BOSSIER CITY, La -- Jim Merryman has given more than four decades of his life to serving our country. One of those years in the Air Force was cloaked in secrecy.
But it all began with fast and risky duty in the Navy in 1966 when Jim had a big job on an aircraft carrier.
"Air frame trouble shooter is the last person to see that your aircraft is ready to launch from the flight deck," Jim explained.
He says he looked for problems that could doom the plane or the the carrier.
"Defects on the aircraft, loose fuel tanks, lose ordnance, whatever can be spotted that would cause damage or even a major accident that would cause death to someone," Jim said. "I had to crawl under the airplanes while they sat on the catapult, and extend the nose gear so that the angle of attack was correct. And then they'd be launched from the deck."
Jim left the Navy after three years in 1969 when a reduction in force put him out of active duty. He would soon join the Air Force, where he served for almost two decades.
That included a deployment toward the end of the Vietnam War as a sheet metal mechanic on our bombers, fighters and transports. But with the war winding down, he was sent to a special operations unit, working with Air America.
"I said, 'OK, whatever that is," Jim remarked. "I soon found out."
Air America was an airline owned by the US government, serving throughout the Orient, but secretly operated by the CIA. It covertly supplied and supported the counter-insurgency fighting Communists not only in Vietnam, but also Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand, where Jim was based.
"I know the United States was not supposed to be in certain countries and certain locations. But necessity said, yes, you had to be there," Jim says.
He helped teach the freedom fighters how to maintain their planes, that flew close air support for a vast guerrilla army.
"We would launch them and hope they would make it back. Sometimes we never saw the crew come back because they would've been shot down. There were some sad times because of losses," Jim says.
"But all in all, it was one of the best years that I served in the Air Force because it was a real mission," Jim added. "Things that had to be done for the sake of liberty and freedom for people."
After Jim's last active duty assignment at Barksdale Air Force Base, he retired from active duty as a Master Sergeant in 1988.
"A lot of hard work. A lot of reward for seeing a job well done, and doing a job that was needed," Jim says of his service. "Knowing in the back of your mind that you were defending your country, as well as the countries that you were working with. It gives you a sense of pride."
After leaving active duty, Jim worked civil service at Barksdale for another 23 years in the areas of education and family support.