Academy Visitor Center employee receives Vietnam Service Medal

  • Published
  • By Don Branum
  • Air Force Academy Public Affairs
A Visitor Center greeter received a Vietnam Service Medal in a ceremony at the Visitor Center Feb. 4, nearly 38 years after serving at Korat Royal Air Base, Thailand, in support of the U.S. evacuation of Saigon, South Vietnam.

Retired Capt. Jimmie Fox was stationed at Korat Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand, as a weapons loader for A-7D Corsair II close air support fighters.

"It's long overdue, but such an important thing for us an Air Force and as a nation to thank him," said Academy Dean of the Faculty Brig. Gen. Dana Born, who presided over the ceremony.

Fox, a native of Dunleith, Miss., enlisted in the Air Force Jan. 3, 1973. After graduating from the Aircraft Weapons School at Lowry Air Force Base, Colo., he was assigned to the 49th Munitions Maintenance Squadron at Holloman AFB, N.M. He served at Korat Air Base from March to December 1975.

Operation Frequent Wind, the Pentagon's name for the fall of Saigon, began April 29. Fox was assigned to the 388th MMS. His team leader had fallen ill, leaving Fox and two other Airmen to reload A-7Ds as they landed in flights of four.

"He was there at a very critical point," Born said during the ceremony. "The number of things he had to take care of in a short period was enormous."

The U.S. began a helicopter evacuation after North Vietnamese artillery and airstrikes made a fixed-wing evacuation unfeasible, according to an Air Force report written by Daniel Haulman. A total of 71 CH-53 and HH-53 helicopters flew 662 sorties April 29-30, extracting more than 7,800 evacuees from the Defense Attache Office at Tan Son Nhut Airport and the U.S. embassy in downtown Saigon while F-4 Phantoms, A-7Ds and AC-130 gunships provided air cover.

Fox's team worked much like a NASCAR pit crew, Born said, making sure the A-7Ds that landed at Korat got back into the air as quickly as possible.

Operation Frequent Wind was the final leg of the largest aerial evacuation in history: more than 50,000 people were carried out of South Vietnam in April 1975, including 7,800 evacuees in the final two days.

Fox stayed in the Air Force for five more years after his Vietnam tour, returning to the 49th MMS before moving to the 57th MMS at Nellis AFB, Nev., in 1977. He left service in January 1981 to attend ROTC at the University of New Mexico.

"It was a two-year program," Fox recalled. "You had to have two years of college and four or more years of active duty."

Fox's first duty station after he earned his commission in 1983 was at the Air Force Academy. He worked as the assistant director of services and base mortuary affairs officer; he later became the Academy billeting officer. His later assignments included postings in Greece and Germany and a deployment to Southwest Asia during Operation Desert Shield. He was assigned to Los Angeles AFB, Calif., in 1993 and retired two years later to Colorado Springs.

When Fox came back from Europe, though, he had company. He had met Ann Doolan in Maastricht, The Netherlands. The two married not long afterward. Ann Doolan-Fox gave birth to their son, Ryan, at the Academy's hospital after Fox retired.

Until 2003, Fox and other Airmen who were stationed at Korat Air Base during Operation Frequent Wind were eligible only for the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal. The 2003 National Defense Authorization Act changed the eligibility requirements, designating Frequent Wind as the 18th Vietnam campaign. Fox had received an Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal after his return from Vietnam, opening the door for him to receive his medal.

"We never really talked about eligibility until a few years ago," said Doolan-Fox, a native of Dublin.

They decided to file a case with the Air Force Board of Correction for Military Records to get an upgrade to Fox's Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal.

"He shared with me what he was going through," Born said. "It's not an easy process. It took him the better part of two or three years. He dutifully kept me up-to-date with where it was going, and when he got word in July that it was inbound, I looked forward to being there to witness."

The board responded in August, just days from Fox's birthday, to say that his military record had been corrected. The Academy's senior leadership worked out a time and place to recognize Fox.

"It's a small ceremony, but the significance of it is huge," Born said. "This is one of our Airmen, who had grace under fire, leadership, a sense of duty, attention to detail, a sense of urgency, a sense of care for the people on his crew and the care and safety of the pilots."

Born said it was special that the family not only witnessed Fox receiving the medal but that his family helped him attain it.

"It's been almost four decades, so the honor to present him with that medal now ... is really special, especially to one of our own Air Force Academy family members," Born said. "It was a chance for us to say thank you."