Class Of 1964 USAF Academy

My History

William Stephen Fairhurst

I was born 25 May 1941 in Harrisburg, IL – the first of twin boys. My father was in the laundry business, but by 1942 had entered Civil Service with the Army. In 1947 he was assigned to the Department of the Air force at the Pentagon and we relocated to Falls Church, VA where I grew up. My earliest memories include Ft. Knox, KY and Chanute Field, IL. Growing up in the Cold War years in the Washington, D. C. area continued to imprint the military on my mind and I never thought of anything else but a military career.

FairhurstPic1.jpg I attended St. James Catholic School for eight years and will forever be indebted to the nuns there for what I realized in later years was the finest education I could have received. As I entered Falls Church High School, a counselor asked both my twin and me if we had college plans. I was stunned to hear him say he wanted to go to a Military Academy – so did I. We had never talked about college but we were obviously influenced by the same things. I had initially wanted to go to West Point and I remember wondering why there was no Air Force Academy. In due time, President Eisenhower signed the legislation creating the Air Force Academy. It seemed the “impossible dream”, but I could think of nothing else. Unfortunately, being twins, we competed for the same appointment. We both qualified and finished first and second in our competition. My twin finished first and entered with the Class of 1963.

The Academy offered me the opportunity to enlist in the Air Force and attend the Naval Academy Preparatory School at Bainbridge Naval Training Center, MD as part of a 100-man Air Force Detachment. I was grateful to accept. I figured the more money the Air Force spent on me the better my chances for an appointment.

I enlisted in the Air Force in June 1959, received basic training at Lackland Air Force Base (AFB), Texas in August, and became a “NAPSTER” in September. Bainbridge was a success and I received an appointment to West Point and the Air Force Academy. The former came a good 2 weeks before the latter and during that time I realized how much I wanted Air Force. It was not easy saying “no” to West Point as I had held and still do hold a high regard for our sister academies.

The Academy years were the most difficult of my life, but I was ever grateful to be there and to be associated with the young men who comprised the Cadet Wing. It should not have been as difficult as I made it, but those four years helped lay a foundation for the principles that had and would guide me during my life.

My first assignment following flight training at Webb AFB, TX was B-52s at Grand Forks AFB, ND. Since seeing the movie “Strategic Air Command” with Jimmy Stewart, I had always wanted to fly with SAC, though I have to admit that flight school helped me realize that fighters were most acceptable. I went through the prescribed tunnel schools – Nuclear Weapons Training at Carswell, Survival School at Stead, and upgrade training at Castle. As I look back on my Air Force experience, I realize that at Grand Forks I had the opportunity to fly with the best. I was assigned to the Standardization & Evaluation Division 5 months after my arrival. From there on I always had an Instructor Pilot as my Aircraft Commander. This allowed me to get a lot of experience fast, including the left seat, which opened the way for a speedier upgrade to Aircraft Commander – almost.

While at Grand Forks I met and married Paula Lee Hewitt. Behind every sentence there is another story and Paula is the most significant untold story of all. I lost Paula 26 November 2010 after a year long battle with cancer. She was a part of every aspect of my life, in and out of the Air Force. She saw and endured it all with calm, an ever-present happy disposition, and rock solid courage – and she loved me. We have 3 children: a son and daughter living, and a daughter lost in infancy.

Grand Forks was an outstanding assignment marred only by one less landing than takeoff – another untold story. I had, like many others, been a volunteer for Southeast Asia. The opportunities were starting to come for SAC pilots to cross-train to other aircraft. I lobbied a bit at SAC personnel and got an assignment to the F-4 RTU at George AFB, CA via Homestead for the TAC Sea Survival Course. After a fun AT-33 lead-in course, I began F-4 RTU, finishing in December 1968 with an assignment to Cam Rahn Bay with the 12th TFW. It was a rewarding, sobering, life-changing year. The 12th TFW was a 3-squadron, 54 UE wing. We lost 14 aircraft when I stopped counting and most of the men. The last loss I tracked was Boxer 22, a good friend. Bill Hoilman tells that story.

I returned to the states in December 1969 - surprisingly to the 49th Tactical Fighter Wing, Holloman AFB, New Mexico again as an F-4 Aircraft Commander. I say “surprisingly” because I thought that I was worth more to the Air Force in F-4s than B-52s and the Air Force evidently agreed. I have had the privilege of serving in 3 different combat fighter wings, but the 49th was the best experience. I am sure that was because we were together for the better part of 3 years. We had a lot of experience. In addition to being dual-based to Germany, the wing deployed for an additional 5 months of combat in 1972 flying out of Takhli Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand. We flew from the Delta to Route Pack 6 (Linebacker) and also in Laos and Cambodia. The 49th flew over 10,000 combat missions, lost 4 aircraft, but we brought every man home. The 49th afforded me the opportunity to fly across the Atlantic and Pacific in both directions. It was a complete operational experience. During my two combat tours in Southeast Asia, I participated in a total of five air campaigns while compiling 248 (or so) combat missions and over 450 combat flying hours.

In December of 1972, I was assigned to Headquarters Tactical Air Command, Langley AFB, Virginia in the office of the Directorate of Information as a member of the Command Briefing Team and as Assistant Chief of the Plans and Resources Division. It was an interesting assignment but watching the return of our POWs was the single greatest highlight of those 3 years. I flew the T-33 and T-39 for about a year before all staff officers were excused from flying. I was fine with that. I found that flying and HQ staffing were not a good mix for me.

I returned to operational flying duties in the F-4 in January 1976 with the 388th Tactical Fighter Wing at Hill AFB, Utah, where I served as an Executive Officer, a Flight Commander, and Chief of the Wing Operations Plans Division. This was only an 18-month assignment with little flying until toward the end. The 388th had been deactivated at Korat and only the flag came to Hill. Our aircraft came in piecemeal. We built the Wing to combat status and became combat ready just days before my departure. The assignment was short because Personnel was after me for another remote. I had been able to avoid it thus far because I had been just out of reach. Knowing what was happening, I contacted the Joint Departmental folks at Randolph and was able to swing an assignment to NATO Southern Region Headquarters before TAC could hit me with a remote. Three years at Hill would have allowed me to fly F-16s scheduled to arrive in early 1978.

I transferred to Naples, Italy in July of 1977, where I served as an Operations Staff Officer on the staff of the Commander of Allied Air Forces Southern Europe (NATO) and as a special adviser to the Commander-in-Chief Allied Forces Southern Europe (NATO) for Aegean airspace matters. I became the Allied Air Forces project officer for the largest live exercise in the Southern Region stretching from Gibraltar to the Dardanelles. It was an interesting period as the Southern Region was still adjusting from the Cyprus Crisis of 1974 - trying to keep the Greeks in the exercise arena and flying safely with the Turks in the same airspace. There was the added issue of the 12–mile territorial limits that the Greeks claimed for the mainland and her Aegean islands. The debate always resurrected itself in the air arena. The assignment provided some marvelous experience and insight and I particularly enjoyed the opportunity to work closely with some very capable Allied officers. I worked under a Turkish Colonel and Turkish General before I got back to a Yankee. They were most impressive. I also had the opportunity to experience the wonderful hospitality of Greek officers and their families in Athens.

Upon return to the states in July 1980, I was assigned to Colorado Springs, Colorado, where I served as a Division Chief in the Directorate of Joint/Combined Exercises, Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, Headquarters North American Aerospace Defense Command / United States Air Force Space Command. I had some great assignments over the years and this one was not an exception. I am grateful that my last assignment gave me an in-depth, operational look at the sobering mission of Cheyenne Mountain. I worked with as professional a group of officers as any previous tour. We enjoyed unprecedented senior officer support and were able to be a significant part in the restoration of NORAD to a 4-star command, and the expedited organization of USAF Space Command and the subsequent unified command. In the end, the avoidance of another remote finally caught up with me. It had been a great ride, but we reluctantly decided to hang it up. It was just a time to keep the family together.

I retired 1 November 1984 – a date a few of our classmates should recognize – and subsequently went to work for a local high-tech company (CTA, Inc.) where I spent the next 10 years. The first 2 years were involved in support of Cheyenne Mountain and the next eight in support of human factors engineering for the FAA's Advanced Automation System – a planned upgrade of all air traffic control facilities. The program went East in 1995 and we opted not to go with it.

We decided to take a break. The next 2 years flew by and we realized that we were retired. This gave us the opportunity to give a little back and we subsequently accepted assignments from our Church (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) and served in Italy (2 years), Switzerland (18 months), and Mozambique (1 year). Between our first and second missions for the Church, we relocated to St. George, Utah to be near our 2 children, their spouses (eventually), and now 6 grandchildren. While we were in Mozambique, my wife's cancer was discovered. We returned to the States in November 2009. Paula died a year later.

In looking back, it is difficult to grasp that nearly 50 years have passed since we graduated. I was honored and grateful to attend the Academy. I have often reflected on the motto we chose as a class and I feel a special sense of gratitude to those who took the time to search for a motto that was different and particularly meaningful for me. I wonder if we have the only Greek class motto in Academy history. I still feel young – Paula gets the credit for that.

During the summer of 2012, under very special circumstances, I met Tracy Lee Rasmussen. We married 23 February 2013. Tracy has 3 adult children. We are currently serving as Military Relations Specialists for our Church at the Presidio of Monterey (California) Defense Language Institute until August 2015.
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