Vietnam vet remains young at heart

Retired Lt. Col. William Melton, a Vietnam veteran, is a Bronze and Silver Star Medal recipient.

Retired Lt. Col. William Melton, a Vietnam veteran, is a Bronze and Silver Star Medal recipient. The 37-year veteran of the United States Marine Corps considers Tinker Air Force Base his home and utilizes its amenities, such as the Gerrity Gym and Vanwey Dining Facility, as much as possible. (Air Force photo by Kelly White)

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. --

He’s 80 years old this year, but retired Lt. Col. William Melton has an ambiance about him that would have an innocent bystander believing he was in his twenties. The 37-year veteran of the United States Marine Corps originally hails from Marysville, California, but has called Oklahoma – and Tinker Air Force Base – his home since the 1970s.

He wanted to quit high school at age 17 and join the Navy. At the urging of his mother, he abstained until 1955, when we went off and joined the United States Marine Corps. Ten years later the American involvement in the Vietnam War had escalated and regular U.S. combat units were deployed.

A notoriously ugly, wildly unpopular, divisive war, Vietnam was hell to Colonel Melton – and to his fellow corpsmen, airmen, soldiers and sailors. The decorated combat colonel served in Vietnam, as an infantry squad leader in 1965 and a platoon leader three years later.

“I was wounded Oct. 10, 1965, and I was medically evacuated to Okinawa,” the colonel recalled. “The Air Force put me on a C-130 and flew me to an Army hospital. I’ll never forget the joint effort in that entire situation. It was the Marines that took me to a place where I’d get shot, but the Navy and Air Force’s efforts to take me to an Army hospital and provide excellent care; I’ll never forget it.”

His service earned him two distinguished honors, the Bronze Star Medal, Combat “V” in 1965 and the Silver Star Medal in 1968.

Following the U.S. involvement in the war, Melton returned stateside where he was assigned to be the executive officer for recruiting in the Marine Corps for all of Oklahoma. He moved to southwest Oklahoma City in 1975, choosing to be close to Tinker for its accessibility to the hospital and commissary. Though he had a brief stint in Washington, D.C., Melton kept residence in Oklahoma and returned home.

Melton retired in 1992, having spent 12 years enlisted before serving the rest of his time as an officer. He was one of only 19 corpsmen who kept their combat commission from the conflict in Vietnam. He was inducted into the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame in 2007.

It wasn’t until his retirement that the decorated combat colonel started utilizing other base resources such as the Gerrity Fitness Center, somewhere he visits three times a week. One full of stories and experiences, the retired colonel is not shy for conversation. You’re likely to catch him exercising Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays or having lunch with a friend at Van Wey Dining Facility every Friday.