Sergeant, U.S. Air Force, 366th tactical fighter sqaudron, 1972nd Communication Squadron
Vietnam War (1970-1971), Cold War (1971-1972)
When Stan Cudia was drafted into the Vietnam War, he was conflicted. He had friends on both sides of the national dialogue on the war – some believed it was a duty to fight for their country, and others felt the war was pointless. Cudia remembers what he did to make his desicion: “I finally looked at my dad one day and said, ‘What should I do? War is war I know that much.’ He said, ‘I was in WW2, you could go to war too.’ So I said, ‘OK, that’s what I need to do.’ And I was feeling that way anyway, that that was my duty, as an American.” Rather than let himself be drafted into the army, Stan Cudia opted to enlist in the U.S. Air Force.
Cudia was first sent to basic training at Lockland Air Force Base in Texas in 1968. He was expected to preform at a high level physically and mentally. Although it was a scary experience for him to go through at a young age, he powered through it because he knew he had to. Despite the toughness of the training, Cudia does not regret it: “I think it was thorough and effective. It’s stuck with me all these years and I am 68 years old now and I still look for dust on things and what not. Try to run a tidy ship.” After basic training, he was sent to Shepard air force base in Texas for communications training. Cudia learned how to encode and decode messages the Air Force needed to keep secret. After the initial training, Cudia needed to get a security clearance to become a communications specialist. While waiting, he was sent to Norton Air Force base in San Bernardino to hone his skills.
Once Stan Cudia was given a security clearance, he was sent to the Da Nang base in Vietnam. He called a two-inch mattress home and had to be careful about the food and water or face disease and death. Cudia was severely sick twice as a direct consequence of the sustenance in Vietnam; once from local crab meat and once from the water. His job was to send and recieve classified information about the war effort between bases throughout Vietnam. However, sometimes Cudia would have to do different work, such as making deliveries to other bases. One such mission Cudia remembers as the scariest of all: “That was pretty scary not knowing what to expect. We ran out of gas. The sergeant in charge filled up this deuce-and- a-half, put the generator on it, and the next morning four of us, with nothing more than M-16’s, jumped on this deuce-and- a-half single truck, four Air Force guys were going to drive highway 1 from Da Nang to Quang Tri to deliver this generator. We are driving along and I don’t know how far along we got, we were out quite a ways. All of the sudden the truck boom boom boom, ran out of gas. The old sergeant, ‘I filled this thing up myself last night!’ He thought everything was good to go. Should have been good to go. So we hit a little Army fire base asked if we could get gas. They said, ‘What the heck are you guys doing out here?’ We said, ‘We’re on our way to Quang Tri to deliver this generator.’ They said, ‘Well you shouldn’t be out here. Not right now.’ They were kind of reluctant. They were giving us a hard time, but eventually they gave us the gas. Scary actually.” Cudia lived in Da Nang’s barracks until March of 1971.
Cudia’s next assignment was to work with the 57th radar Squadron in Birch Bay, Washington. His job was to handle secret communications about Soviet aircraft movements between his base and other bases. The work at Birch Bay jarred Cudia because of how much easier life was there. One specific anecdote highlights this: One of the things that amazed me; I was standing in line and the guy says, ‘How do you want your eggs?’ and I go, ‘What? How do I want my eggs? In the chow line, you just get what you get.’ Well it turns out that it was such a small place that things like that could happen. ” Cudia worked both his military job and a second job as a bartender with few hiccups.
The last assignment Stan Cudia was given was at Ent Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Cudia worked decoding and encoding secret messages as he had previously. However, he worked long and hard hours in the new environment due to the magnitude of calssified information he had to process. For him, it was nearly reminiscient of his workload in Vietnam. However, Cudia lived off base as a married man at this point in his military career, so the work never became to grueling for him. After six months of work at Ent AFB, Cudia was honorably discharged.
After his work in the Air Force, Stan Cudia went on to work for the army in a civilian capacity for thirty-four years, doing the same job he did in the service – communications. Today, Cudia is commander of the Marin Veterans of Foreign Wars. The story of how he achieved the position is a simple one: “A lot of Vietnam veterans stayed away from the VFW. Finally, after years and years, in fact it wasn’t till 2010, I thought I’d like to do something for the vets, so I went down and joined up. And lo and behold they started putting me in an officer’s positions. Now I am the commander of the local post. I have been for the last three years.” Since 1968, Stan Cudia has been working non-stop to help the United States Military in any way he can.
Interview by Gregory Markham Hill on June 27th, 2017