Dr. Earl Tilford


Earl H. Tilford Jr. was born August 17, 1945. He married Grace Finnegan in 1974. Dr. Tilford graduated from the University of Alabama with his B.A. and M.A. in 1969. After graduation, he was trained by the United States Air Force as an intelligence officer. He served in the United States Air Force from 1969-1989 where he retired as a major. In 1984 he graduated from George Washington University with his Ph.D. Dr. Tilford was associate professor of history at Troy State University in Montgomery from 1990-91. He was a professor of military history at U. S. Air Force Command and Staff College, at Maxwell Air Force Base. Dr. Tilford was the director of research for U. S. Army Strategic Studies Institute. He was also professor of history at Grove City College, Pennsylvania.  Dr. Tilford edited the Air University Review. He is a member of the American Historical Society, Society for Military History, U. S. Naval Institute, and the Inter-University Seminar of the Armed Forces and Society. He was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal, the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry, and the Hoyt S. Vandenburg Award for Educator of the Year, U. S. Air Force,1992.

Time in Vietnam

Dr. Tilford was in Vietnam from 1970-1971 where he served as an intelligence officer in the United States Air Force. During his time there he would report on the secret bombing of Laos, specifically of the Ho Chi Minh trail. He was stationed at South Udon and worked through the night to gather intelligence. After making the reports he would brief his commanding officer usually around nine in the morning. He realized the war was not going as planned when one of his commanding officers said the war was not about beating North Vietnam, it was about how bad the Air Force was going to beat the Army. His time in Vietnam was spent pondering countless reports of the numbers game and relaying it to his commanding officer.

Thoughts of the War: Before, During, and After

Dr. Tilford came from a military family. His father served in World War II as an intelligence agent. He was stationed in Cuba and posed as a ship picking up scrap metal. They were actually picking up uranium samples for the development of the atomic bomb. Dr. Tilford did not realize service in the Air Force would be for him until he was in college. He knew he might get drafted so he decided to sign up for the ROTC program at the University of Alabama.

Dr. Tilford stated had he been drafted for service, he would have gone. He felt because he was an American, this was America’s fight and he would not cower away to Canada even when his father asked if he wanted to go instead of enlist. Dr. Tilford was very much the embodiment of the American soldier who believed was his duty to fight for his country and its freedoms.

After he returned from Vietnam, Dr. Tilford stated he was very much disillusioned by the entire event. He admitted to drinking heavily for the first few years after returning home from Vietnam. However, eventually, he went on to write a few books about the Air Force in Vietnam.

So it is no secret that veterans of Vietnam were not given the typical hero’s welcome home. Due to the massive public protests of the war the entire identity of soldiers changed in public opinion. Soldiers who came back from the war were called “baby killer” or “murderers.

Interview with Dr. Earl H. Tilford Jr.


Additional Readings:

Crosswinds: The Air Force’s Setup in Vietnam written by Earl H. Tilford Jr.

Search and Rescue in Southeast Asia, 1961-1975 written by Earl H. Tilford Jr.

Setup: What the Air Force Did in Vietnam and Why written by Earl H. Tilford Jr.