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VETERAN PROFILE: William Gerald Hooks

In which branch did you serve and when?

I started in 1945 I served 25 years in the United States Army. I was involved in Airborne and Aviation.

What was your rank upon leaving/retiring the service?

Lieutenant colonel

What did you do after exiting the service?

After I retired, I wanted to be in retirement, but somehow or another, my wife's stepdaddy wanted me to go down there and check with the postmaster about a job. I thought about it a little bit. Delivering mail is outside — I wanted to be outside not inside. I went down there and took the exam and I passed it. I delivered mail for 18 years and I enjoyed every bit of it. The best thing I liked about it was watching the kids grow up. It was pleasant. It was hard work, but the pay was good.

After that, I had two crew chiefs that were in the military with me that was maintaining the Caribou aircraft and one of them met with me one day and said "Why don't we start a Otter-Caribou association?" This was in 1984. So I asked him how he would go about doing this. There were four of us that started the association. We used Christmas cards to send notes to the guys about the association. It just multiplied. We had our first reunion in 1984 we had about 100 people there. We are now in the 21st reunion going to Washington D.C. in the fall. There are 800 members nationwide. It's been an experience.

Why did you join?

I was drafted in to the United States Army right out of high school as soon as I became 18. I reported to my station in Camp Shelby and was sent from there to Camp Wheeler in Macon, Ga.

What were some of your most notable tour stops?

In Korea, I became first lieutenant in the 187, the Airborne Regimental Combat Team, which Gen. Westmoreland was the commander. We were a combat-ready-to-go. We got some jumps into Korea. One of the highlights of being there was what we did. One of our brigadier generals had been captured and they were holding him at Kojodo Island of the mainland of Korea and so Gen. Westmoreland was giving an order to rescue our general. we went in and rescued our general. we got our general back alive. Unfortunately, a lot of Koreans were killed because they were positioned to kill us.

I also had the opportunity to go to helicopter school. When I got out I was assigned to the first aviation company that had the old Otter aircraft. I was the operations officer. It was a really good deal if you could make transition into that company. It was elite of the Army aircraft at that time. You could take nine people in it and you could haul cargo. I wanted to transition in to flying a two-engine airplane. There was an assignment in Tehran, Iran. So I went. I spent a year over and when I got home I got to go to the Command General Staff College. I went to the college for about four months and then came back to the Otter Company that I was assigned in when I first got aviation-rated at Fort Benning. I was two-engine rated at the time. We picked up the Caribou aircraft and I was able to fly it. When the war broke out in Vietnam, my company of Caribou were given orders in May of 1962 to go to Vietnam. I think that the tour in Vietnam was the most notable. I saw that we were making progress and that we were providing help for people and we were able to move these folks around that were made homeless. We brought in material, food, clothing, chicken, and hogs. It made you feel good for the time you were there. Flying around the United States is admirable, but it's not as effective as it would be for what we did in Vietnam. These people didn't speak our language, but they would give you signals that portrayed thank you. To be a part of that makes you feel good.

Any combat experience?

Flying those airplanes where they are trying to shoot at you, yes. You didn't know where they were shooting at you. Initially, they thought we were a bomber, so they let us alone. The Caribou is basically a transport airplane, not a fighter-type airplane. Then they found out we weren't carrying any weapons other than just our personal pistol. Initially, we didn't think we would be bothered, but then we started getting shot at so we said we should tighten up a little bit.

What was your fondest memory?

I think it would have to be my tour in Vietnam and doing the work we were able to do and being the commander of that company and seeing the results we were reaping from it and doing for them. Flying is a good thing, but unless you do something with your flying, you aren't doing what you need to do. That would be the thing that I would like to carry with the rest of my life. We did the best we could do with what we had.