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Veteran shares experience as former Vietnam Air Force navigator

February 17, 2017


After being drafted for the Vietnam War, John Greene decided to join the Air Force - not wanting to be a foot soldier. He took the position as a navigator for different planes and then decided to be a tanker pilot rather than a bomber because it provided more options.


Greene had to go through officer training, but instead of being four years as it would have been for someone in college, he was drafted and trained within 90 days.


During this time, Greene experienced prisoner of war training. It was meant to simulate being tortured for information. As a navigator, he had access to top secret information, and it was crucial for him to give it.


Training was only a week, but he was forced into a box as small as he could fit, his head tucked between his legs; he could hardly move. Afterward, Greene was subjected to sleep deprivation and solitary confinement.


In solitary confinement, he was forced to stay in a four-foot by four-foot by four-foot room, hardly any room to sit comfortably. As part of sleep deprivation training, men would walk through the rooms and slam their batons loudly. The soldier inside would have to say their cell number, and if there was no response, a bucket of water was thrown on them.


The simulation took advantage of Greene’s sleep deprivation as would happen if he were a real prisoner of war. He would be taunted with stories of his wife in an attempt to make him speak.


Some men did not want to bother with the training and would give in quickly; others would plan as though it were a real situation and would attempt to escape. One man managed to escape, but because it was a simulation, he was given a chocolate bar and told to return to the training.


There were many different planes and one of the biggest threats were bomber planes, the B-52s. These planes would carry four hydrogen bombs; these bombs were almost 70 percent more dangerous than the atom bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.


These planes were flown around in masses, always ready to drop a bomb if provided authentication. Authentication required two officers to confirm and another to arm the explosive.


John recalled a time when an B-52 bomber struck the tail end of an I-35, causing the four pilots inside the bomber to eject, as well as the two inside the I-35. The four hydrogen bombs inside the B-52 were dropped. Two of the pilots died, one fell into the ocean and search parties sought to find the others.


John Greene is a native Floridian who attended the University of Florida and got married before fighting in the Vietnam War. His missions in the Air Force included navigation and planning missions into and out of countries. He now spends his time with his wife, children and grandchildren.


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