Paul J. Lockwood, Vietnam Veteran
Updated: Jun 25
"Our purpose in life is to accept the role we are designed for. If we enter conflict, we need to take it as a challenge to conquer the event to achieve success." --- Paul Lockwood
I first met him 20 years ago when he was 60. He sat across from me at a large round table in a restaurant with a group of friends; he was the friend of a friend. At some point he mentioned he had been an Air Force pilot. I was the only one who seemed to hear when he said, "I was sent to Vietnam and didn't know it was a war zone."
I was stunned but I couldn't ask about it because the others continued chatting about other things. Finally, during a lull in the conversation, I looked at him and asked, "Paul, how could you have not known there was a war when you were sent to Vietnam?"
Before he responded, he looked at me with an intense twinkle in his brown eyes and a slight smile, which seemed to say that he noticed I was the only one who had heard the impact of his words.
That was the beginning of my understanding of the most interesting life I have ever known. It would take a book to tell it, and I don't have the space so this is a nutshell version. From that moment on, we have been friends.
Paul Joseph Lockwood was born June 19, 1940 in northeast Philadelphia, 4th child to his mother, Dorothy, who eventually had 14 children, however, her 2nd child died at 18 months. Dorothy's father was Seminole Native American and German; her mother was half black and half Irish. She was married to Leon Lockwood, a black man whom Paul never remembered living with; she eventually divorced him and married Walter Lockett, another black man and stepfather to Paul when he was four years old. The family had their ups and downs with keeping food on the table. Many nights the children went to bed with no food and entire winters with no coal for heat. Hand-me-downs were the only clothes, whether they fit or not. They lived in various low-income projects; they moved to South Philadelphia before Paul started school. The babies kept coming, nearly every year Paul had a new sibling. He became adept at feeding babies and changing diapers. But his greatest skill early on was math. Even before he started school, he taught himself mathematical concepts. In school, he learned that everything came easily to him, especially algebra and geometry, which he took in 8th grade.
As young as four, he worked the victory garden (gardens the government encouraged during the war years, often planted in public parks); he helped his stepfather pull the plow to till the soil and ran back and forth to the creek with buckets to water the garden. When they were done for the day, he was so tired he could barely walk the nine blocks home. They had no car to get them there and back. But when the garden grew in, it was a time of plenty for them -- they had collard greens, cabbage, mustard greens and kale and this was what their meals consisted of; they never had meat. When he was a little older, he and his brother (two years older) would gather coal that fell from the coal train; they would run home with it to use for heat.
Despite living at poverty levels, Paul's mother was a strict disciplinarian with her many children; she felt it was the only way to keep her family under control. In Paul's words, she felt that, "if a child cannot obey the rules of the house, then that child would not render the respect due to others as well as to his or herself in society and therefore would not survive as a citizen."
It was about the time WWII ended when Paul was five, that he saw pictures of planes on cereal boxes. The C-119 flying box car was his favorite and he, from then on, dreamt of becoming a military pilot.
Paul was 11 when his mother didn't qualify for a new government housing project. He witnessed his mother's heart break when her sister was able to move in with only three children and she wasn't allowed to because she had too many children. Paul then vowed that he would always provide for himself and his family. He soon found a job on an ice truck and the man who hired him became like the father he never had. He worked every day during the summers and on the weekends during school months, never having a day off. He earned $4 a day and gave half to his mother. There were times when she needed more but he stayed firm and only gave half. He had plans for himself at that young age so he put the other half away for his future. Had he given it all to her, he may never have been able to buy the beautiful home for her that he later bought her in her older years.
It was around that time, in the early 1950s, when a West Point Cadet showed up at his school. Paul immediately wrote to West Point for the requirements. He was elated when he found it wouldn't cost anything, but he would need top grades and to be appointed by a Congressman. Every time Paul mentioned West Point, his mother discouraged him. In her mind, she thought that being poor and black, he would not get in, and even if he did, he would face discrimination, and she didn't want that heartache for him.
But Paul was a very determined, smart, young pre-teen. He saved his money, he studied in the basement by the light of the coal burner where it was quiet from his siblings. He felt like he never fit in with his family. They called him "the one who lived in the cellar with his books" and a "book worm", which he hated. Most of them were loud, liked to party and didn't study. He felt so different because when he wasn't working or at school, he had his nose in the books. His desire to become a pilot was fierce. West Point was his ticket out of the life he was born into, the life of poverty with 11 people living in a couple of rooms. He knew the odds were stacked against him - a black boy in a poverty-stricken family of, eventually 13 kids - with West Point in the 1950s being a military academy of mainly wealthy southern white boys. But he knew it was his only way to get both a college education and a career at the same time. In his words, "this was my destiny and I knew it."
At 13, he meticulously planned his future by joining the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) cadet program, offering military experience to better prepare himself to become a West Point Cadet, and he purchased a set of 100 lb. weights to build up his strength. So, in addition to working the ice truck, school, and studying, he participated in CAP events, worked out with weights and he enrolled himself into the second best public high school for boys -- North East High School which was over 3 miles from where he lived. In walking it, he had to navigate through gang territory but he figured out various survival tactics: running, having connections with certain gangs, paying them off, fighting (his last choice) or, sometimes he could take the trolley and avoid it altogether. He could have gone to a high school near his home, but he chose to go through all of this in order to obtain a better education.
In his mother's words, as he was growing up, "Be careful little one, the world is not ready for you."
At the end of his senior year in high school, he took the College Entrance Examination Board Test (CEEB) to get into West Point. There were ten candidates taking the test, hoping to be appointed by the congressional representative who could only appoint four -- one principal and three alternates. The student with the highest test score was supposed to be the principal candidate. Paul knew he would have the highest score, but wondered if the congressman would be fair or would he discriminate against him due to the color of his skin.
Paul was elated when on April 15, 1958, he received the results that he was appointed the principal candidate. He showed his family what you could do with some hard work and goal setting. His mother said, "A cocky boy is no son to love." And, though she was proud of him, she was concerned about the difficult path he was on, she knew he would face discrimination. Paul's attitude was, "There is no place in the world like growing up in Philly, if I can survive here, I will survive the battle fields of the Academy."
Paul entered West Point on June 30, 1958 at 18 years old. Out of 1100 cadets there were only five non-whites, and of those, he was one of two black men. There were four to a room; he had his own closet and they shared a sink and a table. He felt like he was living like a king. Many of his fellow cadets were from wealthy homes and not used to sparse conditions or such taxing discipline, and some dropped out. But for Paul, this was home, this was the best living conditions he'd ever had and he was no stranger to discipline because that's what got him there. It was either march forward to dreams of being a pilot, or drop out and live on the streets. There was no choice. He was home. He had made this dream come true.
At the close of the next summer, there was an Open House. Paul's family obviously couldn't be there due to lack of funds for food, let alone travel. His roommate, whose family owned a tobacco farm in Tennessee, invited him to join his family. As they walked the grounds, a well- dressed, tall, good-looking white man with a slight smile on his face approached Paul. He reached out to shake Paul's hand, and said, "Congratulations son." Then he left. Paul didn't see him with any family, and Paul spent his lifetime wondering why this man had approached him. He thought maybe he was congratulating him as one of the few blacks to go to West Point. He didn't find out who the man was until nearly 50 years later.
Upon graduation from West Point, Paul applied to the U.S. Air Force Aviation Cadet Pilot training program and was accepted. It was the summer of 1961 when he reported to Lackland AFB, TX for processing and then to Randolph AFB, TX for initial pilot training.
During his first three months, he received death threats every day due to the color of his skin. Three of the four black men dropped out due to threats, but not Paul. Nothing was going to deter him from his goal. He had nothing to go home to anyway. His flight instructor discriminated against him also, yet after three months, everyone let up on him because they realized he wasn't going to give up and he continued to excel with a calm that let no one get under his skin.
After a year of flight training, Paul received his silver wings, reaching his goal of Air Force pilot. His career field choices were, in this order: fighter pilot, bomber pilot, cargo pilot. Although he finished in the top five of his class, he was given cargo pilot and told by one member of the selection committee that he was lucky to get it. Many who finished below him were given fighter pilot and bomber pilot.
In 1962, at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, he was assigned to the 956th Support Squadron to fly as a C-123 transport pilot. At the end of nine months, he passed the exam and was sent to Izmir, Turkey with the 425th Air Base Squadron, Detachment 20, to support all U.S. and NATO units in Izmir.
His first assignment was to pick up and deliver military mail between Germany, Athens and Izmir. On Fridays some of his deliveries to Greece included soldiers with weekend passes. He loved this time; he had reached his goal of becoming a military pilot and during his free time, he took classes and explored the areas.
At the start of 1963, the department of defense began deactivating missile sites and reducing manpower, leaving only key personnel to remain in Turkey. Paul had fears of being sent back to the United States so when a request for volunteers was posted for a rotation "in Southeast Asia to support a small third world country with humanitarian support and supplies," Paul immediately signed up, with the hopes of more flying time to become an aircraft commander before returning to the U.S.
Within three days of signing up, at age 22, in March of 1963, he was off to Vietnam without a clue of what he had signed up for. Upon arrival at the aircraft hangar, he noticed all of the aircraft had armor-plating; he asked why and was told it would provide some protection if the aircraft was hit by mortar rockets. That was Paul's first warning that there could be conflict on the missions he was about to partake in. In his words, "I thought it would be another assignment like Turkey; how could I know a war was brewing?" And that is how Paul explained to me that he was sent to Vietnam without knowing it was a war zone.
His first missions were out of Chu Lai where he transported cargo to the ground troops, sometimes six flights a day. Below 5,000 feet there was a chance of being hit by Viet Cong rockets, which if hit, had a 100% kill rate. To release the cargo, he had to drop to 50 feet and he prayed every time. In addition to these daytime drops, Paul volunteered for a reconnaissance mission. He flew a Cessna O-2 Skymaster over the Ho Chi Minh Trail at night and dropped to 1500 feet to photograph movement. The trail was packed with people moving south to support the Viet Cong, hauling weapons and trucks loaded with supplies.
Paul later rotated back to Saigon to an assignment that provided transportation for diplomats. He flew VIPs, their golf clubs, and alcohol to Da Nang Air Base from Saigon, for relaxation. Paul wondered at this cost to taxpayers while it did nothing to help the ground troops. After six weeks, he was returned to Chu Lai to fly more cargo drops, which had become increasingly dangerous. After one drop, they left the cargo door open to let air flow through, which ended up saving their lives. A Viet Cong MIG-21 fighter aircraft was behind them, moving in for the kill. Paul and his crew had no way to maneuver away and being a cargo plane, they had no firearms. They froze with fear and thought for sure it was the end of their lives. But as the fighter pilot approached, he must have seen there were no supplies since the cargo door was open, so he made a sharp right to turn away; only four feet away, Paul could see his face. Paul figured the pilot didn't want to waste his ammunition on an empty aircraft that posed no threat.
On one mission to a site east of Nha Trang, Paul was to make a full stop to unload troops. Communication had become silent so he figured there was a problem. He circled first at 1500 feet to check for threatening activity. At that point, he saw blue smoke, an indication of the need for rescue. He made the decision to risk the approach rather than return to base to call for support. He hoped that if he made the approach without stopping and opened the cargo door that as many survivors as possible would scramble in until he would have to apply full throttle to climb out to safety. About a hundred U.S. and South Vietnamese troops plus civilians ran from the jungle toward the plane, followed by Viet Cong who were firing at them. The crew pulled as many as they could aboard as Paul taxied down the runway. The troops on board returned fire; there were still people running for the aircraft when Paul had to apply full throttle; had he stopped, they would have all been killed. It haunted him that some were left to be massacred by the Viet Cong. Of those he rescued, there were 5 CIA, 25 U.S. troops, 10 Vietnamese troops and the rest were civilians. His commander told him he was going to recommend him for the Congressional Medal of Honor for bravery, but Paul never heard a thing about that again.
"Courage under fire was a lesson I learned in Southeast Asia," he wrote in the book about his life. Yet when his year in Vietnam was up, Paul extended his time for another six months. In early 1964, he returned to Turkey and was promoted to First Lieutenant. After four years in Turkey and Vietnam, Paul was assigned to Bolling Air Force Base in Washington D.C., as a check pilot.
Before his six years with the Air Force ended, Paul enrolled at Johns Hopkins University and obtained a bachelor's degree in engineering. He then moved to California with his new wife to accept an engineering position with Litton Industry in El Segundo. He bought a plane and started a flying business, giving flight lessons. When Litton wanted him to relocate to Mississippi in 1972, he accepted an engineering position with Bechtel Power Corp., and coincidentally, we discovered many years later, that it was my future stepfather's father who hired him. Paul gained experience with nuclear power from Bechtel and took an 18 month course to obtain his Professional Engineering License(PE).
In January 1985, Paul accepted a position as senior engineering specialist on the Space Shuttle Program with Lockheed Space Operation Company and moved his family, which now included a son and daughter, to Lompoc, CA. He completed a six month training at the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida. In 1986, due to the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, the space shuttle program was put on hold so Paul returned to graduate school, obtaining both a PhD in engineering and a PhD in physics. Eventually he was hired again by Lockheed, at Vandenburg AFB, to work for the NRO, where he stayed employed until 2005. He then began work for ITT, also based out of Vandenburg, as an electrical engineer, which is where he is still employed today at 80 years old. Due to his experience they do not want to let him go. Throughout his life, Paul continued active participation as a Lt. Colonel in the Civil Air Patrol and due to his fascination with astronomy has been a member of the N.Y. Academy of Science for many years.
Paul grew up a black man in Philadelphia, in a very large black family, and he has been very proud of his success to climb out of the poverty he was born into. He had a very good mother who taught him core values, how to cook, how to take care of babies and how to sew. She taught him how to survive, but he had an inner drive to take it further than she wanted him to go; she only wanted to protect him. Paul never saw his beginnings as a handicap, but as a challenge. Before Michelle Obama was even born, Paul followed her slogan "if they go low, you go high". This was a principle he lived by even as a child.
But Paul suffered a severe shock to his world, to his reality, when he was In his mid-sixties. He learned from his aunt and then verified by his mother that the man whom he thought had been his father, Leon, was not his father. Leon was the father to Paul's older two siblings and he had always been told Leon was his father, though his parents were divorced. Leon would come take the older two on outings but would never take Paul. He grew up wondering why his father liked them but not him. Even through all of his accomplishment he could not get Leon's attention. It was an ache that he stuffed deep.
He never knew why that when he was young his aunts would call him Paul Hauser. In his sixties, he found out. His mother had done some housework for the wealthy Offenhauser family; she and the son became enamored with each other and Paul was the result. This young man, Paul's father, kept in touch, by letter, with Paul's mother through the years, so that he could know how Paul was doing.
Once Paul learned about this, he made contact with his "other family". His father, Hewitt Offenhauser, had already passed away, but Paul met his three half-sisters who shared much about their mutual father. The girls had been told of Paul when they were teenagers but they didn't know his name or where he lived.
It was an adjustment for Paul to know that what he thought he had worked so hard to become, was actually part of his genetic make-up -- Hewitt had also been an engineer with a strong desire to become a pilot (but never did).
The biggest adjustment for Paul was to learn that his father was white with Austrian ancestry. Paul had taken such pride in being an "African warrior", or so he fantasized. Because of this shock, Paul had a very telling dream. In his words, "I was a chocolate bunny in a running race. I ran as fast as I could and as I won the race and crossed the finish line, the chocolate melted off of me, and I was a white bunny at the end of the race." Which is pretty much what happened in life. It was difficult for him to grasp that his father was a white man, and his mother was only 1/4 black, which meant that Paul was only 1/8 black yet he had lived his entire life thinking he was mainly black. Hoping to prove all of this wrong, he did the genetic testing with 23 and Me; the results proved him to be 87% European.
The best thing that came of all of this is that the man he thought was his father, who never gave him any attention, was not his father at all. And the man who was his real father, Hewitt Offenhauser (pictured below), followed Paul's life, kept in touch with his mother and showed up at his West Point Open House to smile at him, to look him in the eye and to shake his hand and tell him, "Congratulations, son."
Paul in flight suits and in uniform on the right.
The top left was taken in Izmir, Turkey, at age 22; the next two are of Paul in his fifties. The bottom left is Paul at 80 years old. His father, Hewitt is on the right, with his wife. He was unmarried when he was in the relationship with Paul's mother.
For another of Lynne's stories about her uncle who was KIA in Vietnam, follow this link: