Joseph Galbraith had no idea what he was getting into when he volunteered to work on aircraft in Vietnam. At a time when everyone else was being drafted, he chose to enlist. He has never regretted the interesting life he's lived ever since.
Joseph D. Galbraith was born on Dec. 3, 1947 to Donald and Dorothy Galbraith of Lock Haven. He attended Lock Haven High School, where he was on the wrestling team and managed the football team. Also while in school, Galbraith worked at Seybold's Atlantic Station and took care of Dr. Shaffer's yard work.
Galbraith graduated from high school in 1965. He took a job with Avco Lycoming Motors, building engines for Piper Aircraft. He also began attending Williamsport Community College. He worked a shift at night then attended school during the day. In October of 1966, he married Sharon Stover. By then, the Vietnam Conflict and the draft was on everyone's mind.
Joseph C. Galbraith poses in front of a C-130A gunship in Vietnam.
"I tried to enlist in the National Guard," says Galbraith. "But they were full. Instead of being drafted, I thought I'd better enlist. I enlisted in the Air Force on Dec. 14, 1966."
Galbraith was sent to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas for basic training. After basic, he was sent to North Dakota for training as a machinist. While he was there his daughter, Becky Jo, was born. He stayed in North Dakota for a year then was sent back to Texas for training as an Aircraft Mechanic at Shepard Air Force Base.
The next leg of his service took Galbraith a little closer to home. He was stationed at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware for six months. While he was there, he volunteered to go to Vietnam.
"When they called me, they told me I'd be shining a big light out the back of a plane," says Galbraith. "I didn't know it was a gunship. So I accepted the position."
The position was more complex than it seemed. Galbraith was sent to Lockbourne Air Force Base in Ohio for eight weeks of training as an Illuminator Operator for C-130 aircraft. His job aboard the aircraft was to stand at the back of the plane in flight and tell the pilot which direction to move to avoid enemy fire.
In June, 1969, Galbraith was sent to Ubon, Thailand.
"When I got there, I found out it was a gunship," he says. "I didn't know if I wanted to do it and I got sick on my first mission. They told me that if I got sick on a second mission I would be out of the program, but I made up my mind to go through with it."
It was the rainy season when Galbraith joined the 16th Special Operations Squadron which flew the new C-130A 'Spectre' Gunship. He flew his first three missions with another man showing him what to do.
"The first ten or fifteen missions were pretty boring," says Galbraith. "We didn't get shot at during them. But then it happened and from that day forward I knew what it was about."
Galbraith explains that the C-130A gunship has machine guns and cannon mounted on one side. They used infrared tracking equipment to find supply trucks coming down the trails in the jungles. The plane would then bank 30 degrees and orbit the target area while firing at the trucks below.
"But when you were in those orbits shooting at them," he says. "They were shooting back."
"It was very interesting, but scary." Galbraith says. "I hung out the back of an airplane, attached with a cable. The pilot couldn't see out the back of the orbit. If we were getting shot at, I had to tell him which direction to bank."
According to Galbraith, the average mission was four hours long. Three of those hours were 'on target' or in the area they were looking for truck convoys. He explains that the Vietnamese did their best to conceal the trucks. They turned off headlights at night, though they could still be found through infrared scanners. They also built 'false trucks', which were little more than a cardboard frame and an engine. However, from the air they looked like a convoy. The Vietnamese would use these as decoys while the real convoy traveled a different route.
"We would try shooting the first and last truck in a convoy," says Galbraith about C-130 tactics. "Then we would get the fighter that flew with us to drop a bomb on them. We had to see an explosion to mark a truck as killed. We were averaging 60 trucks a month destroyed."
"When it was dry, we were up there trying to destroy trucks," he says. "There were two shifts. One crew would fly the early mission to about midnight. Then a second crew would take the same plane back up for the rest of the night. In December we flew 20 missions. I flew Christmas Eve and Christmas Day."
Galbraith returned to the U.S. in June of 1970. He was discharged at Travis Air Force Base at the rank of Sergeant. In Nov 1971, he joined the Pennsylvania National Guard with the 728th Maintenance Battalion in Lock Haven. Also in 1971, he began working for Cerro Metals in Bellefonte.
Galbraith stayed with the National Guard until 1975. He then left the Guard and joined the Army Reserves in State College. He retired in 1991, with 24 years of service. He held the rank of First Sergeant when he retired.
Galbraith continued to work at Cerro Metals until the company closed in 2011.
"I was the last one out the door," he says.
"I have no regrets about my service," says Galbraith. "It made me a grown man. I grew up fast."
He has a picture of himself in front of a C-130 hanging in the hallway in his home. He says he thinks of his time in Vietnam every day.
Galbraith serves as the President of the Board of Titan Federal Credit Union. He has two children, Becky Jo and Joseph Jr. He is a lifetime member of the Spectre Association, the 16th Special Operations Squadron, and he keeps in touch with many of the men he served with.
"I haven't been to a reunion yet," he says. "But I hope to go soon."
During his time in the service, Galbraith took part in 113 combat missions and logged 499 combat hours. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for taking part in a mission that destroyed 20 enemy trucks. He also received eight air medals during his time in the military.
For certain, Joseph Galbraith has lived an eventful life. When asked what he does now, the decorated, retired First Sergeant just smiles and says, "everyday is a Saturday for me now."