As we become more mature (Grannie Annie doesn’t care for the term “older”) we adults participate in some interesting exercises. Getting together with long time ago schoolmates is one of those as in the traditional five-year school reunions. For some of us, those reunions come in the flavor of both high school and college get-togethers. In my case different military units of long ago gather and remember what we all did in years past.
Over the years I’ve found that some members of the class gatherings elect not to participate. Several have told me, “They (always the ubiquitous “they”) never liked me so I’ll just not go!” Their choice but they sure are missing out on a lot of fun and reminiscing about a life that we shared together in days of yore.
The old guy is writing this in a motel in Dayton, Ohio. For the past three days, I have been participating in the 59th year reunion of my college class of 1959. We grads all feel a little unique having been in the very first class that ever graduated from the then brand new Air Force Academy located at Colorado Springs. A small class there were 306 young men that started and four years later 207 of us graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree, a regular officer commission and the wings of an Air Force Navigator. From there we scattered to the four winds. Most, as did I, went to pilot training and never served as navigators.
Then along came the Vietnam War and four are listed as killed in action. One, incidentally my old roommate, became a guest of the North and spent time as a POW. The KIA’s are listed on the Vietnam Wall Memorial in Washington D.C. and it gives me great angst to slide my fingers over those sacred names.
Oh, we had a good time sitting together and reminiscing. “Fred I haven’t seen you since we left pilot training. What has been your life?” I asked. Fred told me that he went to KB-50’s and when that system was phased out he volunteered for Vietnam. There he served flying the T-28 and the L-19/O-1 as an “advisor” 1963 – 1964. Yes, we had forces in Vietnam that early before the big buildup of troops in 1966 and 1967 when your scribe managed to get into the fray flying tankers in 1967, 1968 and 1969. Fred then returned to the States and flew T-29’s training student navigators in Texas. The Air Force then sent him to the Air Force Institute of Technology to attain a Master’s degree as an engineer. Retiring after serving 20 years he continued in the aerospace industry and his words “Made a lot of money, more than I’ll ever need!” The last was spoken in regret having lost his wife Brenda a couple of months ago and still living in the pain of her loss.
Fred’s story was somewhat typical of what I drew out from others though the airplanes they piloted were different and where they served our country around the world varied. Quite a few left the Air Force after serving the required years of service to “pay back” the cost of our education serving as airline pilots and a large variety of other occupations. One became an astronaut piloting the space shuttle on three missions. Of our group, no less than 16 attained the rank of general and three of those the four-star rank. One four-star was later appointed as Secretary of the Navy.
Many still serve their communities. Two to my knowledge are protestant ministers. Others of us went into politics to serve their fellow men, firemen, police, airport managers and some of us still fly so the list is long. We range in age from 80 to 84 years of age so many are content with sleeping late and playing a lot of rounds of golf. Aches and pains and a recount of operations had were also topics of conversation.
We had gone to Dayton the location of the U.S. Air Force Museum so on our tours of that huge facility looking at the aircraft displayed sparked many a conversation of “I flew that one” and the war stories of “interesting” missions to bomb Hanoi like David who went “north” in his F-105 107 times. “Where is the KC-135,” the airplane that I loved and flew for many hours was asked several times. Well after 61 years in service that beloved airframe is still actively serving. The one designated to go to the museum in retirement is still in service with the Hawaii Air National Guard. Incidentally, that particular airframe is one that your columnist flew over the Gulf of Tonkin on a rather rememberable mission back in 1967.
In life, all good things come to an end and this old gent is again back home courtesy of United Airlines and our own Boutique Commuter service. My experience was a little different from friend Mike Hendricks. For me, every flight left on time and returned just as advertised. A highlight of my trip was riding from McCook to Denver with the airline captain being a young man that I had taught to fly, solo, private commercial and instrument. I was privileged to train and sign him off for all of those ratings. A perfect flight no less. It all started right here in McCook, Nebraska the gateway to the world.
That is how I saw it.