George Puhrmann’s, Lt. Col. USAF (ret) story, as told to Christy Porter, Managing Editor
This is part one of a two part story.
Everyone has a story, one of our local veterans has willingly shared his military service story. He served our country from 1964 through 1985 at several installations in the United States and overseas in Germany, Vietnam and South Korea. Puhrmann served during the Vietnam War and the Cold War.
All of Puhrmann’s assignments, except three years as an instructor at the Air Force Academy, were in U.S. Air Force Intelligence. Puhrmann retired from the U.S. Air Force and he with his family moved to their farm near Licking.
“Utilizing the GI Bill, I completed a second Masters Degree in Education with Drury University at Fort Leonard Wood. I also became an instructor and administrator for Drury at Fort Leonard Wood and St. Robert, Mo. I have also taught classes for Drury in Licking, Cabool and Rolla, and am currently teaching in St. Robert and Rolla.
“My classes have had many veterans and their family members. They have included veterans with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), accompanied by their service dogs.
“I have repeatedly heard of their difficulties in getting appointments with the VA medical system, the diminished medical assistance for family members and that some civilian doctors will not take referrals from the military.
“The impact of repeated, unaccompanied overseas assignments on military families and marriages is also a big concern,” says Puhrmann.
His awareness and knowledge of military issues is a culmination of his 21 years of service, as well as personal experience with some of these issues.
Puhrmann grew up in rural Cherokee County, which is in Northwest Iowa. He and his family farmed, including row crops of corn, oats and soybeans as well as beef and dairy cattle, hogs and poultry. Eggs were sold by his mother to buy groceries.
Says Puhrmann, “Coming to Missouri was due somewhat to escaping the cold Iowa winter and affordable land prices in a farm setting.
“I was commissioned as an Air Force Officer 2nd Lieutenant in 1962 after completing an AFROTC (Air Force Reserve Officers’ Training Corps) college based training program and my Bachelors Degree in German and Political Science from Drake University.
“I then received a scholarship for two semesters of study from a German academic foreign exchange service and spent a year at the University of the Saarbrücken in Germany. After completing this portion of my education, I returned home to Drake University and completed a Masters Degree in Social Science in 1964.”
The academic degrees would be very beneficial in Puhrmann’s military service for his country.
“My initial active duty was in 1964 at Westover Air Force Base in Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts, where I was assigned to the 99th Bomb Wing. They flew B52 bombers and their primary mission was nuclear deterrence.
“My security clearance had to be renewed by Security Administration and when it was, I became part of the 8th Air Force Recon Technical Squadron at Westover. We made air navigation maps for the B52’s. At that time the maps were still printed on paper.
“I also attended six months of military intelligence school at Lowry Air Force Base in Denver, Colorado. That base was near the Fitzsimmons Army Hospital and Lowry’s runway was utilized to bring wounded veterans home from Vietnam.
“After graduation I was assigned to the 7113th Special Activities Group at Rhein-Main Air Base near Frankfurt, Germany. The base was collocated with the Frankfurt International Airport and served arriving and departing U.S. service members and their families. Quite a busy terminal, hence Rhein-Main Air Base being billed as the ‘Gateway to Europe’,” remembers Puhrmann.
He only recently learned that one of the runways at his airbase was completed during WWII using female prisoners from a Nazi concentration camp.
“At Rhein Main we had to take our classified paper trash to the IG Farben Chemical Co. Building in Frankfurt to burn. It was appropriated as General Eisenhower’s headquarters at the end of WWII. A German civilian ran a huge iron furnace that heated the building. Army personnel would throw live ammunition in with their paper trash. It was an ‘explosive’ burn which made the German custodian go ‘ballistic’ when the bullets exploded.
“There was a field office for the 7113th in West Berlin and my chief sent me for a familiarization visit. He told me to take a bottle of whiskey to a German employee at the Frankfurt train station who would complete the paperwork for me and my wife to ride the duty train. Once on the train the doors were locked for the overnight trip to West Berlin. In the morning the train stopped at an East German station while their soldiers with rifles and dogs searched under the train cars for East Germans trying to escape to West Berlin. East Germany was like entering a gray world. There were no bright advertising signs, the weather was gray, as was the cement block Berlin Wall, which we observed when we visited Checkpoint Charlie, one of the main U.S. Army controlled access points to East Berlin.
“My time in Germany allowed a lot of travel. My wife was a second generation Scandinavian, so we had the opportunity to visit with her relatives in Scandinavia. My first son was also born in Germany in 1968. We also visited Paris, Austria and northern Italy.
“My family and I went back to the states for a 30-day leave. My wife and son then stayed with her parents in Kansas City, Mo. while I was sent to Vietnam in July 1968.
“The trip to Vietnam was the longest plane trip I ever had, Sioux City to Chicago, then to Hawaii, Guam and finally into Saigon, Vietnam. While in Vietnam, the wing flew missions over Vietnam in RF4’s. Our unit only lost one plane. I’ve always wondered what happened that the plane didn’t come back, and no known transmission was ever received. I never found out.
“I was then assigned to the 460th TRW (Tactical Recon Wing) at Ton Son Nhut Air Base, the largest tactical wing in Southeast Asia. We flew RF4’s, RF101’s, RB57’s and EC47’s signal collectors.
“Our RF4’s were reconnaissance configured fighters that had been reengineered and were used to take aerial photography of bomb damage on missions over North Vietnam. The RB57’s (Recon Bomber) had also been reengineered for aerial photography. There were photo-processing vans next to our landing runway; the rolls of film were taken off of the plane and processed immediately, providing information from the mission just completed.
“One picture caught the Viet Cong sending supplies down the river on inflated inner tubes that had gotten stuck behind a log.
“One of my duties was to update briefings on escape and invasion to our jungle pilots. I was sent to the Philippines for ‘Jungle Survival School’. Native Filipinos took us into the jungle to show us food sources and danger, such as snakes and jungle rats. We were dropped off, put in pairs at the edge of the jungle and sent into the jungle, where we had to evade native pursuers. We returned to an assembly point where a helicopter dropped a jungle canopy penetrator that winched us up on a cable into the helicopter. It was the same training that the pilots received, so we could relate to the pilots.
“In Saigon, we heard automatic weapon fire on an almost nightly basis, both theirs and ours, and we could also feel the ground shake from B52 airstrikes nearby,
The story continues in part two.