They lived military life together
By Ryan McCarthy
Mary Webb was an
18-year-old high school student when a classmate who
had a hard home life told her about enlisting in the
US Air Force.
"I have a found a
family," the classmate said.
Webb wasn't looking
for one - her family life was wonderful - but she
enlisted in the Air Force and found values that have
stayed with her forever.
Austin Webb wanted to
be a prizefighter but deferred - and eventually
dropped - that dream after enlisting in the Air
Force in 1952.
The two met in the
summer of 1965 when they were stationed at Westover
Air Force Base in Massachusetts, married the next
year and went on to serve in Vietnam in 1970. Austin
volunteered for service there after Mary was sent to
"How I was picked, to
this day I don't know," she said Friday.
Austin Webb was
awarded the Bronze Star and worked in Binh Thuy as
an adviser to the Vietnam Air Force. Mary, about 80
miles away at the Tan Son Nhut air base in Saigon,
worked on the 600-page military history that the Air
Force produced every six months chronicling the war.
"At least we were in
the same country," she said.
The couple, who live
in Yuba City and will attend the Veterans Day Parade
today in Marysville, returned to Beale Air Force
Base after their tours of duty in Vietnam.
Their service together
in that country at that time was rare.
"A husband and wife is
almost unheard of," said Dann Spear, founder and
curator of the Museum of the Forgotten Warriors near
Austin Webb said the
standard military line of the era was "if we thought
you needed a wife, we would have issued you one."
Mary Webb, 66, said
careers for women in the 1960s were largely limited
to teaching, nursing or secretarial work. Choices
were even fewer in rural Michigan where she was
raised. Her mother, who would have loved to serve in
the military, supported her enlisting in the Air
Force, Webb said.
You'll have a uniform,
a job to go to and a barracks to live in, Webb
recalled her mother saying. Webb's parents led lives
that sent their children a message.
"You do something.
You're not a sitter. You're a doer," she recalled.
Austin Webb, 81, grew
up in Danbury, Conn. - the hat capital of the world,
where if you didn't work making hats, you didn't
have a job, he recalled. Webb had other ideas and
was a cabinet maker before beginning the Air Force
career he continued until his retirement in 1977.
When he wears his hat
marked "Vietnam Veteran," kids come up in Marysville
and other communities to thank him for his service.
Mary volunteers at the thrift store that's been at
Beale for 51 years.
Austin Webb said a lot
of movies and other portrayals of the Vietnam War
aren't close to accurately depicting what happened.
"The only people who
really know," he said, "have been there."
The couple recall when
aircraft flew constantly around Beale during the
Vietnam War. Flights now are far less frequent, they
Mary Webb said many
Air Force veterans live quiet lives here after
retiring from Beale.
"They're a lot of
veterans who have done some amazing things they
never talk about," Webb said.