Class Of 1964 USAF Academy

Mitch's History


THE EARLY YEARS

I am a second generation Nevadan, born in Ely, NV. My grandparents migrated to the United States in the early 1900's from the Basque country in Spain, and worked on sheep ranches in Northern Nevada. My father and mother were both raised on sheep ranches, but everything took a turn when my father joined the Army Air Corps in 1939. Mitch and Mary's first assignment after getting married was Hickam AFB, HI, and my mother was at Pearl Harbor during the attack on Dec 7, 1941 (my dad was at a fraternity party in Reno—back picking up an airplane). My dad got out after the war and we ended up in Winnemucca before he was called back to active duty. Eleven schools later (mostly on and around SAC bases), I graduated from Archbishop John Carroll High School in Washington DC in 1960. I had won a National Merit Scholarship, but there had never been any doubt where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do—that new Air Force Academy to fly airplanes.

My father was my inspiration. He had an incredible career for a kid who didn't speak English until he went to first grade. After 3 years as a star athlete at the University of Nevada, he launched his flying days with B-17's in the Pacific, then on to most of the other B's: 29, 50, 36 and 52, along with the KC-135. He was the Arc Light commander in 1967 in Viet Nam, and retired as a Colonel from the Wing Commander's post at March AFB, CA. He was well known to Cadets for setting up the “hops” between the Academy and Andrews AFB at Christmas and the end of the school year.


USAFA

Like many of us, my first real airplane flight was a DC-6 from Washington DC to the Springs. My roommate in Basic was Jimmy Hinkle and about the only other thing I remember is the Svitenko twins. I desperately wanted out during the first few weeks, but then realized that everyone else was in the same boat. Then came one of the biggest breaks of my life—20th Squadron and the Trolls!! We had some great upperclassmen, but the core was 64. I don't know how anyone could have had more fun than we had, from harassing the AOC's (especially Tim Kline and Capt. Teed), to great intramural teams, occasional academic success (with Bevelhymer getting several of us through EE), outstanding parties, the smiling continence of our leader, Evan Joseph Griffith, 2d Class cars, and the entire Troll mystique (with some debate as to whether the inspiration was Jagerson or me). I couldn't have been with a finer group of men, and our closeness is exhibited by the bond that we still share.

I did manage to make either the Comm's or Dean's List most semesters, though never both at once (I didn't want to appear ostentatious). And the four wonderful years on the Golf team, finally lettering in 1964. We actually “had” to sit at training tables in the spring, much to the chagrin of the football team. The times with Jack Swanson, Alan Wolfe, Norm Schulze, Jim McIntyre, Gary Olin, Terry Isaacson (he was everywhere), Chris Fach, Jim Newendorp, Al Lucki, Jim Wilson, Jamie Gough—a man shouldn't be allowed to have that much fun. Notice that there were quite a few Trolls on the team.

We all broadened our social skills at the Kachina Lounge, the Navajo Hogan, Colorado Women's College, a string of motel rooms on Colfax in Denver, Nemeth's in the Springs, and most of all in the Fifth (more on that later). Folks from other schools have bemoaned the fact that we were restricted in our activities, but we jammed more fun in to what time we had than they did in their free living environs.

There certainly were some tough times, but overall it was the best four years that any young man could hope for. To come out of it with a great education and the tools to meet the challenges of the future was one thing, to be a part of the Class of 1964 was a privilege that few could experience.


ACTIVE DUTY

JMC3.JPG For many of us, the party simply moved south and east to Vance AFB, OK, and 66-B. What a group that was!! It was in large part 64, and we acquitted ourselves well in flying, intramurals (the flag football team had more than a little experience), the development of future leaders (we took a rookie instructor, Ron Fogleman, and got him off to a good start), and the counseling of young flight attendants at Braniff and American in Dallas. Nobody could compete with Tom Browning in flying (he was ready to solo in about three hours), and it was a privilege to be stationed with a true hero like Tom. Of course, McArtor ran away with most of the gold. In fact, he worked so hard that his wife, Gracie, insisted that he accompany us on weekend trips to Dallas to get rid of his stress (I kid you not, she made him do it!!!). And then there was Dave Samuel. Dave and I had become very close at the Zoo as 16 and 20 were next door to each other and we engaged in countless hours of bent hanger/paper wad basketball, modified whiffle ball, and the like. We roomed together at Vance in what became the favorite room in the BOQ—always beer in the fridge, a fine fish tank that Dave brought in, and a real TV. There was a sign up list for the room when Dave and I were down in Dallas, and it was in constant use by fellow bachelors until somebody poured beer in the tank and killed all the fish (Dave would have killed the culprit if identified). Dave is a very special man who has had a great impact on my life, and our increased contact in recent years has meant a great deal to both of us.

I was fortunate to have finished high enough in the class to draw an F-4. Chappie James then blew through Vance and convinced a bunch of us to entire a pipeline program to get us to Southeast Asia in the first wave, together with certain other incentives that never came to pass. So it was off to Davis Monthan where I roomed with Jim Renschen and Joel Aronoff in the notorious Escalante Gardens. One of the parties of all parties occurred in 1965 when the Falcons came to Tucson to play Arizona. We had the 64 contingent at DM and we were joined by a bunch of guys from Luke. The damage to our room was only about $300, but the surrounding area took some collateral damage (you have to be careful when you turn Rodwell loose).

The three amigos then moved off to George AFB and the 68th TFS (a brand new RTU). A lot of sun, golf and good flying. Our only tense moment was when Joel took off to New York to see his mother before deployment—we sort of had to fabricate a tale to cover for him when he didn't make the graduation dinner. The party then moved to Fairchild AFB for survival school, and again we had a ball.

We had full media coverage when we got to Travis, which I though was nice. Turned out that Roger Staubach was on our airplane and on his way to the gym in Saigon. Oh well….

Jungle Survival in the Philippines turned out to be a bit of a challenge. I managed to get bit by a rat during the Escape and Evasion fiasco, and I learned about the joys of rabies shots. I was grounded the first two weeks at Ubon. Oh well….

But, it was then off to the 433 TFS and the 8th TFW Wolfpack, and again a strong contingent of ‘64er's. Jim Renschen and I seemed to spend a lot of time together, both at Ubon and around Hanoi. It was OK until Robin Olds arrived. His coming turned the wing around and the world upside down. A leader of men on a level I can't describe. There were days we would head out to the airplanes literally screaming to get the Commie bastards. If there was a tough mission, Robin was in the lead aircraft; he never ducked a thing. And of course there was Chappie, and he certainly added a lot to the mix. I was fortunate to fly on Bolo I on January 2, 1967, when we got seven MIG's (Renschen and I were in one of the decoy flights over the MIG bases to get them up in the air—we never saw a thing, only listened to Chappie's running commentary at his normal frenzied pitch). I was also on the radios in the TOC the day of Bob Pardo's “push” of Earl Ahman out of Package 6 and over to Channel 85 where all four of them ejected. Pardo was one hell of a guy, as were most of the folks in the Wing.

JMCDad.JPG Early in 1967, my dad was named commander of the Arc Light operation out of Guam, running the entire B-52 and KC-135 operation in the theater. As a “sole surviving son,” I was offered the chance to head home. No way I was going to leave before I got my 100 North, and thus signed a waiver. My dad and I thought it was great. My mother (she of Pearl Harbor experience) wasn't so thrilled.

I finished my 100 North in March, 1967, got interviewed on the Huntley Brinkley Report in Bangkok, then headed home, where I got married four days later. By some quirk, Renschen, Steve Croker and I all got T-33 instructor slots in ADC, though none of stayed there for long. After a year at Tyndall AFB piling up a ton of flying time, it was off to 102 and 106 schools and an assignment to the 5th FIS at Minot AFB, ND. The airplane was great, but my first wife, Toni, had a lot of trouble adapting to Minot (and who didn't?), so I took the LSAT and was accepted to law school. I still owed a year and was asked by Gen. Jimmy Jumper (John's father) to spend that year as an Air Ops Staff Officer at ADC headquarters in the Springs. It was a great year, but by then I had committed to a new life.

It was a sad day when I signed out at Pete Field (where it all started). I had 1800+ hours of flying time, a DFC and 11 Air Medals, some great flying and fighting, and the chance to serve with some of the greatest heroes our country has ever known.


THE NEW LIFE

I had been accepted to the McGeorge School of Law at the University of Pacific in Sacramento. I was more than a little apprehensive about being thrown in with a bunch of young dudes who had taken Political Science, pre-law courses and such. Not to worry. My study group included a Marine F-4 driver, a Navy F-8 pilot and a USAF C-130 navigator, and we did just fine. After my lackluster performance at USAFA, I finished third in my class at McGeorge, picked up several academic awards, and then headed back to Nevada where I spent a year working for the Chief Federal Judge, Roger Foley. This is normally quite an honor, but may have been a bit tarnished by the fact that Roger and my dad had been fraternity brothers at the University of Nevada.

I then joined the firm of Beckley, Singleton, DeLanoy, Jemison & Reid (our future senator) here in Las Vegas where I spent the next 26 years, ending up as a named partner and the CEO of the firm. I knew from the start that I belonged in the court room and I have spent the last 36 years trying all sorts of civil jury trials. My goal was to have at least 100 civil jury trials and 100 missions over North Viet Nam. I made it and have met only one other attorney to have done the same, a Navy A-7 pilot now practicing in Florida. For the first 26 years I did primarily insurance defense, representing insurance companies (including USAA), aircraft manufacturers (Northrup in the Thunderbird accident, Texas Instruments in F-111 TFR accidents), major utilities and transportation companies. I have served as outside counsel to the Clark Country Department of Aviation (including McCarran International Airport) for over 30 years. In 2001 I left the firm and founded what has evolved into the Cobeaga Law Firm for the reasons I stated at the prayer breakfast at our 45th Reunion. I now represent a good number of injured persons and victims, though I still do defense work for various aviation entities and insurance companies.

I have been very fortunate in the practice and have been able to provide a good living for my family. I attribute a good part of that to my education at USAFA and the experience gained driving fast airplanes…I have found that there is a marked similarity between putting together a jury trial and the planning and execution of a mission into the Hanoi area. And the rush, the anticipation, when cranking up a jury trial is the same feeling that I had when crossing the Red River—it's a hoot!! I have absolutely loved the trial work.

I served as the President of the Clark County Bar Association in 1985 and am a Master Emeritus of the Nevada Inns of Court. I have been selected for admission to the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA) and the American College of Trial Lawyers, the two most prestigious organizations of trial lawyers in the country (and, yes, I am quite proud of these).I serve as a Judge Pro Tem for civil cases, and lecture frequently at seminars on insurance, litigation techniques, and aviation law. A good portion of my time now is spent as a mediator in a wide variety of civil cases.

I have served on the Board of Directors of the USAA Savings Bank here in Las Vegas for over 15 years (Steve Croker is on the “big board” at USAA in San Antonio, an honor he richly deserves). I serve on the Advisory Board of WestCare, a charitable foundation that supports many worthwhile causes, including providing assistance to Veterans of all ages who need help. I am also a proud member of Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers, where I try to offer support to lawyers with drug and alcohol problems.


THE FAMILY

I have been blessed with an incredible family. My first wife, Toni, presented me with two beautiful sons, Mitch and John. Unfortunately, life isn't always fair, and Toni died at a young age. God then brought Sylvia and her four wonderful children (Veronica, Joseph, Stephanie and Tessie) into our lives. With three boys and three girls, we went for the tie breaker—and along came the twins, Paul and Michelle. So, it stayed at four and four, and they have now presented us with 18 grandchildren (with more to come). Tragically, we lost John in 2003 at age 33—I miss him every single day of my life. The day of his funeral was a cold, snowy day in March, but made much easier when I felt the hand of Matt Feiretag on my shoulder at graveside. Then came the support of the rest of 64, with so many of us who have lost children.

Sylvia is the most wonderful woman in the world, appropriately elevated to the status of “Saint Sylvia” at the 45th Reunion. I don't know of another woman who is married to a graduate and the mother of three grads (Joseph McCullough, 85, Tessie McCullough Warmka, 92, and Paul, 03). Paul's twin sister, Michelle, was also accepted in the Class of 2003, but opted for a scholarship to the University of Arizona. Tessie's husband, Jeff, is also a 92 grad and presently a Lt Col running the airborne laser program at Edwards AFB. She truly deserves a spot on a wall somewhere for her support of the Academy.
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But, beyond that, Sylvia was the glue and spiritual leader that kept this family together during some very difficult times. Without her, I would not have made it through my many battles with spiritual maladies, cancer, and other devils. On top of that, she has taught in the elementary grades at St. Viator's Catholic School her in Las Vegas, and is being honored for her 25 years of unselfish work with her many students. Now, as we are both looking at retirement, we hope to spend more time with the kids and grandchildren and enjoy the fruits of our labors.


THE CLASS OF 1964

It is hard to describe the feeling I have for the Academy and 64 and the impact they have had on my life. I find it very hard to explain this connection and the closeness that we have. Our three grads, while all proud of the Academy and their classmates, don't seem to have the bond that exists between us. This is also true of grads I know from other classes—they just don't have what we share. I think there are several reasons for this:

1. The Academy was still very new when we arrived in 1960; we were part of something special.

2. The pipeline to Southeast Asia. Many of us were at the same pilot training bases, initial assignments, RTU's, and eventually the war. And, we hit right at the height of the air war over the North and suffered more losses than we care to recall.

3. The POW's are probably the most important factor. These incredible heroes were an inspiration to us all, and continue to fill that role. Who can ever forget that very special moment at the 40th Reunion.

4. The efforts of those guys who have put together the reunions and the Troll experience.

5. The fact that we just happened to blessed with the greatest guys in the world as classmates.



I am proud to have marched and flown with all of you guys…thank you.


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