Class Of 1964 USAF Academy

Tom's Tale


1941 – War baby, born just 7 months before Pearl Harbor
1959 – Graduated high school, applied to West Point, only an alternate
1960 – At Kenyon College, again a West Point alternate but fortuitously offered principal appt to USAFA
1964 – Graduated from the Greatest USAFA Class, entered UHT
1965 – Instructor, USAF Helicopter School, Stead AFB then Sheppard
1967 – Off to Vietnam (Ubon RTAFB), HH-43B
1968 - Back to UPT in T-38
1969 – C-141 at Travis, back to the war
1971 – Stanford for MS in Applied Mechanics, instructor at USAFA in 1972
1974 – Off to Colorado State for PhD in Mech Engr
1976 – Back to USAFA , “Military Mech Dept”, Acting Dept Head 1982-84
1984 – Retired as LtCol, hired as Dean of Science and Engineering, Saginaw Valley State Univ
2003 - Left dean job, returned to full-time teaching as Prof of ME

The Early Years

My family was typical middle-class, father a bank employee and mother a homemaker. Little brother turned out to be a successful lawyer and my best friend but was just a little brother in the early days! I was a nerd, loved science and tinkering, and graduated near the top of my high school class. Now, I have no idea why I became interested in a military career. Today I learn from my brother (our family historian, my father's side) that the only military man in our family was a great grandfather, Thor Johannson, who served in the Swedish Army as a representative of his community. That would be a recessive gene, indeed!

Getting ready to graduate from high school, I contacted my congressman , Gerald Ford, 5th District of Michigan (yes, later to become President) for a nomination to West Point, but was advised that another fellow would get the principal slot. So off I go to Kenyon College in Ohio for my freshman year; but I tried again for West Point a second time. Well, Congressman Ford (at that time they actually talked to you on the telephone) again told me that he could not give me the principal nomination to WooPoo. (Nominations at that time were politically based and my family had no money to donate to politicians}. But, then he said “…there is this new school in Colorado called the Air Force Academy and I could have his principal nomination there”. I grabbed it and USAFA was about the best shoot-from-the-hip/dumb kid decision I ever made. I now imagine slogging in the Vietnamese mud rather than flying above it all in a/c comfort.


My story is like many others…hard work, testing our physical endurance, humiliation with a purpose, etc. Unfortunately I had a distressing family situation right at the beginning of Recognition Week (end of Doolie Year). Both parents passed away within a week's time; mother from cancer and father from a heart attack. I nearly quit the Academy to look after my brother but family convinced me to continue. My grades as a freshman were quite good but I managed to whittle down my GPA to just above a 3.0 as a senior. But then, one must have some good times! The good times were supported by my 1963 Stingray purchased for a whopping $3700! (How I wish I had that car today). I spent a semester on wing staff as Training Officer but I have no clue what or who we trained…I think it was a feel-good position and real training was done by the officer staff. Lest anyone think I was a goody-two-shoes, I did something egregious (but forgotten) and spent a helluva lot of time on the tour path that year.

Nearing graduation I heard a presentation on helicopters and I bit on the offer of UHT with primary in T-28s at Randolph and advanced in helicopters at Stead in Reno. All 150 of us got seriously hooked on whirlybirds until four years later when we were ordered back to advanced fixed wing training, also at Randolph and then told we could not return to helicopters. (Another inscrutable USAF decision that resulted in about 75 highly trained chopper pilots separating rather than leave helicopters…and a loss of about $75M in taxpayer money).

Into the "Real Air Force"

Following UHT, I was selected to remain as an Instructor Pilot in H-19s (don't quite know why) and then the school moved from Stead to Sheppard in Wichita Falls, TX. Great fun was had in ferrying those cranky old machines all that way but the ordeal was made more palatable by overnights at civilian fields even when an Air Force base was next door!

In 1966 my number came up for Vietnam and I transitioned into the HH-43B for Local Base Rescue. My orders came for the war and they said I was being assigned to Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base (all others were assigned to Saigon, 38th ARRS for further assignment in-country). I had no clue where that was located nor did I know anyone who could help me until my Flight Commander came along. He said: “Son, when your transport lands in Saigon, do not even get off the aircraft no matter how hungry or hot you are. Stay on board to Bangkok and then hitch up to Ubon”. I did not completely understand this until arriving at that wonderful little base from which to fight the war from afar. So off I went to Ubon in mid-1967, staying for a year with the famous 8th TFW commanded at the time by Robin Olds.

In February, my detachment commander held a meeting to decide who would go TDY to Danang to help with the Tet Offensive medical evacuation. TK_DaNang.png To this day I cannot believe he had us draw straws and yours truly picked the short one, so off I went. It was an exciting several weeks and today when I relay that spirit to liberal colleagues at Vietnam War veteran's panels on my college campus, I am never invited back!

Trash Hauling

Following T-38 advanced training at Randolph (again) with a small class of mostly '64 pilots, I chose C-141's and was assigned to Travis in the 75th MAS in 1969, eventually qualifying as an aircraft commander. (Truth be told, I was a lousy formation pilot; aircraft were not made to fly that close together). So back to the war I went, flying the classic route of Honolulu, Wake, Clark, in-country, Yokota and then home. Somehow, I ended up in the 60th MAW Command Post with a 9-day shift work tour followed by 9 days back in the cockpit or occasionally some vacation time.

Then I had a tough decision to make. I auditioned for the MAC Briefing Team for the MAC Commander, was asked to apply for test pilot school and then USAFA offered to send me for graduate study and a follow-on assignment as an instructor in the infamous Mech Dept! Well, I chose graduate school and picked a nearby university…Stanford. A rather dumb place to go after not making any engineering calculations beyond my checkbook for seven years... and then entering that very competitive school where faculty offer no EI at any time. On top of that, I'm told by USAFA to get it done in 12 months, an incredibly short time at a school like that. But under extreme pain and with family support, I finished.

Back to USAFA

Thanks to a rigorous Teacher Training Program in the Mech Dept, all of the new instructors became rather proficient in classroom management and professorial stage-acting in short order. I found that I really enjoyed teaching engineering to young people and after two years I was asked if I wanted to continue on for a doctoral degree. So off to Colorado State I went to follow in the footsteps of Bill Browning ('63) and Gary Ganong ('64), working on an Air Force contract under Fred Smith (CSU was a much better choice than Stanford for me). Once again I had my orders: finish in two years, which I did with some pain but again the help of an understanding family.

I progressed through the faculty and military ranks from 1976 thru 1982 and spent 1982-84 as acting department head. It was fun, too, to train cadets in the T-41 and then to transition into the T-39 for the last six years of my assignment (a lesson here; I met my flying gates but kept my mouth shut and continued to fly the T-39 until it left the Air Force inventory). At that point I could see that moving on to O-6 was a long shot because of my extended USAFA faculty assignment and all of the schooling. But I must admit that those last two years were heavenly: leading a faculty department of 22 high spirited officers, teaching one course, managing an active wind energy research program and flying the T-39 once a week…what could be better?

Retirement loomed in 1984 and I entered the job market, looking for a university administrative/faculty position. I interviewed at a number of schools but settled on Saginaw Valley State University in east-central Michigan, not far from my boyhood home in Grand Rapids. I became Dean of the College of Science, Engineering and Technology with its 75 faculty and seven departments.

The Civilian World

It was invigorating to lead an academic unit for 19 years. In total I think I contributed to the education of about 4000 young budding engineers in my classrooms, developed research and graduate academic programs, formed new laboratories with industry partners and so on. But it is distressing to see petty politics so rampant in an enterprise which should focus solely on educating young people…period. So in 2003, I backed away from administration and returned to full-time faculty teaching; this is really where the action is. And I'm still at it even at my advanced age. I'm also a cancer survivor after a rather massive oral operation in 2009. I knew I could return to teaching when my students could understand me as I said "Free-Body Diagram", "Equilibrium" and "S__t".

But I do have some fun along the way. I fish when I can and have gone to Canada for the last 30 years for a week of fantastic trout and bass fishing. Moehs2012.jpg Some of my classmates may remember my gun collecting and dealing in firearms while a cadet (I kept my stock in the overhead cabinets above the door to my room, a big-time violation). I learned a few years ago that some of you still have the German Lugers I sold you which have appreciated in value significantly in the last 50 years.

I am still a collector but now of aviation antiques and memorabilia. I have a significant collection of the WWI aerial combat paintings of Henry Farre; about 70 of his oils hang around USAFA but my collection is much smaller! I also have a mostly complete collection of signed memoirs of Vietnam POWs (why haven't my POW classmates written theirs?) and other POW ephemera; it's my great honor to remember their sacrifice for freedom in this small way. To satisfy my voracious appetite for collectables, I also deal in aviation antiques. My stock can be viewed at

I have not mentioned family much; partly because of two marriages which failed and for which I have much regret. But my four children are a delight. The eldest is Kristin who is on the University of Michigan faculty in psychology and she has blessed me with two lovely grandchildren. Next is Erin who practices physical therapy and now travels as a sales rep for J&J; she smartly chooses San Diego as home. Jeffrey is an MD on the Medical School faculty, also at U of M; he and his wife have two vigorous little boys. Lastly is Ian who is now a senior at Michigan State and has been editor–in-chief of the student newspaper with a readership of 40,000. He is hopeful for an investigative career in the changing field of journalism come December of 2014.

This is my story and I stick by it!

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