Class Of 1964 USAF Academy

Address to 33rd Squadron Commissioning Ceremony, Class of 2014

Dr. Al Larson, '64


May 27, 2014

In 2014 our class president, Rod Wells, recruited many of us to speak at the commissioning ceremonies of the Class of 2014, as representatives of the Legacy Class. Each squadron organized and conducted their own ceremony. Rod told us we might be asked to say a few words, but to keep it short, since our main job was to hand out the second lieutenant bars that were a gift from our class to each graduate.

In the emails with my cadet POC, I kept being told, "The whole squadron is looking forward to your speech."


Not what I signed up for.

What the hell. I can do this. I know a lot about this class. Our class history IS our legacy. So I did think about what I would say. Inspired by my favorite priest, I wanted to talk less than six minutes. From my own experience, if you can't say something important in six minutes, don't talk. But how do you relate to someone across five decades?

The ceremony was held in front of the B-52 at the Academy. When I got there I was somewhat taken back by the crowd. Not only was all of 33rd squadron there, but many families of the graduates, staff, and their families.

After a playing of our national anthem, Col. Larsen, AOC of 33rd Squadron, make a few remarks. As he explained to me, he was going to a new assignment, and this was his last chance to address HIS cadets.

Then he introduced me, drawing from a write up put together by the cadets using my page on the Class of 1964 History site.

When we passed as I walked to the podium, he wispered, "You can say anything, you're from the legacy class."

Suddenly, it was my turn - time to deliver.
"Thank you for that kind introduction.

When my daughter Amy was three, her mother started to tell her something. She began by saying, 'When I was your age, ... '
at which point Amy interrupted to ask, 'Was that when the dinosaurs were alive?'

I stand before you as a dinosaur from the Class of 1964. We graduated five DECADES ago. You can tell a dinosaur - they measure times in decades, ... as in decay, decadence, ....

( turning to the laughing Class of 2014)
Don't laugh. Five decades from now, one of you may be standing here addressing the Class of 2064, as a member of their legacy class. What will you be telling them?

My legacy class speaker would have been from the Class of 1914. The airplane had just been invented. Their war stories might have been about flying with the Lafayette Escadrille in World War I.

The Class of 1964 graduated right into the teeth of the Vietnam War. At the time, the threat was that Communism would dominate the world over democracy. The political theory of the times was the Domino Theory. If we did not stop Communism in Vietnam, other countries would fall like a row of dominos.

From that crucible of combat, we produced many war heroes, some aces, many generals, businessmen, lawyers, doctors, ministers, engineers, teachers, and public servants. Over five decades, my class contributed greatly to the Air Force, the defense of freedom, and society at large. Our class motto is "pros aretain", which means "Towards excellence." In reading the personal stories of my class, I find that many recalled that motto as they build their careers.

We lost 17 classmates directly in combat, and another 27 in service related deaths. They gave their all. I'm proud to be a member of such a great class.

My heroes are my ten classmates who became prisoners of the North Vietnamese. These ten men spent an average of six years in captivity. They did not break. They stood together. They returned with honor.

So what challenges will you face in the next five decades? With global warming, rising income inequality, Arab springs, and other forces, I am sure that you will face many challenges.

How will you face them?

The same way we did. One day at a time.

You get up every morning, you give thanks that you're still here, and you tackle that day's problems with honesty, teamwork, and hard work, With that approach, you will meet the challenges ahead of you.

I have only one piece of advice:

Keep your word.

Long before I came to the Academy, my father taught me I was only as good as my word, that my word was my bond. The honor code you learned here is the foundation of your service. If you serve with integrity, you will not fail.

In parting, I have a gift for you graduates. I have given Cadet Maki CDs containing the History and Stories of the Class of 1964. She will distribute them to you back at the squadron.

I wish you luck in your careers. Thank you."
After my talk, they gave me a plaque, saying "Thank You," signed by all the 33rd squadron graduates. I was touched.

Then came the commissioning ceremony. I stood in line with Col Larsen, and handed out the Class of 64 insignia bars to each graduate as each was sworn in by someone they chose, often a family member in the service, or by Col. Larsen. Each had their cadet shoulder boards exchanged for officer shoulder boards by family members, then was congratulated by me, then by Col Larsen. Some saluted me. If they did, I replied with my snappiest salute.

Following the ceremony, there were refreshments, and a traditional toast to the new second lieutenants. I enjoyed the many conversations with Academy staff and cadets. All in all, it was a very nice ceremony.

Of course I was told I gave a good speech. I'm not sure how many remembered what I said six minutes later, but I did my best. I did hear my escort, Cadet "Pep" Maki, tell me she was going to get through her next year at the Zoo, " ... one day at a time."

I did get a lot of interest in the Class of 1964 history CDs. Several graduates thanked me for them. Col Larsen and two of the NCOs who worked with the squadron asked for copies of the CD. I referred them to Cadet Maki. I had given her extra copies.

I enjoyed being back "in the Air Force" for a few hours. The close contact with cadets was both fun and reassuring. The future of the Air Force is in good hands.

It was a privilege and an honor to represent our great class.
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