Born during the Depression on the impoverished Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, Ed McGaa saw a lot of young men join the military in search of a better life. He joined the Marines and served in Korea just after the truce ending the hostilities was signed. He used the GI Bill to go to college, and then a military recruiter persuaded him to re-enlist. This time, he trained as a Marine pilot for service in Vietnam, where he flew 110 missions, as many as five of them in a 24-hour stretch. McGaa went on to become a published author, exploring in works of fiction and nonfiction the history and contemporary experiences of his people.
†††† Born on the Pine Ridge Reservation; a lot of American Indians joined the military; he enlisted out of high school for two years in the Marines; wanted to see foreign countries, so he volunteered for Korea; arrived after the truce, comfortable life near the DMZ, engineer battalion; went to college on GI Bill, made good money as a welder; recruiter pointed out he could re-enlist as a Second Lieutenant; this time around he decided to be a pilot; flew 110 missions during the Vietnam War; went to law school and stayed in the reserves for a total of 20 yearsí service.
†††† Motivation for joining the Marines; WWII inspired a lot of patriotism; worry at beginning of that war we might lose; oldest brother was in Marines on Tarawa; taking scrap metal to school; Marine brother seemed prouder of his branch than his two brothers who were in Navy; inspired by portrayal of Marines in movies; mother did not want him to go in; Ed was last of 13 children and at first she wouldn't sign for him.
†††† Most memorable experience was getting his gold wings out of flight school; next was when he flew his first combat mission; was shot at; took out an antiaircraft site; a thrill to come out of the mission alive; geography of Vietnam; flying missions all over, some in Laos and Cambodia; Phantom very fast aircraft; once flew five missions in a 24-hour period; two-man craft, with man in rear there for information on what else is going on; during the mission, having no fear, totally focused; fear can paralyze you; dangers: hitting your own men or hitting a mountain or flying into a box canyon; saving an H-46 load of Marines when he flew those five missions.Specs of the F-4B Phantom he flew; could do 2.1 Mach without bomb cargo; science of dropping bombs; also carried napalm; rockets didnít allow you to stay up long or go as fast; North Vietnamese and Vietcong very disciplined; many were on drugs, which made them more dangerous, likely to take risks.† Mystique about being a Marine pilot; actually believe you're invincible; didnít know any pilots who refused a mission; WWII pilots were in much more danger; you were lucky if you flew 25 missions; as an Indian he never saw any antiwar sentiment in his community; in his novel Eagle Vision he wrote about a ceremony that was held for him before he went over; had no use for the antiwar crowd.††
†††† Indians have always honored their warriors; didn't have medals, but an eagle feather was a badge of honor; Navajos served in WWII by passing on information in tribal language; Sioux always volunteered to serve in the front lines; "we're not the greatest soldiers in garrison;" he rose from private to captain and could have made full colonel had he stayed on.
†††† We lost the war because of the politicians; critical of Robert McNamara and Lyndon Johnson; should have invaded Hanoi or Haiphong; superior firepower, concentrated on those areas, would have won the war; thinks we did the right thing in Iraq by going straight into Baghdad, but we didn't follow up well.† Regrets that he didn't stay longer in Korea; should have stayed over another year and then gone to college; did not regret his service in Vietnam; in touch on the Internet with his combat buddies; enjoyed the adventure and being single.†
Thanks to Veterans History Project, Library of Congress
Read more by Ed McGaa†where he writes that
The F-4 was top of the line back in its day. Its size was a bit awesome when you first solo it- MC version F4B had only one stick. Surprisingly it was fairly nimble acrobatics wise. I flew H-34 helicopters in Reserves out of Mpls- closest Reserve base to SoDak Law School. I did crash one F-4 but walked away from it - a bit of shock- I must admit. I flew my tribe's flag 'Over the enemy' as requested by my tribe's Tribal Chief- Enos Poor Bear. He had the Marine Corps tuck it under my ejection seat unbeknownst to me before going out on a combat mission. I have a hung nape under the Phantom after this mission if you take a close look. "Look at all the photographers, " I exclaimed to my back seat RIO- radar Operator as we came in to the revetments. "Some big wig S. O. B. must be coming in." Little did I know it was for me. The Corps respects our tribes as many, many Marines were and are tribal members and most often we do well in combat. It is in the Blood. In combat you swear a bit. Part of the Culture.