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 Vietnam.

"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 Beale.

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 said.

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.

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