Members of the Maryland Air National Guard's 175th Tactical Fighter Group (TFG) conduct riot control training in Havre de Grace, Md., in 1967. Through the end of the decade, the National Guard played an essential role in responding to civil unrest caused by changes in American society, racial tensions, and growing anti-war sentiment. Following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4, 1968, Maryland National Guardsmen including the 175 TFG mobilized into state and then Federal service to respond to riots in Baltimore.U.S. Air Force photo/Maryland ANG
The Selective Service Act of 1967 exempted members of the Army and Air National Guard from the draft. Combined with President Johnson’s refusal to deploy National Guard units for combat, some Americans viewed National Guard service as a means of avoiding service in Vietnam. Nonetheless, many Guardsmen chafed at the President’s National Guard policy and sought combat opportunities by volunteering for service with active-duty units. In the first years of the war, about 2,000 Army Guardsmen volunteered for individual service overseas.
For example, Major Homer L. Pease, a Tennessee Army National Guardsmen and World War II veteran, volunteered for service in Vietnam where he earned the Silver Star and a third Purple Heart. Pease had lied about his age to join the army for World War II, and by the age of 16 he had earned two Bronze Stars, two Purple Hearts, the Senior Parachute Badge, and the Combat Infantryman’s Badge. Pease died in combat in the Mekong Delta on November 16, 1966 in a Viet Cong raid that wiped out all but one member of his unit.
Likewise, many Air Guardsmen volunteered for service with deployed combat squadrons. Among these, on March 15, 1966, Captain Larry B. Mason, a Michigan Air National Guardsman serving with the 8th Tactical Bomber Squadron, saved the life of his incapacitated navigator when he refused to bailout of his heavily damaged B-57 Canberra. Mason successfully piloted the damaged aircraft to Da Nang Airfield where he made a “gear up” landing.