Retired Air Force Col. Ira Tindall’s storied military career began on a whim, in order to satisfy—or quiet down—a friend of his who had sights set on being a pilot.
“I didn’t have any desire, really,” said Tindall. “He kept on telling me, ‘Let’s go down and take the test,’ and finally, I agreed to go with him.”
Tindall was a son of sharecroppers in Ty Ty, Ga. who knew little else but plowing mules and farm work. He aspired to become a veterinarian. But that Sunday afternoon he and his friend hitchhiked from Tifton, Ga. to Valdosta to take the Airman Qualification Exam at Moody Air Force Base.
Tindall recalls that when he and his friend had arrived, he found that several of the 137 people who had come to take the test were highly educated. Some had master’s degrees and even doctorates.
“I said, ‘Buddy, we’re in the wrong place,’” said Tindall, who at that point had recently graduated high school and completed a year and a quarter at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College.
Tindall completed the written portion in an hour and 15 minutes. He then took the psychomotor, or coordination test, and later found out he not only passed, but qualified to train as either a pilot or a navigator. While Tindall says that gave him an ego boost, once he received the letter requesting him to report to Atlanta to be sworn in, he put the letter away.
Tindall reconsidered one day while plowing the field, working the farm for his father as he was wont to do between semesters at college, when nothing seemed to be going right. Wondering where he’d put the letter, Tindall discussed the idea with his mother.
“She said, ‘You really want to?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll give it a go,” said Tindall. “She said, ‘Well, I saved it for you.’ So I went to Atlanta and got sworn in.”
That was May 1954. Tindall went on to graduate in the top 10% of his pilot training class. He eventually accepted a regular commission in 1957, after he’d realized he loved flying.
Tindall was assigned at several bases in different roles. He trained instructor pilots at Craig AFB near Selma, Ala., teaching instructor training, jet qualification and primary pilot training. He got an assignment with the F-100 fighter jet, and in the middle of all these earned a bachelor’s degree in math at University of Southern Mississippi.
In January 1963, Tindall took survival training at Stead AFB (now Reno Stead Airport) in Reno, Nev., where he was top gun of his F-100 class before joining the 20th Tactical Fighter Wing and being assigned to the 79th Fighter Squadron at Royal Air Force Woodbridge in Suffolk, England. This led to his operations in the Vietnam War, stationed at Thakli and Korat, both Royal Thai Air Force bases in Thailand; and Phan Rang Air Base in Vietnam.
Tindall flew 387 combat missions while stationed at Phan Rang and Korat. He recalls missions in South and North Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, often dropping napalm or bombing fallen helicopters to prevent the enemy from getting to them. He even remembers one mission he flew as a forward air controller during which he received word of a pack train transporting supplies for the enemy from the north. His contact shot a flair, and Tindall discovered it was elephants carrying war supplies.
“We killed a lot of elephants on that trail,” he said.
Tindall contrasts South Vietnam missions with those in North Vietnam, where the enemy often fired 85 mm surface-to-air missiles up to 30,000 feet.
“Now, North Vietnam was a little different,” said Tindall. “Not a little, a hell of a lot different.”
He recalled a mission at the edge of Hanoi to bomb a railroad marshaling yard. Tindall, leading a flight of four, narrowly escaped 57 mm surface-to-air fire to release a 3,000-pound bomb on the source of the target.
Tindall recalls sometimes doing flybys, zooming by over ground troops just 100 feet above them, at 500 mph. The troops excitedly waved back, feeling safer knowing the Air Force was nearby.
“I’d rather have been in that plane instead of where they were,” said Tindall. “They had to worry about it 24 hours a day. I only had to worry about it when I was flying.”
Tindall would work in several other roles stateside between his tours in Vietnam and his retirement in 1980 at the age of 45. He went on to get his commercial pilot’s license but decided to continue in real estate. He went on to become the owner of Re/Max Masters Real Estate and now Tindall Realty. He says that the principles he took to heart the most from the military and that he carried on to his life as a businessman are “self-control, honesty and integrity.” Tindall notes that while he trusts the goodness of most people, he had to adapt to the stark difference in the prevalence of discipline and honesty among civilians and among the military.
“If you’re in war together with someone, you have to trust them,” said Tindall. “I had to adjust to that. There’s not the integrity there that you have in the military. You can lay down your life for your buddy. I don’t think you would out here.”