters to identify/escort the intruders out of the area.

In 1975, my very last operational assignment allowed me to return to my home state, California. I got my last flying assignment to the UH-1N helicopter cockpit to become Operations Officer, and eventually Commander of Detachment 8, 37th Air Rescue (MAC) at Vandenberg AFB, near Santa Barbara. I was stationed here for about 6 years having to be within 5 rings of a telephone, 24 hours a day! The job of Rescue was another 24/7 days per week occupation.

Most rescues had to do with overly intent fishermen, fishing along the coastline, forgetting their surroundings and getting washed out into a raging ocean, or a “weekend captain” caught up in the unforgiving nature of the sea itself, … “the unprepared” being ill-prepared to handle immediate, or overwhelming, marine emergencies.

I retired from the Air Force as a Major on September 30th, 1980…after 21 years military service, with no aircraft accidents, one divorce, three beautiful, well-educated daughters, and two grandchildren to my credit.

I finished my final semester BA degree with honors, and was hired by ITT Corporation in 1981. I have served the needs of this company ever since. After becoming manager of all of the Air Force’s Vandenberg Optics telescope sites, in 1994, I left Vandenberg AFB and took over a small tracking site at Anderson Peak. I asked for this transfer, as my beautiful, and loving wife passed-on from breast cancer also in 1994, and life without this special lady just seemed to have lost its meaningful luster. I have never witnessed such courage or tenacity for life, even in wartime, as I had experienced with this wonderful woman. My life has never been the same since her passing. She and I had enjoyed our hillside, Country-French home in Carmel, California since 1985. Now, I have been quite satisfied with my own smaller world just to supervise a locally located Air Force tracking site in the mountains of the Santa Lucia Range, in Big Sur, near Carmel California. I drive a GSA SUV down the mountain’s one-lane dirt road, on a 4/10 workweek, to the top of the 4000′ mountain that overlooks the blue Pacific. My crew and I track missiles that are westward bound, and special satellites for the Air Force.

But the days of even this 22-year career are getting short now…at the conclusion of this year, 2003, I expect to fully retire and spend the remainder of my days photographing nature, and the wild, ocean coastline, in all its glory, and in her many moods, transformations, and colors…Carmel, my home, is the place in which to ponder past glory, experiences, and pleasures in my quiet, remaining years.