Class Of 1964 USAF Academy

A Wonderful Journey

By Tony Covais

January 26, 2011

My life changed one day. Of course, our lives change often but this one was the most significant course change in this trip. Attending the United States Air Force Academy and my association with my classmates is the highlight of my life. While I don’t lack self-confidence, I look up to every one of my classmates.

I guess it all started in 6th grade at Edmeston Central School in Edmeston, NY one fine day when I read a Weekly Reader in study hall. Somewhere on the back page was a picture of an aviator with a leather helmet and goggles. The article went on to say that President Eisenhower had signed a law authorizing a new school somewhere in Colorado. When I finished the article, I had made up my mind that I wanted to go to that school and become an aviator.

Edmeston Central was a small rural school that included K through 12. School didn’t require much effort for me but it also didn’t offer all of the course work that I wanted. In order to get solid geometry, the teachers and guidance councilor ordered a correspondence course that was incorporated in the curriculum for me.

Then one day in my junior year we had a Future Fair in which colleges and employers could introduce students to future professions and endeavors. The Air Force had a booth with two recruiters. When I told them that I had set my sights set on going to the US Air Force Academy, the sergeant told me that I didn’t have a chance of being accepted there but that he would be proud to enlist me with a delay to graduation month. That was really discouraging so I gave up!

My science teacher, Mr. Al DuMont, approached me in November of my senior year and asked me if I had applied to USAFA because he knew of my early interest. Mr. DuMont was a reserve Air Force Major. I told him about the Future Fair experience. He told me emphatically to get my application in as soon as possible. I didn’t know how to type so I asked my future mother-in-law to type letters, which I had hand written, to my representative and senators. Since I was so late in applying, I got negative answers, except there was a newly elected representative, Sam Stratton, who nominated me when he took office.

Just before high school graduation, I got a telegram that indicated that I was a “qualified alternate” for USAFA and it offered me an opportunity to go to the Naval Academy Preparatory School. I had been accepted at Parks College in East St. Louis and I didn’t know what to do. I talked to Mr. DuMont who referred me to the Air Force Academy Liaison Officer, who’s first question was “Do you want to be regular or not?” Well I didn’t want to be irregular so I said yes. He then told me I should enlist in the Air Force and attend NAPS.

So right after graduation, I enlisted and went to Lackland AFB, TX for boot camp where I learned about cactus spines and dust bunnies and did a little growing up. That is where I first met some comrades who are friends to this day. Boot camp started in August 1959 and was interminable but it finished about six weeks later when all of us went to Bainbridge, MD to the Naval Academy Preparatory School. There were about 100 Air Force, 80 Army, some Marines and 300 Navy students. We lived in WW II barracks with bunk beds for the four occupants per room. My Air Force roomie was 5 foot 4 Jimmy Crew. The other roommates were Marine lance corporals who were 6 foot 2 and 6 foot 4 respectively. Needless to say Jimmy and I had the top bunks.

I got to play football with John Lorber, Ray Krogman, et al. We boned up on subject matter that would help us academically if we were accepted to the Academy. Jimmy Crew was a wrestler who practice on his roommates and outperformed his 5 foot 4 frame. That is how I ended up with a broken shoulder one weekend.

After NAPS, I went home and got a job pumping gas in Cooperstown, NY while waiting to find out if I had made it to the Academy. On my way to work I visited my Aunt Angie. I found out that I had been accepted when she showed me a newspaper article in the Oneonta Star that I had been accepted! My mother had discarded the telegram because she misunderstood it. So I traveled to Colorado Springs enroute to USAFA where I met Don Graham (a NAPS classmate who would be in my cadet squadron) walking down a street. He asked me when I was going out to USAFA. I told him my plan was to get on the first bus in the morning. He said “Don’t do that. They’ll harass you all day. Go on the last bus.” I knew Don was older and wiser so I took his advice. One memorable event the first day was that after we collected our initial issue uniforms we had to go up the stairs to the 6th floor with that duffle bag of uniforms. When we got there we lined up to report to our new squadron. That is when everything started going white. “Sir I am going to pass out”. “Take a knee and put your head down.” I recovered, reported and then went to my assigned room.

While at the Zoo I spent most of my free time studying because I knew that my classmates were all smarter than I am and I needed to work extra hard. I took time out for the large bore rifle club. It wasn’t a varsity sport but we competed across the country. Also, I bought a semi adjustable Argus C-3 camera and Bob Kern taught me photography. We used to spend time developing our black and white negatives and printed them. Bob taught me to sandwich the negatives in the enlarger and to modify the pictures a little. That was my prelude to “Photoshop”.

There is no way for me to relate all that I learned and experienced but I have to tell you that the MOST important learning outcome from my USAFA experience was the life changing force of the HONOR CODE. It formed the foundation of the integrity and character that I have carried ever since.

Everyone knows that there is a high attrition rate at the Zoo. I think we entered about 750 cadets and graduated 499. So I was a happy 2 LT when I threw my hat into the sky on June 3, 1964 and headed for Reese AFB, TX for pilot training. While on leave before pilot training, I married the love of my life, a nurse named Barb. Our daughter, Tammy arrived on the scene at Reese AFB the next Apr and began my education as a father.

I will never forget the day that Joe Bill Dryden, Class of 62, decided he couldn’t take flying with me and I had to fly that Tweet by myself. Nor will I forget the outstanding T-38 instruction by unicycle riding Mert Hull, Class of ’61. My hero! I wasn’t assigned one of those cute airplanes that Barb wanted for me after I got my wings. I got double ugly, the F-4.

So it was off to Davis Monthan, AZ for ground school. That is where I first met Col. Chappie James who told me that I was going to be privileged to fight for my country, because after I was trained in the F-4, I was going to South East Asia. After F-4 ground school, I was assigned to the 45th squadron at MacDill, FL for replacement training unit (RTU), flight training. We trained in transition, instrument, navigation, air to ground gunnery (bombs, rockets, strafe, nuclear and air to ground missiles), intercepts, basic fighter maneuvers, and air combat tactics. Wow and all in 82 hours of flying. Another significant event at MacDill was the arrival of my second daughter, Tersesa. So I packed up my growing family and asked Barb’s parents to care for them while I had a new adventure.

The first stop was the first class to survive “survival training” at Fairchild AFB, WA. Then the long journey to Clark AB, PI for the advance jungle survival school. That is where Jim Fiorelli and I wrestled a 6 foot python that we released in the instructor trailer for fun. I have had difficulty deciding which was more fun- wading through chest deep water at night while navigating at Fairchild or evading the bamboo viper and large black snake that dropped a few feet ahead of me when I unexpectedly stopped to urge Jim to pick up the pace so we could signal for a helicopter pickup at Clark. Both cases increased my heart rate!

Then I took one of those C-130 rides to Ubon, Thailand. I had a feeling that the tour wasn’t going to be a piece of cake when our rollout took us past an F-4 that didn’t stay on the runway. That 5900 foot runway was a little short for max weight takeoffs or some emergency landings. Remember Chappie James? Well I was an old head when he got to Ubon in Sep 66. Shortly after Col. Robin Olds arrived in Oct. I’ll never forget the Wing Pilots Meeting when Col. Robin Olds introduced himself. There were some snide comments in the back of the room. It didn’t take long for Robin to be recognized for his outstanding combat leadership. The Triple Nickel Squadron flew around the clock and did several missions. The primary was Mig Cap/Strike. Added to that was escorting elint and jamming aircraft, road recce, sky spot and rescap. Since we were scheduled in our northern flying area twice a day every day, the tour lasted only 5 ½ months to accumulate 108 missions. I went on R&R in Sep 66 to Okinawa where I rested in a typhoon but I still got some shopping in. Bob Kern would have been proud of me when I bought a Nikon F-4 camera. The camera was terrific but the photographer still needs some help. When I got back from Okinawa, the first news I got was that Spike Naysmith and Ray Salzarulo had been shot down. It was a sad time. Ray lost his life and Spike was a POW for 7 years.

As I got to Nov and Dec, I noticed that I wasn’t scheduled as often as before. I had set my sights on home by Christmas. I spoke to the ops officer and I got back on the schedule. I didn’t realize that I was being delayed because of a future mission that required experienced crews. I started my return on Dec 23 on a C-130 that ended up in Bangkok and I had commercial tickets back home. While at the airport I met Johnny Fer, Class of ’62 who was traveling to Tokyo for leave. When I told him that I wouldn’t make it home by Christmas, he recommended that I go space available military so I gave up my commercial tickets and got on a C-141 to Tokyo, Anchorage, and Charleston. I left Thailand with 95 degrees and 95 % humidity. Tokyo had snow on the ground. I heard that the C-141 an hour ahead would land at Dover. That is closer to home in N.Y. So I got a message to them to wait for me in Anchorage. They did. Wearing 1505’s (short sleeve khakis) was cool going from one airplane to another with Anchorage December temperature. Don Hall was the co-pilot so we chatted all the way across Canada and the US to the outer marker at Dover where the lightning and snow put it below minimums for landing and we diverted to Charleston! That was Christmas Eve. I was unable to get a commercial flight to NY. The east coast was closed due to snow. I went to the BOQ and called Barb. She was surprised that I was back in the States, communications being what they were back then. Christmas day I got a flight to Newark where my uncle Steve Low flew down in his private airplane to get me. I got home at 2130 Christmas night and my daughter Tammy melted my heart by saying “Daddy”.

After leave Barb, Tammy, TC, and I flew to Frankfurt where I met my brother George. The next day I picked up the VW square back and drove to Spangdahlem, where I flew with the 49th Wing in the 7th and 9th squadrons with Chuck Clifton, Larry Day and others. The mission was nuclear and conventional air to ground. In 1969 I flew out of Bitburg with the 36th Wing in the 23rd (air to ground) and 525th squadrons (air defense).

After 4 years I was transferred to Homestead. I instructed in the 309th TFS for a couple of years.

Then I was assigned to AFIT where I realized that I am not as smart as I thought I was but I struggled and earned a Masters in Aeronautical Engineering. My British instructor once told me “you’ve got to put something down in that blue book (test answer book). At least say God save the queen!!” when I was having difficulty with a course test. It was good advice, half way through the period I began answering the questions and pulled out a B+.

My next assignment (1974-75) wasn’t engineering. Back to F-4’s and the 388th Wing at Korat as a stan-evaler It was a wait and see tour where I didn’t fly any combat. It was a time when combat had been interrupted. Marty Bushnell was an F-105 wild weasel at Korat. He was also an expert at “carrier landings” during leisure time.

Back to Wright-Patt for the engineering I thought I had missed. I held a world wide conference on the mil spec for flight manuals, was a headquarters squadron commander (following Jim Sears), B-1 survivability/vulnerability engineer, and F-16 system program office flight test manager.

Then I went to the Naval War College in Newport, where Commandant Vice Admiral Jim Stockdale thought I was leaning Navy tactics and strategy, the Air Force thought I was leaning executive management, but the truth is I was leaning to sail on weekends at the base marina. It was a professionally and socially packed year.

Back to flying, I went to MacDill to fly with the 56th Wing. I worked for JJ Davis, as the assistant ops officer for the 63rd TFS,and then Ops Officer for the 62nd TFS.

Then off to fly T-33’s at Hickam. I was the squadron commander where the oldest squadron member, except for me, was 26. Boy could they get me in trouble at Pau Hanna (happy hour) with their antics. It was a fun assignment teaching fighter tactics and watching young officers progress.

Finally, I went to the 24th Air Division at Griffiss AFB, NY as a staff officer. I was the E-3 Program Manager. It allowed me to plan employment of the AWACS in air defense operations and to participate in some fun exercises.

My transition to the civilian world was accomplished with little planning. Barb asked me if I didn’t think I ought to retire. I said OK. After a couple of weeks she asked me if I had a job. So I got one. My last work day for the Air Force was 3 Jan 87. On 5 Jan 87, I started ground school at Salisbury, MD for Henson Airlines. I started off flying the Shorts 330 out of Florence, SC. I completed my airline career in Jacksonville, FL on Oct 20, 2001 flying the de Havilland Dash 8.
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