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The Vietnam War – C.J. Molitor and the war at Vietnam’s Air Bases

We’ve been learning about Milroy’s C.J. “Cy” Molitor’s Air Force career. After his Korean War service he interrupted his Air Force career with a Navy enlistment that took him to Japan, but later reenlisted in the Air Force.

Cy was assigned to Langley Air Force Base, Virginia in 1967 when he received orders for Vietnam. He was assigned to Phan Rang Air Base just inland from South Vietnam’s central coast. Within a few weeks he was flying regularly as a loadmaster on C-123 cargo planes, responsible for the loading and unloading of the cargo.

These flights included re-supply flights for the Marines at Khe Sanh Combat Base when the North Vietnamese army cut off land resupply in January 1968. Cy’s aircraft flew twenty-three “touch and goes” there, delivering medical supplies, food, ammunition, and anything else the Marines needed by skimming the landing strip while Cy triggered a parachute that pulled out a pallet-load of supplies without the aircraft having to land. Often they executed these resupply “touch and goes” while the enemy shelled the airstrip, trying to hit the resupply aircraft.

Cy explained that Vietnam offered other dangers to US personnel as well.

“I was sent TDY (Temporary Duty) to Pleiku Air Base, which was in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. We had a 171- pound Marine drug off by a tiger. The guys went out and hunted it. That tiger was 9 foot, 2 inches from the tip of his nose to the end of his tail.”

But the enemy was the most common source of danger. Cy remembered another night at Pleiku Air Base.

“[A]cross the way was Camp Holloway, an Army assault helicopter unit. They had four assault helicopter companies there. Well, those were bad news to the VC so they’d lob 115mm rockets trying to get Camp Holloway and they were hitting us. One of them dropped on my barracks. Fortunately, because some had hit before, I was heading for the bunker when one went off. I’d say I was tossed about 20-25 feet right through the air. I tell you, that’s when my hearing went.”

Cy added that the blast had not injured him other than his hearing, but the guy running just behind him had been hit in the shoulder by shrapnel from the rocket. He continued his story of that scary night.

“My barracks blew up. It shredded all my clothes. I got pieces of the shrapnel at home. [W]hen another one blew we were inside this bunker. The beams on the bunker were about [six inches] thick, square beams — wood up above and covered with dirt — solid and sand. That thing just quivered. You were scared it’s gonna cave, but they were built pretty rugged.”

Cy shared another experience from Pleiku that suggests war can sometimes bring danger and comedy simultaneously. Cy was with a friend named Bob Elzig from Little Falls.

“We were sitting out behind the hooch one night having a beer. It was one of these rainy nights and they started lobbing in mortars. We had a master sergeant by the name of John Champion. He was prematurely gray. So, we had a gun emplacement out about 60 feet. They dig down and then there are sandbags [around the gun emplacement]. So, anyway, when these mortars started coming in, Champion runs for the gun pit and vaults over it and all we heard was this (he made an angry yowling sound) a whole bunch of funny screaming, right? So, here comes silver-haired Champion out one way and a cat out another way. He had landed on a cat and got his face all scratched up! (Cy laughed) Me and Elzig were laughing so hard, if a mortar had landed there, it would have got us.”

He shared a poignant story that troubled him. He had been on temporary duty at the beautiful, resort-like community of Dalat in the central highlands.

“There was an orphanage there — I’ve got a picture of a little boy — John. I wish I would have brought him back with me, but I didn’t. That’s another thing I regret. He was such a nice guy, “Sergeant Cy. Sergeant Cy.” (Cy laughed) That’s all he ever called me. And then they had a mortar round that went into the orphanage and I don’t know how many kids were hurt. I felt so bad.”

Cy’s happiest story from his Vietnam service involved his wife, Hazel, but it occurred in Hawaii in November 1968, not Vietnam.

“My wife was from here, Marshall, and she flew to Hawaii and I came from Vietnam and we got married in Hawaii. We got married at Fort DeRussy. Right on Waikiki Beach.”

Cy returned to the U.S. from Vietnam and continued his Air Force service before retiring in 1970. He and Hazel returned to the area where he continued to serve, including service as a county commissioner, Mayor of Lynd, Counselor for American Legion Boys State, and many years as a volunteer at SMSU’s Southwest Minnesota History Center. I interviewed Cy in the fall of 2004. He passed away in 2015 after a life of service.

The Lyon County Museum is organizing an exhibit about the impact of the Vietnam War on Lyon County. If you would like to help this effort to publish stories of the war’s impact or with the exhibit, please contact me at the email address below or Jennifer Andries at the museum at 537-6580.

I welcome your participation in and ideas about our exploration of prairie lives. You may reach me at prairieviewpressllc@gmail.com.

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