Clad in service dress blues with heels, Lieutenant (junior grade) Ann Darby Reynolds sat in the gloom of a C-130 Hercules, squashed between two soldiers. In her left hand she held a paper cup to catch the droplets of condensation that dripped from the aircraft’s overhead. Her relief was palpable when the lumbering plane’s wheels touched down, ending her long journey from Travis Air Force Base in California.
As she made her way down the sloping ramp at the rear of the aircraft, a blast of furnace-like air—replete with strange new smells—welcomed her to a place most Americans had never even heard of (yet). The year was 1963, and Lieutenant Reynolds had made the trip that millions of Americans would subsequently make over the next decade. She had come to Tan Son Nhut Air Base just outside the capital city of Saigon in a faraway place called South Vietnam.