Class Of 1964 USAF Academy

Don's Story

My story began September 29, 1941 in Vancouver, B.C., Canada. Yep, I'm a Canuck and proud of it, eh! We lived there until 1951 and I was well on my way to becoming a juvenile delinquent as a member of the somewhat tame “Welwyn Street Gang”. Fortunately my Dad and Mom (Roy and Alice Heide) decided to take an opportunity to emigrate to the Seattle area about that time and five years later become United States citizens. My brother (Allen) and I had dual citizenship for a number of years. Mine disappeared when I enrolled as a cadet at USAFA.

In 1952, we moved to Star Lake in Federal Way, Washington. It proved to be a wonderful thing for our family. We did not have much, but we were surrounded by great people in our neighborhood, and went to a junior high and high school where my brother and I thrived. In due course, we both became President's of the student body. I was valedictorian of my class, quarterbacked the football team and was a starting guard in basketball. I was both surprised and happy that I had achieved some amazing goals, but more importantly, by the time I graduated I had learned an invaluable lesson that served me well for the rest of my life. Accomplishments are great, but how you achieve them is much more important.

The greatest blessing in my life also began in this same time frame. In the sixth grade I spotted a really cute little blond girl in the front of the class and was smitten for good. I made my big move the next year with a Christmas present that I had her best friend pick out (even back then I knew my limitations and the value of nurturing important partnerships!). It was a home run, and the game was on! When we “graduated” from the eighth grade, we officially started “going steady”. In 1964, one week after graduation, we again made it official as my best friend, Ree, became my wife. We now have four wonderful children (Liesl, Sean, Susie and Krista), four life enriching spouses (Chan, Angie, Mike and Ryan) and ten beautiful grandchildren that are keeping us young as they wear us to a frazzle (Ryan, Bailey, Dalton, Jordan, Lauren, Austin, Trey, Donovan, Kanoa and Kaya). The little kid from Canada is really glad we moved to the States.

After one year of college at Pacific Lutheran University, I applied for USAFA. I am positive my year at PLU was the difference as I won the competition for Congressman Thor C. Tollefson's appointment. Thus began putting together one of the most important building blocks in my life. There are few days that go by, even now in retirement, that I don't cherish and feel grateful for what those four years did in preparing me for the crazy, unexpected ride ahead. I don't know how many times I have literally said to myself in the most dire of situations, “I survived the Academy, I can survive this!”.

Survival started early. Like Day One! I remember staring at the ceiling and thinking, “What on earth have I done?” And also thinking, “No way can I fail and slink back home with my tail between my legs.” I think most of us were in that boat. And without each other, none of us would have made it. What a great lesson in humility and teamwork we were blessed with. From a pretty bleak start, the days added up and the confidence started to slowly build. And then we even had some bright spots. Who can forget the field trip to Cripple Creek? We all missed out on the rich history of the place, but we did find the ice cream shop, gorged ourselves, and then promptly hurled our banquet far and wide before boarding the buses for the ride “home”. My personal little Doolie trial took an unexpected turn for the better when Kenny Wentzel and I did a spoof of a Smack being chewed out by an upperclassman at the pre-Christmas holiday show in front of the entire wing. When the upperclassmen returned, instead of chewing me out for real, all they all wanted me to do was reenact the stupid Smack. They all thought it was great fun, and so did I considering the alternative. I could literally go on for hours with stories about that incredible first year, but let's just say it changed us all forever, and finally, blessedly, was over.

Then the real work commenced. Plowing through the unending mental, physical and psychological challenges of the next three years. They were so tough, but so rewarding. And we had some great times through it all. There was Barry Barnes and I hiding in Talbott's closet after dinner, and watching him just about jump out of his skin when he slid open the door and we shouted “Boo!!” There was me cracking the books from Call to Quarters until far beyond Taps, while Sandy Purcell, resident genius, was over on the other side of the room writing poetry or working on a chapter in his novel. The same Sandy, by the way, who one year validated all of his finals, with the exception of, I think, Mechanical Engineering. He carried an F into the final exam (he hadn't cracked the book open that semester), spent the week studying for that one final, and then went out and crucified the curve. He got an “A” in the subject! Then there was me and the rest of the summer squadron officers hiding in our rooms while Raleigh Garcia was pacing up and down the hall lecturing the Doolies on how “real men” did not accept boodle packages (the packages were piled to the ceiling in the hallway for about the length of an eighteen wheeler). He did such a great job that not a single Smack dared to humiliate himself by finding and taking his packages. We laughed ourselves silly, and then, of course, enjoyed the boodle cache for the rest of the training period.

My most cherished memories are those I experienced with my classmates, especially my closest friends in the 11th Squadron and on the varsity soccer team. It was a truly humbling honor to be our Squadron Commander during the spring semester, and to be a Co-Captain (with Jim Renschen) and MVP of the soccer team in our senior year.

After graduation, and a long-awaited wedding and honeymoon, it was off to Willy for pilot training. Despite a year-long neck and neck battle with Sandy Purcell to see who would lead the Boner Board, I was able to select an F4C assignment to Bentwaters, England. We got there in May of 1965. In June, England hosted and won the soccer World Cup. For a guy who loved soccer, I had died and gone to heaven! The flying was also awesome, until a twist of fate put everything in a cocked hat. When we were contemplating choosing our first assignments, I was assured that my “learning experience” in the back seat would be no longer than six months. Sounded reasonable. Our wing became the first one combat ready in Europe in the F4C. In August, one third of the pilots, primarily based on seniority, were plucked up and sent to Nam. Two months later, another third. All the fillbacks were SEA returnees. Then the wing made the decision that promotion to the front seat would be based strictly on seniority. That left us 17 remaining 1964 USAFA grads at the bottom of a very large pile. We all started volunteering for anything and everything to get out of there. I once had an assignment to go to McDill to upgrade to the front seat. Two weeks before we were to leave, the plug was pulled. Suddenly, there were “too many pilots” in Viet Nam. None of us got to spend much time in the front seat. Our turn to upgrade happened to come about the same time as when we had to turn in our resignations (one year in advance because we were overseas). Interestingly enough, one week after I resigned, TAC Headquarters offered me any aircraft I wanted if I retracted my papers. I told them I wasn't going to play that game. They already had two years when they could have put me in hot air balloons and I would have been happy. They lost all 17 of us. What a waste! I know we ultimately had it a whole lot better than many of our classmates, but we were obviously disenchanted enough to abandon our dreams of Air Force careers. It wasn't all bad though. Ree and I loved living in Ipswich among the locals, and having babies! We left England with Liesl, Sean and Susie on board. And during the last year, at the behest of our Wing Commander (who was looking for something positive for our service population to relate to in 1968), I was the “head coach” of the base football team. Joe Rodwell and three other pilots played on the team and did the real coaching. I watched a lot of game film with Joe every afternoon, held a clipboard and whistle, and gave motivational speeches. We ended up winning the UK championship, beat the Air Force German champs for the first time in twelve years, and then whipped the Army's Berlin Bears in the first ever military Super Bowl.

Our next stop was Minneapolis, MN, where I became a pilot for Northworst Airlines. Shortly thereafter (8 months, to be exact) the real lessons in life began. I came home one afternoon to our new home, three children and a wife, and my layoff notice in my hand. It was my first up close and personal contact with unions that showed me they were all about dues collection and the hell with low seniority members. The coup de grace was eight years and four strikes later when ALPA negotiated away the seniority rights of all 500 of us so Northworst could recommence growing with new, young pilots. Nice guys. Fortunately for us, I had pretty much given up on the airlines long before that. For the first five years of our layoff, I was basically a management consultant. By wonderful happenstance, two of my assignments were with a relatively small discount retailer called Target Stores. After my second stint with them, they offered me a job as their first ever Industrial Engineer. I accepted, and my real life's work commenced.

When I started with Target, we had 48 stores and one distribution center. When I retired 25 years later in 2000, we had well over a thousand stores, thirteen huge distribution centers and plans for many more of both. While it was not always a bouquet of roses, I really had a unique and charmed career during an amazing period of performance and growth in an ethical company with a great culture that I got to help shape. I started out doing projects in the stores. First we standardized the receiving operations. Then cashiering, or as we call it, the Front End. Then the shelf stocking operations. All of these ended up improving our bottom line and our service to our “Guests”. Some of the things that you may notice in a Target store that I had a “hand” in would be scanning at checkout (we were the first discount retailer to remove tickets from each item, put the price on the shelf, and use the product bar code to ring the sale). Pretty standard these days, but a little scary when we took the leap first. Another would be the “bag wells” that allow the cashier to scan the item and put it directly into the bag in one step. Another would be the opportunity to ask a floor teammate if an item out-of-stock on the floor might be available in the backroom. They use a hand-held device that can give you a quick answer. They not only can see if it is in-stock, but also the exact location. This became possible when we were the first to put locator systems in our stores, just like in our distribution centers. After my work in the stores, I migrated to Distribution. After a number of various assignments, like project managing the design and construction of our first ever mechanized distribution center (and then becoming the General Manager of it's first two start-up years), and crafting (with a cast of hundreds) our Distribution Strategy, I was chosen to lead that area. I did so for the next 15 years, retiring as a Senior Vice-President. Because we, and most particularly I, knew nothing about what we were doing when we started, we had few preconceived notions and easily became very innovative, quite by accident. We started out copying the best practices of all our competitors, kept asking stupid questions, built a great culture that survives today, and ultimately became the supply chain operation that others seek to emulate, even the mighty Wal-Mart. Cool!

Alongside this rewarding “accidental” career, Ree and I devoted most of the rest of our time to our family. I am glad we did, because before we knew it, our four children were grown and having families of their own. During this time, our extended family was usually the kids and parents of the soccer teams that I coached for 19 years. What a great vehicle that turned out to be to stay connected with our kids and their best friends!

In 1993, Ree and I were invited for a short visit to Hilton Head Island in South Carolina. It was love at first sight. Every vacation minute for the rest of my career was spent in the condo we purchased on that first visit. We purchased a house in 1998, and moved in permanently in 2000. Blessedly, our children and their children love being here as much as we do. So we get to see them a lot! This summer, for our 50th wedding anniversary, we will have the entire crew here together under one roof for an entire week. What chaos! What joy! What an indelible moment to remember!

Another 50th we are looking forward to is this September at the Academy. I'm not much for reunions, but we sure enjoyed our 11th Squadron get together a couple of years ago in Montana at Klein Gilhousen's ranch. It will be great to see those guys and gals again, as well as other classmates that I remember fondly. Not to mention walking the grounds of the Academy and rubbing shoulders with this generation of cadets.

I just recently watched the DVD “A Year in the Blue”. Thought it was well done. It was neat to see what remains from our ancient times as the first class to spend all four years at the actual Academy site, and what great new traditions have been added over the years. Right near the end, the departing AOC is addressing the squadron he is about to leave and he says something like, “Just remember what I have always told you, ‘work hard, set a good example and treat others like you yourself would like to be treated'”. Those were essentially the same things my wonderful parents said to me as I was growing up. They are words to live by that I hope I have honored. Most of us probably lived lives far different from the ones we thought we would live when we graduated, but with those sort of thoughts guiding us, it's no wonder we have collectively been so successful at contributing positively to our world. I have been, and forever will be, so honored to be counted in your number!

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