Class Of 1964 USAF Academy

Claude's Reflections

claude.jpg The members of the Class of 1964 are the sons of the Greatest Generation! Our parents weren't classified as such at the time, but were designated that later by Tom Brokaw. At that time, the entire nation was supportive of WWII and our parents instilled that sense of national pride and service. We came from all walks of life, from blue collar families, military families, doctors, lawyers and probably an Indian chief or two. Many of us were the first generation to attend college, had never seen the Academy (other than a National Geographic article) and unlike later classes, many had prior military or college experience. By and large, we wanted to be there and pursue an Air Force career—not just a college education. Seventh Squadron, Seagram's 7 (a name no longer condoned by the officials), was a representation of this cross section of the U.S. My seemingly “worldly” experiences from being a page in the U.S. House of Representatives and fraternity life at Mississippi State fell short of the exposure and long term friendships spawned with 7th Squadron classmates. We had members from all parts of the country and then some. Other than meeting people from places I had only learned in elementary school geography classes, such as Des Moines, Bismarck, Pittsburgh (OK Lou, Belle Vernon), Billings, Montana, and the most extreme location of Latvia. Laimons Sudmalis (nick named Scotty by his BCT roommate from the South) had fled Latvia with his parents during WWII and ended up coming to America. Until meeting him, I am sure that I had never heard of that country—and I thought I had a hard time learning to speak non-southern English!

Another member of our Doolie Class was Bill Hickox, who was a champion ice skater from California. Unfortunately, Bill, his sister and the entire U.S. team were killed in the tragic plane crash in Brussels when the U.S. Figure Skating Team was on its way to Prague for the 1961 World Championships. This was a real loss to our class and the U.S. Olympic Ice Skating program. And it was an early lesson to me about the fragile nature of our lives and planes.

The bonds of friendship created and nurtured in 7th Squadron during the trying and challenging times of the Fourth Class System appear to be even stronger today. At the 25th reunion, someone (Harry Pearce, I am told) suggested that we get together more frequently than every five years. Hence was born an annual 7th of 64 Reunion. I think this is unique for our squadron and a testimonial that we probably do enjoy being together and hearing some of the same stories, but embellished with age! The “cat herding” by John Shriner and support by all has paid off! Academics took its toll on several of our classmates, but we have re-connected and our friendship continues.

Even though not all of us completed a military career, all have contributed to the various facets of our society. Some have achieved higher levels, been awarded more medals and been recognized by loftier echelons than others, but as Will Rogers so eloquently said, “We can't all be heroes because someone has to sit on the curb and clap as they go by.” Way to go 7th! I hope you can hear my clapping.

Anecdotes and other events about my brief AFA and Air Force experiences (as I recall them):

-Overhauling my '52 Chevy in the cadet parking lot. Obviously impressed by that feat, my roommate, Tom Eggers thought his car would benefit from the same treatment. Sorry about the lack of performance and those extra parts I had, Tom. Our families are close, so guess he has overlooked that event!

-Hiding in the overhead lockers in my room to keep the Doolies from finding me for a trip to the showers on my birthday. Still not sure how I got up there!

-Rooming with Nat Self, the owner of the infamous popcorn popper, and keeping the AOC's guessing how the popcorn was done. Unfortunately an AOC patrolling the halls noticed the aroma and answered the question.

-Making a midnight expedition with classmates to relocate Capt. DeCell's Jeep to the parade ground, paint racing strips on it and remove his newly purchased bumper—and not get caught by the AP's

-Meeting my future wife, Sarah Burnside. We are now approaching 50 years of marriage and she has been my support and inspiration through numerous moves that included such uninteresting places as Big Spring, TX and Burns Flat, OK.

-Graduating from pilot training at Webb AFB, where I had been 20 years earlier when my father received his bombardier's wings.

-Checking out as a KC-135 crew commander and learning what it's like to be responsible for a crew and a multi-million dollar aircraft.

-Flying tankers in SEA supporting the guys doing the real work.

The bonds of friendship has endured throughout the years and several of those friends have become “uncles and aunts” to our two children. A benefit never anticipated when stepping onto the terrazzo on 27 June 1960!
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