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Interview conducted with James Robert “Cotton” Hildreth (b. 12/5/1905) as part of the Nash County Oral Histories Project. Hildreth, a retired Major General who spent 30 years in the Air Force, speaks about his service in the military during the Korean War & Vietnam War. He joined the Marchant Marine in 1944 at age 16, then joined the Army at age 18. He finished his enlistment, attended college on the G.I. Bill, and was called back into service during the Korean War. Hildreth joined the Air Force. He trained to fly T-6 aircraft at Spence AFB; T-28 and T-33 at Foster AFB. Attended gunnery school at Williams AFB; had F-48 gunnery school at Luke AFB before being sent to Korea. After 10 months in Korea, he was stationed at Cannon AFB in Clovis, NM. Hildreth remembers meeting his wife while he was in NC on TDY. He spent time flying F-105s in Europe before being assigned to the Pentagon as the Vietnam War began. He volunteered to go to Vietnam; was assigned to flying mostly ground support missions in an A-1. He discusses flying with renowned Air Force pilot Harry “Heinie” Aderholt out of Nakhon Phanom Air base in Thailand. He talks about missions over the Ho Chi Minh Trail; says they often flew rescue and covert re-supply missions as well. Hildreth mentions his plane was shot three times, but he was able to get the plane back to the base each time. He talks about clubs and bars in Thailand, telling stories of humorous times there, but says there was nothing fun or funny taking place in Vietnam. He describes the Air Force being left to defend itself from mortar attacks at Pleiku Air Base during the Tet Offensive. He describes an incident where he and another pilot disobeyed orders to drop napalm on a nearby village of 1200 or more civilians. Initially told the village was allegedly harboring a few Viet Cong operatives. However, it turned out the real reason South Vietnamese officials wanted the area hit was to send a message because the village hadn’t paid their taxes. Hildreth talks about the complications of war; reflecting on how upsetting and frustrating the experience can be. He says his thoughts on Vietnam have changed over the years. He briefly talks about returning to Vietnam in 1973 when most of the fighting was focussed in Cambodia. Hildreth speaks about living in Rocky Mount; compares it to the railroad town where he grew up.

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