Class Of 1964 USAF Academy

My History

James Lewis Graham Jr

Jim Graham


JimGraham1.jpg As a wartime baby born in early 1942, I missed actually hearing in real time the day-to-day events of WW-II. But like others, even as a child, I think I soon realized how close in time I had been born to the Battle of Midway, Guadalcanal, D-Day, and the monumental struggles that had been fought “for me” by my father's generation. I do remember one specific day around the end of WW-II, when my family drove from Radford (VA) to Roanoke—to Woodrum Field—and watched as a long line of warplanes passed overhead in one single straight line formation, one that seemed to stretch to the horizon and just continued roaring on overhead, plane after plane, for minutes, a very long time it seemed to me. It was, I said then to my Mom, a very “planey day.” And I guess from then on, I found myself looking at the sky, watching the contrails, borrowing binoculars to see closer the B-29's, B-36's, B-47's, and others that regularly traversed our skies in the early 50's. I could identify from a distance airplanes that today make up the early cold war inventory of so many air museums… and my scrapbooks from those days still hold a predominance of airplane treasures cut from newspapers, magazines, and anywhere else I could find them. In my small town of Fairlawn, just outside of Radford, VA, in the mountains of Southwest Virginia, it seemed to me that another world was just six miles above me. I wouldn't say I was obsessed, but I was surely fascinated. And so it has continued to this day.

The first of four sons born to Lewis and Odette Graham, I remember a simple almost idyllic life growing up. Fairlawn was probably like so many wartime boom villages all over the US, what with the growth of the nearby Radford Arsenal (Radford Army Ammunition Plant). And Fairlawn was a little world unto itself, with schools and churches and stores and the easier carefree life that we led as children in those days, before mass marketing, mass TV, instant communications, and the like. It was a place where I found interests in Boy Scouts, community service, and church—and a love of knowledge that would continue, thankfully, all my life. I was "given a lot of rope" by wise and trusting parents, and was able to develop a sense of self that has served me well throughout my life. As a Boy Scout, I found ways to learn and serve, to lead and follow, and to go places and do things “away” from the day-to-day routine. I remember visiting Langley AFB with the Boy Scouts, as well as Bolling AFB. Just sitting in a taxiing C-119 flying boxcar gave me memories that survive the time and distance very well. In the summer of 1957 I traded in to the bank $115 in buffalo nickels saved from my paper route to cover a two-week trip to Philmont Scout Ranch. This was perhaps not a savvy investment financially, especially in the retrospective of over 50 years. And it may have foreshadowed my future finesse with other such investment decisions. But it was nevertheless a wonderful investment in learning and doing—and going—and I never regretted doing it. As a teenager, I had five wonderful years at Dublin HS, first in the band, then playing JV football one year just to see if I could do it, and driving a school bus for my final two years there. It was in my last year in high school where I became seriously involved with a long-time friend I had known since we once had been “Jack and Jill” in a first grade play. Sandra Loar became my favorite bus rider (sitting on the heater just behind and beside me), then my extra-special friend, then my girlfriend and fiancé, and eventually, some five years later, my wife.

In late 1959, I applied for college at four places: VPI (now Virginia Tech), the General Motors Institute, MIT (ever hopeful…), and the United States Air Force Academy. As part of the academy process, in January 1960, like so many others, I traveled to an Air Force Base for testing and medical evaluation. Although it was an exhilarating experience overall, I knew I had not done well on one part of the physical. The color vision test simply baffled me, and I could not remember having had a test I could not master at least eventually. But this one was deeper than that. It was physical and it was real. I could not see 13 out of 14 number plates on the Ishihara Color Test. I was pretty disappointed about it, but I didn't realize even then the impact that test, and others like it, would have on my life going forward. So six weeks passed, and I got a letter that said I had indeed failed the color blindness test, but I could come back on April 1 and they would test me again. By this time I understood that if you had such severe problems with the Ishihara plates, you probably really were color blind, and nothing could be done about it. But I also realized that if you don't play the game, you certainly cannot win. So off I went to Langley AFB again, hanging on the slimmest of threads. At Langley I was given first the Ishihara test again, and of course it made no difference. But then they said to step into this other darkened room where I was given a 64-color exam called the Color Threshold Test. And I got 39 out of 64, which they felt was pretty OK. I certainly did not know what was good and what was not, but at least I felt like I was not out of the running. And on May 19, Sandra's birthday, it came: notification that I had been accepted as a “qualified alternate” in the class of 1964 at the Air Force Academy. Not qualified for pilot training, but OK for the Academy. Talk about a series of decisions to change ones life...

So five weeks later, in June, along with 771 of my soon-to-be closest friends, I made my way toward Denver, getting my first jet ride on the latest thing in air travel, a Continental Airlines Boeing 707 from Chicago to Denver. I was impressed to be able to fly this way, not understanding yet just what a rapid-fire series of surprises and other "first impressions" I was about to get upon reporting to the “base of the ramp.”

These were the days (and some of the last) that a USAFA cadet could expect to be in one squadron for all four years. Regardless of the wisdom or folly of the fundamental policy, it seemed to me at least a wonderful thing to be able to get to know this group of my classmates so well. A “sense of brotherhood” is a trite description, yet there is little else in my experience to equal the closeness of those who have successfully made it through such a difficult time together,

I roomed with David Lyman my first two years. Dave Lyman was a unique individual, extremely competent, in so many ways a brilliant man who immediately jumped ahead of many of us in academics due to his prior years at Colorado School of Mines. Dave would have been an outstanding USAF officer, but for a multitude of reasons, mostly academic, Dave left the Academy at the end of our second year, going back to finish school at Mines and then to the great Northwest (and British Columbia) as an accomplished engineer. My third-year roommates were Dave Ammerman and Harvey Manekofsky, and Keith Luchtel for our entire First Class year. Many good memories.

I remember struggling with math and basic science courses during my first year, and even with courses like history. I received some critical good advice from various members of the faculty who made it their business to remind me of what was going to happen unless I changed my study habits and better handled the volume and difficulty of my classes. I owe them all big-time because they were probably, without knowing it then or ever, turning points for me to get serious in ways I could not have imagined before. So, despite a close call, I did not fail math, as I was on a trajectory to do, nor did I fail history, although at midterms I had certainly been headed in that direction. The faculty took the time to set me straight, and fortunately I got it turned around.

In our first year with 19th Squadron, one of the wing-wide “things” just getting started was to have a squadron patch. patch3.jpg Due to the avocation of some of our worthy upper class forebears, 19th Squadron was already known as the Playboy Squadron, probably not imagining that such a nickname could turn into a defining element for a whole group of cadets. But it did. And sometime during that year, probably during the Jan-Feb 1961 “dark ages,” there became a groundswell of opinion in 19 that a patch would be nice to have. Since I had already designed and purchased patches in bulk in my Boy Scout days, for me it was simply “once more with feeling”—and so I designed the original Playboy 19 patch, shown here. Design elements: a Falcon clasping lightning bolts overlaid on a Playboy bunny, plus a Polaris four-pointed star, with each star point having a class color on one side and a common silver/gray on the other, and a 19 in blue lightning. Relatively simple. The approved patch (was it ever really approved? I don't think so…) was ordered initially from Lion Brothers in Owings Mills MD, just like my previous patches had been, and amazingly, that company is still in business to this day. The patch was a success, and soon thereafter a beret pin followed, and eventually numerous other likenesses of the same basic design. I have been told that, years later, Playboy Enterprises complained, or threatened legal action, or else maybe someone in the Air Force higher-up chain of command decided that would sound like a good excuse, or whatever. But the original Playboy 19 patch was retired, long after we were gone and in the Air Force, replaced by more politically acceptable images and mottos. But ah, before then, those were the days.

Our lead Air Officer Commanding (AOC) during much of this time was Major/Lt Col Kelly F. Cook, a true gentleman scholar and an outstanding Air Force officer and pilot. Only a little over three years after our departure from USAFA, Colonel Cook was lost in an F-4 accident over North Vietnam on November 10, 1967. (http://www.vvmf.org/thewall/Wall_Id_No=10274)

My fiancé, Sandra Loar, came to Denver to live and teach elementary school after Christmas of my First Class year. By that time, I had my yellow '64 Chevelle, and it was put to much good use back and forth on the Valley Highway between Denver and the Academy, in all kinds of weather!

Graduation came, with its temporarily infamous graduation parade totally lost in the fog, and the world opened up for the Class of 1964. Sandra and I were married in July of '64, followed by my assignment to the University of Southern California (USC) for AFIT grad school in industrial engineering. Bill Cioffi ('64) joined me there, along with two fine experienced USAF officers, George Dempsey and Jack Carter. Those two years in Southern California were wonderful in so many ways, but they were for me a very non-standard introduction to the Air Force. In the summer of 1966 I got orders assigning me to Air Force Logistics Command HQ at Wright-Patterson AFB. While we were in Dayton, our son Matthew was born at the WPAFB hospital, and after only eighteen months at AFLC, we were off in December 1967 to Wheeler AFB, Hawaii, and the Pacific GEEIA Region. Pac GEEIA—or Ground Electronics Engineering and Installation Agency—was an outstanding early tour for me, considering the importance of the build-up in Southeast Asia, which provided an intense focus on getting the needed comm-electronics facilities built quickly and maintained well. During the time in Hawaii, our daughter Paige was born in 1969 at Tripler Army Hospital. In 1970, realizing that an unaccompanied tour was both inevitable and reasonable considering what was going on in those days, I volunteered for it, and tried to arrange an assignment in Vietnam in support of a flying organization. Meantime, Sandra and our two children went back to Radford to live for the year.

So off I went to Saigon, intending to report to the 460th Tac Recon Wing at Tan Son Nhut AB. “No way, son,” they said, “you'd be number eight in our organization against six slots for your type specialty.” “Go on back to CBPO,” they said. So I did, seeing the opportunity to support a flying unit going down the tubes. And for two weeks I stayed in Saigon, reporting back periodically to Officer Assignments seeking a job that eventually became “looking for ANY job.” Just put me to work!! During that same time, my friend George Dempsey (remember AFIT at USC?) was assigned to HQ MACV, also on Tan Son Nhut. Through George's good graces and connections, I met with the Deputy J4 for Logistics at MACV, and he told me to come back the next day, as he might have something for me… So I did come back. It turned out they had a requirement for an Air Force logistics officer who would be responsible for scheduling, handling, and expediting the movement of highly important cargoes into an unnamed and unnamable destination. Remember that this was July of 1970, and President Nixon (we later learned) had authorized forays into Cambodia just prior to that same time period. And even not knowing that at the time, it looked like I was in for a little excitement. And so I went back to CBPO to tell them what I had found, and that was the very day they finally had an assignment for me. To make a long-enough story shorter, it was to be the Chief of Base Services at Binh Thuy AB. And because this was an Air Force and PACAF assignment, it took precedence over anything else I might have been about to concoct at MACV. And so off I went to Binh Thuy, in the delta on the Bassac River, just northwest of Can Tho.

During my year at Binh Thuy, I felt an unexplainable urge to return to the place I had said I would never go back to. After seven years, I was willing and ready to go back to the Air Force Academy! As a non-rated officer in the midst of a highly visible emphasis on turning out rated officers from USAFA, I had to recognize that there were only four non-rated AOC slots in the Cadet Wing—all 36 others were reserved for flying officers, typically those returning from combat flying jobs. But the assignment gods smiled on me in their wry sort of way, and I was assigned as Second Cadet Group Exec, working for the Group AOC, Lt Col Tom Wilkinson. And finally, I had my assignment to a flying organization!! It was interesting in ways I could never have imagined, having my peers and others around me with their stories of “…there I was at thirty-thousand feet…” etc. Seriously, it was a pleasure to have the opportunity to hear and be a part of what I had not yet experienced firsthand. And shortly, about the middle of my second year there, an assignment as AOC for CS-15 came along, which I took with great pleasure. I was 15th Squadron (War Eagles) AOC for much of those last two years, seeing the classes of ‘73 and ‘74 make their way out of the Academy and into the Air Force. And the pleasures of being aware of their successes and achievements from then on were simply added to my own. But knowing that even good things must end, I curtailed the USAFA assignment in order to get back to the logistics career field. So in the summer of 1974, Sandra and I and Matt and Paige were off to San Antonio, where I was assigned at the Air Logistics Center. Those three years were a delight in so many ways: the first home we had owned, seeing the kids really blossom in school, and having Sandra growing her interior design interests with a certificate program at St Mary's University. My job at SAALC was as Materiel Safety Officer, a very interesting role which gave me insight into those aspects of logistics, supply, and maintenance that impact flight safety and sometimes can lead to aircraft accidents and incidents.

In 1976 I was selected to attend Defense Systems Management College (DSMC) at Fort Belvoir, VA. This excellent four-month course formed a basis for much of what I would do in the Air Force from then on, and even after retirement. In 1977 I left SA-ALC to attend joint intermediate service school at Armed Forces Staff College in Norfolk. From there it was off to Washington DC, to NASA Headquarters, where I was to be an Air Force detailee, managing all aspects of Space Shuttle and Space Transportation System logistics support. This opportunity was one of the highlights of my career, finally getting me close to development and support of real aerospace hardware that was in the process of being proved and put into operation. Plus it was an exciting time to be at NASA, given that the Shuttle's first launch was about three-quarters the way through my assignment there. I stayed with NASA through the end of the Shuttle Orbital Flight Test (OFT) phase, leaving in 1982 after four and a half years—and headed only ten blocks away to Fort McNair and the Industrial College of the Armed Forces.

After an interesting and useful year at ICAF, in '83 I was assigned to Air Force Systems Command HQ, in Space Systems logistics, following up on much of what I had done while at NASA. Coincidental with that timing, President Reagan had just announced establishment of the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) as a means of protecting the nation from ballistic missile attack. The SDI Organization was being formed, and I proposed in a letter to Lt Gen Jim Abrahamson in 1985 that logistics and supportability could ultimately be the enabler for technologies that made it from R&D into actual development and production. He agreed, and asked me to come help him ensure that supportability would be a part of the design, when the time was right. I ended up with a boat-load of responsibilities in SDI—for systems engineering, logistics and supportability, producibility and manufacturing, cost analysis, and environmental assessment. In this regard, I was fortunate also to play a major role in managing the SDI program to take a six-element initial Strategic Defense System (SDS) through Milestone One of the Defense Acquisition Board (DAB). That occurred in mid-year 1987, and those six systems were approved by the DAB for further development going forward. As histories of the time clearly show, the SDI and ballistic missile defense programs were in for many more ups and downs, even up to this day, but I am pleased to have been a part of a very important step in moving it forward in its early days.

Between 1987 and 1989, Sandra and I were separated, leading to a divorce in 1989. In 1988, I chose to retire from the Air Force after just over 24 years, and felt like I was leaving on a high note from SDI. Ann and I were married in 1989, and we have continued living in the Northern Virginia area since that time.

In October 1988, I joined the Space Systems Practice of Booz-Allen & Hamilton, supporting the (then) Space Station Freedom, conceptual predecessor of the International Space Station now in orbit. During my time as a Principal with Booz-Allen, I worked in support of space systems, vessel traffic services, and rail systems, among others. After about eight and a half years with Booz-Allen, I decided to join EDS, as a Principal in the continuing growth of the Government Consulting Services Practice (GCS). My primary GCS pursuits were in the areas of state & local government and human services offerings. After seven years with EDS, I joined the German enterprise software firm SAP, where I led the State & Local Government and Higher Education Practice area. After four years with SAP, I decided that some sort of real retirement might be in order, so I left SAP in 2007.

Ann and I have spent our time either working or pursuing our individual areas of interest that had long been dormant. Ann has spent years working in historical preservation, given the very rich heritage of our immediate area, and in particular some of the important buildings and antiquities in the vicinity. She spent years in building and preserving a historical museum with the United Daughters of the Confederacy, and likewise many months leading a project to Save the Robert E. Lee Boyhood Home from private and commercial exploitation. She has now written a book entitled “The Real Truth, or How to Survive in Assisted Living,” relating to the past three years we have spent placing and maintaining her mother in assisted living.

As for me, I finally got my private pilot's license in 1998, and have now joined with two other friends in the purchase and operation of a light sport aircraft (LSA) based in Warrenton, VA. It is clear I will forever be a low-time pilot, but I will continue learning and doing what I love. I am grateful beyond measure for my blessings all along the way, and I count my time at USAFA as the best preparation I could have ever had for the interesting and rewarding life I have been privileged to have.

Jim Graham, March 2011


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