Jim Mach has been a staple in the Chewelah community for years and can be seen all over the place. Mach is very involved in the Catholic Church, the Chewelah Lions Club, the local VFW, and so many other community activities it’s hard to keep track.
But what should be kept track of is Mach’s service to his country. Interviewed on KCHW two weeks ago by the Stevens County Historical Society’s Don McLaughlin, Mach recalled his time in the Air Force flying in the skies of several Cold War hot spots and in Vietnam.
Born on May 19, 1934, Mach grew up in New Prague, Minnesota which today has just over 7,000 people in the city limits. At the age of 18 he went to play college football for two years at what is now called Minnesota State – Makato.
“I played end in those days, now it’s called tight end and I also played both on defense and offense,” Mach said.
After two years, he joined the Air Force and trained in Arlington, Texas to be a navigator. He began flying in 1953 at Moses Lake, on a C-124 – a heavy-lift cargo airplane. Between 1960-64, Mach was stationed in Germany and smack dab in the middle of the Cold War.
“You didn’t hear anything about Vietnam,” Mach said. “We were spying on the Russians, that’s what we were doing.”
Mach’s planes would help escort B-57 reconnaissance airplanes out of Turkey and Iran. Mach recalls a time one of the airplanes was shot down by the Russians and while the officers were returned, the Russian-speaking airmen were not returned.
He then transferred to Mississippi to become a navigator. When he was told there was no navigator at the base he was going to, he asked what was going on and was informed that he was becoming the base navigator. In 1969, Mach got orders to go to Vietnam, but those were delayed when the whole base was knocked off the grid because of a hurricane.
Mach flew on AC-130 gunships which were heavily armed and modified C-130 Hercules transports designed for ground assault with the call-sign “Spectre.” Mach operated the navigation fire-control computer while providing close-air support. Mach flew 117 missions and was on a test crew for the 105mm cannon that allowed the ship to fire at higher altitudes.
After his service in Vietnam, he returned to the states and trained airmen until his retirement from the Air Force as a lieutenant colonel. Jim’s wife, Monna, is from Chewelah so naturally when the two looked to settle down after a busy military life – they chose Chewelah.
Mach has close ties with the Catholic Church and the Knights of Columbus, he was also the president of the Stevens County Historical Society at one time. Mach also maintains the St. Mary of the Rosary Cemetery, marking plots and mowing the grass.
After retiring from the military, he used the GI Bill to get his teaching credentials from Eastern Washington University in 1975.
“I remember they asked me at Springdale, ‘Do you have credentials?’ no I’m taking night school and won’t be done till spring,” Mach said. “They said that’s good for us, you can be our Drivers Ed Instructor. Then they asked ‘Did you wrestle?’ I said, no I didn’t wrestle at all in my life. They said ‘Well then you can get trained and coach it too.”
Mach graduated from EWU and ended up teaching in Springdale for 20 years. He was also heavily involved in the Lions Club, VFW and helping veterans in need. Mach and the organizations he worked with would try and help get utility bills paid for vets, give them transportation when needed and help set up veteran funeral services.
“What I experienced was that vets of WW2 were happier than heck to join the VFW and Legion,” Mach said. “Vietnam vets not as much but a few joined and a couple handful joined from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I don’t think they’re interested in joining veteran organizations.”
Having served in Vietnam, Mach has a different view on American policy than the normal civilian. During the interview with the SCHS, he had a frank, yet compassionate response to a question about what he thought about the war.
“I hate to say it, but politicians make wars and the soldiers have to fight them,” Mach said. “The thought was if North Vietnam wins, they’ll take over Laos and it didn’t happen.”
Mach also pointed to more recent wars, and the simple human action of vets asking why they served. It’s a harder question for them when the objectives are murky. He said that everybody has a different reaction, using the example of the views on the Vietnam War by John Kerry and John McCain. Kerry returned from the war and didn’t care much for it while McCain was a POW and has a different view.
Regardless of political views, since serving in the Vietnam War, Mach has called Chewelah home and done plenty of volunteer work and serving his community. While he admits it’s a little tough to get out of bed sometimes in the morning, you’ll see Jim all over town – still serving the place he calls home.
By Brandon Hansen/The Independent Staff