‘They’ve got your back’
FLORENCE, S.C. -- For Lee Fifield, service in the military was a career commitment.
Fifield joined the Air Force in 1949 and continued to serve until retirement in 1977.
Over the years, he served in multiple countries, including Japan and Thailand.
Fifield flew unarmed planes to help track enemy planes and to protect ammunition and U.S. planes. He also flew combat command and control as a controller in the Airborne Combat Command and Control aircraft.
“We didn’t want the enemy to get any of it,” Fifield said.
Fifield said one of his biggest lessons was how to care for others.
“You’re always looking out for your buddies,” Fifield said. “They look after you and you look after them. They’ve got your back, and you’ve got their backs. That’s the way it works.”
While Fifield was in the control room one time, he had the opportunity to look out for his buddies, saving one man’s life.
Fifield said there was a plane that had gone down and was surrounded by the Viet Cong.
There was another plane that had just gotten back to the base, and Fifield told the flier to go back and rescue the trapped man. The man said he wasn’t going down there because people would shoot at him.
“I don’t know what made me do it, but I just instantaneously said, ‘Red 1, you either go in or you’ll never fly in this man’s Air Force another day,’” Fifield said.
Little did Fifield know, the senior colonel had watched and heard the entire exchange. Fifield said the senior colonel gave him a thumbs up.
“I knew I must have done something right,” Fifield said.
Fifield said they got the man out safely.
Fifield also served in the U.S. Air Force during the Cuban Missile Crisis. His job was to fly back and forth between the United States and Cuba and track enemy planes.
He said everyone was on edge and nervous that this would turn into the third world war.
During his career, Fifield received multiple honors, such as the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal for his service during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the United Nations Service Medal with one bronze star and the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Military Ribbon.
Fifield said he wouldn’t change any of his time in the Air Force.
“I enjoyed every day,” Fifield said. “I don’t regret any of it. If I had to do it again, I’d do it.”