Larry Googins is a native of Portland, Maine, raised by his widowed mother and grandmother. As a kid, his family avidly followed the Korean War through radio reports. A decade later, news about Vietnam came by way of black and white television. “When I went to college, I thought the Vietnam War would be over by the time I graduated in 1967.”
Listed as 1A by the draft board and certain to go in the Army when his number came up, Larry took initiative and volunteered for the Air Force and Navy. He wanted to fly, and both branches wanted to train him. But after joining the Air Force Larry became a navigator instead and flew nearly 200 missions throughout Southeast Asia in the rear seat of an F4 fighter jet. Larry eventually earned his pilot’s wings.
“The first ten missions you’re scared to death,” he admits, recalling a common experience for many pilots. “After that, it becomes routine, almost a daily job.”
The possibility of being shot down was very real. Did he worry about that much? “I remember some missions that I thought were my last.”
When Post Chaplain Joe Mavero called to invite us to interview veterans at VFW Post 128 in Rochester, PA, we couldn’t pass up an opportunity to preserve more Beaver County stories. After Commander Tom Crawford and the Post’s executive board generously reserved a quiet space for us in the building, we set up a two-day recording event June 16-17, 2014. Over two days we captured the stories of four veterans representing WW II, Korea, Vietnam, and the Cold War.
VFW Post 128 sits on Rochester’s Virginia Avenue, high above the Ohio River valley. It is a spacious location, with reception hall and meeting rooms. In addition to being the home to the Rochester VFW Ladies Auxiliary, the Post hosts Chapter 862 of Vietnam Veterans of America, the largest VVA chapter in Pennsylvania and second in the nation.
“We’re thankful that Post 128’s leadership recognizes the importance of preserving the stories of their members,” said Kevin Farkas, director of Veteran Voices of Pittsburgh. “They understand the historical significance of what their members experienced and the importance of giving each veteran a chance to tell his or her story in their own words so that future generations of Americans will better understand and appreciate their service.”
Listen to our complete audio interview with Air Force Vietnam era veteran, Larry Googins. This interview was conducted by Kevin Farkas/Veteran Voices of Pittsburgh on June 16, 2014 at VFW Post 128, Rochester, PA. Special thanks to Joe Mavero, Post Commander Tom Crawford, and the VFW Post 128 executive board.
In many ways, flying missions in Vietnam was like an everyday job. Almost routine, says Air Force pilot, Larry Googins. Sure it was dangerous, as ground forces constantly shot at the planes. But the flyers didn’t think about crashing too much or even being blown out of the skies. The real fear was being captured.
“We knew what it would be like if we were shot down and taken prisoner,” Larry says. At least that’s what his pilot’s training prepared him for. But that was academic. The real scoop came from the downed pilots themselves, like Larry’s roommate who spent two years as a POW. “It was worse than you can imagine.”
This audio short was produced by Kevin Farkas. Music: André Oliveira /”Silver Guitar (Cotton Ball Remix),” Tim Bravo/”Flute Check,” TC Randolph/”Cello Solo Dorian,” Sergey Pismenny/”Solo for Memory Flute” (available on Soundcloud.com).