In reality, my first choice of military service was the Army. This was back in ’64. Then, as fate or providence would have it, an Air Force recruiter came to my high school (in the Bronx, NY); from that point on, I began planning my entry when graduation came in ’65.
Air Force Reflections
My father was in Korea, and he regretted not reenlisting and making the USAF a career. He told us stories of his time in the Air Force with such enthusiasm that I wanted to experience what he described. My uncle on my mom’s side learned to fly helicopters in the AF and talked to me about the training that I could receive in the military and how it could help me get a job if I got out. My girlfriend and I talked to an AF Guard recruiter, and I joined ANG at 17 1/2. I went to Basic, and she decided she did not want to go. She married someone else while I was in photographer training.
Interestingly, back in August of 1968, when I first walked around the sign-up tables in the Washburn University gym, I decided on a whim to join the Air Force ROTC unit. The sales pitch was it was really easy for the first two years, plus you could take military science classes (which were espoused to be easier than most). It sounded good to this Kansas country boy who was just trying to stay out of the draft. I never dreamed that quick decisions would turn into a wonderful and rewarding career! That one decision formed and still rewards my life to this day!
I became interested in aircraft at a very early age because of my dad’s interest and influence. He worked for the American Petroleum Company in Waterloo, Iowa, which contracted to provide aviation gas at the Waterloo, Iowa airport. He also smoked Wings cigarettes, which had a collector card of an airplane with every pack. My older brother and I would quiz each other on aircraft identification while viewing these cards.
I joined the Navy Reserve while still a junior in high school and four other fools because we thought it was a good way to make easy money. I never intended to make it a career. I left active duty and returned to Reserve status because there were no promotion possibilities in my desired career field, which was the Gunnery field. That had been my primary duty aboard the ship for two years, and I enjoyed working on the big guns.
My father was a United States Marine, so I grew up on stories of commitment and duty. I knew some of the hardships he had faced in Viet Nam, and at the time, we had no idea that Agent Orange was killing him. He was medically discharged at ten years due to incorrectly diagnosed “pinched nerves” that were, in fact, two ruptured discs in his lower back, even with all of the medical mix-ups my father deeply loved and missed the Corps.
Several of my uncles (2 – 4 years active with the rest of their time in the Army Reserves) had joined the Army, and they discouraged me from doing the same. Compared to my father’s stories of time spend in-country chasing tunnel rats (a cave-in trapped him in a pocket of the tunnel, but they had dug him out before his air ran out, after that he became horribly claustrophobic) made their stories of time in the field never seem as bad as they tried to convey. Nobody in my family ever cared for the open water, so the Navy was out…honestly, it was not considered. OK, briefly when Top Gun came out, but never seriously. Besides, I never like riding motorcycles, and they appeared to be a requirement.
I had always wanted to enlist in the Air Force from my younger teenage years. Chuck Yeager was a hero of younger times.
When in high school my football coach, Max Townsend was a great influence on my enlisting. He had served in the Air Force and used the GI Bill to get his teaching degree. He pulled me aside and provided invaluable information and related experiences that only reinforced my desire to enlist.
I enlisted at age 17 under a program that was called delayed enlistment in December 1971 and did not report for basic training until June 1972. Coach Townsend gave me a heads up on this program as it provided a guaranteed job