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Monday, Aug. 3, 2015

Academy redux

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Celebrate with me. Fifty two years ago today I had the good fortune to marry my high school sweetheart, Miss Clara Ann Tondreau. Ann was raised on a farm west of Maywood. She embraced the Air Force life and during our time together we lived on the East Coast, the West Coast, as far south as one can get in the Rio Grand Valley and on the northern border of the U.S. of A. near Marquette, Michigan. In between those locations we were thrice assigned to bases in Oklahoma before we moved back home to farm and "retire." Together we raised three children and now have seven grandchildren. She is a major part of why my life has been successful and happy. I have been many times blessed!

Bear with me as I still have some of our recent Air Force Academy experience still in my mind. The Site Selection Committee, appointed by Secretary of the Air Force Harold E. Talbott, did well in choosing the location just north of Colorado Springs for the Academy. Situated along the Rampart Range of the Rockies, the Academy grounds, and especially the distinctive Chapel, are easily visible to any who drive Interstate 25 to/from Denver. Entrance on to the Academy grounds is accessible to the public and I encourage you to visit. After all, it is you the American taxpayer who paid for the facilities and therefore should have ownership rights to enter and explore the site. I'd recommend especially the Cadet Visitation Center which will give one a bit of the history and ambiance of the place. Look closely and you might even spy pictures of my classmates pictured in 1958 when I first arrived on location.

I think that it was the year 1957 at the interim site on Lowry AFB on the east edge of Denver when several members of the Site Selection Team came to visit Cadet Wing. The visitors were part of the distinguished military and civic leaders chosen circa 1954 to select a site to build the new Air Force Academy. Some 580 communities in 45 states had bid to have the Academy placed nearby for the obvious economic benefit. In 1957 construction was in progress and I can only surmise that those visiting members were checking on progress and had additionally come to visit also their long-time compatriot, Lt. Gen. Hubert Harmon who was the first Superintendent of the Academy.

After the evening meal, retired Gen. Ira Eaker informally spoke to us cadets to relate a personal anecdote that took place during the selection process. He related that the team had been looking over the real estate offered by the City of Colorado Springs. It being Sunday morning, a day off, three of them decided to go to the small airport north of town to see if they could rent an airplane to look the proposed location over from the air. At the little airport office they found an older gentleman that owned and ran the place. With a little visiting they found out that the gent had been World War I pilot. They asked if he had an airplane that they might fly and he allowed that he had a four-place Stinson to rent. "Well do you think that one of you can fly it or do you need me to fly it for you?" was his response. The tall thin visitor stepped forward and stated "I think that probably I can fly it," as he presented his flying license with his name Charles A. Lindberg written on it. Then Gen. Eaker presented his license along with the third pilot, retired Gen. Tooey Spaatz.

Oh, the airport owner was both embarrassed and ecstatic with excitement. Here were three of his pilot heroes and he had just asked them if they knew how to fly an airplane! The three insisted that he also ride along with them as they did their flying tour of what then was an active cattle ranch.

The Department of Defense did then purchase the scenic area west of the Interstate up to the ridgeline of the mountains. That land included the little airport which is now the very active Academy Airfield. It is there that all cadets are given rides in gliders, cadet pilot training aspirants are introduced to powered flight and cadet volunteers are trained to parachute and sky dive. Now personally, I love gliders and will get Cadet Lance Wach, glider instructor to give me a ride. Lance, I taught to fly before he went to the Academy plus I had the honor of being the first Academy cadet, ever, to solo in an Air Force glider in 1956. I also am of the opinion that only two things fall from the sky, bird doo and fools, but obviously those that love the sport of sky diving have a different outlook.

Entering onto the Academy grounds today is similar to driving into a National Park. The grass along the roadways is well groomed and buildings and facilities are tastefully integrated into the big sky western landscape. With a sharp eye, one can see significant military aircraft displayed. The buildings are modern gleaming steel and glass and the football stadium looms large above the access road. Falcon stadium was built from funds donated by military personnel and used zero taxpayer money. For security purposes, access to the area where the cadets live and work is limited for the general public but by parking at the Cadet Visitor Center, one can walk to the top of the ridge overlooking the Cadet Area for a good view and photography. If you know one, get a cadet to escort and you can see more.

Two huge field houses overlook the expansive athletic fields. Inside the field houses one can find two ice hockey rinks, several basketball courts, a huge gymnasium, an indoor football field complete with complete indoor track facilities and more. A nearby public accessible parking lot allows visitors to walk in and watch the cadets practice or compete in athletic events.

The Air Force Academy today is one superb national asset, in my opinion, but I may be a tad prejudiced. It is an easy drive from this area and I would encourage you to work seeing it into your vacation plans.

That is the way I saw it.

Dick Trail


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Dick Trail
The Way I Saw It