Retired December 1977
The Early Years (1937-1948)
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. 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 1952 and we lost everything (but that’s another story).
After Graduation (1955 to 1958)
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.
U. S. Air Force Enlisted Years (1959 to 1961)
In 1959 I enlisted in the U. S. Air Force, at a lower rank, 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 selected me as Nellis AFB 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 that was selected, but only 101 of us made it through and got commissioned.
Becoming an Air Force Fighter Pilot (1961 to 1966)
After OCS 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 select F-100 fighter pilot training at Luke AFB, near Phoenix, Arizona. It was great to be flying the same type of aircraft that had gotten me interested in becoming a fighter pilot.
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 10 miles from home. Upgrading to the F-105 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 entire 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.
Off to war (1967)
In January 1967, I 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 that one of our pilots, Karl Richter, was shot down and killed on mission number 198 didn’t help.
I completed my 100 missions on August 2, 1967, and returned to the U.S. the next day.
Flight instructor and awards (1967 to 1970)
Then it was back to McConnell AFB as an F-105 instructor pilot. On Veterans Day, 1967, President Lyndon 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 and sat alert, but no military actions were taken against North Korea and after four months, I returned to McConnell.
Flying and other jobs (1970 to 1977)
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 I finally got my BS from the University of Tampa (Magna Cum Laude), I was selected as aide to Lt. General Ernest 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 included being the General’s pilot and performing as an instructor pilot in the T-39 Saberliner. 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, this time flying the F-4 Phantom as the operations officer. 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 U.S. 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 at Langley AFB and returned to Tampa for a couple years working in the commercial and investment real estate field. After my wife left in the early 1980’s I decided to become a full time treasure hunter. Never made much money, but I had a great time diving, dredging gold, 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!
Our Current Status (August 2017)
Barbara was diagnosed with a rare, neurodegenerative disorder, Hashimoto’s Encephalopathy, in the summer of 2010. Since then she has endured numerous procedures and tests, but nothing has stopped the disease progression. She can no longer walk, but is able to use a motorized wheelchair. Although speech is impaired, her mind is good. Fortunately I am in very good health and can do what is required. We are unable to travel, but do get out to lunch at a local restaurant every day.