Class Of 1964 USAF Academy

Gary's History

gary.jpg Born and raised on Staten Island, New York, I attended Public School #3 in an old building with one class per grade. I was senior class president at Tottenville High School, which had 1,000 students and was the smallest high school in New York City. I lettered in tennis and was a member of the honor society, but missed being salutatorian at the graduation ceremony in order to report to USAFA in June for basic cadet training. During my high school years, I played the organ for church, the piano for Sunday school and was a Boy Scout.

Our family never traveled west of Princeton, NJ, before I went to USAFA. My first plane ride was to Denver and the academy. Two West Point cadets on the plane advised Greg Hildebrandt and me to arrive at USAFA on the last bus. We took their sage advice, which delayed the start of basic training for us a few hours. After basic training, I was assigned to 19th Squadron for four years. My goal was to become an engineer and I took the extra courses to major in Engineering Science. I dated girls from Colorado College in Colorado Springs, and my friend, Harvey Manekofsky, recommended Susan Wiesendanger as blind date for a football game.

We dated for two years and Susan borrowed my unreliable, rusty '53 Ford to drive to practice-teaching. On two successive weekends the radiator and thermostat failed and the old Ford erupted in front of a cadet audience, just as Susan arrived alongside Vandenberg Hall to pick me up. In spite of my old car, we became engaged. Susan's parents felt sorry for their daughter and gave her their '63 Chevy Impala. We sold the Ford for $50 and kept the Chevy for 36 years. We were married the Saturday after graduation in Union, Missouri.

Our first assignment was for thirteen months at AFIT for my masters degree in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Michigan. We enjoyed the Rose Bowl winning football team and the Cazzie Russell-led basketball team which ended up #2 in the NCAA finals.

My second assignment was to the Air Force Weapons Laboratory at Kirtland AFB, Albuquerque, New Mexico. We drove into Albuquerque through what I remember as a desolate Tijeras Canyon, thinking how bleak it looked compared to Colorado. Little did we know that we would spend 32 years in Albuquerque and come to love desert landscape and southwest culture.

I had never used digital computers until that point and was attracted to the opportunity to learn how to perform large-scale calculations with computational fluid mechanics codes. The Weapons Laboratory had two Control Data Corporation 6600 computers, the most advanced large-scale machines at that time, each the size of a large room. For four years I performed calculations of nuclear fireballs, atomic clouds and non-ideal air blast phenomena. Susan taught at the Job Corps Center for Women. Her parents had moved to Tucson and we were able to travel there frequently on weekends.

Colonel Phil Erdle had been my advisor at USAFA and recruited me to teach in the Engineering Mechanics Department. I taught there from 1969 to 1973. Our daughter was born in the USAFA hospital during June Week. We bought our first house in Cragmoor and lived on the same street with four other USAFA instructors. The view of Pikes Peak from our living room was spectacular, as was the morning drive to work through the academy forests We made life-long friends during this assignment.

A central board selected me for AFIT assignment to Colorado State University for my doctorate. By doing some coursework with TV tapes at USAFA before assignment to CSU, I was able to complete my degree in two years (1973-1975). Bill Browning preceded me and Tom Kullgren followed me, as we helped our professor complete the research on an Air Force grant for fracture mechanics. Our son was born in the Poudre Valley Memorial Hospital in Fort Collins. We enjoyed our second home with its view of Horsetooth Mountain. It was nice to be a grad student with an AF paycheck.

My old friends at the Air Force Weapons Laboratory requested my reassignment there. I returned to the same organization and resumed hydrodynamic calculations of nuclear clouds and blast waves. The nuclear effects portion of the Air Force Weapons Laboratory reorganized regularly and I expanded my responsibilities and involvement into cratering, ground shock, protective structures and nuclear blast simulation and testing.

After five years, I transferred across the base to Test Directorate, Defense Nuclear Agency, enabling our family to remain at Kirtland AFB another four years. Test Directorate was responsible for underground nuclear testing, high explosive simulations and electro-magnetic simulators. I was in charge of the technical directors for each test. Our tests were at Nevada Test Site, White Sands Missile Range and Kirtland AFB. During my last year, I was heavily involved in the nuclear hardness testing of the Hard Mobile Launcher system.

Faced with leaving the work I enjoyed doing, I retired from the Air Force in 1984 and accepted a position at Logicon RDA, working on testing and modeling of nuclear weapon effects. I supported underground nuclear tests, high-explosive tests, shock tubes and small scale testing. Years later when terrorism became a national concern, the expertise which we and our customer had in nuclear weapon effects was transferred to the problems of biological and chemical hazards. Defense Nuclear Agency evolved to Defense Special Weapons Agency, then to Defense Threat Reduction Agency. Logicon RDA evolved to Logicon and was acquired by Northrop Grumman. Northrop Grumman recently spun off TASC to avoid conflict of interest issues. So I have worked for three different companies and never changed my job in 27 years.

Our house in Albuquerque had a spectacular view of the Sandia Mountains, and we loved the friendly neighborhood, climate, and cultures of New Mexico. Our children attended thirteen grades of school in Albuquerque. Susan was very active in parent-teacher organizations. I coached soccer for 11 years for both boys and girls teams. The best physical shape I have ever been in was during my last year of coaching soccer when I would play keep-away with the high-school-age boys. Both of our kids participated in science fairs in Albuquerque and at the state level and did well. Our daughter graduated from Colorado College, became teacher qualified and married a cadet from North Carolina in the USAFA chapel. Our son graduated from the University of Denver and Carnegie Mellon, married a girl from Pittsburgh, lives in Portland, Oregon, and works for Intel.

Our son-in-law went to AFIT for his masters and was assigned to Tullahoma, Tennessee. Other USAFA graduates recruited him to resign and come to work for Hewlett Packard in Roseville, a suburb of Sacramento, California. After four years in the Air Force, they made the move and bought a house in nearby Rocklin, California, and began a family.

After a few years of taking every opportunity to visit our daughter's family Rocklin, I suggested to Susan that we move to Rocklin and have time to travel elsewhere. In 2003, we bought a resale in a retirement community with a great view. Management at Northrop Grumman allowed me to work out of my home. We live 2.5 miles from our three grandsons.

Living in a retirement community has encouraged us to get involved in community activities and church. Susan joined PEO and several book clubs. I started a men's book club, run one chess club and play in another. Church keeps us busy, teaching Sunday school, coordinating the small groups, and participating in the work and book groups and Bible studies. The previous owners of our home left us with a garden which requires lots of work that I enjoy.

We have traveled extensively with Grand Circle Travel, Overseas Adventure Travel and Elderhostel (now Road Scholar). The incredible sights and different culture of China has been our favorite trip so far, although we enjoyed driving around Europe on our own when we were younger. Our next trip is to the Galapagos. I like to thoroughly study the destination prior to a trip and know all about everything I am going to see.

Last year we took our daughter's family to Disney World and Yellowstone. Often we share a condo with them at the beach for a week. Our favorite area is Monterey-Carmel-Santa Cruz, where there is enough variety to please everyone.

I have about retired from TASC. Budget cuts to our customer have coincided with my desires for more time for other pursuits. Looking back, I can recall with pleasure my youth, my days at USAFA, and enjoyable careers in the USAF and at Logicon-Northrop Grumman-TASC. I have always been excited about the day's challenges. Now that I am almost retired, I find that there are too many things that I want to pursue in life. My appetite for new activities is greater than the time available.

We leave behind our legacies of family and community and church activities and successful careers. Raising a family and participating in community activities can be hard work but is very satisfying. We are blessed.

Gary Parke Ganong
February 22, 2011
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