HAUGHTON, La -- Tom Kijak had worked under the hood of his ol' '49 Plymouth he bought with his paper route money growing up outside Philadelphia. So the Air Force knew just what to do with him.
And the aircraft maintenance skills he learned were put to use in the Vietnam War.
B-52's took aim at concentrations of enemy troops, and their supply line of the Ho Chi Minh Trail from a base in Thailand -- Utapao. Tom was there in 1971.
"It was busy," Tom says. "Twelve-hour days, usually six days a week, sometimes seven days a week depending on how many people we had to support the mission."
"The base flew three B-52's every hour on the hour 365 days a year the whole year I was there," Tom says.
He was in charge of quality control along the flight line of the bombers and the KC-135 air refuel tankers that kept air operations going.
"Maintaining the aircraft, making sure they were air worthy, and, of course, when they came back, if they had damage from their flights we had the facilities and the different shops to put everything back in order," Tom said. "Everybody over there worked as a team to accomplish the mission. It was a family affair. You looked after each other."
Tom even got to fly on a B-52 bombing missions.
"It's really amazing," he said. "When you're flying 40-thousand feet, and you've got a cell of 3, and you're maybe the second or third guy in back, and you look at that airplane in front of you and they're dropping them bombs, and you say 'Wow I want to see these bombs being dropped!"
Tom made senior master sergeant and retired after 20 years in 1980. But he wasn't finished with his service. He would become very active in the Veterans of Foreign Wars, becoming a local post commander in Bossier City and rising to state commander in 2005.
"You give back to the community, especially to help the veterans that live in the community, the senior veterans," he says. "The greatest country in the world. And don't let nobody fool you.
"This is from a veteran who's been outside the country and seen different cities. And met different people, and seen how different people they live," Tom continued.
Tom also went back to vehicle maintenance after the air force, running a full service garage in bossier city for a while after his military retirement. He also did some boat maintenance.
He also spent some time as a rural route postal carrier in Bossier Parish.