Class Of 1964 USAF Academy

John's History

john.jpg Let me start at the beginning. I'm originally from Alabama, born in Montgomery three weeks before Pearl Harbor. My parents were both from Alabama. My mother, she said, came from “good southern stock”. My father, she implied, came from less solid though pretty good stock anyway. They both broke the mold of Alabama folk of their day. My mother, born in 1905, graduated from the University of Alabama when few women did. She was a classmate of “Bear” Bryant. My father went all the way up to Emporia, Kansas to a small college, since closed.

Dad became a high school history teacher and football coach and my mother became a high school math teacher. They had three boys. My older brother, Bill, and my younger brother, David, were my best friends as I grew up, which was all over the world. Our father, inducted in the Air Corps December 1941, was a teacher so he taught at Maxwell (we already lived in Montgomery when the war started). By war's end we were on the west coast and Dad was discharged in Washington state. We lived on a small rented farm where Dad farmed and taught at the small Prescott high school and coached the six-man football team (and published the only article of his life – about six-man football). Several years later he moved us to Lewiston, Idaho where he taught and coached a normal sized team…and won several championships. The Pacific Northwest is a wonderful part of the country and my brothers and I, each about a year apart, loved the outdoors and the people in our lives there. I remember the annual treks back to Alabama in a pre-war Buick in the summers, driving on gravel roads through Nevada and marveling at the southern accents of our cousins in Barbour County.

Then along came the Korean conflict and Dad was recalled to active duty. We moved to Fairchild and Dad deployed with one of the bomb wings right away to Japan. He came back with lots of stories and Japanese baubles, some of which I still have. He flew as an “Aircraft Observer”, whatever that was, and I still have his old observer wings. But back at Fairchild, he and mother decided to stay in the Air Force and not go back to teaching. We had an overseas tour in Karachi in 1955-56 and assignments at Mather and then Davis-Monthan. Tucson is where I spent three of my high school years, was junior class and student body presidents, a wrestler and gymnast, and managed to get appointments to USAFA and West Point from Barry Goldwater and Carl Hayden. I chose USAFA because I already knew the Air Force was cooler than the Army (actually I knew squat about the Army).

I loved Tucson, spending three of my high school years there and as a lifeguard at the Davis-Monthan O'Club swimming pool two summers with Brett Dula, whose dad was also stationed at Davis-Monthan. Brett and I became lifelong friends. His family went PCS to Offutt from Tucson but we both ended up in Denver in June 1960 to take a bus ride down to Colorado Springs together to be roommates in college! After we got off that bus and descended into hell I didn't see Brett for so long I thought they'd probably killed him!

I was in two squadrons at USAFA, 3rd sq for doolie and 3rd class years and then 2nd sq for 2nd and 1st class years. I was late coming back from one of the European cadet tours in ‘62, which I extended by taking my summer leave traveling around Europe chasing hot European girls with a friend from my Fairchild days whose dad was then stationed at Ramstein. Well, to this day, I suspect my pals in 3rd sq had to vote on who to PCA to another squadron and I was the only one not there (yea…like cadets got to vote on anything!). But it worked out great and 2nd squadron, like ALL our squadrons, was full of top notch guys too. One of them was Ed Lorenzen, my roommate in 2nd squadron one year. Ed was from Roseburg, Oregon and he talked about Roseburg all the time. Ed went into Air Force civil engineering but later went to pilot training. He survived combat but died in an aircraft accident later. Ed was a great guy and classmate and I still miss him.

I loved the Academy, though I was ready to quit at Christmas of doolie year, and would have, I suppose, had they let us go home to see our old girlfriends. At any rate, I graduated in the top third or so, and went from pilot-qualified vision when I entered to non-qualfied by the time I read all those damned books and stuff. And there must not have been any more Aircraft Observer slots so I left USAFA in June 1964 and headed off for a support career in the Air Force.

I remember the meeting I had with our personnel staff to make a few decisions about career plans. Well, being the mature young man I was, my only interest - not being able to fly and all that - was to get back over to Europe ASAP. I had noticed the abundance of pulchritude during my leave there. I wasn't particularly concerned about what I'd actually DO in Europe, I just wanted to get there fast. Well, the Air Force Communications Service said they'd send me right away so I said OK. Then I found out they wanted me to go to comm officer school at Keesler for a year! This is when I learned to read the small print.

My first assignment after tech school was as a communications operations officer in the 1944th Communications Squadron in Pforzheim Air Station, Germany. My first squadron commander, Lt Col “Lou” Bridge, was a EE and a WWII pilot and a great first commander for a green lieutenant. I learned the importance of technical competence from him as well as, by negative example, good leaders keep their tempers under control. He dragged me all over southern Bavaria to microwave radio sites and Gasthauser and taught me how to love my work. He's long gone now but what a great officer and commander he was.

The best thing that happened to me on my first assignment was meeting June, a perky pretty little AF dependent who was the bookkeeper down the hall from my office at Pforzheim. We started dating (though her father, a tough old NCO, didn't exactly approve) and later married in our little Quonset hut chapel at Pforzheim, of which he did approve. June and I are Air Force through and through, from our earliest memories.

In December 1967 I went to Maxwell for SOS and then on out to LA to graduate school at Southern Cal. June and I would jump on our little motorcycle and buzz down to the Coliseum to watch OJ Simpson run all over everybody on the football field. Ace and Judy Rawlins, a 3rd Sq classmate family were there at the same time. One of our most vivid memories in LA was waking up “Missy,” Ace and Judy's little girl, in the middle of the night to watch the first moon landing on TV in real time!

After grad school at USC it was time for a staff job and we went to AFCS HQ at Scott AFB. There I had a number of TDYs to the Pentagon and decided I never wanted a tour at that place! Boy, was I to be surprised later. I loved AFCS. Part way through my tour I was picked to be the Aide to the AFCS commander, Maj Gen Paul Stoney, one of the finest gentlemen I have ever known. He was also from Alabama … really good stock. We moved the command the next year to Richards-Gebaur AFB near Kansas City.

AFCS was a world-wide command and we flew all over the world in our dedicated C-118. Our pilot's name – for real – was “Buzz Sawyer,” no connection to the comic strip. This was the assignment when I learned to appreciate jet aircraft, the 118 not being one! It was a loooong way across the Pacific in that thing. Even so, I visited mountain tops all over Iran and Turkey (radars and/or troposcatter shots), most of the bases in RvN, Thailand, and the rest of the Pacific not to mention every base in the CONUS and Europe. It was a great assignment. General Stoney was a cross country runner in college and ran all his life. His aides, as it turned out, ran with him and I have been a runner ever since. I got picked up for Major BPZ from that tour and then it was off to ACSC in Montgomery, the place of my birth, yet again.

After ACSC I was given command of the 1998th Communications Squadron at Korat RTAFB, Thailand. June stayed in Montgomery and finished her BSBA degree in accounting at Auburn and most of the course work for her MBA. It was 1973 and operations were almost over for our Vietnam and Thailand operations. The comm squadron at Korat was a big one, with lots of heavy tropo and AUTODIN/AUTOVON operations. June came to Bangkok over Christmas break and we had a great holiday together, one of our most memorable. But fun doesn't last forever and eventually most USAF officers, at least the unlucky ones, end up at the Pentagon…which was my next assignment.

As it turned out, I actually liked my Pentagon time (and that was to be considerable before it was all over). My father being a history teacher, I grew up around history books and history discussions. I still read more history than any other subject. Well, the Pentagon is FULL of history…and there's more to it than that fabled purple water fountain in the basement! One of my jobs in the Plans and Doctrine Branch of the Directorate of Command, Control, and Communications, was working with the history of communications-electronics in the Air Force which, of course, traces its roots to the Army Air Corps and the Army Airways Communications System of WWII. It was a great staff assignment for me and I got another BPZ selection and was picked up for an assignment to Columbia University in New York City.

During the Viet Nam era the USAF attached a field grade officer, with Pentagon experience (usually), to the various academic “military think tanks” in some major American universities. These officers served a primary purpose of helping the academic communities write less caustic anti-military (OK, “more accurate”) stuff during that era by facilitating easy and direct access to HQ USAF information and data.

My assignment was to the Institute of War and Peace Studies at Columbia University. I loved it! One of the professors was in the OSS in WWII and had great stories to tell. He also introduced me to every kind of Chinese food, New York City having, he said, the finest Chinese food in the world outside of China itself. While I was at Columbia I came out on the senior service schools list and went back to Washington to attend ICAF. That was yet another great year, running around Fort McNair and up and down the D.C. waterfront. Yep, the academics were good too. It was also my most intensive association with Marine Corps officers. I knew some from Pentagon assignments, of course, but not socially or athletically. The ones I met at ICAF really did embody the “whole man” concept -- true scholar warriors … and great runners!

My next assignment was another command job, the 1978th Communications Group at Howard AB in the Panama Canal Zone. I had to take a course in Spanish before going to Panama, which stood me good stead, once telling a table full of Panamanian dignitaries, in my best Spanish, that I was pregnant! Besides command of a great bunch of officers and troops in the 1978th, one of my most memorable events from that assignment was marching as the Commander of Troops in the last Joint Military 4th of July Parade before turning over the Panama Canal and the Zone to the Republic of Panama.

I came back from Panama in June1980 to command the 2045th Communications Group at Andrews. Andrews was a big group with a major part of the Presidential communications support activities. My deputy at the 2045th married a young captain from Tinker who had previously been a computer instructor at USAFA. She wanted to get married in the cadet chapel so we all trekked out to Colorado Springs and I got to be the best man for my deputy at the only wedding in that chapel I've ever been to! (…I think).

After two plus years at Andrews, I was sent back to Germany in January 1983 to Ramstein as the Vice Commander of the European Communications Division. June and I liked our assignments in Germany. I especially liked the Autobahns and driving my cars flat out! That's another thing Brett Dula and I have in common. As SAC Air Force brats, we learned to appreciate the auto hobby shops and we've both been lifelong “car guys,” he better than I. He once had a Mercedes 300SL gullwing and my best was a Triumph TR-4A, which June, mostly, drove for 17 years. We have Curtis LeMay to thank for auto hobby shops. Now there's a piece of USAF history to study. There was more to LeMay than bombers…important things, like hobby shops! And I'm not kidding.

Just shy of two years at Ramstein, I was brought back in 1984 to the Defense Communications Agency for a special assignment under Lt Gen Win Powers, whom I worked for when he was a colonel on the Air Staff. At DCA I ran a special R&D study on deep underground basing and learned all about tunnel boring machines. Now those are cool machines! I rode on one building a deep drainage tunnel under Atlanta. My “handler” for that trip was a rocket scientist of some sort from the Defense Nuclear Agency assigned to my special study group. I have no idea where that study ever went, if anywhere (most studies don't), because I cut that short to take command of the 1800the Communications Wing, headquartered in the Pentagon.

This was to be my final assignment in the Air Force. I had lots of bosses: the Air Force senior communicator at the time, a Lt Gen on the Air Staff; the commander of the Air Force Communications Command at Scott; and the Deputy Undersecretary of the Air Force for somethingorother. The 1800th was a very spooky outfit and long since gone (as far as I know). Like the White House Communications Agency people, every officer and NCO was hand picked from the best in the Air Force worldwide. They were the smartest people I've ever known or worked with.

Well, all the fun was cut short in Jan 1990 when I had a heart attack while TDY at Scott. I was stabilized by the Scott hospital, air evaced (only nightingale flight I ever had) to Andrews and had a catheterization and angioplasty at Walter Reed. In Aug 1990 I was medically retired.

Well, after looking around a little I took a job with a government contractor in Rosslyn but that only lasted about six months. I was playing golf at Army Navy with one of my old Air Force friends in the summer of 1991 and he said the newly appointed Director of Defense Information was looking for a communications engineer with some background in computer software modeling and would I be interested. I was, so I did, and that began my second career in the government, still in DoD. I was titled the DoD “Functional Information Manager for C3I” and had lots of fun traveling around the DoD for about five years helping the C3I community do activity and information modeling with subsequent large scale computer code developments. These were for major systems like those in Cheyenne Mountain or other big command and control operations. I think most of it has long since become obsolete, given the rate of change in information technology, especially software.

In April 1996 I left the Pentagon for the last time to take a job as the program manager for the Government Emergency Telecommunications System at the National Communications System, a dual-hat responsibility of the Director of the Defense Information Systems Agency, the old outfit where I learned all about tunnel boring machines. Well this time, the job was working with the telephone industry to develop and deploy a priority telephone calling capability for special users of the public telephone networks. This was right up my alley and I loved it.

I traveled around the country, spoke at many conferences and symposiums, and led a great group of government engineers and contractors. The United States is the only nation in the world to have such a special service and which supports DoD, DHS, state and local emergency management operations nationwide, and last, but really first, the White House. Part of my duties for the NCS included working from time to time at the “undisclosed location.” On one of my visits to said location, I was stopped at the entrance by the wary guards and stood there at parade rest (or the civilian equivalent) for a long time answering questions…until they asked “where have you been this morning?” to which I replied, as if it were any of his damned business, “getting a thallium treadmill test of my heart!” The heavily armed watchdogs quickly realized that my glowing appearance on their scope was not from a nuke in my pocket but the thallium (apparently some sort of radioactive isotope) in my blood stream. Yes, like so many before, the GETS PM job was full of memorable events!

I retired, for a second time, in February 2007, and moved PCS to Greenville, NC. I had a small consulting practice in emergency communications for two years and then hung up my spurs for good…well so far. Now I focus on helping June, when she lets me.

This story has been about me, my career, but I can't end it without talking about the most important person in my life, ever since we were married on 15 July 1966. What a trooper June has been. She has fended for herself during many separations, some brief, others long. She spent a lot of years as the “commander's wife,” no small chore and a heckofa leadership job she didn't ask for. She has always excelled. She was the epitome of the “officer's wife,” from white gloves to being there 24/7 for the units' families. She is and always has been a proud woman, an accomplished woman. I've never met a harder worker.

She was my backbone when I sometimes lost mine. She was my conscience when I needed another one. And she made her own way and her own life inside and beyond our Air Force life. June went to college after we were married, at many schools because we PCS'd often. She was a great student, always making straight A's in her accounting major. I already mentioned she is an Auburn BS and MBA graduate. Over the years she was a DoD accountant.

She was the DoD Schools on-site representative in Panama handling the transfer of all the Panama Canal Zone schools to the DoD school system. In Germany in 1983-84 she ran the Army's central accounting office in Kaiserslautern and taught accounting for the University of Maryland. She worked as a CPA in Arlington and started her own CPA firm in 1990 about the time I retired from USAF and still operates an office in Greenville and Annandale, VA. June is devoted to her mother and father, who now live nearby. Nobody could ever hope for a better daughter or a better wife than June. She's the best thing that ever happened to me as we've traveled the world and built our lives together… and Greenville is our final PCS (probably).

Looking back on my career, I'd do most of it again. I loved my 26 years as an Air Force officer. My upbringing and the Academy trained me for that. And my Air Force career trained me to be a better DoD and later DHS civil servant. I spent my entire career working for the American people and I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

31 March 2011


                     June and John in 2007


          June and Amazon Yellow-Nape parrot Lucie. We sing duets.

Editor's comment:

John still retains his great sense of humor. When he submitted this he said,

"I assume we'll be able to edit some our stories even after they are posted. We'll need to do that when we die so our classmates will know we're gone."

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