Navy veteran proud of his role in war
Barry Hendrix had wanted to join the Navy ever since he was an 8-year-old growing up in the Memphis area.
So after high school, he was undeterred by public protests against the Vietnam War.
“I just felt like I was obligated as an American to serve my country. I did not like protesters,” Hendrix, a principal software safety engineer for APT Research Inc. on Redstone Arsenal, said. “I agreed with John Wayne that protesters were Communist sympathizers.”
He enlisted for six years in the Navy in March 1970 to get into the advanced aviation electronic field to serve America. Twenty-eight months later he would be on an aircraft carrier off the coast of North Vietnam in the Gulf of Tonkin.
“The way I look at it, everybody on that ship was important – from the cooks to doing the laundry. Everybody was important in the total effort to fight the war,” he said.
Hendrix was an aviation maintenance weapon systems specialist aboard the USS America, CVA-66, supporting daily airstrikes from June 1972 until the Paris Peace Accords were signed in late January 1973. The A-7 Corsair II aircraft would launch daily from the carrier’s deck to conduct roundtrip airstrikes on the Soviet-made surface-to-air-missile sites in North Vietnam.
“My most memorable moment was standing on the flight deck at night and seeing the bombing in the distance that would light up the skies like an electrical storm,” Hendrix said.
There were five carriers, each with 5,000 sailors and Marines, off the coast in the gulf. Hendrix’ role was helping to ready the aircraft’s sophisticated weapon systems, radars, computers and the airborne weapons delivery system.
He describes the work as “arduous” with 16-hour days of continuously readying ordnance for Alpha strikes.
“We were launching aircraft a minimum 12 hours per day,” he said. “And of course we lost a bunch of pilots there. That of course to me was the hardest.”
The USS America had 11 pilots shot down. Six were killed in action and five were rescued. Besides these combat losses, three pilots died in operational mishaps.
“How we all cooperated as an orchestrated team to launch and recover thousands of sorties,” Hendrix said of his lasting impression from the crew. “It was the tenacity to see that the job got done for nine months straight, every day for nine months. The sailors were dedicated.
“We all knew we were in the same boat. And I made lifelong friends and we still hold reunions together.”
The next biennial reunion for the Attack Squadron 86 Sidewinders will be held in May in Branson, Missouri. Previous reunions have included 2008 in Jacksonville, Florida, 2010 in Pensacola, Florida, 2012 in Memphis and 2014 in St. Augustine, Florida, where 59 veterans and wives attended.
“We do not wear the Vietnam medals or ribbons to the reunions, but we are proud to have served,” Hendrix said. “We do bring the memories – mostly good, some bad – of how we were all in the same boat, literally, and pulled through tough times together as a closely knit fighting team.
“I was proud to do it and I think that it was worthwhile. And I think we had to stop Communist aggression.”
Hendrix, 65, from Blytheville, Arkansas, left the Navy in July 1979 as a petty officer first class after 10 years of service. He got an associate degree in electronics in 1978 from the State Technical Institute at Memphis, a bachelor’s in aviation management in 1985 from Dallas Baptist University and a master’s in business administration there in 1991.
The Madison resident worked for Lockheed Martin for 15 years in Marietta, Georgia, before transferring to Huntsville in 2013. He retired from Lockheed Martin in June 2015 after 20 years. Hendrix then joined APT Research Inc. which supports the Software Engineering Directorate under the Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center.
He and his second wife, Vera, celebrated their 41st anniversary in February. Their daughter Aimee Soto, of Austin, Texas, is getting her doctorate from the University of Texas after teaching school for years. From his previous marriage, Hendrix has a daughter, Beverly Goodman of Osceola, Arkansas, and a granddaughter, Taylor Cole, who is getting her doctorate from Texas A&M.
“I love it,” Hendrix said of this nation’s commemoration of 50 years since the Vietnam War, “because we vets earned that. And I think it’s long overdue. It’s great to have historic milestones.”
Editor’s note: This is the 64th in a series of articles about Vietnam veterans as the United States commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War.