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"Houston Astrodome in South East Asia? "

Submitted by: MSgt Jerry “Deputy Dawg” Hester - May 01, 2005


Houston Astrodome in South East Asia? Most of you are probably aware of the famed Houston Astro Dome that was built in the early 60’s. It was unique at the time because it was the very first “domed” sports complex of its kind as well as having a most unique scoreboard. Unique in that whenever the home team, the Houston Astros, scored a home run, the score board would release a massive amount of fireworks in celebration.

Not to be outdone by some rich conglomerate, and hungry for some sports competition, the 1041st under the direction and guidance of SSgt John Owings, commenced to build its own sports complex, i.e. a softball field, in the middle of our Base Camp, located north of Phu Cat Air Base, Republic of South Vietnam.

But before I continue with this “war story” I must tell you about John Owings. He was a fast-pitch softball pitcher whom I had the pleasure to catch for on many occasion at Andrews AFB, Md. We both were members of the Security Police Squadron team and we developed a relationship that I like to think, continues to this day. In fact, if it were not for John, I would have never been a part of the 1041st and for that I will always be grateful.

But turning the clock back to 1966 and Phu Cat Air Base, RVN, I was catching for John one afternoon, if my memory serves me correctly, when he came up with this wacky idea of building a ball field. Undaunted and armed with our typical “cockiness”, several of us echoed those wacky words, “Let’s build us a ball field.” John and several others of us who had the urge to play ball decided to start building. No problem…or so we thought! We thought clearing the brush by hand was going to be a snap. However, no one knew anything about bamboo, nor were we prepared for the fight this innocuous plant would give us in trying to remove it and its root structures from mother earth. Our first day of attempting to clear a small parcel was just that…..attempting (operative word) to clear a small parcel. Being of sound mind and body it did not take us long to figure out that no matter how much “back” we put in this project the end score was always going to be the same…..Mother Nature 1 – Rangers 0! It was obvious our picks and shovels weren’t going to work in a timely fashion. We had to come up with another “game” plan (no pun intended).

Enter SSgt Glen Cooper, the unofficial “Club Manager” of the1041st. After some tough negotiations it was decided that RMK Construction (who were building the base runway) crews would give us a hand. And did they ever. Early morning one day we heard the rumbling of what sounded like a tank but in reality was a big D8 caterpillar. What a sight as it clank-clanked over the hill. But that wasn’t all by golly as the heavens opened and behind the D8 came a Road Grader……and a Water Truck…….and an Earth Roller! It seems Mother Nature was going to lose this ball game after all. The boys from RMK made quick work of clearing that field, grading it and rolling it. All in one afternoon.

Now we had to lay out the field. We broke out our lensatic compasses measuring angles needed to layout base paths, foul lines, etc. The thought was sound but the practice not really practical. I stood up and suddenly smacked myself in the middle of the forehead and yelled, “Mortars”. After everyone stopped diving for cover from what they thought was incoming, I related “The mortar crews use a Transit for their aiming stakes.” Voila, our problem was solved in that regard very quickly. Soon the base paths were aligned properly, the pitcher’s mound located with accurate measurement and the foul lines identified. Not having any white powdered chalk to line off the field I believe we shanghaied our cooks for a 50 pound bag of flour. I can not attest to the accuracy of that statement but it makes for a good story and it certainly is within the realm of dirty tricks the 1041st was capable of pulling off.

Well now the field was built and looking good. Those of us that had them broke out our gloves and our supply people got extra goodies from the MWR folks on the main base. We soon realized though that now that we have a ball field we need to play some games BUT who were we going to play? I might mention that the 1041st had a team of veteran players and with John Owings pitching and Jack Hayes (more about him later) as his battery mate we would prove to be a formidable foe. It was not long after that we were challenged by members of the local “Red Horse” squadron to a game. Turns out they possessed a might fine fast-baller also!

That first game was a pitcher’s duel all the way. It seems Red Horse had an excellent pitcher in that he and John were striking people out with softballs that looked to be the size of an aspirin as it passed by the batters with amazing speed. In the end the 1041st was victorious over Red Horse by 1 run; of that I am sure. The score was either 1 to 0 or 2 to 1.

The 1041st softball team played together for the next 3 or 4 years afterwards and went on to amass an amazing win/loss (very seldom if ever) record at Schofield Barracks and Wheeler Air Base, Hawai, and at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Interesting to note is the fact that the team’s reputation as a “winner” was cause for concern at all these locations in that the 1041st was a tenant unit and therefore was at times given the excuse we could not compete for one reason or another. I believe Schofield offered up the excuse the 1041st was Air Force and therefore could not compete with the Army teams, and then Wheeler AB would come back with the lame fact our team was based across the street at Schofield Barracks. But in the end the 1041st played in the Wheeler league….and continued winning.

I figure by know you are probably asking yourself “that’s all well and good, but what does that have to do with the “Houston Astro Dome.” We didn’t sell hot dogs, popcorn, or beer. Didn’t have a grass in-field nor could we play under the “lights”. Although I believe SSgt Charlie Wright, Mortar Section, said he would keep us supplied in Illumination Rounds if need be. Hey! There was a war on…..remember?

The significant difference obviously was the cost for the Astro Dome…it was in the millions! Cost for the Phu Cat Open Aire Coliseum……a palette load of beer? The Astro Dome home team home run may have set off the fire works display behind the scoreboard but we promised our fans a better experience. You see any time a home run was hit by either team in the Phu Cat Open Aire Coliseum it would usually set off one of our perimeter land mines! That’s right! Our outfield fence was defined by rolls of razor wire and a mine field! All outfielders were briefed that chasing a ball was a no-no and if a fly ball was obviously going over the fence….take cover!

Shortly after the game with Red Horse the 1041st and certain named individuals were cited in a 1966 Pacific issue of the Stars and Stripes in which the headline read, “Air Force Unit Out-Builds the Houston Astro-Dome” or words to that effect.

NOTE: The aforementioned Jack Hayes was A1c Jack Hayes, an Orderly Room clerk and I believe he retired from the service and teamed up with the USAF Morale, Welfare and Recreation department. Not only was he an outstanding ball player and sports competitor in his younger years, he went on to coach many Air Force teams in Armed Forces level fast pitch softball tournaments, winning some championships at that highest level of achievement.



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