Air Force showed Vietnam vet the world

Photos by Marlena Sloss/The Herald
Allen Niehaus of Huntingburg holds a photograph of himself from 1966, when he served in the U.S. Air Force.

By OLIVIA INGLE
oingle@dcherald.com

Allen Niehaus, 77, knew nothing about military service when he enlisted in May 1961.

But when the U.S. Air Force recruiter offered the Huntingburg teen and his buddies 10-cent beers, “that was it,” he says.

Allen decided he wanted to serve his country as a heavy equipment operator. And, naturally, the recruiter told him what he wanted to hear.

Allen remembers running into his recruiter several years after he retired from the Air Force and told the elder man that he lied to him.

“But I told him, ‘Yeah, I stayed in and it was good for me,’” Allen says.

Allen was born on Aug. 9, 1942, and is one of five kids to Raymond and Clara (Kahle) Niehaus. He and his brother, Roger, still live in the house they grew up in in Huntingburg. Although the siblings grew up in town, they have fond memories of adventures on the Niehaus cattle farm in Holland.

Allen was 18 when he enlisted, and joined with six of his Huntingburg High School classmates and one guy from a class ahead of him.

He completed basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, and says “it wasn’t very much fun. We got hollered at a lot.”

Following basic training, he was to attend aircraft armament ammunitions school at Lowery Air Force Base in Denver, but dislocated his elbow right before he left. He ended up staying at Lackland for a second phase of basic and then was promoted to Airman 3rd Class and sent to Lowery for schooling.

Allen Niehaus of Huntingburg poses for a portrait on Nov. 20. Niehaus served in the U.S. Air Force and Reserve from 1961-1985.

In armament school, Allen learned the basic electronics and mechanics associated with military aircraft armament systems. From there, he was sent to Royal Air Force Alconbury in England. While at Alconbury, he went on two temporary duty assignments — one to Morocco and one to Libya, where he loaded ordinance, including non-lethal flash bombs, on light-bomber jets like the RB-66.

After England, Allen was assigned to K.I. Sawyer Air Force Base in Michigan where he loaded missiles and rockets on F-101 supersonic jet fighters.

During that time, he also remembers competing at the William Tell Gunnery Competition in Florida where he and his team won in their category for loading rockets and missiles.

After some time in Michigan, Allen had some small arms training at Hamilton Air Force Base in California before being shipped out to Vietnam.

When he first got to Nha Trang, Vietnam, he worked on some old aircraft and loaded rockets. He went on two temporary duty assignments, one to Da Nang and one to Plekui.

He remembers when he and a fellow soldier were returning from Plekui and the only thing they could catch a ride on was a C-130 Hercules transport that was making an air drop — a bull, a cow, five pigs, some chickens and some vegetables.

“When they opened the back of the plane and pushed the crate, the crate come apart for the bull and he kept going,” Allen says, laughing. “So, they made hamburgers from him, I guess.”

When he returned to Nha Trang, the Air Force was looking for gunners for the AC-47, a gunship dubbed “Puff the Magic Dragon,” and Allen was accepted.

He flew night close air support and interdiction. Part of his job was throwing flares, and doing the maintenance on and loading of the guns.

Following Vietnam, he went to Florida and a temporary duty assignment in Maryland before being discharged from the Air Force in October 1968.

A couple months after his discharge, he joined the Air Force Reserve and got a job as an Air Reserve technician. He says being in the Reserve was “basically like being in the Air Force, but Civil Service.” He was stationed at Indiana’s Grissom Air Force Base where he worked on the A-37 Dragonfly light attack aircraft.

He eventually went on active duty with the Reserve in Texas in 1972 and then re-enlisted in the Air Force. Assignments in the following years included places like Guam, Iceland, New Mexico, Thailand and Arizona.

Allen Niehaus of Huntingburg holds his Air Medal and Air Force Commendation Medal from when he served in the U.S. Air Force.

Allen then attended Explosive Ordinance Disposal school, which he says “was pretty tough.”

There, he learned about explosives, bombs and missiles; and how to recognize them, dispose of them and make them safe.

He then found himself on assignments — mostly cleaning up bombing ranges — in Idaho and Portugal. There was a brief stint in Germany for nuclear weapons certification and then an EOD assignment in Georgia.

He recalls a time in Portugal when he helped dispose of thousands of pounds of dynamite.

“How the Air Force had 30,000 some odd pounds of dynamite, I don’t know, but they did,” Allen says. “It took quite a while. You burn it.”

He says Air Force protocol was to burn about 50 pounds at a time.

“But we’d still be there, probably,” Allen says, jokingly. “We done quite a bit more.”

Allen retired from the Air Force in November 1985. During his service, he earned an Air Medal, The Air Force Commendation Medal and The Distinguished Flying Cross.

There’s one key thing he learned from his time in the Service: “I learned that I didn’t know as much as I thought I did,” he says.

He had married Susan (Kerr) in 1972 and the couple had a daughter, Rose (Niehaus) Morris. They divorced while Allen was still in the Air Force and stationed in New Mexico.

When Allen retired from the Air Force, he moved back to Huntingburg, where Rose eventually came to attend school.

Post-Air Force, Allen worked construction jobs, helped friends build houses and helped out on the family farm. He also worked for a while as a night security guard at Kimball International.

He’s an active member of Huntingburg Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2366 and American Legion Post 343 in Holland, where he served as commander in the late 1980s or early 1990s.

In his free time, he enjoys reading (he’s read all of the Harry Potter books), completing sudoku puzzles and logic problems, and gardening. He’s also started writing some of his life’s stories.

He takes frequent trips to Pennsylvania to visit Rose, her husband Jeffery Morris (who is retired from the Air Naitonal Guard) and his three grandkids, Caleb, Abram and Macie.


It is The Herald's goal to preserve the stories of Dubois County’s military veterans. If you are a veteran who would like to tell us your story or know a veteran whose story you'd like to share, please contact the newsroom at news@dcherald.com or 812-482-2626.




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