The Sidney Sun-Telegraph - Serving proudly since 1873 as the beautiful Nebraska Panhandle's first newspaper

Walter S. Cummings, PO 2nd Class, U.S. Navy Master Sgt., U.S. Air Force Viet Nam World-Wide 1962-1985


In 1962, there weren’t many jobs to be had. A young man who had quit school might not get a job if there was one to be had. Walter Cummings (Walt) had wanted to help out at his Grandparent’s farm and didn’t consider school so important so he went to the farm at about age 14.

He did learn how to work and applied himself. As he grew a couple of years older, he made a deal with his Grandfather. “If you’ll sign the papers for me to get in the Navy, I’ll get a GED diploma.” Walt went to the recruiting station and once all the admin details were worked

out, he had joined the Navy.

In this time frame, rumors and quiet talk were going around about our involvement in Viet Nam. It was on the other side of the globe, not much was known. Very few reports were being written about casualties or what we were doing there. Young people entering the branches of our military knew of the talk.

Walt made it to the Naval Training Station at San Diego. After the long bus ride there he and about seven other recruits were met by the greeting committee and were gently informed about how the next 24 hours would go. The company was soon formed up as Training Company 29. They were nicknamed the “Roaring Twenty-Nine”. Many of the young men spent more time at the Company Hqs than on the training fields…ornery kids from Texas and Oklahoma that didn’t have a lot of regard for training. There seemed to be the attitude of “what can you do to us, send us to Viet Nam?”

Walt finished Boot Camp and Ships’ Electrician classes at the San Diego base.

Upon graduating from all that training, he was sent to the Navy Shipyard at Bremerton, Washington. He was assigned to the USS Bon Homme Richard, CV-31. When he got there, he met another welcoming committee. They told him that the Bon Homme Richard was in dry-dock. It wouldn’t be going to sea for another several months. He and others would have to stay there on SLJ or “Hay You” duty.

Walt wasn’t just real pleased with this information so he went to the personnel office and asked if there wasn’t something else available. He was trained and ready to go SOMEWHERE and didn’t want to just wait it out. The personnel person said yes, there was an assignment he might like. They needed men to serve as advisors in Southeast Asia. Well then, that sounded good!

Very soon, Walt was enroute to Viet Nam. In January 1963, He was an advisor to South Vietnamese troops. The area was in the Mekong Delta. The training consisted of seven US Navy sailors teaching South Vietnamese people how to inflate, poser and navigate inflatable rafts about the waterways in their area.

The sailors were now in the “Brown Water Navy”. Walt’s group of forty guys worked at learning what to do. By the nature of the work and the area involved, they would also teach the students how to use various weapons so they could defend themselves. Each raft had an M-60 machine gun in the front and in the back. This was fairly dangerous work. The training lasted about 4 months per group. His assignment lasted a year.

When the time was up, Walt contacted to Navy personnel offices in the area. They offered that he could go aboard a ship or stay where he was. He liked where he was and was used to it.

He was then assigned to the “river rats”. These were US Navy personnel in the 117th River Marine Force. At first they used rubber rafts with

reinforced floors. Walt manned the 50 cal machine gun in the front while another sailor was on an M-60 in the back. They had a driver and a radio man. Their work was to go into the rivers and canals off the Delta. They were looking for the enemy. With their guns, they would shoot at suspected activity and rile up the enemy so that they enemy would give chase. As the river rats drew them out into bigger water, they would call in air strikes to take out the enemy.

Walt had two boats blown out from under him. The enemy had placed submerged satchel charges in the area. They blew up when crossed. In Walt’s group, there were plenty of injuries, but no fatalities. They were also the transporters for SEALs and Rangers and Special Forces who needed to get into the area. In one instance, the SEALs got into a fire fight and some were shot up pretty badly. At 0200, a distress call came into Walt’s area asked for immediate withdrawal assistance. Walt and three others volunteered to go in, without lights, to get the men out. They were successful! (Last year, in 2015, Walt was fueling his private vehicle at Warren AFB. At the fuel outlet across from his, was a man who had a Navy SEAL insignia on a cap. While they filled their cars, a conversation ensued. It turned out that the man was actually one of the SEALs Walt had rescued!)

The small craft they worked out of was a Patrol Boat, River (PBR) (not the beer). Walt was still the front gunner now with twin 50 cal machine guns. There were some actions that Walt faced because of some behaviors that happened while he was on leave. There were a couple of times he lost rank…

In time, this work would end. He had been shot twice, exposed to the “harmless” defoliant Agent Orange, carried shrapnel inside his body, and his enlistment was coming up. He returned to the US with many other men. He left the Navy in June 1966. He had completed his commitment to get a GED diploma. At some point, he went to the High School and chatted with his friend, the Principal. Walt was proud of his accomplishments including the GED. The men chatted. Two weeks after Walt left the school, a standard High School diploma came in the mail.

The same month of June 1966 Walt enlisted in the US Air Force.

Walt served at several different Air Force Bases in the continental US. There were buildings that needed to be constructed, land that needed cleared, etc. In 1971, Walt went back to Viet Nam. His unit did many assignments. Towards the end, the main Headquarters elements re-deployed to the US while leaving several men behind to complete various jobs.

After he and his compadres built an Olympic-sized pool in the Air force area, he volunteered to be a door gunner on an Army UH-1 helicopter. The UH-1 was dubbed the “Huey”. This helicopter was the workhorse for the troops. It was used in medevac; as a gunship, inserting troops where needed, rescuing those in trouble.

Walt was involved in 47 missions. To earn the “wings” from such service, 50 missions were required and since he was with the Air Force, 47 missions would be fine! Door gunner duty was very risky –as it is in today’s fights.

Walt continued with the US Air Force, building things as directed. He served in the Philippines, and many bases in the US and around the world. He did his best at every spot. He was credited with three years, seven months in-country in Viet Nam.

Walt earned the National Defense Service Medal, the Good conduct Medal, the Viet Nam Service Medal, the Viet Nam Campaign Medal, the Air Force Commendation Medal with Four Oak Leaf Clusters, The Air Force Meritorious Service Medal w/2 Oak Leaf Clusters, the Viet Nam Medal of Gallantry, the Bronze Star and others. He turned down two Purple Heart Medals, thinking others had done more than him.

Walt is a Disabled Veteran who suffers from the effects of Agent Orange and PTSD. He was wounded by gunfire twice. He also carries the shrapnel pieces that haven’t yet worked out of his body. Sadly, he is in Stage Four with lung cancer.

A statement was made: People Sleep Peacefully in Their Beds at Night Only Because Rough Men Stand Ready to Do Violence on Their Behalf.

Walt Cummings could fit this description very well.

Master Sergeant Walt Cummings, you have done good work, and the rest of us are the better for it! Thank you for your service!


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