This week, the military officer I was married to passed away. He had a distinguished military career in the United States Air Force, and was a veteran of three wars: World War II, Korea and also Vietnam.
He was an outstanding pilot… one of those people his fellow officers described as having a natural born ability to fly. He learned to fly at age sixteen at Riddle Field in Florida. His mom and dad bought him a small piper cub airplane while he was still a teenager.
He was a senior in high school when he was drafted into the military in 1942. He was sent to the University of Missouri, then to pilot training school. In World War II, he flew fixed wing aircrafts and piloted the famous B-29 bomber planes.
The war ended in 1945 and he was released from the military in 1946. After returning to his home in Florida, he started a crop-dusting business in south Florida. His business frequently took him out of State. I vividly recall watching him fly the double winged crop-duster under high tension wires, as I stood holding our small child.
He loved hunting in the Florida Everglades and would frequently go hunting there. Once in the mid-forties, he decided to take a piper cub and fly into the Everglades to hunt deer. It was Christmas Eve and he crashed the aircraft when he tried to land. The weather was cold and rainy. When he did not return, the Coast Guard was notified and began a search. On Christmas day, they found the wrecked plane, but the pilot and passenger were still missing. They had decided to walk out, and on the third day, reached a highway not far from Clewiston. For over thirty hours, they had worked their way through the snake and alligator infested swampy Everglades to make their way out. They arrived home the day after Christmas.
Being a military reserve officer, in 1950, he was recalled into the Air Force, where he remained until 1965 when he retired.
Upon his return to the military, he was sent to helicopter training school. At first, he flew the single rotor blade helicopter, then later, the large banana shaped double blade Sivorsky aircraft. As I recall, at one time during his career, he had more flying time logged in helicopters than anyone else in the Air Force. He absolutely loved flying.
In 1952, we were stationed at Keesler Air Base in Biloxi, Mississippi, when he received orders to go to Korea. Shortly after receiving those orders, he received notice that both parents of his parents, who were living in Florida, were quite ill. Because he was an only child, the military offered him a hardship discharge to return home to care for his parents.
We had bought a new home in Biloxi, Mississippi, and I had a very good job as manager of a photography studio in Biloxi. My hours were from one pm till nine pm. I usually dropped our small children off at an on-base babysitter before going to work. I loved my job and was enjoying furnishing our new home when he received the orders for a tour in Korea.
He felt duty bound to return home to take care of his ill parents and duty bound to follow orders to go to Korea as an air-sea rescue pilot for American fighting forces in the Korean War conflict.
We talked it over, and I offered to give up my job and home to return to Florida to take care of his parents. That way he could remain in the military and proceed on orders to Korea. He took military leave to drive us to Florida, before returning to base to go to Korea.
He was in Korea for one year in air-sea rescue, and wrote frequently about the horrors of war and his role of flying into enemy areas to pick up wounded soldiers. Sometimes, he did so under enemy fire to complete his mission.
When he returned a year later, we placed his ailing parents in a nursing home, and then left for his new assignment at Stewart air base in Smyrna, Tennessee, where we remained until he received a new assignment at Gifu Air Base in Japan. Before his departure, he drove me and the children to my hometown of Atlanta. After six months, I received notice from the military that I was eligible to join him in Japan. This was in 1955.
My children and I flew to Seattle and boarded a ship for the two week journey across the Pacific Ocean.
In my other articles, I have described our four year tour in Japan. During the Japanese tour, he was reassigned on a nine month temporary duty to Burma. That assignment was working with the Burmese government, training the Burmese to fly helicopters.
We returned to the United States in 1960 for an assignment at Stead Air Force Base in Reno, Nevada. We were there for two years. It seemed like no matter where we lived, he was constantly on the go for temporary duty assignments.
During his military career, he was present for several Atomic bomb testings. Because he was a highly trained helicopter pilot, he would be assigned the duty of flying the scientist into the blast area as soon as they were allowed to enter the blast area. I recall two specific testings, one on the Islands at Aniwetok, and another at Yucca flats in Nevada.
After two years in Reno, we returned to Stewart Air Base in Smyrna, Tennessee. I loved being in Tennessee. After four years in Japan, and a year in Korea, we thought his tours of duty abroad were over, and built a beautiful tri-level home. I had had furniture custom made in Japan, collected art work and decorative items to furnish our new home.
We settled into life in Tennessee but he still had a lot of temporary duty assignments – like weeks attending War College and various other assignments. By this time, I was accustomed to packing and unpacking his B-4 bag for the many trips.
Then, quite unexpectedly, he received orders to fly to Vietnam for a tour of duty in the war torn conflict in 1963. Being an experienced air-sea rescue helicopter pilot, he was assigned to the same kind of duty he had in Korea, i.e. rescuing the wounded in battle there.
By this time, our children were teenagers, and I wanted another child. I became pregnant before he left for Vietnam.
He survived that conflict, and upon his return to Tennessee, was reassigned to Headquarters Aeronautical Systems Division, an Air Force Systems Command at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. There, his new job was as a Test Pilot.
I remained in Tennessee, and he flew home most weekends, but eventually I joined him in Dayton.
In 1965, he retired from the military as a Command Pilot. After his release, we moved back to Atlanta, near where my parents lived at the time.
I have written other articles about our readjustment to Civilian life after his military retirement.
He received an Honorable discharge from the Air Force, with rows of commendation ribbons on his uniform.
He had a very distinguished military career, devoting a great deal of his life for the freedom of this country. His was a love of country, love of flying, and a deep sense of duty towards his country and freedom.
Yesterday, his son and I spent a great deal of time going over his military career as he prepared the eulogy for his service today.
LET FREEDOM RING