Class Of 1964 USAF Academy

Don's History


I was born and raised in the “Steel City” of Pittsburgh, PA. My Dad worked in one of the steel mills there for 37 years until he retired. I've always said that I had a “Blue Collar” upbringing. My secondary education was through the Pittsburgh Public School System. I have always felt that I received a very good undergraduate education there. After high school, I went off to Allegheny College in Meadville, PA about 90 miles north of Pittsburgh. ROTC was mandatory there for the first two years so I chose Air Force ROTC. That decision would alter my life forever.

In my second year there, I passed the pilot qualifying test. My ROTC instructor said that if I was really serious about becoming a pilot, I should apply to the Air Force Academy. Of course being from back East, I knew little to nothing about the Air Force Academy. But, it sounded like a good idea. Because it was already Spring of 1959, I had to rush through all the testing. I ended up being a First Alternate for the Class of 1963 but I never received my Letter of Admission. Instead, I got a letter from the Air Force inviting me to enlist, take basic training at Lackland AFB and then be assigned to the Naval Academy Prep School (NAPS) in Bainbridge, MD. I jumped at the chance. I figured that NAPS would better prepare me for the AF Academy. That turned out to be another great decision.

Not only did it mean that I would now be in the Class of 1964, but while I was there I met such wonderful guys (and fellow classmates) as Tony Covais, Joe Bavaria, Paul Belmont and Terry Dillon. And of course, the incomparable Alex Ross – my future roomie at USAFA. One highlight of my time at NAPS was that along with Joe Bavaria, Terry Dillon and Ted Dougherty (who did not make it to USAFA) I got to attend the first ever football game between Army and Air Force at Yankee Stadium in Oct, 1959. We drove up to New York City in Terry Dillon's 1958 Buick Roadmaster. Actually, it was his Mom's. We put many miles on that car that year going back and forth to Pittsburgh, PA and Youngstown, Ohio where Terry was from. We were discharged from active duty in the early Spring of 1960 and all went home to await word from the AF Academy.


When I received my Letter of Admission, I immediately called Joe Bavaria who also had received such a letter. We agreed that he would fly to Pittsburgh where we would spend a few days together before flying out to Denver. We also agreed that we would show up at the Academy very close to the time that we actually had to be there. I remember talking to Tony Covais right before we left. Tony said that he planned on arriving at the Academy early to get a good start. I said, “Are you crazy?” The upperclassmen will have all morning to run you ragged. There is no need to show up early. I finally got Tony to agree – no need to show up early.

I, like many of my classmates, felt very privileged to have been able to attend the Air Force Academy. I have many fond memories (and a few not so fond) of my four years there. I will try to highlight a few of the good memories. BCT Summer was spent in the Big Red One. I spent my Doolie year in the 11th Squadron which then became 16th Squadron my Third Class year. The remainder of my time at the Academy was spent in the 16th Squadron.

For my first two years at USAFA, I had Alex Ross as my roommate. He was a joy to be around and we became very close. The upperclassmen loved him (or so it seemed). In the Dining Hall he would speak Spanish to the waiters much to the delight of the upperclassmen. When Al was at my table, we usually got to eat.

I remember flying to Washington, DC in January of 1961 to march in JFK's Inaugural Parade. Only about half of the Cadet Wing actually made it to DC and it was very cold that day. It also gave me a chance to see my folks who had driven down from Pittsburgh.

I especially remember our Second Class Northern Europe Field Trip. We got to see London, Paris, Berlin and many more cities culminating with Operation Third Lieutenant at RAF Alconbury in England. I was there with Lin Bothwell and Jim Lemon. After Third Lieutenant, Jim and I linked up with Al Ross and we spent the rest of that Summer in Europe.

In the Fall of 1962 there was the grand opening of Falcon Stadium and the first “Home Game” at the AF Academy.

Now for a “not-so-good” memory. Late in the Fall of 1962, I was rewarded with 40 confinements and 40 tours. Something about being out of my room after Taps, failure to halt when ordered to do so by the Officer of the Day and leaving a car parked under Vandenberg Hall. The tours were not so much fun as it got colder but about that same time, the Commandant introduced the “Work Detail”. This involved getting into our fatigues and spending Saturday and Sunday afternoons in the woods overlooking the Cadet Area supposedly cleaning out dead wood and underbrush. This was one heck of a lot better than marching tours. Right before Christmas of 1962, the King of Jordan visited the Academy and granted amnesty to all “offenders”. So, I got to go home for Christmas.

In June Week of 1963, there was the Ring Dance where we all received our ‘64 Class Rings. After Basic Cadet Summer Detail, I headed off to Laughlin AFB, TX for Pilot Indoctrination Training. When I was finished with this in mid August of 1963, I had 7 days of leave until I had to report back to the Academy. Here is where I made another life changing decision. I decided to catch a hop out of Kelly AFB, TX to March, AFB, CA and ultimately go to Pasadena, CA to visit an old college buddy from my Allegheny days. The very next day at a beach party (not unlike the movies with Annette Funicello & Frankie Avalon), I met my future wife, Marilyn. At the time, she was with another guy but I called her the next day and we ended up going out for the next three nights. Then, I had to leave for the Academy. And thus began our 1,200 mile courtship. As it says in our 1964 Yearbook........Don could usually be found trying to wrangle a hop to visit his West Coast sweetie.

In Dec 1963 I picked up my brand new 1964 Chevy Impala from Daniel's Chevrolet and Marilyn and I drove to Pittsburgh so she could meet my folks. During Spring Break of 1964, Usto Schulz and I drove my Chevy Impala to Los Angeles, CA. I left my car with Marilyn so she could pack up her clothes and prepare to move to Colorado Springs. Our class graduated on June 3rd. Marilyn and I were married in the Catholic Cadet Chapel on June 5th, 1964.


I felt that I had a very satisfying active duty career. It is too hard to compress 22 years into a few paragraphs so again, I will try to hit the highlights.

After graduation, our honeymoon consisted of Marilyn and I driving the ‘64 Chevy Impala to Los Angeles to ship her furniture off to Webb AFB. I had no furniture.

Like many of our classmates, my first operational assignment was to Vietnam as a First Lieutenant. I was fortunate to end up in the famed 8th Tactical Bomb Squadron Yellowbirds flying in B-57's. Over the next two years (1967-68) I amassed 278 Combat Missions with the bulk of those missions being at night in Northern Laos over the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Our targets were mainly trucks and anything else that moved at night. When the 37mm and 57mm guns opened up on us, they became targets also.

After my Vietnam tour, our entire unit was transferred to MacDill AFB in Tampa, FL. This assignment ended up being the first of three active duty tours at MacDill. That is hard to do in a 22 year Air Force career.

Our next assignment was to AFIT at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. There I earned a Master's Degree in Logistics Management. At graduation, I was awarded the Commandant's Trophy for the “Most Outstanding Thesis”. One neat thing about Wright-Patt was that there was a large cadre of ‘64 grads there at the time (1972-73). I remember some good parties at Bob & Sandy Hovde's house.

After AFIT, we stayed in Dayton, OH and I went to work for a Two Star Admiral at Defense Supply Agency. When he retired, I almost left the Air Force to go with him. He was such a dynamic leader.

But, then I made Major and was off to the Naval War College in Newport, RI. That was truly a memorable assignment. We went to class in civilian clothes – suit or blazer & tie. The classes and briefings were at a very high level. Quite often high ranking individuals (both military & civilian) from Washington would come up to brief us. In addition, Newport was such a beautiful area and was close to Providence and Boston.

After Newport, it was back to MacDill AFB (Tour #2) to check out in the F-4 Phantom. I volunteered for a remote tour so that my family could stay in Tampa, FL. The follow-on assignment to Kunsan AFB in Korea was probably the low point of my Air Force career. The winters there were brutal and I was remote with a family back home. If several thousand North Koreans were to invade the South, I did not feel that our two squadrons of F-4's would be of much help. Especially since the use of nuclear weapons was out of the question.

After Kunsan, it was off to Nellis AFB in Las Vegas, NV. Nellis offered some of the best flying conditions that I have ever encountered. Most of Southern Nevada is US Government land with ample bombing ranges and restricted flying areas where we could pretty much do as we pleased. When the fighter wing transitioned to F-16s, I was offered a job with Range Group. Their mission was to oversee and police the vast ranges that surround Nellis AFB. And yes, Area 51 does exist! I've seen it first hand.

About this time, Marilyn and I started thinking about retirement. With input from our kids, we decided that we should try for a final assignment at MacDill AFB and subsequently retire in Tampa, FL. I arranged for a joint assignment with the US Readiness Command (the forerunner of today's CENTCOM). At the end of my three year controlled tour, the Air Force wanted to send me PCS but I said no thank you and I retired with no regrets to start our new life in Tampa as we had planned.


I literally took off my blue suit on Friday afternoon and went to work for Honeywell, Defense Communications Division in Tampa on Monday morning. They had hired me largely because of my special clearances and connections in Washington, DC. My job involved lots of travel which I dearly loved. I soon learned that in the civilian world, when flying to Europe, it was customary to fly in Business Class. My boss said that I should join the Ionosphere Club (Eastern Airlines) as well as the Delta Airlines Crown Room. In addition, Honeywell had no problem with me signing up for airline frequent flyer programs, a practice that the Air Force did not condone.

With all the travel, I amassed a lot of frequent flyer miles which I then used to take my whole family on some pretty nice vacations. After a few years, Honeywell sold that particular division to a financial conglomerate who then renamed it Group Technologies. The company's mission was still the same – production of secure (classified) communications equipment for the Armed Services. But without the “deep pockets” of the Honeywell Corporation, the new company adopted the do more with less philosophy. This only works in the short run.

After two more years, personnel cuts began and I became the victim of a “workforce reduction”. I floated my resume to several companies but since I was not willing to relocate to another state, jobs were scarce. So, I took a new approach. I studied for and passed the Florida Department of Insurance exam and became a registered Life Insurance & Variable Annuity Agent.

I was fortunate to be hired by John Hancock Life Insurance Company. John Hancock had an excellent training program and both the Staff Manager and General Manager there took a special interest in me and helped me immensely. In time, I became very successful in the Senior Market (Long Term Care Insurance and Variable Annuities). This was probably due to my being older than most of the guys in the office and my own decision to specialize in the Long Term Care market. After a few years, the General Manager there decided to retire. We had become close over the past few years and I really couldn't see myself working for another General Manager. So, I too retired. My plan was to just to take life easy at this point. But Marilyn was still working and in fact had a very successful job as the Jewelry Department Manager at our local Sam's Club. She became tired of my phone calls to her on an almost daily basis and stated, “You have got to find a job!” But, “I'm retired”, I said. She said, “Well, get UNRETIRED”. And to help me in that regard, she arranged for me to interview for an opening in the cell phone sales department at Sam's Club. In my interview, I told the manager that I did not own a cell phone and in fact knew nothing about cell phones. He asked if I had a background in sales and I replied, “Yes, I used to sell insurance.” He said, “When can you start?”

So thus began my 4th career. After a few months at the Sam's Club, the cell phone manager left there to go to work for Bobby Allison Wireless and he took me with him. That turned out to be another great move. Bobby Allison was none other than the famed NASCAR driver from the 70's and 80's. He, along with a couple investors had started his own wireless company. Bobby was a joy to work for. He was a charming, easy going, Southern gentleman and also was a licensed pilot with his own airplane. I got to know him quite well. He never tired of hearing about my exploits in the F-4. As a race car driver, he appreciated speed! I ended up being one of the top trainers for Bobby Allison Wireless. Whenever a new store was about to be opened, I was sent there to hire and train all the new employees. So obviously this involved one of my great loves – travel. When I joined Bobby Allison Wireless in mid 1997, they had only three stores and all were located in the Tampa Bay area. They were just opening their 4th store which they assigned to me to manage. Five years later, they had expanded to 38 stores in nine states. Store locations ranged from Miami, FL to as far north as Nashville, TN and St. Louis, MO. Like so many startup companies, they expanded too far, too fast. It became increasingly difficult to manage the entire store network from the original office in Largo, FL. The company was forced to declare Chapter 11 and begin reorganization. The entire Training Department was closed down and I was offered a store to manage. I figured that I'd been there & done that, so I retired again. This time it was for good as Marilyn also was retired by now. This left both of us with time to spend on our favorite pastime – travel.


As I said earlier, after graduation from the Academy, Marilyn and I headed off to Webb AFB in Big Spring, TX. We rented a two bedroom house with a carport and began our married life together. I remember that our rent payment was $82 a month and our car payment was $85 a month. Our first child, John Alan was born prematurely in Jan of 1965. It was five long weeks before we could bring him home. Months later, when Marilyn noticed that John was slow in developing, she had him tested. The diagnosis came back as Cerebral Palsy probably as a result of his premature birth. Eventually, John would need braces in order to walk but he was normal in every other respect. He was a very bright and loving child.

Marilyn was pregnant with our second child when I went off to Vietnam. Because of her situation, my folks offered Marilyn the opportunity to move in with them in Pittsburgh, PA. So, our second child, Laura was born in Pittsburgh in July of 1967. As soon as Laura was cleared to travel by the doctor, Marilyn packed up John and Laura and boarded a MAC flight for Clark AFB in the Philippines. I made arrangements for off base housing with a live-in maid for them. When I wasn't flying combat missions, I joined them at Clark when I could. In Nov of 1968, we all returned to the United States to start our first tour at MacDill AFB.

In July of 1972, while we were stationed at AFIT in Dayton, our beloved Son, John died from a tragic drowning accident. He had been playing in our backyard in a small inflatable pool with his sister, Laura. We are not sure what happened but Marilyn found him not responding. Paramedics came and rushed him to the Emergency Room but the doctors could not save him. We were at a total loss and did not know where to turn. We welcomed the support of fellow ‘64 Classmates in Dayton. We talked to the AOG and decided to have John buried at the Air Force Academy. When we arrived in Colorado Springs, D J Alberts was there to meet us at the airport. We were numb and basically just went through the motions and let the Academy Staff handle everything. When we got back to Dayton, I did not have the will to go on with my AFIT studies. But Marilyn said that would not be fair to John so let's finish what we came here for. I managed to get my head back on straight and finished up as a Distinguished Graduate. In Nov of 1974, while still living in Dayton, we were blessed with our third child, another son, Patrick. We both said that now our family was complete again.

The year was now 1996. I was retired for the third time and we were living in Tampa, FL. Our Daughter, Laura had met a fine young man, Doug. That Summer, Laura and I kept busy preparing for her upcoming wedding to Doug as Marilyn was still working. She and Doug were married in a beautiful ceremony on Oct 5th. After a wonderful honeymoon in Paris, Laura and Doug went off to Longview, TX where Doug was working.

At the time, Patrick was attending college in Tampa and was still living at home. He knew he had a good thing going. On Sunday, Nov 3rd, Patrick was returning to Tampa from the University of Florida in Gainesville where he had gone for the weekend. He exited I-75 to visit his favorite Dairy Queen. As he pulled out after exiting, he was hit broadside by a truck pulling an airboat on a trailer. The paramedics had to cut away the car's roof to extricate him and he was flown by medevac helicopter to Orlando Regional Medical Center. I got the call from the Florida Highway Patrol as Marilyn was working that day. Patrick regained consciousness briefly after being removed from his car. He even said to the tow truck driver, “You've got to call my folks.” But as we were told later by the Emergency Room doctors, they could never get him to sustain breathing on his own. He passed away that afternoon. He died of the same head/neck injury that killed Dale Earnhardt when he hit the wall at Daytona. We left for Orlando soon after I received the call from the Highway Patrol. We were in contact with the hospital in Orlando and they assured us that they were doing everything possible. But when we got there and they ushered us into a private room, I had a very sinking feeling. When the priest, ER doctors and nurses as well as the medevac crew entered, I knew it was over. I could not accept that this was happening to us again! This time it was worse because we had raised Patrick all the way through high school and the dreaded teen years and we figured that the worst was behind us. He was 10 days from his 22nd birthday. We had to plan our child's funeral all over again. We bought a family plot in a beautiful cemetery here in Florida. Patrick was buried next to his best friend who had died a few years earlier. When things settled down, I contacted the Air Force Academy and explained what had happened I said that our wishes now were that our Son, John be disinterred and moved here to Florida to lie next to his brother. They fully understood and started the paperwork to make that happen. Subsequently, John was moved to Florida and now lies next to Patrick. There is not a day that goes by that I don't think about both of them.

Within the year, Laura and Doug relocated back to Tampa. They bought an older house (constructed in 1946) and remodeled and expanded it. They live across town about 30 minutes from us. Doug's folks live in this area also.

MDsm.jpg As 2014 rolled around, Marilyn and I made the tough decision to put our house up for sale and downsize. We were living in a two story, four bedroom 2400 sq ft house with a pool and yard that always needed maintenance. We were tired of climbing stairs and maintaining that big house. The hard part was that we had been in that house for 32 years and had accumulated a ton of stuff. The hardest part of our move was the actual downsizing and getting rid of stuff. We found a nice single story, two bedroom 1400 sq ft house in a quiet gated community here in Tampa where they take care of everything. We moved in this past April and have never been happier. This June saw not only the 50th Anniversary of our Class of ‘64 Graduation from the AF Academy, but on June 5th, Marilyn and I celebrated our 50th Wedding Anniversary. Where have all the years gone? I remember getting out of a car at the base of the ramp, prepared to “face the music” like it was yesterday! I have never regretted my decision to attend the Air Force Academy. The education, training, discipline, regimentation and everything else that was thrown at me fully prepared me for the rest of my life. Had I not gone to the AF Academy, I would never have met my wife, Marilyn. I am honored to be a member of the Class of 1964 and I look forward to our 50th Reunion in September.
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