Class Of 1964 USAF Academy

My History

Keith Edward Luchtel

I cannot remember a time when I didn't want to fly! I grew up in a small town in Iowa, Milford, which had a small airport located about midway between the town and a beautiful lake (Okoboji). The lake and the airport were my fascinations for as long as I can remember. I used to hang around the airport and pump gas and clean airplanes for payment in Champ time. The airport owner would nap in the back and I would scout the lake.

I heard about USAFA soon after the congress authorized it and immediately knew that was for me. No more thoughts of West Point or Annapolis for this kid. Milford was a great place to grow up, dead as hell in the winter and a popular summer Midwest destination. There wasn't much to do after Labor Day until Memorial Day except play sports and even do a little studying. I lettered in everything there was to letter in and was class president and that sort of thing. At this point I should confess that there were only 42 in my class – so, to those who know the real me - understand that I am not exaggerating – there just wasn't a whole lot of competition!

I had a great family. My dad ran a small business and my mother raised me, my sister Michele and my brother Dean – born in that order. Although not close in age, we have remained best friends and our spouses have fit right into that happy circumstance.

Our Congressman, Charles B. Hoeven, made his appointments based on the academy test results. Luckily he had two slots in 1960 and John Lorber and I made the cut. My first time on a military installation was when I went to Offutt for qualifying examinations. I was really impressed with the base and the friends I made there – several of whom became classmates.

Doolie summer was traumatic to say the least. I was in 41st Squadron and had absolutely no talent for marching. Thank God I could crank out pushups! I was a standout alright, but not the way one wants to be a standout! And I lost my roommate to an injury about two weeks in. One of the little nuggets of wisdom gained from USAFA came out of that. Nick left and I was on my own. A Firstie came in and put me “at ease” and explained that it was just about impossible to make it without a roommate He explained that he had been designated to be available to me. I could knock on his door if things got to be too much and he would try to help. I never had to call upon him, probably because as he was leaving he turned back into the room and left behind the first real insight I gained about my situation. Something like: “Luchtel, you can make it if you keep a sense of humor – find something to laugh about every night and remember most of this is just plain BS.” That probably explains my attitude for the next four years! Com's List material I was not! But I did make the Dean's List once when roommate Jim Graham and I slept through breakfast. There wasn't much to do on confinement except study.

The next lucky break in life was being assigned to Playboy 19 after Doolie summer! What a great grouping within a great group – the 19th Squadron of the Class of 1964. Wow! I had great roommates: Ron, Frank, Mike, Ron again and Jim (right order?). My classmates shaped the rest of my life. I never have been among more outstanding people. My thanks to each of you for what you taught me through the friendships and experiences we shared.

Our European Field Trip was another life shaping event. In Paris a friend from Milford, Iowa, introduced me to Patricia Moss of Louisville, Kentucky. We had a fabulous couple of days together and went our separate ways. But into the little black book she went! Skipping ahead: the route from Milford to Nashville and Sewart AFB runs through Louisville, Kentucky. Patti and I have been married nearly 45 years and our Best Man, Harvey Manekofsky, has never forgotten an anniversary!! We have daughters Kathleen (Omaha) and Kristina (San Diego). Kathleen has a daughter who will graduate from Pomona College in May, a son in Creighton Prep and a son in fifth grade. Kristina has a four year old son and an 18 month old daughter.

I persevered in my main goal at USAFA: make it to pilot training – I was still fascinated with airplanes. I went to pilot training at Webb and roomed with Ron again. Thirteen months of fun and frolic later I got my wings and chose the C-130 from which to see the world. Then it was off to Sewart AFB and the “real, real Air Force”. Harvey Manekofsky was there when I arrived and we rented a duplex together in Nashville. Butch Brady, Roy Moore, Tom Rauk and Joe Redden, Buck Sheward and Jerry Holmes were also at Sewart (my apologies to anyone I have overlooked). We checked out as ACs while still first lieutenants shortly after which we (Joe first as I recall) were dispatched to Hurlburt Field to become FACs. I think Butch went to Huns.

I think my first time in Vietnam was in late 1965 or early 1966. I had several TDYs there in the C-130 and never have figured out the total time spent there. The most memorable was the year tour as an O-1E FAC in South Vietnam from April of 1968 to April of 1969. And the most memorable part of that tour was spent along the Cambodian Border at Tay Ninh. And if I were certain the statute of limitations has run, I could add some interesting stories.

The most interesting professional experience in my short Air Force career and the one of which, upon reflection, I am most proud, occurred there. The USAFA training paid off in a big way to a little village along the border. As everyone knows, FACs knew their area like their life depended on it – which it did. I was given a divert order while in the air. Fighters were near to the check-in point and I grease penciled the new divert target coordinates on the window and pulled out my chart to locate the new target and select a new rendezvous point. When I plotted the target it was a small village which I flew over regularly and from which I normally received friendly waves. No waves, something's wrong. I knew that sometimes NVA would be in the area. Having just flown over it and gotten my waves, I was certain there was no NVA or VC activity in that area – certainly not inside the village. I radioed for verification of the coordinates. Same set came back. I told the controller there had to be an error and asked for a check. Soon there is a new voice on the radio. He says he is a Major and I am being given a direct order to bomb those coordinates. I told him there was no valid military target at those coordinates, and I was therefore required to reject the order as unlawful. The next voice was a Colonel who spoke of my PCS to Fort Leavenworth if I didn't bomb those coordinates. I asked the Colonel if he would first please double check the coordinates. Next voice, after a pause, was the controller again - with a correction to the coordinates. They had been reversed. This was an area of Vietnam where it was possible to reverse the coordinates and still be in the same general area. As you see, I really didn't sleep through those law classes.

After Vietnam it was back to flying C-130s, this time at Dyess AFB. Good people, good missions. And some missions were of the "Very Interesting" type.

Another story: I had been shot down on Flag Day, 1968. Not very dramatic, but I will admit it scared the hell out me. I was picked up by Army ground troops almost right away. I got cut up a bit, hurt my neck and back. A medic patched me up and pronounced me OK. Having had my request to go home by ship declined, I flew the next day. 19th troops will remember our friend in Denver, George MacDonald. George was from Scotland and his parents requested that I fly a little American Flag on a combat mission. I got the letter and flag in early June and decided I would fly it on Flag Day and mail it back. I did so with a note that the blood on the flag was mine. Anyway, as time went on the back problem worsened and I would end up finishing some missions with numb legs by pushing on my knees for rudder control. I could not sit for long periods without problems. Not good for a FAC and not so great for a C-130 pilot either! Eventually some Colonel saw me getting help getting out of the plane and told me to report to the flight surgeon. The flight surgeon was a good guy and told me he wouldn't ground me, but that I shouldn't expect to pass another flight physical.

There followed a consultation with my friendly squadron commander and the base personnel officer. I am told the Air Force wants to keep me and I can pick my next assignment so long as it does not involve flying. I give this some thought and go back and ask if I can go to law school. He comes up with a program; I take the tests and get accepted by a few law schools. Orders are drafted, movers are called and plans are made. Whoops, personnel officer calls and says I am not eligible for the program because academy grads are excluded (guess in those days they figured they had spent enough on us). Long story short: I decide to proceed to law school on my own with the understanding I would likely be accepted back as a JAG Officer.

I started Drake Law School in August of 1970 and graduated in December, 1972. The VA rated me 50% disabled and paid for books, tuition and gave me a living allowance. Heckuvadeal! I had become involved in political affairs soon after starting law school with the intention of making POW treatment a public and political issue. I don't know that I accomplished much as the public interest in and concern about our POWs had already started to significantly increase at that time. But I got acquainted with our congressional delegation, the governor and state legislators in the process. I did well in law school and was recruited by several firms. I decided to stay in Des Moines and became the 16th member of what is now known as Nyemaster Goode. The firm has grown to be Iowa's largest (remember, that as Iowa's largest we are still less than 100). I stayed involved politically while practicing trial law and eventually added lobbying to my repertoire. After a few years of doing both, I decided to drop the trial practice and concentrate on the lobbying.

Another story: I think it was the fall of 1998 when I got a call from EDS asking if I would represent them concerning a Y2K (remember when the world would end in 2000 because of two-digit dated computer programs?) project with the state of Iowa. They needed someone familiar with the state government who could help introduce their expert, Jim Graham. I immediately asked if that was James L. Graham. After a pause they asked how I knew. Jim and I had a fun few months while he worked in Iowa – which survived the Y2K experience in great shape!

I am still working full time as a lobbyist and have three other younger lawyers to whom I hope to soon pass the torch – say in a year or two. I have been blessed with good clients to whom integrity is as important as access. Being a graduate of USAFA is a great credential for those kinds of clients. They have given me some great projects to work on: passage of one of the first living will statutes in the country for the Iowa Medical Society, passage of enabling and funding legislation for building the Wells Fargo Arena in downtown Des Moines for the Des Moines Polk county area chamber and civic groups, development of environmental legislation for Monsanto and lending pro bono assistance to crafting economic development programs with the last three governors (two democrats and one republican).

I have had a very fortunate run and been blessed with a great family. I often acknowledge the great debt I owe the USAFA and the class of 1964. The status and experience of being a member of USAFA '64 has opened many doors and, aside from family, has been the most significant accomplishment of my life. My thanks to all of my classmates!

Besides learning the importance of keeping a sense of humor about things, I have learned a few other things. It truly is amazing what you can accomplish if you don't care about who gets the credit. And it is tragic when the best thing that can be said about a man is that he made a lot of money.

And, oh, yes, I am still flying experimental and light airplanes – and loving every minute!

God Bless America!!


June 15, 2014: As our Fiftieth Reunion approaches, I am pleased to report that Patti and I are still in excellent health as are our children and grandchildren. 2012 was an eventful year as I retired from the practice of law on December 31. I failed retirement a few months later. I became the first Executive Director of the newly established Iowa Public Information Board. The board was created to interpret, enforce, train public officials and the public, and advise the legislature and governor on Iowa's Open Meetings and Open Records Statutes. It has been a rewarding experience with lots of long days establishing a new state agency. It has also been very enjoyable and rewarding working with public officials at all levels of state and local government to make Iowa government transparent and responsive to the citizens we serve. For our participatory democracy to work, informed citizens are required. To be informed, citizens need access to information. There is a lot of work to be done!!

The board is functioning well and hopefully I will be able to become available for some of the traveling Patti has had in mind for our retirement years.

I am fortunate to be still flying my Piper Archer. And I have sold my last ultra-light!

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