I was not able to attend college immediately after graduating from high school and began working as a carpenter for local construction companies. Many of my friends were in similar situations and were considering the military or had already joined. The more I thought about it, the more sensible it became. My lifelong love of airplanes and my private pilot training gravitated me toward the Air Force.
It was 1965, and my wife and I were living and working in Atlanta, Georgia, when I received my ‘Greetings’ letter from Uncle Sam. I was working full-time and carrying a full semester load in college. Since I was working full-time, I was not eligible for a student deferment, and my rating was 1A.
I had always wanted to join the military. I was raised on WWII movies, built military models, listened to stories from my uncles and just loved the thought of it. As a child I had thought I would join the Army and I would be a Tanker. I had a pair of army fatigue coveralls that I wore all the time. My Mother said I would only take them off to be washed. Over my teenage years, my uncle Don (EM1 WWII SeaBee) told me about his service in the Navy. That, his love of our country and it’s veterans along with his Civic Pride is what confirmed my choice in military service and steered me from the Army to the Navy.
In 1968-69, I was in my senior year of high school when the Vietnam War was still raging. I knew the likelihood of being drafted into the Army and sent to Vietnam was pretty good. I neither wanted to go into the Army nor to Vietnam. My best option was to check out the U.S. Coast Guard. That’s when I discovered there was a six-month waiting list for the Coast Guard. I went down to the Coast Guard recruiting station in January 1969, signed the enlistment papers and continued my high school education.
Knowing that, as young men, we all faced Universal Military Training, otherwise known as the draft. After my first year of college, I decided that if I really wanted to serve in the armed forces of the United States, it would be better to do it while still young.
I was born and raised in Myra, West Virginia. It was known for being the hometown of Brig. General Chuck Yeager. Yeager was a role model and hero to many in our local community. I joined the Chuck Yeager Civil Air Patrol Flight from 1957-1958 and was exposed to the drill and flight time in an L-17 aircraft. I had the opportunity to attend the CAP Summer Camp in 1957 at Clinton County AFB, Ohio, and experienced a flight in a C-119 Flying Boxcar. I left the summer camp with several hours of exposure to the Air Force Crash Fire Rescue Program, which steered me towards wanting to pursue crash-fire rescue. I took the Air Force entrance exam before graduating from high school. At that time, I was also working for $5 a day as a helper at an International Harvest Dealership, mostly attending to engine rebuilds and preparing vehicles for paint.
My decision to join. I had two first cousins in the Corps. One was a para marine, and he was an Infantryman when they disbanded. He served on Iwo Jima, and I once asked him how long he was on Iwo, and he said, “Oh, about 30 minutes.” He was severely wounded and medivac’ed.
As a Cub Scout, the pack took a trip to the Philadelphia Navy Yard. We went through a submarine, and I was scared the thing would sink or blow up or something, so I ran through it. Going out, we passed all those old mothballed ships, and something inside me rang and said, “I want to be on one of those gray ships someday.
William McCrystal (a good family friend) and I worked together when I was a senior in high school. He used to tell stories of his time in the service. Vietnam was still going on, and I had just received my draft number. Rather than getting drafted I picked my service and joined the USCG at the end of the summer after graduation.
Too much partying, and it turned out a 1.2 GPA would not keep me from being drafted. So I volunteered for the draft. Once I got back from Vietnam, I actually received 2 degrees and maintained a 3.7 GPA while working full time as a police officer. Funny story – After I left school to volunteer for the draft, I thought it would be a quick process. Not so. The first month my draft board did not meet for some reason. The second month the draft board did not take up my request. The third month a draft board member died of old age – no meeting. In the 4th month, the draft board finally met and acted on my request but did not approve it until the 5th month.
I was graduating from high school in 1968, and the conflict in Vietnam was going on. I had a fairly low number in the lottery and knew I would get drafted. I didn’t want to go to Vietnam, so I picked the Air Force instead of the Army and began talking to an Air Force recruiter. My Dad was an MP in the Army in WW2, and I thought I’d like to get into the Security Police field. Every time the recruiter would get a slot, I’d put him off because I was working my 1st job out of high school and was enjoying it. Then one day, while I was at work, my Brother, who is 10 years younger than me, called and said I had a letter. I asked what it said, and he started out, stumbling over a couple of words since he was learning to read, “Greetings, you are hereby ordered…” I said that’s enough. I told my boss I had to get off. Drove up to the Air Force recruiter’s office and said, ” Please, please, get me in.” I joined the AF 2 days before I was supposed to go into the Army.
When I graduated from High School in 1980, I was about four months away from turning 18. I worked in the Oil Field with my brother through the Summer and decided that I needed to get an education, so I enrolled in a Technical College in Okmulgee, Oklahoma. I entered college as the hostages in Iran were being released. I was in a drafting program and sat at a table in a classroom with about 40 people. About 25 percent were veterans, and none were Marines. We had a radio that played in the classroom, and on March 30, 1981, I listened to the news of Reagan being shot. When the semester was over, I decided to quit college and go back home and do something greater. Exactly what, I had not decided.