Class Of 1964 USAF Academy

Darryl's History

Bloodworth.jpg It's a long way from Apalachicola, Florida to the Air Force Academy, both literally and figuratively. Had I known just how far, I am not sure I would have boarded that airplane to take this then 17-year-old kid into a whole new world. But in my ignorance I got on the plane, and soon enough realized I wasn't in Apalachicola any more.

My memories of our first year are hazy - probably from post traumatic doolie syndrome - but a few arise from the fog of a depleted memory: the shock of a tough academic schedule (some of our courses have still never been heard of in Apalachicola); that funny white stuff that kept falling from the sky; Christmas at the Academy with our families and girlfriends, and the horror of knowing that when they left the upperclassmen would come back; the trip to Washington for JFK's inaugural parade, followed by a wonderful trip to Philadelphia with Pete Lopresti to visit his family for about 24 hours; the drudgery of enduring the Fourth Class System all the way to the end of May; and finally, becoming a real human being again upon recognition.

What was it about those four years that shaped our souls and changed us forever? For me, it was being around the finest, smartest and most trustworthy people I have ever known. My closest friends then are my closest friends now. It was being a teammate on the football and baseball teams, and experiencing the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat with guys I would have given a leg for. Well, as it turns out, that's what I did. Two weeks before the opening game our senior year I tore up a knee and never played a down after two years of being on the starting team. It was a lesson in humility and the vagaries of life I have carried with me to this day.

I prefer now to remember the happy days: actually passing electrical engineering; being the Wing Sergeant Major; and being the captain of the best baseball team the Fighting Falcons ever put on the field. It doesn't have the ring of “Tinker to Evers to Chance” but “Olmsted, McArtor and Bloodworth” ought to hold a special place in AFA athletic lore. No Falcon baseball team has ever won a higher percentage of its games - and probably never will. Finally, graduation day itself; the feeling of relief, perhaps in a minor way somewhat similar to what our POW classmates must have felt upon being released from the Hanoi Hilton.

My Air Force career was brief and not nearly as distinguished as my classmates' careers were. I went through pilot training at Moody AFB and was tops in my class in flying. Being free for the first time since high school, however, interfered with giving my full attention to the academic side of pilot training, so I failed to get the fighter assignment in the F-104 that I coveted. Instead, I wound up as a T-38 instructor at Moody. There I was, a rated pilot with a volunteer statement to fly any fighter in SEA, and the orders I got in 1967 were to transfer from Moody (Valdosta, GA) to Tyndall AFB (Panama City, Florida) where the T-38 Instructor pilot school was being moved. There I stayed until fall of 1969. So, the one thing I can say about my Air Force career was that I surrounded Apalachicola with my assignments. I know, its not up there with Chennault, LeMay, Johnny Lorber and Steve Ritchie, but no other native of Apalachicola has ever surrounded the town with his Air Force assignments.

It was while I was stationed at Tyndall that I first began to wonder if there could be a life outside the Air Force. By then, although I enjoyed the flying I realized it was not the catnip that would keep me strapped into a cockpit for the rest of my working life. I envied the guys who were consumed with flying, but I was not. Through the speculative exercise of trying to figure out what my Academy degree qualified me to do outside the Air Force, I concluded that I wanted to be a lawyer. Hell, I didn't even know any lawyers. I discovered there are no specific academic courses one must have to enter law school. It only required a degree from an accredited school (with decent grades) and a good score on the Law School Admissions Test (“LSAT”). As it turned out, the LSAT was a lot like the standardized tests they gave us at the Academy - tests intended for graduate students when we had only had one semester in the field. I just remembered our old standbys: the correct answer was the longest answer, or “C” if there was no longest answer. It must have worked. I aced the LSAT and entered law school at the University of Florida exactly one day after I separated from the Air Force.

Do you remember your first flight in the T-38? It was an afterburner climb. Gear up, flaps up, hit 400 knots and then rotate the nose up 30 degrees to prevent going supersonic during the climb out. It seemed you were going all the way into orbit, and you felt that flying was the coolest thing you were likely ever to do in your entire life. Somewhere along the way in law school I began to feel that way about being a lawyer. Some 40 years later I still feel that way.

What I didn't realize at first, but began to appreciate as the years rolled by, is that our training at the Academy and in pilot training was the best training I could have possibly had to become a trial lawyer. To be a good trial lawyer one must be disciplined, thoroughly trained and prepared, totally dedicated to the mission (winning the case) and unafraid of the consequences, not because we have no fears but because we are so focused on the mission that we have no time to be afraid. Sound familiar? It is the same warrior spirit that we learned long ago in the squadrons, in the classroom and on the “fields of friendly strife.” And it is the same warrior spirit that has carried us all through our endeavors, from aerial combat to running a school or a business to trying a law suit.

One of the things I am grateful for in my legal career is that I have had the opportunity to represent some wonderful people and share in their lives and struggles. I have represented many clients whose business was at risk depending on the outcome of the law suit. I represented a prominent mayor from this part of Florida in a suit to invalidate his election. I have represented many members of Boards of Directors when either a disgruntled shareholder or even the federal government decided that they weren't fulfilling their fiduciary duties. And I have represented honest citizens who volunteered to sit on a tax district board or a public hospital board, without pay, only to be rewarded by charges of malfeasance, or even criminal investigations for allegedly violating their duty when they were simply following the advice of the board's attorney. I have celebrated with them when we won, and commiserated with them when we lost. But win or lose, I have felt privileged to share some of the highs and lows of their lives, and to do what I could to help them.

I am also grateful that I have had wonderful partners to work with. I am still practicing law with the same people that I began practicing with nearly 40 years ago. The only people with whom I have shared relationships anywhere close to the brotherhood relationships we have as a class are the relationships with my partners. They have been a support to me, and even allowed me to be their leader for 20 years. Our little firm that began in 1980 with nine lawyers is now a firm of 50 lawyers spread over four cities in Florida. It is humbling to me, and I readily acknowledge that but for our years at the Academy I would have not been up to the task.

My history wouldn't be complete without talking about my family. Two years after we graduated, I married my own “Tallahassee Lassie.” Mary and I have now been married for 45 years, and she has been my rock, my love and my friend. I am blessed by our marriage and grateful for her love and support. We had two wonderful children. My daughter, Krista, has given me my only grandchild, Joey. He graduated from high school last June, and is now considering joining the Air Force, with my full support. I hope the Air Force will do at least half as much good for him as it did for me. My son, David, is no longer with us. Within less than two years after he graduated from law school, David developed cancer, in fact, the rarest of the rare form of cancer - a sarcoma with the primary tumor on his heart. Despite some heroic efforts by some wonderful doctors, including open heart surgery at the Texas Heart Center in Houston, David succumbed to the cancer in January, 1998, only 28 years old. The vagaries of life have touched our family, as I know they have for many of you. Like many of you, I have needed a double portion of the grace of God to make it through times like that.

There are days now that I feel worn out, broken down and used up. On those days I think back to my plan at graduation to do this Air Force thing for 20 years and then retire. But then I remember those days when I walked across the terrazzo, leaning into a howling wind, with the blowing snow or sleet stinging my face, as I hurried along to a mechanical engineering class where I understood not a word the professor said. After thinking about those days for a few minutes, I remind myself that if I got through those days I can get through anything. Then I realize that I am right back where I was when we graduated on that bright June morning in 1964: Twenty more years and I am going to retire!
Darryl M. Bloodworth
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