Class Of 1964 USAF Academy

Air Force Days

By Bob Levins

Pilot training was at Craig AFB, Selma, Alabama from August ’64 thru September ’65. Craig was the last of two bases that still had T-33s. Craig was along Route 80 which went from Selma to Montgomery. Dr Martin Luther King made his famous two marches (he was stopped at the Pettus Bridge the first time) while we were at Craig. The Pettus Bridge was the entry point for our traffic pattern to Craig. After Dr King’s first attempted march, President Johnson activated the National Guard and ordered them to Craig. They took over the gymnasium at Craig, and staged out of the base. It was a very interesting and historic year.

We lost 3 pilots from our flight building that year: an upper-class foreign student and his instructor in a T-33 crash, and my table mate, Bob Oltean. Bob was killed in a private plane crash within days of graduation when he and Tom Mansfield ’64, who co-owned the plane with Bob, crashed in the Alabama River on their last flight. They had recently sold the plane. Tom was seriously injured, but recovered and completed pilot training with a later class.

I was lucky enough to be in the wedding parties for two weddings right after graduation: Randy Toffel’s and Ford “Bob” Keating’s. For Randy’s wedding, Joe Redden, my roommate, and I both rented our white jacket tuxedos and drove from Selma to Tuscaloosa the morning of the wedding. We arrived about 2 hours before the ceremony. Unfortunately, the rest of the wedding party was in black jackets. After some frantic telephone calls, we found a rental store that had black jackets in our sizes. A taxi brought the jackets to us at the exact time the service was scheduled to start. Joe and I had just lit the candles on the altar in our white jackets. We switched to black and all went well. After the service we received several compliments for our “clever” idea of having white jackets for the candle lighting ceremony, and black jackets for the wedding service.

Ford’s wedding was at the Maxwell AFB chapel near Montgomery, Alabama. This time I arrived the night before and had the correct colored Tux. Todd Jagerson, who was also in the wedding party, drove up from Selma the morning of the wedding. Todd and Brett Dula had rebuilt a Ford Model T (or A) during our year at Craig, and Todd towed it up from Selma. Todd had a Volkswagen “bug” and no tow-bar. During the trip along Route 80, Todd rounded a curve but the Model “T” didn’t. Todd, the “bug” and the Model “T” ended up in a ditch. Todd missed the ceremony. However, he made it to the reception, but his tux looked like he’d just finished work at the local Jiffy Lube.

My first assignment was to McGuire AFB, New Jersey flying C-130s. I was 35 minutes from Mom’s home cooking. On October 12, 1966, I received orders to report to Sheppard AFB Texas by November 2nd to begin helicopter training in the HH3E, Jolly Green with assignment to DaNang, South Vietnam. I had just gotten engaged and our wedding was scheduled for January 1967. We rescheduled the wedding to October 29th. The church, dress maker, caterer, reception hall, etc. all rearranged their schedules to make it happen (In 1966 people were still supporting the Vietnam War).

I arrived in DaNang in May, 1967. The 37th ARR Squadron was transitioning from the HU-16 fixed wing to the refueling capable HH-3E. In August, my daughter Kelliann was born. I saw her for the first time during my R&R in December. She was 4 months old. While I was at DaNang we had the Tet Offensive, and my flight commander, Capt Jerry Young, was awarded the Medal of Honor for a mission in the Ashau Valley. I was scheduled to be his co-pilot on that flight, but my best friend, Ralph Brower, asked to switch with me because he had a friend coming to DaNang later that week. Ralph, who was awarded the Air Force Cross, lost his life on the mission.

My assignments after Vietnam were: Dover AFB, Delaware flying HH-3Es; Scott AFB, Illinois working at ARRS headquarters and flying C-131s and T-29s; ACSC as a student; Vandenberg AFB flying HH-1Ns; ACSC as an instructor/group commander; Royal Air Force (RAF) Staff College, England as an instructor/exchange officer; Pentagon, Hq Air Force staff officer and Hq Air National Guard staff officer; and finally, Andrews AFB, Maryland, AF Systems Command staff officer.

While at Vandenberg AFB, there was a wild fire in the southern part of the base that killed the Base Commander and the Fire Chief and his deputy. The fire spread so quickly that the Base Command Post didn’t know the Base Commander and Fire Chiefs were in trouble until the fire had already passed over them.

While I was at the RAF Staff College, Prince Charles and Diana were married, and Prince William was born. Also, England fought the Faulklands War with Argentina. Two of my students were Harrier pilots who had fought during the war. We had great discussions comparing how the UK press (which PM Thatcher limited to a few reporters on one carrier, and whose stories had to go thru the Ministry of Defense before publishing) and our press coverage the our respective wars. My family and I did get to Wimbledon Center Court. In separate matches, we saw Pam Shriver and Ivan Lendl play. Both won. We also attended Queen Elizabeth’s annual birthday parade at Buckingham Palace.
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