Class Of 1964 USAF Academy

Clarence's History



I was born five months after Pearl Harbor in the Kapiolani Maternity Hospital in Honolulu, HI. My only recollections of the war years were black-out curtains covering the bedroom windows at night and having to purchase certain food stuffs using ration cards. One uncle joined or was drafted into the Army; the other was a civil servant at Pearl Harbor ship yard and was pressed into service loading ammunition soon after the attack. I was the second child of four (two girls, two boys) and the third generation of an immigrant family to Hawaii. My paternal great-grandfather likely arrived in the Kingdom of Hawaii as a contract sugar laborer from Guangdong, China. After accumulating some funds he sent for my great-grandmother, grandfather and a young girl to eventually be married and become my grandmother. My father was the eldest of five and the only college graduate. He became a school teacher and taught shop and horticulture at the primary level until such vocational skills were limited to the secondary level. My father's family early beginnings were sustenance farming on leased land but all the siblings completed primary and most graduated from high school.

My maternal grandfather emigrated too a little later around the time the Queen was overthrown and Hawaii became a territory of the USA. It is not clear whether he arrived as a contract laborer or self-supported his passage from Guangdong, China. He was the third child and two younger brothers also migrated but to Suriname, formerly Dutch Guiana. My mother was the first born American, second child of a family of five children; the oldest daughter was left in China when Grandmother was sent passage to Hawaii. A few years ago, I visited my maternal grandfather's village and learned that his father's generation (my Great-Grandfather) of eight sons had also been part of the early Chinese diasporas and gone off seeking their fortunes leaving the women and children behind in the village. According to a cousin, the village was known as a wealthy village because of the repatriated overseas funds.

Perhaps because he was a public school teacher, my father sent us all through the regular Hawaii public school system. The public system had the normal elementary, intermediate and high schools and a separate “English standard” system. The “English standard” system hoped to improve the English communicating abilities of Hawaii's migrant sons and daughters. It was accessed only by application and testing at the entering elementary level. The local public school was good enough for the four of us (three earned college degrees) and it had a college preparatory curriculum for those contemplating college.

Why the USAF Academy?

I joined a local Civil Air Patrol (CAP) squadron at 14 years old and completed the requirements for a Certificate of Performance over the next 2-3 years. [That certificate could result in an immediate promotion to Airman vice Airman Basic if I were to enlist in the Air Force.] An earlier influence with things military may have come from watching the annual Armed Forces Day parade down Ala Moana Boulevard. Hawaii enjoyed having major service units and headquarters stationed close together. The uniformed troops, static displays and fire-power demonstrations were powerful draws for many of Hawaii's sons and daughters. Still earlier was the neighborhood boy battles fought under the leadership of George whose father was a USN Lieutenant Reservist called up for Korea and lived in the rentals next door. I had also read about the military academies and became interested in attending the Air Force Academy or through USMA then transferring to the Air Force. Aviation seemed glamorous and high tech though my mother wasn't in favor of anything military as a career.

It was August 1959, I was at Bolling AFB in Washington, D.C., a member of the Hawaii CAP team that had just won the national drill team competition held at Rockefeller Center in New York City. We were flown in a Goony to Bolling AFB to train and await 18 additional cadets to double our team size. Towards the end of August we were soon to leave to do a 30-minute drill performance at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto then head home. On August 21, 1959, President Dwight Eisenhower signed the bill that made Hawaii the 50th State. Our cadet drillmaster, David Kalani, was invited to some ceremony that included Miss Hawaii; the rest of us stayed put at South Point in our 46-man barracks (dormitory in USAF terminology). From a single Delegate to Congress, Hawaii's representation tripled to two senators and a representative.

On return from the drill competition and start of my senior year, the newly elected legislators announced they were seeking applicants to the military academies including the Coast Guard and Merchant Marine academies. Following a letter requesting candidacy submitted to each Senator and Representative, we were all subjected to an initial screen using the Armed Forces Qualification Test that was given on a Saturday at Fort DeRussy. Hundreds must have applied and following interviews with staff or the Congressman, I was nominated first alternate for the Air Force Academy by Senator Hiram Fong and first alternate to USMA by Representative Daniel Inouye. Joe Chu was also nominated as was another high school classmate Ted Kobayashi, USMA ‘64, and fellow CAP member Neville Colburn, USMA '64. More testing followed: physical examinations and physical fitness tests were conducted at Hickam AFB for the Air Force and at U.S. Army Tripler General Hospital for West Point. In the spring of 1960, first the principal to USMA was disqualified (old football injury) then a little later the principal to USAFA withdrew. A choice to make, not difficult, the Air Force was always my first choice and was far more appealing than ground pounding; thus I became Senator Fong's nominee to the USAFA.

Initiation to USAFA.

Incoming cadets to the military academies from Hawaii were authorized government transport from Hawaii (OCONUS) to CONUS on MATS (Military Air Transport Service). It was less than a month from high school graduation, no time to unwind, before the June report date. Three of us left on the same C-97 flight from Hickam AFB to Travis AFB: Joe Chu, Neville “Toby” Colburn and I. Joe had been my classmate during intermediate school and Toby and I were in the same CAP squadron so it was good we would have travel company. It now seems hazy but neither Joe nor I had much of a clue as to how we would get from Travis then to SFO for a United flight to Denver. Fortunately, Toby had a brother in San Francisco who invited us to crash at his place for a couple nights before we flew on. Landing at Stapleton Airport early that June reporting-in morning, we were all herded to the curb to await our blue coaches to Colorado Springs. Marty Bushnell and Will Sakahara, both from California, were the earliest two classmates that we met that morning.

Disembarking the AFA coaches at the east-end of Vandenberg Hall, we were quickly processed through the cadet assembly rooms on the fourth level. Then wished “good luck”, pointed west, we exited the assembly room, hearts pounding and onto the Terrazzo for that first upper classman bellow about being some kind of “dumb” low life who didn't know enough to start double-timing and to yank “it” back. Welcome to the United States Air Force Academy! Green laundry bags filled with shoes, boots, underwear, socks, greens, khakis, hats, piss pots and all assorted gear were fitted, drawn, stuffed into the laundry bags and muled back to our dormitory rooms. Sleep couldn't come soon enough.

USAFA Four Years

Fourth class year meant living and eating at the academy for a full year, no early recognition, no Christmas leave. Fortunately, having already been exposed to hospital corners, drum-tight bed covers, spit shine and the difference between “left from right” helped immensely in avoiding being picked on by “uppers” plus flying low under the radar. The great exception was just before recognition when all of us were suppose to sneak out into the hills as a “class spirit thing”. I say all but there were those who may have wanted to avoid punishments and a few broke ranks at the morning assembly to join us on the hill near the Cadet Chapel. To this day I don't know who came up with the idea but it was one of the highlights of doolie year for Class ‘64.

Mother knows best, “Study hard and you'll succeed”. My best GPA was in the doolie year and declined as the subject matter became harder and keeping an overload for an engineering major. These were the days before everyone in later classes would do a major. I managed to stay on the Dean's list for most semesters except one until graduation.

During our USAFA days, I drew a WWII era submarine (USS Salmon) at San Diego on the Fourth Class Field Trip, the Far East for the overseas field trip, and Paine Field with Air Defense Command (before Aerospace) for Third Lieutenant. The submarine was an interesting cruise, it was basically a training boat and we remained at sea only one night (stay off tin-cans to avoid sea sickness). The rest of the time we pulled into port each night, once at the Broadway street pier which was close to downtown. I also participated with the Judo Club for a year plus, but our off-campus trips went only so far as the “dojo” in “J-town” Denver. It was good physical activity and I received a brown belt at the end of the first school year.

A test of memory: I roomed with Ron Dullen (basic cadet training), Mack Thies, Greg Miheve, Clark Crane, Pat Durick, Tom Walsh and Bill Jones (not in any order). No fisticuffs with any roomies so I guess we got along and I drew from experiences with each. Guys like Mack Thies and Pat Durick seemed to have their heads on right because they always seemed to be unflappable and had a sound answer on Honor Code discussions. Forgive me if I offended any classmates in any way during our time together. Another enjoyable aspect was the quiet view from the east end of Vandenberg overlooking the parade field and toward Black Forest. One could spot mule deer in the early dawn or dusk light and the sunrises on a winter morning were spectacular, not to mention practicing Thunderbirds before June graduations. I probably didn't have more than two semesters in an east-facing room but it calmed the soul when I had it.

All that studying may have been the cause or it could just be genetics but my eyesight faded into the 20/100's and not even a waiver would allow me to enter any flight qualified training. Choices again. A small career team from the Civil Engineers gave a briefing on how the career field had a skewed distribution of having more slots that were a grade or two higher than officers that filled them. It seemed a promising opportunity plus the career field had transfer possibilities to a civilian job if the Air Force didn't pan out. It turned out I wasn't alone in our class which attracted guys like Ben Collins, John Cunningham, Don Cryer, Ray Rodgers and Ron Bunch.

Graduation and The Real Air Force.

Following graduation leave, I drove through a blinding downpour somewhere near Kansas City, Missouri, and reported in to the Civil Engineering school house at Wright-Patterson AFB. In those days they felt they had to teach us “everything” about Air Force Civil Engineering in one gulp and during the hottest muggiest months of an Ohio summer. Suellen and I were married while there at Wright-Pat and following civil engineering indoctrination, we drove the Pontiac Tempest fully overloaded to Hamilton AFB, Marin County, California. There were two '63 grads there in the 78th CES already: Fred Metcalf and Don Simmons and a bunch of other young lieutenants. It was a warm and fun crowd. After a few months in an apartment in Petaluma, we moved into a two-bedroom Wherry Housing unit that bordered on pasture land and deer would come out of the hills to feed on plants in the front during winter. Sanford was born in the rickety hospital on base and our neighbors John and Judy Silverman baby sat for us. After a year I took over from Fred and he went off to AFIT graduate school. I followed a similar pattern when we left off in 1966 for a master in Civil Engineering at Colorado State.

Subsequent assignments followed a posting to Tan Son Nhut AB, RVN, with the Air Force Advisory Group. Vietnam was followed by Hickam AFB with HQ PACAF/Pacific Area Communications, Education with Industry at HQ NASA (Space Shuttle) Washington, D.C.; HQ Space and Missile Systems Organization (SAMSO) Los Angeles AFB, CA; HQ Taiwan Defense Command (Joint), Taipei, Taiwan; back to SAMSO (Space Transportation System); HQ USAFE Regional Civil Engineers at West Ruislip, England (UK airfield shelter construction) and Squadron Commander/Base Civil Engineer, Dyess AFB (Abilene, Tx). That last assignment was an exciting time as we prepared to beddown the B-1B Lancer and all attendant support and training facilities. We had a good crew and won “SAC Civil Engineering unit of the year” for all their hard work and managed improvements.

Post U.S. Air Force Career

Offered a follow-on assignment to HQ SAC IG, the wear on the family from moving, expected IG travel and having fulfilled all incurred commitments seemed like the right time to retire from the Air Force. In the summer 1984, we relocated to Southern California, joining, then TRW Systems Engineering Division's Facilities Support Department. The department provided facilities engineering services to various projects; e.g., Minuteman projects, Consolidated Space Operations Center, etc. We remained with TRW (later bought by Northrop-Grumman in 2001) for the next 20 years except for a 2-1/4 year hiatus with a private developer in Singapore. This was the lull period following the Berlin Wall collapse, cold war shutdown and rapid decompression in defense work in the 1990's.

The Singapore experience (1994-1997) provided near instant job gratification after working a series of defense projects that stretched out or were cancelled according to annual budgets and changes that rarely reached fruition in fewer than four years. In my last year in Singapore, a 32-story office tower was started and topped off in that period. Chasing rework and punch lists on the Ritz-Carlton Milennia Hotel and the retail building, reviewing the 32-story building contracts simultaneous to its construction, and organizing artwork installations like a two-story Frank Stella mural were parts of that experience. The site team was international and the contractors were a Japanese venture partner and a huge French construction company that had built the English Channel.

From Singapore I returned to TRW and supported upgrades for NRO-Vandenberg facilities and later ground facilities support for a space program. I retired from now Northrop-Grumman in 2004. After retirement I began volunteering with the local Habitat for Humanity affiliate one or two days a week except during periods of travel. Constructing houses with HFH provided instant gratification (something was always “done” by the end of the day) and met some altruistic need as well. I worked with many (but not all) retirees from defense companies so my needs for work socializing with like-minded technically oriented folks was met too.

The affiliate's 500th house was started as a Lent-build and is nearly completed. Hopefully, the stimulus from problem solving, hands-on work and physical activity will keep me going for a few more years, God willing. Suellen and I have also used the retirement time to travel to two to three places a year. We've lovingly watched our Texas granddaughters grow from infants to interesting bright school girls. We don't have a bucket list of places to visit but we've walked Machu Picchu, dived/swam in the Galapagos Islands; visited China including my maternal grandparents' village twice; toured UNESCO World Heritage sites in Laos, Cambodia, Indonesia, Myanmar, India, Thailand and Korea; cruised the Panama Canal, Alaska, Mediterranean and Black Sea; and most recently visited Vietnam.

While in Vietnam, I tried to find my old MACV BOQ in the Cholon district of Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) with the help of the driver of friends working in HCMC. Though I had a picture of the Lucky Hotel I couldn't recognize the place and the locals said they had all moved there years later. The whole city has undergone multiple changes in 45 years. Still, I saw many first generation aircraft shelters and even Armco revetments in place at Danang and Tan Son Nhut when we landed there. The Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral was filled at Sunday morning worship and the old General Post Office where I booked calls to Suellen in Singapore is filled with souvenir vendors. In Hanoi, we spent time walking through “Le Maison”. As Don Spoon wrote back when I sent him a photo, he wouldn't be able to recognize the entrance since he was blindfolded when they ushered him into that accommodation. They've retained about a quarter of the old prison as a museum, the rest of the prison was converted to high-rise residence and retail by a Singaporean venture. The prison displays were balanced between the horrors the Vietnamese patriots proudly bore under the French detention and contrasted to the humane treatment the Vietnamese rendered to their American captives. My own conclusion from reading the descriptive horrors and the accounts of our guys in Stuart Rochester and Fred Kiley's co-authored "Honor Bound" was the Vietnamese must have been well taught by their French capturers. The recurring thought in my mind whenever visiting such “museums” is the victor (or the museum owner) gets to write the historical account. I wondered about all those RVNAF associates who did not or couldn't escape as the south collapsed. Aside from these “tourist” places for “returnees” we were well treated (most Vietnamese today were not born or were at best very young during the “American war”). On my last day in Hanoi I walked to, on and took pictures of the Cau Long Bien Bridge, the infamous rail bridge crossing the Red River connecting Hanoi with Haiphong and China. It's a rusty cantilever steel truss bridge, nothing beautiful but many resources and lives were used to take it out, temporarily at best.


Looking back, time seems to have gone much much faster than I can recall at the time. Reading about geopolitics in Stratfor articles seems to say that sometimes the actions and forces that drive a people within a state are dictated by their geopolitics. Thus the Ukraine crises by Putin that our government leaders think is ”not twenty-first century” behavior is not surprising if one understood the geopolitics of Russia. Reality is still staring us in the face, the human condition has not altered, and there is no “war to end all wars”. Nonetheless, I cherish having gone through the experiences of the Air Force Academy and the bonds that we share with each other and the place. The Mac Arthurian words of “duty, honor and country” resonate within me. I feel at home when I visit Texas and see the patriotism worn there by the folks on their sleeves. I wish it were more so on our left-bank west coast where we now live. The prescriptive “how to change the world” University of Texas commencement advice that Don Spoon and others shared, from UT alumnus Admiral MacRaven, applies today to our youth and academy graduates.

There are subjects that I wish I had more exposure to, such as fine arts appreciation and philosophy as I do more reading and spiritual reflection (cramming for finals again?) but I think I am more accepting, still hopeful for our nation if for no other reason than our grandchildren. We have ills as a nation, as a people; the pendulum will change. Our fifth anniversary since graduation occurred a few short days ago as well as what may be the last decade year D-Day Celebration with living veterans as I polish this. Celebrate sharing, memories, love and joy! Aloha and Mahalo!


Suellen and I at the White Palace in Agra, India
[ Home ] [ Table Of Contents ]