by Cpl. Austin Weck
1st Marine Aircraft Wing
March 15, 2019
Bullets and shells bounce off the cold hard steel of the F-4 Phantom II aircraft. Tensions are high and the two Marines inside are on edge. There is something unsettling about being stuck in a flying metal object around 20,000 feet in the air with bullets flying past. Apprehension continues to build as the Marines take on fire from a .50 Caliber anti-aircraft weapon.
The two Marines trapped inside the F-4 narrowly escaped with their lives intact, it was the most stressful moment of Stan Solomon’s Marine Corps career.
Capt. Stan B. Solomon, now retired, was aboard the F-4 when it was struck. The Marines were an hour away from the Da Nang, Vietnam flight line. Solomon knew that the likelihood of making it there safely was slim to none. In order to keep his Marine focused, he tried to lighten the mood with jokes. This was the longest hour of his life.
Solomon eventually landed his aircraft safely.
Though he was teeming with pride, the backlash against the Vietnam War would silence his experiences upon his return home.
Now, after nearly 52 years, Solomon returned to the Indo-Pacific to tell his story as the guest speaker for the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing 243rd Marine Corps birthday ball.
“I [joined] 10 days after my birthday and since then it’s just been the Corps,” said Solomon, a native of New York. “It’s been a part of my life and it has been a part of raising my children.”
Even though there was a military draft, Solomon joined the Marine Corps of his own accord. Solomon received his commission on June 6, 1963.
“I joined the Marine Corps because I wanted to be a member of the most fantastic fighting organization on the planet,” said Solomon, who in 1963 was a radar intercept operator with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 323, 1st MAW. During his time with 1st MAW, all combat missions were flown with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 314.
Solomon was stationed in Iwakuni, Japan before the squadron was deployed to Vietnam. Once in Vietnam, he frequently received enemy fire directed at his F-4 Phantom during flight missions.
“Living in a combat environment—it doesn’t get any better than that. To this day, what in the civilian world equates to driving through a hail of incoming lead?” Solomon continued. “A roller coaster’s not going to do it for me.”
After Solomon got out of the Marine Corps, memories of Vietnam haunted him. He, like so many others returning home, had no one to talk to about these experiences—until now.
Solomon arrived in Okinawa, Japan on Nov. 4, 2018. He received a warm welcome from the Marines of 1st MAW. The days leading up to the ball, Solomon met with maintainers and pilots to share his story.
“It feels good to be back with the Marines of 1st MAW,” stated Solomon. “I feel like I never left; I was so nervous, I would have rather been in combat.”
“After being [quiet] for so long and now you are about to give a speech to the oncoming generation of Marines—it is a humbling experience,” Solomon continued.
For nearly 30 minutes, Solomon shared his Vietnam experience with the Marines, their families, and other guests in attendance, earning an emotional ovation. At the end of the ceremony, he was presented with a birthday cake to commemorate his 77th birthday, which took place the following day.
“I’m 77 years old; I am well beyond my expiration date,” said Solomon. “I’m close to the end. Physically, this is the most demanding trip I have ever been on, and I would gladly do it again.”
“To have the feeling of welcome and the respect. To have the respect for what I did and to finally receive it. For 52 years I never had that.”
Solomon toured around Okinawa during his visit. He visited Marines all over Camp Foster and Marine Corps Air Station Futenma. He also went on a battle sites tour, accompanied by 1st MAW commanding general, Maj. Gen. Thomas D. Weidley.
“The Marine Corps is unique. Always has been, always will be—be it in combat or peace time. But the common bond between Marines is family,” said Solomon. “No matter where you go, you will always have that comradery that you cannot get anywhere else. I don’t believe that to exist in another branch of service.”