A significant portion of my adult life was spent in the United States armed forces and I have a bit to say about that great adventure. I enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1956, but decided it was not what I had in mind for the long term. After some time traveling around the country, I enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in 1959 and made it a career.
I was born in Wichita, Kansas, in 1937. Dad left in 1941, but my mother managed to support us with a job at Cessna Aircraft until World War II ended. All the women were laid off and the jobs were given to the returning men. That led to a time of real poverty for our family. Mom moved my younger brother and me to a small farm near Rose Hill, Kansas, in 1948 and we lived a poor, but happy life. Except for when our house burned down in January 1952 and we lost everything (but that's another story). Luckily we had an old barn to live in, but it was a long, cold Kansas winter.
After graduation from Rose Hill High School in 1955 it was off to wheat harvesting (my fourth season) and then to a job at Boeing for about six months until I enlisted in the U. S. Marine Corps in 1956. After finishing boot camp as the platoon honor graduate I was assigned to Camp Pendleton, California, where I remained and became a Sergeant before discharge in 1958.
In 1959 I enlisted in the U. S. Air Force (but back to a lower rank - one stripe) and was directly assigned to Nellis AFB, Nevada, as an administrative clerk for the Fighter Weapons School, home of the Air Force Top Gun program and the Thunderbirds. Since I was about the only guy on base that shined his shoes they made be base Airman-of-the-Month and gave me a ride in an F-100 fighter aircraft, thereby addicting me to that type of flying. At the urging of local pilots I applied for Officer Candidate School. Luckily I was one of 144 from throughout the Air Force that got selected, but only 101 of us made it through the school. After graduation I was fortunate enough to obtain one of the pilot training assignments and was sent to Vance AFB at Enid, Oklahoma. By graduating as the top pilot of that class I was able to pick F-100 fighter pilot training at Luke AFB, near Phoenix, Arizona. See the F-100 Class section below for a look at the class members.
Completing the F-100 course as a top graduate gave me the opportunity to choose an assignment to the newest fighter aircraft, the F-105 Thunderchief. The first operational assignment was to McConnell AFB, at Wichita, Kansas, where they were converting from F-100s to F-105s. I was not excited about returning to Kansas, but my mom thought it was great since I was only 7 miles from home. Checking out was sporty at Nellis AFB and my class lost two airplanes in a week while the Thunderbirds had one come apart in the air, so they grounded the fleet and sent me back to McConnell. While on a training mission on January 6, 1965, my aircraft caught fire in the forward area resulting in complete electrical failure and partial loss of control. Despite poor weather conditions, I managed to land the aircraft and was subsequently awarded an Air Medal for saving the aircraft and avoiding a crash in a populated area. Most guys said I was just too scared to eject.
Next was an assignment to Spangdahlem AB, Germany, for about two years. Late in 1966 I had the choice to either transition to the newer F-4 Phantom or volunteer for Vietnam duty in the F-105. I chose the latter and in January 1967, joined the 34th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Korat RTAFB, Thailand. During this period I flew 100 combat missions over North Vietnam, plus many more over Laos. Due to my experience in the aircraft I was assigned many of the high priority missions and led numerous flights to the highly defended Hanoi area. It was a tough time with very restrictive rules of engagement, which caused the loss of a lot of aircraft and crews. Although my aircraft was damaged several times by ground fire, I completed the tour without injury. I had considered volunteering for a second 100 missions, but changed my mind after dealing with all the restrictions. And the fact a friend and fellow Thud pilot, Karl Richter, was shot down and killed on mission number 198 didn't help.
Then it was back to McConnell AFB as an F-105 instructor pilot. On Veterans Day, 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson personally decorated me with three awards of the Silver Star for actions during the Vietnam tour. Four awards of the Distinguished Flying Cross were presented at later ceremonies, also for combat-related actions. In early 1968 I was sent to Korea in response to the capture of a U.S. Navy ship, the Pueblo. We planned a rescue mission and sat alert, but no military actions were taken against North Korea. After four months, I returned to McConnell.
After early promotion to major in 1968 came attendance at Command and Staff College at Maxwell AFB, Alabama. A joint staff tour of four years followed at MacDill AFB, Tampa, Florida, in the U.S. Strike Command (later to be called Central Command). The most interesting aspects of this tour were the trips to many middle east countries such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, India, and others. In 1973 after finally getting my BS from the University of Tampa (Magna Cum Laude), I was selected as aide to Lt. General Hardin (the Deputy Commander in Chief). This challenging job included writing speeches and giving briefings to the highest levels of command including the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the Pentagon. This duty also included being the General's pilot and performing as an instructor pilot in the T-39 Sabreliner. It also let me know that I was not cut out for the politics at that level, which helped me make a career decision a few years later.
Upon promotion to Lieutenant Colonel in 1974, which coincided with the end of my tour, the general gave me my choice of assignments. Desiring a flying assignment I again went to Korat RTAFB in the 34th TFS as the operations officer, but this time flying the F-4 Phantom. While there we participated in the Mayaguez incident (where the fighting continued for some) and provided air cover for the evacuation of Saigon.
As the commander I brought the squadron back to the United States in December 1975, making them the last F-4 squadron to leave Southeast Asia.
Another staff tour was next at Tactical Air Command Headquarters, Langley AFB, Virginia, with duties as the Chief of Flight Simulation. When they offered me an assignment to the Pentagon I turned it down and retired in December, l977.
I had obtained a real estate degree while in Virginia and returned to Tampa for a couple years in the commercial and investment real estate field. After my wife left in the early 80's I decided to become a full time treasure hunter. Never made much money, but I had a great time diving, dredging gold in the North Georgia mountains, and searching for lost treasures of all types. Met Barbara (also a treasure hunter and the best treasure I found) this way and we married in 1990. We have four children, three girls and a boy, scattered around the country plus six grand children. We gave up treasure hunting in 1995. Today we live in a small town in North Alabama and enjoy the quiet life. It's been a great journey!
Where Are They Now? Click on a name for what we know.
Awards and decorations of the United States Armed Forces recognize service and personal accomplishments while a member of the U.S. military. Together with military badges, such awards are a means to display outwardly the highlights of a service member's career. The awards shown below are listed in order of precedence with a brief description of why they are awarded. The pictures are the ribbon that is worn on the uniform.
The display pictured was presented to me by Tactical Air Command Headquarters co-workers at my retirement ceremony in November 1977. It shows each of the 13 different ranks held during my 20 plus years of enlisted and officer military service.
The Air Force command pilot wings and ribbons, shown in the center, were worn on the uniform.
United States Marine Corps
2. Private First Class
1. Private (no stripe, not shown)
United States Air Force
13. Lieutenant Colonel
10. First Lieutenant
9. Second Lieutenant
8. Staff Sergeant
7. Airman First Class
6. Airman Second Class
5. Airman Third Class (one stripe)