Comanche National Bank Salutes Viet Nam Veteran Al Aguirre



Al Aguirre as a brand new enlisted sailor before his stint in the Tonkin Gulf

Al Aguirre as a brand new enlisted sailor before his stint in the Tonkin Gulf

In May of 1963 Al Aguirre completed his high school career at Fox Tech High School in San Antonio. By that time the United States was well entrenched in the Viet Nam war. With many of his buddies from Fox Tech joining up for the military the young Aguirre decided to join them and enlisted in the US Navy.

Al’s father had served in the Navy during the second World War and his stepfather had made a career out of the Air Force. So when he came of age Al joined the Navy for a four year stint.

While his term of service was the typical four years for an enlistee, he said that if he had it to do over again that he would make a career of the Navy.

The San Diego Naval Training Base was where he went through his basic training. He was stationed at Camp Nimitz named for the famous admiral from Texas. After twelve weeks of training, he was assigned to the Fighting Redcocks Squadron and his outfit set sail for Guam and then to the Phillipines. From there they headed for Viet Nam and the Tonkin Gulf.

The four years that he served included two tours in the Tonkin Gulf. His first assignment was aboard the USS Midway, a ship that had seen heavy action during WWII. Al said that the ship had been repaired several times from the bombings it took during the war. His second ship was the USS Coral Sea.

The USS Coral Sea carried Al Aguirre and his squadron of "Fighting Redcocks" to the Tonkin Gulf.

The USS Coral Sea carried Al Aguirre and his squadron of “Fighting Redcocks” to the Tonkin Gulf.

The Coral Sea and the Midway were both aircraft carriers and included a crew of 5,000 men and four squadrons of planes. The ships also carried Air Rescue helicopters that flew over the waters rescuing downed pilots in their area.

While aboard the ship it was the duty of Al and his comrades to oversee flight operations for the planes coming and going from their deck. He said that operations were 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It was the job of his squadron to load bombs on the planes to attack enemy targets in the war zones.

After the crew loaded the plane with the bombs they were required to pull the pins on the bombs to assure that they would detonate once they hit their target. When they pulled the pins, they were required to show them to the pilot to assure that not only were they loaded but ready for action.

Some of the planes were equipped with 20 millimeter cannons on each side. It was up to the crew to make sure that the cannons worked properly because if either side was not functioning properly it would cause the plane to spin in the air and could lead to a potential crash.

While the Midway or the Coral Sea were never in danger of being bombed, Al said that handling that much firepower on board the ships felt very dangerous at times. He said that the round the clock operation took its toll at times and the sailors would sleep anywhere they could find a place, even on the bombs. It was imperative, he shared, for the men to be alert and focused to keep the pilots as safe as possible.

The time at sea could last for three or four months at a times with nothing in sight but water. Other than the men on board the only other interaction was when supply ships would deliver food, fuel, and ammunition to the Midway or Coral Sea.

Al got to go home once during his four years and that was between tours in the Gulf. After a short stay back in Texas, he headed back to California where they began preparing for his second tour. They practiced flight operations in Reno Nevada before returning to San Francisco where they departed for his second tour.

A postmark from his ship in a letter back home to his family in San Antonio plus his logo for the "Fighting Redcocks" Squadron.

A postmark from his ship in a letter back home to his family in San Antonio plus his logo for the “Fighting Redcocks” Squadron.

The final tally for Al Aguirre in the US Navy was 3 years, 11 months, and 29 days. He was discharged at the base in San Diego and headed home to San Antonio. Unfortunately, as I have heard from so many Viet Nam vets, he was not welcomed home as he should have been. He never was verbally or physically assaulted but he did hear the “Baby Killer” chants from the anti-war protesters.

He married his beautiful wife Connie in 1972 and was already working for Kelley Air Force Base in the Alamo city. With the winding down of the Viet Nam war, his job was one that did not make the cut and he was laid off.

Al and Connie Aguirre look over a photo album that reflects back on Al's time in the US Navy.

Al and Connie Aguirre look over a photo album that reflects back on Al’s time in the US Navy.

While visiting Connie’s mother in Comanche he came to like the central Texas community and decided this was where he wanted to raise his family. He and Connie moved  here with their two children Willie and Margurite. Al first went to work for Gore’s and then worked for Goodyear in Comanche and Brownwood. His final job was with Comanche ISD where he was hired by the late H.R. Jefferies as a custodian and ended his career there driving a bus for the district.

Al Aguirre is yet another American patriot and hero who gave a part of his life in service to this great country. Like all the veterans that I know, he carries himself with great dignity and his character and integrity speak volumes about a man who served so unselfishly and has asked for nothing in return. We are truly indebted to men like Al Aguirre.

Comanche National Bank
P.O. Box 191 · 100 East Central · Comanche, Texas 76442
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About Ronnie Clifton

Ronnie Clifton was a Texas Football Coach for 29 years. In addition to football, Clifton also served as the head coach in basketball and both girls and boys track. “I loved being involved in and playing sports as a kid, and I soaked up every ounce of available information about any sporting event; I also love to write. What better combo for me than becoming the writer of a sports blog?”
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