Class Of 1964 USAF Academy

Tom's History

Tom.jpg My love of aviation came at an early age. I remember building model airplanes in my youth, reading stories about the early aviators, and looking up to the sky whenever an airplane flew overhead. My interest in flying had been stimulated by the opportunity to sit in the cockpit of my uncle's Navy TBM aircraft when he flew in to visit my grandfather. While in high school, I served as a member of the local Ground Observer Corps, calling in aircraft sightings to the Air Force filter center in Grand Rapids. Thus it was no surprise to my family and friends when I accepted an appointment to the U.S. Air Force Academy. The local newspaper published my picture with the news that I was the first person from my hometown in Albion, Michigan to enter the new service academy in Colorado.

The years at the Academy were challenging for me. I was one of the younger members of the class. Most of my roommates were a little bit older and had enlisted service. Ralph Graham, Morrie Sartell, Pappy Van Sickle, and Ed Rossnagle all did their best to keep my view of life in the Cadet Wing in proper perspective. I have memories of the Navy goat “visiting” Vandenberg Hall, five days at sea rocking and rolling aboard the U.S.S Stoddard, a flight across the Rockies during which several classmates induced vomiting among their fellow cadets by drinking milk out of a barf bag, participating in the Kennedy Inaugural Parade, and marching with French Air Force cadets in downtown Marseille, France. I did well in aerodynamics, English, history, and navigation, and not as well in mechanics and differential equations. I was never a strong athlete, but I did enjoy playing tennis with Chet Mercer on weekends. As a doolie, I was a member of the sabre drill team. The following year I joined the aero club and earned my private pilot license before graduation.

After graduation from the Academy, I went to pilot training at Webb AFB, Texas and received my wings upon completion of the T-38 program. In 1965, I was selected for F-4C training at Davis-Monthan AFB and MacDill AFB before being sent to Viet Nam. The air war was intensifying at that time. I was assigned to the 480th Fighter Squadron at Da Nang AB in July 1966. My most memorable missions were strikes near the Hanoi region, night flights over Route Package 1, and being struck by anti-aircraft fire to the west of Vinh. The local flying area became as familiar as the back of my hand. I knew the routes to and from the main target areas and the topography intimately. The squadron was short of back-seat pilots at the time, so I flew double missions on some occasions. This gave me the opportunity to fly with the squadron and wing commanders, wing staff, as well as my primary aircraft commander, Scottie Wilson '62. The steak dinners at the Da Nang Officers' Club were outstanding, but after 117 combat missions, I was looking forward to duty in Europe.

TomF4.jpg Following my combat tour, I was reassigned to the 22nd Fighter Squadron at Bitburg AB, Germany in January 1967. There I embraced the NATO mission. In retrospect, it was a great tour of duty. I flew low-level missions in the Phantom, and on my days off I was able to travel throughout Europe. I had memorable visits to Berlin, Holland, Denmark, Greece, Italy, Switzerland and Libya during this period. While serving in the 22nd Squadron, I was a member of our wing's team in the AFCENT bombing completion at RAF Wildenrath, Germany. We were doing well until a bomb release mechanism malfunctioned and knocked us out of the top of the competition. In spite of not winning, it was rewarding to be part of one of the best F-4D units in Europe. Although we spent a lot of time on alert, there were still memorable times for fun. We had a huge squadron party when a number of us were promoted to captain. We cruised down the Mosel River in the heart of the wine country with an open bar and nearly unlimited beer and wine. The Air Force, in its wisdom, brought us safely back to the base in blue buses. It was a great way to celebrate those two silver bars on the shoulder. In addition to flying, I attended evening classes on the base in a special graduate program. I completed my Master's Degree in Aerospace Operations Management with the University of Southern California just before the end of my Bitburg tour.

In January 1970, I became a Delta Air Lines pilot. It was the beginning of a thirty-two year career. Early on, I learned two most important things a copilot would say were “Clear on the right.” and “I'll take the chicken.” Those were the days when airlines served meal on a tray. Most of the eating took place just before the top-of-descent, as passenger service had a priority over feeding the guys in the cockpit. As a result, most meals were inhaled in a short period of time. My family tells me to this day that I eat too fast. Advancement at Delta was slower than I anticipated. Finally after fifteen years of waiting, Phil Glenn and I became the first of '64 at Delta to become captains. I remember well my first flight with four stripes. I walked on the aircraft, and the copilot said, “What are you doing here? We don't need two copilots.” I replied “Well I was a copilot, but I'm a captain now”. I loved flying the B-737 around Texas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico. Later I moved up to the B-757 and B-767 aircraft. I was selected to become a check airman after a year in the left seat. I helped train and evaluate other pilots in addition to flying the line.

One of my favorite assignments was being a lead pilot during the introduction of the B-767-400 to the Delta fleet. At the time it was a state-of-the-art aircraft. We flew to Maui to practice touch-and-goes in order to be qualified at that airport. That flight resulted in unintended consequences. While we were making multiple approaches at the airport, one family went to the ticket counter to rebook on a different flight. The passengers were not confident in the observed pilots' abilities as they watched the 767 making numerous attempts to land. They thought we must be novices because it appeared to them that we were having difficulty landing. Only after conversing with the customers for a few minutes, was the local agent able to convince the travelers that we were a training flight, and all the go-arounds were a normal part of our training. Later in 2002, I reached the pinnacle of my career when I became a B-777 captain. My retirement flight was a return to Atlanta from Shannon, Ireland with my family aboard. I received a beautiful Waterford vase from the Shannon Airport Manager in recognition of my retirement, and a welcome home water cannon salute from the Atlanta airport fire department upon arrival at my home station.

In the years following my retirement from flying, I have worked as a tax preparer for H&R Block during tax season. I enjoy working with people and have learned to appreciate the complexities of our tax law in this country. There is satisfaction in helping others, especially those that find tax preparation so daunting. I continue to enjoy my life long interest in photography in my leisure time. I especially enjoy my visits to nearby Rocky Mountain National Park.

I have been blessed my whole life with a loving and supporting family. I am indebted to my parents, now deceased, and my siblings for all that they have given me over the years. Likewise, I owe a great debt of gratitude to my wife, Linda, and my children Christopher, Shannon, Lauren, and Bill for their unfailing support over many years. My family and my faith in the Almighty continue to provide focus and purpose for the years ahead.
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