Ray Haera managed needed supplies during Vietnam War
January 14, 2021
SWAN VALLEY – Turning 18 in 1966, the height of the Vietnam War, Ray Haera figured he had the choice of getting drafted or voluntarily joining the military. He figured he had more options if he took the voluntary route. Though his father had served in the Navy in World War II and his older brother was also in the Navy, Haera was not sure he wanted to go that route.
On the other hand, Haera said, "Everybody I knew was getting drafted. I had so many friends in the Army and the Marines who had already gone to Vietnam – and gotten killed." So those military branches did not seem like good options either.
Haera decided to try his luck with the Air Force. He was hoping to become a military photographer. The Air Force decided he could better serve in the supply department.
From home in Livermore, California, Haera was sent to the other side of the United States, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, to train on the complexities of ordering equipment and supplies in support of the fighting troops. Within the year he was deployed to the village of Ubon in Thailand. The Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base was situated on the Cambodia, Laos border, about 90 miles from the fighting in Vietnam. Planes from the base flew 24 hours a day in direct support of the war activities.
In 1967 both Haera and his older brother ended up in the war zone at the same time. He said, "My mom and dad were just going nuts because that wasn't supposed to happen. But," he added, "we both made it back."
Though Haera was never in combat, he was on a 12/12 schedule – busy dealing with supplies 12 hours a day and trying to get some sleep the other 12. He said the humidity over there was often 100% and it was constantly raining. It was six months before he finally got a day off.
In describing that day, he said, "You know, 18 years old, you're halfway around the world, you don't really know what's going on. A Thai friend said, 'Hey, I've got a boat, let's take a ride down this river.' And I'm thinking well that'll be a nice change. Little did I know he was talking about the Mekong River. We came around a bend and there was a village. All the women and children ran out to the edge of the water. But we never saw a man or a teenager. When that happened a second time, the Thai friend said, 'We've got to get out of here. This isn't good.' We thought maybe the men were waiting in ambush or something and we didn't have any guns or anything because we weren't allowed to take guns off base. So we came back – and that was my big river cruise."
Haera fared better on his R&R mini vacation to Bangkok. He enjoyed both the scenery on the flight, which covered practically the width of Thailand, as well as Bangkok itself. One of the things he found most unusual was a riverboat market.
"It was just all these boats with all these vegetables on them," he said. "They came up to the riverbank and you could just walk from boat to boat."
He also told of an unusual experience while touring Bangkok. He took a cab to visit a Buddhist Temple.
"There was this Buddha statue," he said. "I doubt it was gold, probably brass, but it was huge. And it was out in the middle of the jungle. Normally it was a familiar sight to see Buddhist monks walking around, but here we were in one of their major temples and there was nobody. And the Thai in the cab said, 'This isn't good.' We later found out a couple of people had been killed there the day before, so that's why nobody was around."
Haera said he would enjoy going back to visit Thailand, though he doubts he will ever have an opportunity to do so.
"It was interesting," he said. "Halfway around the world and a completely different culture."
When his tour of duty in Vietnam ended, he was sent to Travis Air Force Base in northern California where he worked for another year before his discharge in 1969.
Though Haera returned to Livermore and did seasonal construction work for a number of years, he also connected with a good friend recently returned from Vietnam. The friend had relatives in a logging camp 13 miles from Hungry Horse Reservoir and the two veterans came to Montana for hunting season. Haera said since that visit in 1969, he has never missed a year of hunting in Montana.
In 1977 California was getting too congested for Haera and he moved to Montana. He worked on a cattle ranch in Florence, Montana for a year and then worked another year and a half building logging roads in Drummond, Montana. He dreamed of owning land in Montana but was not making enough money to manage that, so he headed back to California and got work as a heavy equipment operator. In 1981 Haera finally could afford to buy five acres on the Swan River right across from Swan Peak, though he still needed to continue working in California.
His various jobs took a toll on his body and he was diagnosed with degenerative disc disease which forced early retirement when he was 55. He moved to Swan Valley full time in 2003.
"I love it here," he said. "You could find a town anywhere in the world. It could be a million-dollar mansion. I still would not want to leave where I'm at. It's just way too nice. So peaceful. And I love wildlife. I've been hunting and fishing since I was six years old."
Haera related how he got his license so young. He said at that time in California the legal hunting age was nine if the child had taken the NRA safety course. When his nine-year-old brother went to take the course, six-year-old Haera was allowed to tag along. He passed the course at the top of the class. So he was given his hunting license also.
Though he enjoys his solitude and hunting and fishing, Haera has also found time to be active in the Condon community. He is Chairman of the Board of the Condon Volunteer Fire Department and has been on the board for 17 years. He is also an active member of American Legion Post 63 and regularly helps at their fundraisers including working at the beer booth every Fourth of July.
Haera said, "I'm proud to be a vet. I truly am."
As if that were not enough, Haera is president of the Shay Lake Road Users Association and captain of the Liquid Louie's pool team, which he hopes will be able to start up again at the first of the year.