Class Of 1964 USAF Academy

Ken's History

There are cardinal dates in every person's life which are forever engraved in memory. One of mine is June 26, 1960. That was the morning that I left Washington National Airport on a Super Constellation for Denver and an awe inspiring, scenic ride early the next morning on a bus to USAFA. About the last enrollment processing event was the swearing-in ceremony concluding with the prophetic words “so help me God”.

A pleasant individual then opened an aluminum and glass door to the cadet upper class welcoming committee waiting beyond on the terrazzo just for us, the current slug of fellow travelers. Things got very fundamental, very fast. I remember, early in that first level of hell, being invited to “gaze at my name tag mister” by one particular personal tutor. Having already been taught that “gazing” was a mortal sin if I did not “intend to buy the place”, I was boresighted to twelve o'clock. But, by invitation I very casually read the name Dixon.

He had famously preceded me to USAFA from my high school in Maryland three years prior but I had never met him. Being a friendly sort, I relaxed, stuck out my right hand and, with a broad grin, said "Hi, I'm Ken Helmig." The rest is mostly fog and push-ups lasting for months.

Still have memories of perpetual hunger, Red Tag Bastards Part I and Part II, The Little Blue Book of Knowledge, Tom LaPlante and the Honor Code. There was also sanctuary. That was the daily Air Power documentary series presented in a cool, dark lecture hall with comfortable seats right after the recital and brief snack mistakenly named “the noon meal”. To this day, if I were to hear a recording of Cronkite introducing AIR POWERRR, I could be snoring before the reverberations quit.

We experienced the next four years at the academy as a solid, united class and only the sixth to enter USAFA. But above all we were unique personalities. Not even “the system” could change that. Even though we lived those years of new experiences together as a class, we did it in our own unique ways. And that's what amazed me so often, how truly outstanding the individuals in the class of '64 were even then. I have a profound respect for our class. Another memory was the remarkable and continual flow of historically notable people we met and from whom we learned during those years. That will stay with me forever. Doolittle Raiders, Flying Tigers, Aviation and Space Pioneers, a continual stream of history was there every day. Many were our academic and military instructors, coaches, mentors and role models. They covered the whole age spectrum. Several of the senior NCOs taught me lessons that have stayed with me to this day. Those who used to say an academy education was useful only academically just was not paying attention.

The other element of life at the academy that was truly unique was the Honor Code. Where else in America could an instructor, at any level of education, hand out the final exam to the class, write a name and office extension number on the board for anyone who may have a question and then leave without hesitation and in complete trust having the expectation that no one would cheat? There were no locked doors in the cadet area. And every cadet's word was his bond. The code was a facet of academy life solely under the control and administration of the cadets collectively and without class or rank distinction. It was an idealistic ethic among idealistic young men and inconceivable today.

Pilot training was at Laughlin where I had the pleasure of being in the first class at DLF to fly brand shiny new T-38s. Went to RF-4C training at Shaw AFB in South Carolina from '65 to '66 and then to the 16th Squadron at Saigon from '66 – '67. I flew 167 missions in Vietnam; 60 in the north and 107 missions elsewhere. Most were flown at night while the natives were moving around and active. Got shot at my fair share of the time, hit a few times, but nothing that a McDonnell Iron Works product could not handle. However, being on the receiving end of a light show is certainly a spectacular and mind-focusing experience. Next came flying and instructing at RAF Alconbury, England; Mountain Home, ID; Shaw, again but for five years this time. Following those operational tours there were a string of staff assignments but most included either T-39 or T-33 flying as well. These assignments were: Eglin AFB, FL (systems test and evaluation); 314th Air Division and Combined Forces Command, Seoul, Korea (operations staff); HQ PACAF (operations staff); Idaho ANG (Advisor and IP).

Travels during the years after graduation from USAFA covered a lot of the globe from Norway to Kenya and Italy to Bangkok. That's not unusual for the military career of a '64 blue tag troop. But, I am probably the only member of the class of '64 who can say that he got bitten on the right gluteus maximus by a lion. Ok, it wasn't your actual full blown Simba, but his head was cheek height with all four on the floor and he had a full set of claws all over the place. Game warden at Paraa Lodge in Uganda said he was just playful that way. Everybody enjoyed the show and I didn't have to buy the beer or waragi that afternoon.

Following the ID ANG assignment, I retired and moved across the airport to a corporate aviation job with Boise Cascade from '86 to '00. We also provided the aviation support for Albertson's Corporation and Ore-Ida Foods as well as world-wide charter services. Our small fleet included a Lear 35 and 55 aircraft as well as three Dassault Falcon 50s. Those years were interesting and fun flying. No two days or trips were ever the same.

Then came retirement number two, and travelling around the country for nine years in our RV visiting all those people who used to write “come visit” in their Christmas cards. It was also a pleasure to revisit the places of interest I had flown to but was able to stay only a day or two. The schedule was always ad hoc and we timed our treks with the seasons, more or less. We always seemed to return to Idaho almost yearly which is where we are now and here we plan to stay.

[ Gone But Not Forgotten ]
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