Veterans Day reflections on a military career

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Thursday of this week will mark the celebration of military service to country for our fellow men and women. The date chosen was the official end of WWI and is official on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. All those WWI veterans are now gone so we all celebrate with a thank you to all who have served in uniform in the numerous skirmishes and interludes of peace in that time since. For me and most all of my fellow veterans it is just a fun day of remembrances.

Recruiters many times talk of the travel and adventure that awaits a prospective military service recruit. It happened to me and I would like to share some of my own adventures.

My first official travel was to hop on the Denver Zephyr right here at McCook at something like five o’clock in the morning on July 11th 1955. Off to the temporary home of the new Air Force Academy located on Lowry AFB on the outskirts of Denver. Lowry was our temporary home in updated WWII buildings for the next three years. Actually we cadets liked it as we weren’t allowed to own automobiles but public transportation came right to the gate to travel on our limited times off.

Then came a bus trip to the new “permanent” site still abuilding just north of Colorado Springs. The new accommodations were a bit Spartan and without a car it was a little tough to explore a bit in the Springs. About two months before graduation the rules changed and buying a car was authorized for seniors and that truly opened up the world for us.

Speaking of the world a summer of travel was offered to a portion of the new to be junior classmen and I volunteered. We flew to England, France, and Germany obsessively to observe our allied Air Forces. As seniors some of us volunteered to travel to the Far East to include Japan, Okinawa, Guam, Alaska and Hawaii. Not bad for a Nebraska farm boy.

Four days after graduation I married my high school sweetheart. The adventure of our lives began. We honeymooned to the East Coast, Niagara Falls on the way, then south to Tennessee to visit a former roommate and his family and to explore civil war battle fields there.

Honeymoon over it was time to report to Air Force pilot training down by Mission, Texas. Learned to love Mexican food and all the fresh produce grown in that garden spot. Moore Air Base there had on-base housing, minimal we paid $27.50 a month rent. Most of our neighbors, like us, were newly married and we all called the place “Fertile Flats” due to the high pregnancy rate.

Then on to advanced pilot training to learn to fly jets at Vance AFB, Enid, Oklahoma. Rented an unfurnished house there and paid $75 a month plus utilities. Our first pregnancy was going a little tough and Ann complained about sleeping on the floor until our household goods arrived.

Receiving my wings upon graduation from pilot training I landed an assignment to fly KC-97’s at Malmstrom AFB, near Great Falls, Montana. Pretty good road trip from Oklahoma to Montana with a new bride and baby girl. Rented a nice new duplex there for $135 a month. The only problem was that my squadron disbanded after six months and I drew assignment to Otis AFB, Cape Cod Mass.

Here were a mid-west raised couple living in a resort area of the East Coast some fifty miles from Boston. Rented a home there for a while where I could walk down to the water and rake fresh clams to eat. Quahogs, soft shelled clams and fresh lobster was about $3.00 for a chick. Learned to love fried clams ah la Howard Johnson. Oh yes stuffed clams, furnished as snacks at the bar. The ultimate was a real clam bake. Easterners drive funny so we bought a Volkswagen and adapted. Good memories like getting up early and surf fishing for an hour before going to the Squadron to flight plan or fly. Drew temporary duty for weeks at a time in England and then Sondrestrom AB, Greenland.

Greenland was interesting as the northern lights glowed mostly to the south of us at night. Occasionally a genuine Eskimo tribe would wander through the base on their travels to hunt. “Sondy” is where I spent the Cuban Crisis leaving Ann and our three children living back at Otis in the center of a prime target. Eventually our prop driven KC-97’s were retired, 1964, and I drew assignment to the jet powered KC-135 which they are still flying today.

Transition to the KC-135 was at Castle AFB, Atwater, California. Again a pretty good road trip but then back to Burns Flat, Oklahoma qualified to fly that wonderful airplane. We loved living in Oklahoma in a rural setting much like Western Nebraska. Just a long day’s drive to visit back home. Then came the Vietnam War and yours truly was lucky enough to draw temporary duty in Guam, Okinawa (Ann joined me there visiting for a month), Taichung Formosa, Utapao RTNB Thailand. In a short time off we explored the wonderful city of Bangkok. Met up with Visute Panpakti a McCook Junior College grad and his beautiful wife Chanya and had an awesome night on the town.

Again our tanker squadron disbanded so Uncle Sam sent me back to California to teach new guys to fly my beloved tanker. Living in Merced we had ten producing almond trees surrounding our swimming pool in the back yard. One of my next door neighbors farmed rice, 600 acres and another raised corn for Fritolay. Felt like back home in Nebraska.

Then off to Dayton, Ohio to earn a master’s degree followed by assignment to Oklahoma City—we lived in Moore. Good church, great friends.

Next assignment was north to the shore of Lake Superior, K.I. Sawyer AFB near Marquette, Michigan the Upper Peninsula. Best job in the world I was the Squadron Commander of a KC-135 Squadron. Yes it knows how to snow there averaging about 200 inches a year. My high school age kids loved it. They would get off the school bus, strap on their skis and street-ski out the back gate to the base ski hill. It had a rope tow. Ski until dark and come home for supper and homework. We also had a brace of snow mobiles to ride the streets and trails through the woods. Interesting and hardy people native there, lots of Finnlanders mixed in. Have you ever eaten a pasty? A flat flour pancake, add rutabaga, hamburger, onion, diced potato, sliced carrots, roll, butter and bake. How about seining a smelt about as long and the size of your middle finger. No need to clean it, just deep fat fry and eat it head innards and all. Ann drew the line, hers were de-headed and cleaned before cooking. A real treat is chunks of lake trout boiled in salty water along with potatoes, onions, carrots, chunks of sweet corn and more.

The time came to retire so it was a road trip back to the farm in Nebraska and a new life of farming, community service, corporate flying and teaching student to fly. It has been a wonderful adventurous life in great part to military service. Why yes I am a proud military veteran and I would recommend such an adventure to any young person interested to volunteer.

That is the way I saw it.

Dick Trail

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  • Thank you, Mr. Trail.

    -- Posted by greb on Wed, Nov 10, 2021, at 7:58 PM
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