MEET OUR VETERANS: Yogi Yarborough, U.S. Air Force
Yogi was born in Gilham, Arkansas on September 5, 1940. “My parents had four kids, but I am the only one who lived,” said Yogi from his home in Canton. “My dad, Roy, was drafted in the Marines during WW2. He was a farmer in Arkansas on 40 acres. In 1958 we moved to Texas. He got a job with Dew Construction running equipment there,” Yogi said.
“One of my uncles, Tracy Roden, was in the military, and was a POW during WW2. In June 1950, Korea War broke out and he went back in at the age of 42.
In August 1950 he was declared MIA, Missing in Action. He told my grandmother he wasn’t going into combat but was going to be an instructor. I have done research on my uncle and he was in Me Chong and they were on the way to protect a base from the guerillas. The lead vehicle was knocked out, 40 of them were captured and 25 of them were killed. He was put into a death march from Me Chong to Seoul, a 200-mile trip. They found his name on a chalkboard in South Korea. They don’t know if he put it there or a friend put it there,” said Yogi.
Info: The Korean War saw numerous death marches perpetrated by the North Koreans, most famously the Tiger death march. The prisoners would have their combat boots and outer clothes confiscated despite the cold weather. Meals consisted of little more than a rice ball a day and little to no water. Many died from malnutrition and disease. During the march, a North Korean major known only by his nickname, “The Tiger,” led a group of approximately 850 American prisoners on the march north. Along the way, he and his guards killed 89 men. Those that survived the Tiger’s cruelty took to calling themselves The Tiger Survivors. Only 262 men ever returned from the Tiger’s camps.
( SOURCE: www.listverse.com)
“The Army has a program called, Family Review. It is where I found information on my uncle when he was a POW during WWII. I have his purple heart and is sewing kit and they have my DNA if they ever find him. We fished and hunted together, we were really close. Chances are slim but we are still hoping to find some closure. He was in a Japanese death march so I am glad my grandmother never found out,” said Yogi shaking his head.
“As a young boy I mostly tried to stay out of trouble. We moved to Dequeen, Arkansas where I went to High School and worked at “Fats McCown” Texaco gas station. That was when a service stations was actually giving service. We did Lube jobs, fixed flats, brake jobs and minor mechanics. When you grow up on a farm you learn a lot of stuff. Most everything I learned how to do on the farm I just learn by on the job training, even the woodwork. It was a good life and it brought me a long way in life,” said Yogi with a lot of ride. “I went to the University of Arkansas but I wasn’t cut out for college. I also worked on the University dairy farm. I was destined to work, I never really did like school. I was the first one in the family to ever attend college. I went to school for two years and then went into the Air Force.”
WORKING ON THE INTERSTATES
Yogi eventually moved to Canton, Texas where he worked for Dew Construction. In around 1958-59 he worked on Highways 45, and Interstate Highway I-20 and I-30. “We did the dirt work for I-45. I ran a dozer and a Farmall with a pneumatic roller behind it. Good wages were about $1.50 an hour back then. I worked two summers there,” said Yogi.
VOLUNTEERED FOR THE AIR FORCE
“The military had a good opportunity for me at that time. I had two years of college so I was about 20 years old. I went to the Navy recruiter to talk to them and me and the recruiter got kind of sideways so I went next door and joined the Air Force. I joined in Tyler and was inducted in Shreveport. I went to boot camp in Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. I kind of liked boot camp. Working in construction and outside summers it wasn’t a problem for me. I was in good shape. When I got out of boot camp I went to Tech School in Chanute, Illinois for six-months. I aptitude for Electronics, but when I went in I was colorblind, so I was put in Ground Power. That was the name back then, today it is called Aerospace Ground Equipment or something like that,” said Yogi laughing. “They wavered my colored blindness because they were shorthanded for military in that career. It was a fantastic field. Every system on the airplane, we have a piece of equipment to modify it. If a wire was red, green or blue I could see it. If they got into those pastel colors I couldn’t do it. I was given a top-secret clearance. I didn’t think I needed it, but I had it. I worked on the generator sets that supplies power to the aircraft. For instance, 115-volt 400 cycle or 220 volt and 400 cycle. Also 28-volt DC up to 750 Amp generators. I worked on hydraulic test stands that pump out 4000 pounds of pressure. Some of the old Jet engines were started by air compressors, and you would build up three tanks up to 4000 pounds and let it all out at once to get a jet going. This was all modified when they went into turbines. We also eventually worked on the turbine driven generators too. You had your AC, DC and your start power. I started out on the KB-50 planes, then I went to the C-130s, and the RF-4s,” stated Yogi.
EXPOSURE TO AGENT ORANGE
“My first trip or in country of Vietnam was when I was stationed in Taiwan. When the planes came into Cameron Bay my job was to go under the aircraft and hook and unhook the power to them. Little did I know but Agent Orange was dripping out of the nozzles. After they got thru spraying it was common for the nozzles to drip for a while. I was covered in it. We knew what it was but we didn’t know what it was going to do to us. We would do this at least once or twice a day, sometimes more than that. This went on for about a two-week period. All we heard was, no it won’t hurt you,” laughed Yogi. He was exposed to the defoliant Agent Orange and is paying the price today.
SECOND TOUR OF VIETNAM
“In 1970 I was stationed in Da Nang, Vietnam. We had the old Cessna 02s, and OV-10s, a turbo prop.”
INFO: The Cessna O-2 Super Skymaster was ordered by the U.S. Air Force in 1966 to replace the Cessna O-1 until a purpose-built aircraft could be put into service as a Forward Air Control and light observation aircraft. Because the Skymaster was a two-seater, one crewmember could be freed from piloting the aircraft to concentrate on the difficult mission of Forward Air Control, which included such diverse tasks as marking targets for air strikes, giving strike briefings to incoming attack pilots, and avoiding ground threats.
INFO: The North American Rockwell OV-10 Bronco is an American twin-turboprop light attack and observation aircraft. It was developed in the 1960s as a special aircraft for counter-insurgency combat, and one of its primary missions was as a forward air control aircraft. It can carry up to three tons of external munitions, internal loads such as paratroopers or stretchers, and loiter for three or more hours. (SOURCE: Wikipedia.com)
“Those planes were used to fly around and hunt targets. We would go out on a Forward Operating Locations, (FOL) and we went on one up by the DMZ and got stuck up there during the monsoon season and had to hitchhike back to Da Nang. The Army guys picked me up and said, “You guys are Air Force,” he said laughing.
“The last few months of that tour I was at Pleiku, Vietnam,” he said. The city in central Vietnam, located in the central highlands has a hospital, a commercial airfield, and several air bases that are a legacy of its strategic importance during the later stages of the Vietnam War (1965–75). It lies in a mountainous region inhabited mainly by Bahnar and Jarai peoples.
“Everything we did was either in Laos or Cambodia. We weren’t there, it was just a figment of our imaginations, I guess,” laughed Yogi. “I was an “AGEMAN,” or ground power and I got to fly with them a lot. They would find a target and send in an F4 or whatever. I was either in the back seat or the side seat according to what plane I was flying in. They let me fly a lot but they wouldn’t let me land. No, I didn’t have a pilot’s license. When you are out on an FOL you just do what has to be done. My first trip was in Taiwan and this was the first time I was actually stationed in Vietnam. I really like the country,” said Yogi.
“In Da Nang there was a Marine F-4 that caught fire and their Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technicians (EOD) declared it negative arms. The fire department went in to put it out, it was armed. Fourteen men were killed. That was a bad scene. It was loaded with six, 500-pounders on it,” he said recalling the horrific story.
“From Vietnam I went to Mountain Home, Idaho. I was back on Aerospace Ground Equipment (AGE). I was there when they brought in the F-111s. I spent four years there, from 1971 to 1975. I recalled a funny story when I was out fishing or hunting. We would get an alert. They had a C54 with a loud speaker on it. They would fly around up there and tell us to get back to the base. That is how they would alert us,” he recalled laughing.
“My next stop was Eielson AFB, Alaska. That was near Fairbanks. I spent the rest of my career there and stayed another twenty years. While in Alaska I worked for the Department of Defense on the bombing ranges for ten years.
I was an E-7 or a Master Sargant when I retired. I served 20 years in the military.”
DIAGNOSED WITH HEART DISEASE
“I had heart trouble when I retired. I was sent to the hospital to do an angiogram and I was 50% blocked at that time. The doctor told me they were getting Vietnam Vets that have this, what they eventually contributed to Agent Orange. They told me they were going to have to put me out on medical. They let me stay in but I couldn’t re-enlist.
I had forty per cent disability and they reevaluated it. I found out then the Agent Orange was the reason for the heart disease,” recalled Yogi shaking his head with disbelief.
THOUGHTS ABOUT THE WAR IN VIETNAM
“Whether the Government knew what it was going to do or not I do not know. If they called me to go back, I would go in a minute. I really believe the reason Kennedy was shot, he did not want us over there in the first place. We had advisors over there then. If he had sent us in, we would have won the war in a year or a year and a half. There was too much money and too much politics involved. I saw things that hindered us from winning. I really believe they did not send us to win that war. It was a bad situation, people were there that didn’t believe in the war but they were asked to go and they went and they fought. I knew a lot of them, and a lot of them didn’t come back. The ones that did come back, got spit on and got called names. They did what they were asked to do,” said Yogi.
FONDEST MEMORIES FROM THE MILITARY
“The fellowship you have with other service members was some of my fondest memories of the military. Families that are living together on the base, doing things together, the social programs they had for the kids, it was like a spirit de corp.
You just have a dedication beyond belief. The families sacrificed more than we did. It was harder on them than it was on us. My military wife, Donna, passed away in 2010. She sacrificed a lot. I missed a lot of my kids activities growing up. I remember a time when I was down in Tampa and got a call about the Missile Crisis in Cuba. Called the wife and said, I won’t be home for supper,”
“I learned in the military that you need to have respect, but not fear. If somebody is in trouble, you help them. If somebody is hungry you feed them.
I was in Vietnam in the Mess Tent and the worst food I had in the military was green eggs and ham. It was also the first time I ever ate peanut butter and jelly,” said Yogi. “REALLY, I asked? You grew up on a farm in Arkansas and you never ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich?”
“My first peanut butter and jelly sandwich was sure better than those green eggs and ham. I like peanut butter cookies, but not peanut and jelly. Today, believe it or not is National peanut butter cookie day.” I had no idea. We both laughed out loud on that one.
MOVED TO VAN ZANDT COUNTY
“I moved back to Canton in 1998. My dad was getting up in years so I moved back to take care of him. He had colon cancer at 88. No chemo, no radiation, and he lived four more years. A tough old-World War II vet,” said his son.
ON HOBBIES AND SPECIAL INTERESTS
“I used to fish a lot. I liked to fish for anything that bit the line. Sometimes they would bite, and sometimes they wouldn’t, I didn’t care. I just loved being outdoors. I caught a lot of fish in Alaska. I had the Prince Albert cans full of worms when I fished the rivers of Arkansas. Didn’t cost a hundred dollars to go fishing back then. I am 78 now, just sold my boat so I don’t fish as much as I used to. If I knew I was going to live this long I would have taken better care of myself,” he said with a grin on his face.
LOVE OF WOODWORKING
“My love of woodworking started several years ago. I make cutting boards and I do in-lays. I did a few shows like in Rockwall, but it is more of a hobby for me. I work with exotic hardwoods. I use maple, cherry, walnut and rosewoods.
I made the cabinets and the trim work around my house along with bowls and plaques. I give away more than I sell and get satisfaction from making something and looking back and say, I did that. I made a rolling pin out of maple and walnut for my wife and then use coconut or mineral oil and beeswax to seal it,” said Yogi showing me some of his work on his cellphone.
“On my bucket list is to go Marlin fishing in Cabo San Lucas. I did some Halibut fishing in Alaska and I enjoyed that. My other bucket list item is to go and see the Vietnam Wall in Washington, D.C. I have lots of friends on the wall, but I don’t remember their names. I remember them as Bubba and Cowboy,” he said.
“It really feels good to me and I get a warm fuzzy feeling when people come up and tell me they appreciate my service, especially when the kids come up and say thank you for your service, that really makes me feel good.”
YOGI, thank you for your service in the United States Air Force. You served your country with honor. You deserved better than to come back and fight another battle, this time with Agent Orange.
GOD BLESS OUR VETERANS AND GOD BLESS AMERICA
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