Class Of 1964 USAF Academy

Terry 's Cadet Days

Basic Cadet Summer

I still have fresh recollections from basic cadet summer -- first impressions of the razor-sharp Cadets who greeted us on day one ... shower formations at night ... uniform formations on the North Road on Sunday afternoons ... learning how to walk in a straight line with my eyes fixed on the back of Jim Lemon's head ... and spouting Fourth Class knowledge during meals in Mitchell Hall. To this day, I can still recite General George Washington's general order on profanity, but I can't remember where I left my car keys. Of all the things they put us through, under the pretense of instilling military discipline, denying food and beverage because of one's inability to recite the third verse of the Star Spangled Banner was most reprehensible. Too many times, I passed full plates of food back to the waiters for disposal in the garbage can. One day near the end of basic cadet summer, recruited football players were invited to a coach's house for lunch and some free time. I went to Jim Bowman's house, and he loves to tell people that for dessert, I ate two full plates of ice cream. I had reported to the Academy somewhere between 175 and 180 pounds, and by the end of the summer, I was around 155 pounds. For me, the best part of becoming a Fourth Classman? Training tables in Mitchell Hall!

Doolie Year

Fourth Class training continued to dominate our lives. It was a significant transition from civilian life to a military environment, as was the first year of academics at the college level. Add to that the challenges of intercollegiate athletic competition, and you have a very stressful situation. Being on the training tables during football, wrestling, and then spring football, eased some of the stress and helped to build strong relationships with teammates from all classes.

One night stands out among my memories of the Fourth Class year, and it's not a good one. On the night before recognition -- intended to be a class spirit night -- we heard that Sports Illustrated was going to do a piece on our class. We were supposed to sneak out during the night wearing only underwear and our blue bathrobes. We would meet on a triangular-shaped slope about halfway up the side of the Rampart Range, and form up for a photograph in a giant 64. Well, it got ugly fast. The upperclassmen were waiting for us. When ordered to get back to our rooms, some classmates complied, but others continued on the "secret mission" to meet on the side of the mountain. There were some physical confrontations, and at least one very serious injury. Joe Rodwell put his arm through a glass door and ended up in the hospital. I remember Bob Brickey, a First Class cadet and a highly respected football player, storming up the hill where many of us were gathered, tired and grubby from being up all night long. His sabre jangled at his side as he confronted us through clenched teeth and reamed us out with words that really struck home. My memory of that night may be fuzzy in some ways, but Brickey's rebuke for our "misguided spirit and insubordinate behavior" remains very clear.

Third Class Year

It was a relief to be an upperclassman in the Cadet Wing and not have to worry about being on the receiving end of Fourth Class training. My focus on football -- playing new positions on both offense and defense and starting every game -- demanded most of my energy. The first game, against UCLA in the Denver University stadium, was an experience I'll never forget. It was a discouraging year with a lot of turbulence on the football team. We played hard, but we finished 3-7 with wins over Cincinnati, Colorado State and California.

In wrestling, I was holding my own. I had not lost a match since the finals of the Iowa State Wrestling Tournament my sophomore year in high school. I've forgotten the exact number, but I won over 100 consecutive matches in a four year period, a streak that came to an end when I lost to Jack Flasche (Northern Colorado) the week before the NCAA tournament. In that match, I caught an elbow that required 14 stitches above my right eye. Jim Conboy designed a protective eye patch for the NCAA tourney, and ironically, my opponent in the finals (Ronnie Clinton, Oklahoma State) also wrestled with an injury that required stitches. He had cut his hand making some plumbing repairs at home. He won 3-2 in a match that was described as the most exciting match of the tourney. Conboy, in his inimical way, delighted in telling people I got beat by a plumber.

Second Class Year

This was the most difficult year for me at the Academy. Not surprisingly, athletics continued to demand a major share of my time and energy. Coach Ben Martin, encouraged by Homer Smith, switched me back to quarterback. Our team had the distinction of playing in the first game in Falcon Stadium in 1962 -- and our classmate, John Lorber, scored the first touchdown. It made great press -- Iowa star scores first touchdown on Iowa grass in Falcon Stadium. Since we were both from Iowa, Lorber likes to tell people he broke seven tackles on the run -- and five of them were Isaacson!

We won five of our first eight games, and there was talk of going to a bowl game. Then we lost to Baylor and Colorado, and the season was over. One day the following week, when walking back to my room from Fairchild Hall, I saw two dummies hanging in effigy on the south side of Vandenburg Hall. One was Ben Martin and the other was a Falcon football player with #17. It was a pretty low blow that added to an already painful time. Good thing wrestling had already started, because that gave me a different focus.

I was undefeated during the regular season, but I had a self-inflicted setback the week prior to the NCAA tourney. During a practice with our classmate George Bruns (God rest his soul), he scored a takedown on me, something that had never happened in the wrestling room. Some people cheered. We got up and started wrestling, really going after each other. When George took me down again, the whole room erupted in applause for George, and rightfully so. But my immediate reaction was to smash my right fist into the padded wall of the wrestling room. Unfortunately, it wasn't padded enough, and the results of my stupidity are visible on my wrist today. For the second year in a row, I wrestled in the national tournament with a significant physical injury. I made it to the semi-finals and again lost to a guy from Oklahoma State. Disappointing, yes, but I still placed fourth and again received All American honors.

Not only had it been a difficult year athletically, but academics also presented challenges. It wasn't Aero, Mech, EE, Econ or Management that got me. It was Law. I'll never foregt my AOC, Major Marv Patton (God rest his soul, too) calling me, and in his deep, booming voice saying, "Isaacson ... you busted Law!" That meant a turnout exam for which I had about two weeks to study. I heard the rumor going around the Cadet Wing -- that the turnout exam would consist of one essay question: What is the color of the cover of the Law Book? Not true. I was later told that it was the previous year's final exam. I was also told that I had made the lowest score on the final graded review, and the highest score ever made on a Law turnout exam. I always wondered whether anyone else had ever busted law.

First Class Year

There were many highlights during my final year as a cadet. We opened the season by beating Washington on national TV; beat CSU 69-0 in the now-legendary "Block that kick!" game; and upset Nebraska in Lincoln, the only team to beat the Huskers in 1963. We won't talk about the Gator Bowl. Thank goodness Joe Rodwell and I were invited to play in the Hula Bowl. Unlike the rest of our teammates, we were able to finish our collegiate playing days with a positive experience.

With two bowl games extending the football season, wrestling was well underway when I joined the team. Thad Wolfe and I both wrestled in the NCAA tournament. Even though I outweighed him by 20-30 pounds, we often wrestled each other in practice, and Thad was better than most of the guys in my weight class. Our quest to reach the national finals in 1963 fell short, but it was still a meaningful experience.

With graduation in sight and my football and wrestling days over, I found my participation on the golf team most enjoyable. Noboby tackled me or twisted my arms behind my back. Playing golf with my classmates Mitch Cobeaga, Tom Mummert, Gary Olin and Jim McIntyre was fun, and playing liar's dice on road trips even better. There were no pre-game jitters or pre-match gut aches, just a few loose nerves on the first tee and standing over a three foot putt.

Unfortunately, none of my experiences at the Air Force Academy helped with that.

Summary of my Cadet experience

I have always viewed the sum total of my years at the Academy as a tremendously positive experience. I've highlighted a few of the ups and downs -- and not even scratched the surface of the total experience. I made the right decision as a seventeen-year-old kid, choosing the Air Force Academy. That helped prepare me for a career in the United States Air Force, and gave me the opportunity to serve my country. And for that, I will be eternally grateful.
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