Veteran Spotlight: Sgt. John Ireland
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — John Ireland served his country in the Air Force from 1972 to 1977, retiring as a sergeant.
Growing up in Framingham, he was introduced to the Berkshires while spending summers on his uncle's farm in Clarksburg. His basic training took him to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas.
"It was the first time I ever saw a palm tree. I remember marching everywhere. Made some good friends there, one in particular, Melvin Stephenson, I was particularly close to," he remembered.
His first assignment after basic was 13 months at Keesler AFB in Biloxi, Miss., where he studied air traffic-control radar repair. His biggest challenge?
"Putting up with the air traffic controllers. They're trained to have an attitude that they can do no wrong. I did receive electronics training that really served me well down the line," he said. From here, Sgt. Ireland was sent to Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan. The base received U.S airplanes from in and out of Vietnam.
"I worked on mobile radar that we set up on hills ... spent time running from Kadena to Tan Son Nhut Air Base," he recalled. "I also spent time in the Philippines ... we bounced all over the Pacific Theater."
When asked about a mentor, Ireland did not hesitate. "Jim Contact, amazing man, married a Thai woman. He had a German shepherd named Dukey," he remembered with a chuckle.
The holidays he described as "really bad. I had to work and just felt really, really alone. Total aloneness. I got no gifts, but later, I got slippers from my mother. You do your routine and move on." The holidays did offer a tremendous amount of badness, but not from the standpoint of being away from home but due to a horrific, personal family situation that took place in Okinawa. Though Sgt. Ireland would not discuss it, the memory still pains him. He did say, "dealing with the Japanese authorities was quite easy. They were very good, compassionate and caring people."
After Okinawa, he was sent to Clark Air Base in the Phillipines briefly, then to Loring AFB in northern Maine.
"It was a big nuclear base that had very, very strict rules," he recalled. "What a difference from the Philippines — unbelievable heat and humidity to absolutely massive amounts of snow. I even saw a B-52 bomber that was buried." he said.
Ireland soon found out just how strict and alert the base personnel was.
"I was on duty, sitting in my truck on the flight line. All of a sudden, I see a ton of commotion, trucks and armored MP personnel surrounding me with guns drawn, screaming at me to get out of the truck," he said. "Turns out they were hauling a nuclear bomb behind me. Security was everywhere. I had to wait for my
sergeant to give a positive ID of me."
His thoughts on service? "When people thank me for my service, I thank them for being an American worthy of fighting for," he responded.
Sgt. Ireland went on to work for Space Tactical Systems Inc. as a field technician, was an international field engineer and is extremely proud of working on the sonar that found the Titanic for Klein Associates. He now resides in North Adams.
Sgt. John Ireland, thank you for your service to our great country.
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