George Puhrmann’s, Lt. Col. USAF (ret) story, as told to Christy Porter, Managing Editor
This is part two 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.
“December 24, 1968, it was Christmas Eve and the troops had put fluorescent bulbs in the shape of a Christmas star on the outside of the Radome. A Radome is a combination of a radar and a dome. It’s a structural weatherproof and concealing enclosure that is transparent to radar and radio waves that protects a radar antenna. Next to the Radome were barracks. My quarters were across the street from the barracks. During the night the Viet Cong shot a rocket at the Radome which fell short and landed on the barracks. I can’t forget the groans of the wounded from that night and the star lights came down the next day.
“One young airman brought a monkey into our intelligence office. The monkey immediately went for the Senior NCO, the NCO jumped up onto his desk, and stayed there until the kid got the ‘monkey off his back’.
“The same young airman was disciplined for not saluting an officer. The officer who disciplined the airman was later found smuggling drugs from Thailand into Vietnam. The military had their rebels, parties and good times. And while the U.S. had a curfew for their men, they were allowed to visit Saigon which had the bars, pot and other nefarious elements. Young people will be young people regardless of their situation.”
Puhrmann comments on the black market while in the military, “U.S. currency ‘greenbacks’ were illegal, military script or bills were used to protect the value of the local Vietnam currency.
“When returning to Vietnam from R & R in Hawaii the captain of the plane announced that all currency had to be declared, and if discovered and not declared, a person could be court martialed. Once on the ground the MP (military police) checked my wallet for greenbacks, which I immediately converted.
“In 1969 I was reassigned out of Vietnam to the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado as an instructor where I remained until 1971. It was during this time period that I received a Vietnam Veterans Bonus. I believe mine was $500, and received as a resident of Iowa,” says Puhrmann.
“The 1970’s were a time of protest against the Vietnam War. While instructing a classroom of cadets at the Air Force Academy, the day before Thanksgiving break, they requested that I face the blackboard, away from them. When I turned around they were all wearing wigs. They didn’t want to go home with their GI haircuts, which singled them out as military, to the protestors.
“Attending an intelligence school in Washington and being assigned to the air staff at the Pentagon we wore military uniforms only once a week. Authorities at the top wanted to diminish the perception of the large number of military in Washington. We wore dress uniform on Wednesdays and civilian clothes the rest of the week.
“While at the Pentagon someone put a bomb in a toilet in the men’s restroom which blew the toilet into the floor below. Security at the Pentagon tightened up after that, but it still was not security measures like we have today.
“I spent four years at the Pentagon as an Intelligence Analyst on Air Staff. I represented Air Force Intelligence in meetings, and briefings with the CIA, DIA and other national agencies. I was a Captain at the time and once briefed one of the Undersecretaries of Defense of the U.S. This was kind of exciting to be with officials at that level.
“It was an interesting time to be in Washington during Watergate. The military was not involved but the tension was huge due to the circumstances,” reflects Puhrmann.
In 1992-1993 Puhrmann was assigned on an unaccompanied tour to CJ-2 at the Yong San joint U.S./UN headquarters in Seoul, Korea. CJ-2 personnel were from all the U.S. services and Korean counterparts.
“We took turns briefing the U.S. commanding general and other high ranking Korean and U.S. officers weekly. On one occasion it was my turn and I had only said a few words when the three-star commanding general said: ‘You intel guys…’ and it went downhill from there, but not on a personal basis.
“I also witnessed the commanding general stop his chauffeured car, identified with his rank on a fender flag, jump out of the car and personally dress down an army private who had not saluted.
“My section chief was a Korean lieutenant colonel with an equal number of Korean officers assigned. Cultural differences were a daily occurrence. For example never write someone’s name in red ink because this was used by the Japanese when they had occupied Korea to identify Koreans to be executed. The Korean counterparts also told us that there was an unknown informer in our office who reported on their loyalty to the Korean president.”
Puhrmann recounts two of his most memorable experiences in Korea. “The first was participating in the annual joint U.S./Korean military exercise in a rock cave bunker under a mountain. And the second was performing a reenlistment ceremony for my NCO in North Korea. After the NCO’s request to reenlist in North Korea was approved, a staff car took us to Panmunjom. We went into the conference building which straddles the border, stepped over to the north side of a painted yellow line marking the Military Demarcation Line (MDL), which ran down the wall, across the floor onto the conference table and to the floor and up the wall again. We completed the ceremony and left expeditiously.
“My service was a unique experience in different cultures, time periods and different escalations of conflict, all of which has been beneficial in teaching sociology,” says Puhrmann.
After his retirement, due to his knowledge of sensitive information, Puhrmann was prohibited for six months from leaving the continental U.S. without permission from the Air Force. He retired as a Lieutenant Colonel.
While much of Puhrmann’s military service cannot be shared due to security concerns, the honors, medals and awards which he has received bear testament to a meritorious history.
Meritorious Service Medal with 3 Oak Leaf Clusters
Joint Service Commendation Medal (Korea)
Air Force Outstanding Unit with a V device and 3 Oak Leaf Clusters
National Defense Service Medal
Vietnam Service Medal with 4 Bronze Stars
Air Force Overseas Ribbon
Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross-with Palm
Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal
Air Force Longevity Award with 4 Oak Leaf Clusters
Mr. Puhrmann, our sincere thanks to you for your military service.