A Northwood native who had never traveled by public bus, train or plane prior to his military career found himself flying on a regular basis as an aerovac medic in Vietnam.
Teddy F. Bassett Jr. enlisted in the Air Force in May 1965 after receiving notice he’d been selected by the draft. After scoring high in the medical field, he was selected to be a corpsman, later working his way up to run the aerospace medicine clinic at Chanute Air Force Base in Rantoul, Illinois.
Following advanced medical training, Bassett was chosen for aeromedical evacuation training at Brooks Air Force Base in Texas, where he learned how to provide in-flight medical care to injured soldiers.
Bassett was then reassigned to Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines in December 1969.
He left behind his wife, Joyce, and two young children, Jeff and Lori, in Mason City. They were later allowed to join him in the Philippines after Bassett extended his assignment from 18 to 30 months.
He and Joyce were high school sweethearts. They married after Bassett completed 24 weeks of training in Texas and Alabama.
While in Southeast Asia, his squadron began supporting missions in Vietnam. They used C-118, C-130 and C-141 aircraft to transport injured or sick soldiers, sometimes making as many as five or six stops in one day at various bases.
“It was actually rather exhilarating,” he said. “When you’re that young, you don’t know what fear is.
“You’re fixated on getting the mission done and don’t think about the consequences; you just go and do what needs to be done.”
Bassett said the planes would hold 30 to 70 stretchers called litters, plus space for ambulatory patients, medics and nurses.
When he wasn’t flying in Vietnam, Bassett was assigned to rescue missions in Cambodia and Laos.
One mission required a C-130 aircraft to be flown into Cambodia to rescue injured soldiers. Pilots landed the plane on a dirt road and kept the engines running as patients were loaded to ensure a speedy take-off.
While aerovac flights were normally routed around hostilities, Bassett said that didn’t keep them from being shot at.
His plane was once mistakenly routed into an active air campaign, where bombs were being dropped and anti-aircraft guns were being shot. Bassett said the aircraft had to quickly leave the area and return another day for wounded soldiers.
During another mission, a Korean flight crew assisted as a C-47 was flown into Vietnam to rescue a valuable wounded asset.
Not being able to understand Korean compounded the challenge of providing medical care under fire, Bassett said.
During his last mission before returning home, their plane came under fire as it was taking off. Bassett said it had a fairly full load of 50 litters and several ambulatory patients.
“I felt really bad for the patients who were already suffering and now wondering if they were going to make it out alive,” he said.
Since he had to frequently monitor patients’ vital signs, Bassett couldn’t wear ear protection while flying on the noisy planes.
Like most aerovac medics, he has hearing loss and back problems due to carrying heavy litters. He was diagnosed with stenosis of the spine — narrowing of the spinal canal — which requires lifelong treatment.
Despite his injuries, he says it was rewarding getting wounded soldiers to treatment in a safe place.
After Vietnam, Bassett spent 11 months in the U.S. before being assigned to independent duty in Greece.
He served in the Air Force until 1985, retiring as a chief master sergeant. During his service, he was assigned to either temporary or permanent duty in 13 countries and nine states.
“I just really enjoyed it,” he said of his 20-year military career. “What I was doing was really rewarding.”
Bassett was awarded 11 medals, including the Meritorious Service Medal with three oak leaf clusters, the Air Medal, the Air Force Commendation Medal, Vietnam Service Medal with a Silver Star and two Bronze Stars and the Vietnam Gallantry Cross with palm.
He now lives in North Carolina.