We watched in amazement as the fireball rose behind the Headquarters building. A fully fueled F-105 with an extra 275 gallon fuel tank under each wing makes a hell of an explosion when it crashes on take-off. The only black flying officer I saw flying the Thunderchiefs at Bitburg was Capt Emeal Tipton, and it was his crash we watched that August in 1963. I couldn't see the crash from Bitburg Air Base itself, too many buildings in the way. I had just come out of Base Personnel office, but I could see the fireball over toward the Trier Highway. He didn't make it.
According to the Veterans of Foreign wars, Capt Tipton wouldn't qualify for membership even though he died in Germany: he was a cold warrior.
The many hours Captain Tipton spent on alert duty don't count for much officially, nor do the millions of countless hours of combat alert duty the rest of the service men and women, regardless of branch, who served around the world in the Cold War. Officially, according to the Congress of the United States, you weren't officially shot at, so you don't count as a real combat veteran. It doesn't matter if you served on alert duty aboard a U.S. Navy carrier in the freezing sleet of the North Atlantic, or in the sweltering heat of a closed tactical missile launch bay underground in Okinawa. It matters even less if you served your tour of duty in the ZI, Zone of the Interior, or in civilian language, the United States, regardless of what you did. You aren't counted as a war hero. It doesn't matter we kept the most ominous, powerful threat ever posed to our country from attacking us, possibly destroying the entire planet in the process.
We won. And nobody cares.
The bureaucracy and the little rules and caveats that often exist, especially within government often leaves me shaking my head.
Having lived in Bitburg, myself, this story hits close to home. You honor a serviceman who gave his life for our country, whether it's properly recognized or not...and draw to light some of the issues within our recognition system. Every service person is invaluable, regardless of where they served.
I always consider myself a Vietnam Era veteran, I was in those Mace launch bays and the missile compound on Okinawa that you mention, when we went into War Readiness Condition 2 over the Gulf of Tonkin incident. I had just completed the paperwork and Class 2 Flight Physical to join the Kadena AB Skydiving Club, went to turn it all in and the note on the door said..."We're closed, the 173rd Airborne has been redeployed to Vietnam,
A good tribute George and spot on about serving. While stationed at Clark Air Base 1971 - 1973 I deployed TDY five different times to various remote radar sites in Vietnam. On two of those deployments I had to dive into bunkers because of VC rocket attacks. None of my individual TDYs were longer than thirty days and my total in-country day count for the 5 trips was 49. Those forty-nine total days and being under fire neither qualified me for the Vietnam Service Medal, nor could a mention that I was in country be made in my records. Thirty days on one visit or 60 days total were the magic numbers. I argued with the VFW for several years for entry into their roll but they were/are adamant that I didn't qualify and by the rules I didn't and don't.
Hello, my name is Eric Tipton and I am one of 5 children of Emeal Tipton. I was 3 years old when this happened and dont remember much. I'm 54 now and still live a life of "what if." I'm very proud of what my father accomplished at a time when opportunities were few for Black Americans. I've embraced this land of the free and realize that I have no excuses for not taking every opportunity to be successful. Thank you for posting this blog that I happened to find on an internet search. Moments like these are precious as we still don't know much about my father. Thanks you. He is definitely my "Cold Warrior."
My name is Timothy Swainhart. I was a young airman stationed at Bitburg at the time. I witnessed your father's aircraft taking off with his wingman. Your father's plane seemed to lose power, roll over, and then disappeared from my view. I heard the crash, saw the smoke, and went back to my office. We all mourned your father, our fellow airman. I am sure he would be proud of you.
My name is Richard Forester and I also was there on the flight line that day when Captain Tipton died. I remember him from the Zulu alert area where I first saw the only Black pilot I had ever seen. We all were sad snd mourned his loss. You should be proud of him and he is I’m sur proud of you.
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