- Name: Marne P. Flicker
- Location of Birth: Pierz, Minnesota
- Date of Birth: July 27, 1947
- Date of Death:
- Parents: Melvin and Marcella Flicker
- High School and Class: 1965 - Pierz Pioneers
- College: 3 years Electronic Technician
- Highest Rank: S SGT (Staff Sergeant) - E5
- Branch: Air Force
- Other Branch:
- Date Sworn In: February 14, 1967
- Place Sworn In:
- Date of Discharge: February 13, 1971
- Place of Discharge: Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota
Units and Locations:
Start Date End Date Unit(s) and Location(s) Served March, 1967 August, 1967 Lawry Air Base, Denver, Colorado August, 1967 June, 1968 Cannon Air Base, Clovis, New Mexico June, 1968 April, 1970 Phan Rang Air Base, South Vietnam April, 1970 February, 1971 Grand Forks Air Base, North Dakota
- Military Awards:
- Military Highlights:
- Wars Involved:
- MIA / POW:
- Civilian Life:
Grand Rapids Herald Review article, dated April 8, 2018
"For many years, I have wanted to go back to Vietnam."
Unlike many U.S. veterans who would rather forget about the time they served in one of the bloodiest wars, Marne Flicker, of Grand Rapids, had a desire to go back.
The reason for his desire was to see, firsthand, how the Vietnamese people have survived since the war that some described was a humiliation for the United States.
"People ask if it was hard to go back," says Flicker. "It wasn't. Because I wanted to see the people. It was comforting to me to see that the people are fine."
This January, Flicker's son Tom suggested they make the trip a reality--50 years after he had served as a electrical technician with the United States Air Force based at Phan Rang Air Base in 1968.
Flicker had heard about veteran groups that organize tour trips to Vietnam.
"But I wanted to do my own thing," he said. "I wanted to go to the places I was during my years there so Tom said, "Make a list."
Flicker took lots of photos while he was deployed in Vietnam and he relied on those photos to make his list of places to visit.
Flicker turned 21 the very day he landed in Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam, one of several air bases built and used by the United States Air Force during the war. Flicker says his job a a technician was simply to fix things but he also helped engineer a few things as well--like the pistons that were used to push out hung bombs on aircraft or flare canisters dropped by parachutes and leaflet bombs. He even designed test equipment for bomb ejectors to make them more efficient and an ejector to release multiple bombs at once. Another part of his job was to disassemble shot down planes to salvage the parts.
Flicker says his curious nature was a good fit for his assignment. "I enjoy putting out fires."
Although Flicker's experience differed greatly from fellow soldiers who survived the thick of guerilla fighting in Vietnam jungles, he did see a fair share of gunfire and bombing of Air Force hangers and equipment.
"I worked more with the manufacturer reps as the go-between for fixing equipment," explained Flicker. "our mission was to work 12-14 hours a day to keep the birds ready for those in the field."
What Flicker remembers most fondly about his time in Vietnam were his RDOs. HE says the Air Force was always good about Required Days Off. His RDOs were Thursdays. For two years, every Thursday Flicker would explore the country.
"I could go to the end of a runway and get on a bird and fly up north for the day."
When he wasn't catching a ride with a pilot buddy, Flicker said he could pay 19 cents for an ox-cart ride to the beach. The beaches were at the top of Flicker's list to revisit.
"I knew it would become a resort area. They have the most beautiful, white sand beaches. And, now, there are gorgeous resorts all over."
Flicker also wanted to visit Saigon-now Ho Chi Minh City. The largest city in Vietnam, it has more than 10 million residents. Back in 1968, population of Saigon was about 250,000. While the name of the city has officially changed with communist control, Flicker says the locals still refer to it as Saigon.
"Saigon has grown so much. There are about 4.5 million scooters buzzing around that city which is exactly what I expected."
Rural Vietnam, instead, has not changed much in 50 years, says Flicker.
"When the North took over, they stopped teaching English in schools and every time an office opened up, they put a North representative into those positions to influence the South.
"But, the rural people, their lives to on the same. Generally, they're into farming the same rice patties."
Flicker said the identity of rural Vietnamese is that of a "happy people."
He saw children who live with almost nothing light up with joy while playing with sticks and mud.
"They never stop smiling."
When Flicker was home on a 30-day leave during the war, it was the time when handheld video games were coming out in the U.S. He thought about all the toys that American kids enjoyed compared to the poor Vietnamese children.
"I thought, our kids are not nearly as happy as those in Vietnam."
Flicker is still impressed by the family structure of the Vietnamese.
"They don't have nursing homes-they take care of their family members themselves."
Also, Flicker says the Vietnamese do not have the sense of entitlement that he believes is growing among young Americans.
"Asia is so fascinating because the people are so different; they're so friendly. They have nothing but will share everything and want to help all the time. You never hear anyone raise their voices--even on the streets."
According to Flicker, you never see a car accident in Vietnam as there are usually 100 scooters to every 10 cars and the traffic flows with such ease that even pedestrians are part of the rhythm.
He found the exact spot on the beach he spent time at 50 years ago. However, he wasn't able to get on the airbase as it is occupied by North Vietnam now. Nonetheless the memories came flooding back. He thought about the sandals the GIs bought from locals made from recycled rubber tires. He remembered how the Viet Cong machine guns could cover every three square inches of a football field in a minute. The outdoor marketplace he visited during the war is now an indoor marketplace. And he saw the Po Klong Garal Temple in Phan Rang which was always a tempting site but never accessible during the war as it was a Viet Cong rocket and mortar location. Today, the temple is a popular tourist attraction.
"It was pretty emotional."
One major landmark on Flicker's trip list was the big white Nha Trang Budda. In 1968, it could be seen from long distances, towering over the city. Now tall buildings have gone up around it and Flicker had to hunt for it.
"When we think of communism, we think about government control. But that did not happen in the South."
Because South Vietnam is so rich in sugar cane, rice and bananas, as well as textile production, Flicker believes the North is so dependent on the South that they haven't been as controlling as we might imagine.
"They think, this is working, let's not screw it up."
With the tropical climate of the South, many South Vietnamese have found good jobs in the tourism industry. Flicker said they met some great female tour guides who spoke perfect English.
"I asked them, 'How did you learn English?' "And they told me by watching American cartoons."
Back in 1968, on the airbase, the United States hired young Vietnamese for things like cooking and cleaning in exchange for military presence.
"Those girls, their biggest dream was to marry a GI to go to America.. Now, they just want to see America because they have such a better life than their parents and grandparents."
Flicker said it was "refreshing" to see such happiness in the eyes of the Vietnamese. Even those who are still living in slum-like shanties on the river "because they're good with that and still smiling."
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