Veterans Day feature: Tom Diaz-DeLeon
With a bomb fragment in hand, Aransas Pass Veteran Tom Diaz-DeLeon shared his role in the United States Air Force and how the decision carried him throughout his life.
After graduating from Aransas Pass High School, Diaz-DeLeon volunteered to join the Air Force which was unusual during the draft years. Diaz-DeLeon went active on Oct. 31, 1967 and was discharged in 1971. “I decided to join the Air Force because I knew I would be getting skills for a job after discharge,” Diaz-DeLeon said.
In 1968, Diaz-DeLeon was sent to Vietnam. “I remember not knowing who was the enemy over there,” Diaz-DeLeon said.
Diaz-DeLeon flew with the cargo aircrafts during his time in Vietnam. He was in charge of making sure the cargo was balanced. “A lot went into what I did,” Diaz-DeLeon said. “Loading cargo into the air craft, calculating the loads, oil, fuel, weight of aircraft, passengers, weight of cargo…so many different things all had to be right so the aircraft could make it to the drop-off spot.”
A teary-eyed Diaz-DeLeon recounted the experiences of the fly-byes he and his team endured. “We would get the all clear,” Diaz-DeLeon said. “But would still be getting shot at and trying to figure out safest way to get the cargo on the ground.” Diaz-DeLeon would most of the time push the cargo out of the aircraft.
However, the most difficult part was putting the bodies on board for the trips back. “Five to 10 bodies would be placed on the aircraft and the smell and oozing was rough,” Diaz-DeLeon said. “We would have to strap them down then unload them to be sent to Hawaii where the bodies were embalmed and taken care of.”
Sixteen hours a day for four days were the shifts Diaz-DeLeon would be on the aircraft for the first year he was in Vietnam. A bomb hit Diaz-DeLeon’s base camp during that first year which is where he picked up the bomb fragment.
Diaz-DeLeon was sent over a second time where he supported the Army and Marines with artillery and special handling cargo.
He talked about the transition back into the “real world” in the United States after being discharged. “We Vets carry so many emotional scars,” Diaz-DeLeon said. “It was hard coming back to controversy when we were just fighting for our country.”
Diaz-DeLeon is the current Post Commander for VFW Post 2932 in Aransas Pass, and he credits the VFW as a place the Veterans cope with their experiences. “I’m fortunate that I can talk about what I went through to help,” Diaz-DeLeon said.
Diaz-DeLeon has continued the skills he learned in the Air Force. He continues to work on aircrafts at the Corpus Christi Army Depot. He retired in 2006 from the civil service.
Diaz-DeLeon talked about how proud he is of his son who is a Major in the Army. “He makes the third generation of war veterans in our family,” Diaz-DeLeon said. “I always encouraged my son and told him what the service taught me, but he has worked hard to get to where he is on his own.” Diaz-DeLeon encourages anyone who is unsure of what they want to do for their future career to join the military. “Joining teaches discipline, responsibility and how to be an independent individual,” Diaz-DeLeon said. “We need more of those characteristics in today’s society.”
When asked what Veterans Day means to him, Diaz-DeLeon said, “I feel proud. I feel accomplished. I have gratitude. I’m glad there is a day of remembrance, and that I can share the day with other Veterans.”
A gathering for Veterans Day will take place on Friday, Nov. 11 at 1 p.m. at Veterans Memorial Park.