Today’s veteran: Paul Donahue, 66
Born: Roanoke, Va.
Residence: St. Marys
Service: Air Force, four years; Army National Guard, three years, Reservist four years
Duties: Jet engine repair specialist; Army liaison
Recognitions: Vietnam Service Medal; Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal; Good Conduct Medal; National Defense Service Medal; Outstanding Squadron Commendation
Duty stations: Vietnam; Panama Canal Zone; Lackland Air Force Base, Texas; Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.; Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas; Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Az.; Fort Polk, La.
His story: Paul Donahue went to an Army recruiter’s office after his draft notice arrived in 1969 prepared to go to Vietnam and serve his nation.
But while he was talking with the Army recruiter an Air Force recruiter motioned for him to come over to his nearby office. After a brief exchange between the two recruiters about a turf violation, Donahue decided to talk with the Air Force recruiter.
“The Air Force recruiter said I could go to Vietnam, but I wouldn’t have to dodge bullets,” he said.
He enlisted for four years and was trained as a jet engine repair specialist.
“I figured I’d like it or I wouldn’t,” he said.
After he completed his training, Donahue said he was surprised to learn his first duty station was going to be in Bitburg, Germany.
It turned out to be a short stay.
As soon as he arrived, he got new orders to Vietnam. Eight hours after he arrived, Donahue was on a plane headed to Vietnam. He said the unexpected change in orders did not upset him.
“I was all excited because I was a kid,” he said. “I was going to fight for my country.”
He never worked on jet engines while he was there for his yearlong tour of duty.
“I did everything except work on aircraft,” he said.
Instead, he conducted perimeter patrols of the base, worked on crash recovery teams searching for downed aircraft, worked on transit alert and helped stack body bags for transport home.
Despite the dangers, Donahue said he was never afraid because of his strong faith and youthful inexperience.
“I was indestructible,” he said. “I said, ‘Thank you, God.’ It wasn’t luck.”
After he returned home, Donahue completed his Air Force career at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, where he supervised a crew working on aircraft.
A year after he left the Air Force, Donahue decided to join the Army National Guard, where he served as a liaison for a general at Fort Polk, La. He said the duty enabled him and his commanding officer the time to develop a close bond.
Donahue looks back with pride on his military service and how it impacted his life.
“I had no direction at 18,” he said. “It was a positive experience.”
Our Veterans runs Wednesdays contact Gordon Jackson at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Facebook or at 912-464-7655 to suggest a veteran for a column.