CW5(Ret) Ken Roach grew up in Lock Haven and Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, with a brother and sister. His father was a typewriter repairman, and his mother was a public health service nurse. During high school, he was very politically active, organizing rallies and parades in support of the war in Vietnam. He decided to enlist, and scored so well on the Army aptitude test that he was able to choose to become a helicopter pilot. After basic training, he became a Warrant Officer, and despite working hard in flight school, he was the last in his class to solo. When he deployed to Vietnam in September, 1968, his first mission as a co-pilot was transporting Vietnamese and American bodies from a mass grave in Hue, where they had been killed by the North Vietnamese, for a proper reburial. That mission reinforced why he was serving in Vietnam. During the battle of Hamburger Hill in May 1969, Roach provided support by ferrying troops into the A Shau Valley, and recalls not really receiving fire during the battle. In June 1969, he flew missions into Laos. Between his two tours in Vietnam, he taught Vietnamese pilots at Hunter Army Airfield, a mission he considered very rewarding. Returning to Vietnam, he served part of his tour with Air Force Advisory Team 1, supporting the Vietnamese Air Force 239th Squadron. The highlight of that tour was being able to fly with his former students. Overall, he felt that his second tour was a melancholy experience because he felt that the Americans were giving up. After the war, he flew search and rescue missions, and enjoyed being able to help lost or stranded people. When he transitioned to the National Guard, he also served as an FAA Safety Inspector.
In this interview, he talks about his childhood, his support for the war effort in high school, and deciding to become a pilot. He describes his training, his two deployments to Vietnam, and his post-war experiences. He recalls the mission he flew as Dave Poley’s wingman up near Khe Sanh. While trying to avoid anti-aircraft fire, Poley’s helicopter entered a cloud, and Roach hesitated to follow. The last words he heard from Poley were, “Wait until I come out [of the cloud].” Poley’s helicopter never reappeared. Over the next several days, Roach flew search and rescue missions, looking for Poley’s helicopter and survivors, but unfortunately he found his friend’s burnt out Huey, and the search turned into a recovery mission. He discusses the importance of reunions and serving in the 101st Airborne Division Association. He reflects on the importance of reunions, being an Army Football Season Ticket Holder, and what his service means to him.