Growing up in Webster groves, MO...nobody called me “Trusten”, but on the South Ramp on that fateful day in June, 1960, I became “Trusten A. McArtor... 2561K...SIR”. It took hundreds of push ups to get used to my military name. I really had no clue about the military. I was a Boy Scout, but that was it!
I started in 2nd Squadron and never left until 1st Class year. I was basically an engineering student. Aero and Astro held the most interest for me. I quickly learned that taking advanced placement courses would count for nothing more than tougher studying. I was on the Supt's List all semesters thanks to my EE lab partner, Al Larson. As a Doolie, I tried just about anything to get me off of the squadron's dining hall tables. I even had a brief tour with the Cadet Corrale. Football and baseball were the best escapes, and I enjoyed playing both. I played both sports all four years; earning three varsity letters in each. I went out for Freshman Wrestling but found that I was in a similar weight class as Terry Isaacson and Brett Dula. You know how that went! I did become familiar with the lights on the wrestling room ceiling. I busted my nose in Doolie football, and Pinky Galbraith kept it busted in boxing class. Doolie year was about as tough as it could be, but decking a couple of ‘63 goons on the way down the ramp on 100th night made it all worthwhile. The best thing that happened to me was during Christmas break. Of course we all stayed at the Academy versus going home, but I got fixed up with a blind date named Grace. We got along super, and she kissed on the first date! (When you are from Webster Groves, Missouri, that's a really big deal!) More about Gracie later, but we dated the rest of USAFA years and got married after graduation. And she still gives an electric kiss!
I wasn't a recruited athlete, so I joined the dozens of walk-on quarterbacks. Sophomore year, I was playing for the JV's and running the opposition's plays during the week. The varsity was getting ready to play Maryland, and I was supposed to act like their All American QB. The JV's had a game on Friday night down on the practice field. I played a pretty good game, so Jim Bowman and Ben Martin asked me to come up to Denver and suit up with the varsity for the game on Saturday. We played in Denver Stadium, as you recall. We were getting thumped pretty good, but I was enjoying being on the sidelines with the big boys. Then Coach Martin turns to me and says, “Al, get your helmet...you are going in the next time we get the ball!” Huh? I knew absolutely no varsity plays, in fact the varsity snapped the ball differently than the JV's. In the huddle, E.C. Newman (our center) asked me how I wanted the snap, and I drew the plays on my hand like we did in sandlot ball growing up. Anyway, that was my varsity debut. I completed 6 for 7 passes. Well...I completed 3 to Air Force and 3 to Maryland. But on Monday, I had a blue practice jersey in my locker with number 12 on it, so I began my saga with the varsity football team. I actually started more games at QB in my Sophomore year than either JR or SR. I had a bit of a problem keeping my right knee from getting creamed, something that plagued me for the rest of my football and baseball career. That is when Ben Martin called on Isaacson to not only be a running back and defensive halfback...but also begin rotations at QB. Terry was a natural at all positions, and sure enough, he became one of the best Falcon QBs ever! I loved football, and I loved playing for Ben and Homer Smith. I think I still hold one of the all-time records for Falcon Football...miles of adhesive tape! Jim Conboy, our athletic trainer, was a best friend. And in 1963, I am told I threw the longest interception in Gator Bowl history! The stuff of legends.
I was a catcher in baseball, and I was privileged to play with some really great guys. Fredo Olmsted and Darryl Bloodworth were my closest chums. We were a scrappy bunch of players who knew how to hustle and win. We went to the regional finals of the College World Series. In fact, we were playing Arizona State just before our graduation in June, 1964. The weather was really crappy, as you recall. The ASU coach, Bobby Winkles, talked our coach into going down to Tempe, AZ after graduation to finish the series (under the lights). No kidding! So as new 2nd Lts, we were still playing Falcon Baseball. We almost beat them.
Fall semester of our senior year, I was the First Group Commander, and since I was playing football, I am glad I had a really super Group Staff. Right after football season, General Strong called me into his office. He said I had done a pretty good job, and he said he wanted me to be Wing Commander for the Spring Semester. I was quite taken aback and reminded him that I would be playing baseball and that I had already had my shot at a Cadet leadership position. Strong gave me his famous scowl and informed me that he was not asking me what I thought. Gulp...yes, SIR. Jim Ingram had done a great job as 4-Bars in the Fall, so I had my job cut out for me. Again, I had a great staff. Tom Till was deputy, and he kept things glued together very well.
Grace and I dated, got pinned, engaged, and married in July ‘64. She was a real trooper and sat out in some really nasty weather watching the Falcons play football and baseball. She lived near the Broadmoor and graduated from the University of Colorado. Clearly the best thing about my USAFA years!
June Week rolled around, and I was the June Week Wing Commander, which was a real honor for me, and the Commandant presented me with the “General Hap Arnold Cadet Wing Commander Sabre”. I proudly display it in my Library today. My Zoomie days were quite special to me, and my classmates meant everything.
Grace and I got married in the Cadet Chapel, with Darryl Bloodworth and Pete LoPresti at my side. The ‘65 football guys formed the sabre arch. Then it was off to Vance AFB for UPT. Grace taught school in Enid, OK. I loved learning to fly, and did pretty well in both the T-37 and T-38. Class 66B had some great friends and great characters in it! I was fortunate to win the Commander's Trophy (Air Training Command) and the Vance AFB Flying Training Award for 66B. (I barely edged out the Ole Lefthander Olmsted in the T-38s.) I couldn't wait to fly fighters, and our class had a few F-104 assignments. Single seat, single engine...no hesitation! But in order to get ADC qualified, I had to go to interceptor school at Perrin AFB, TX for F-102 training. That was actually a lot of fun, and I had some good pals with me.
Grace and I headed down to Homestead AFB near Miami in ‘66. I had a yellow GTO convertible, a small boat, a dog, a motorbike, a nice house on base, and a pretty wife. Oh, not to mention an orange flight suit and chrome spurs for the F-104. Life was good, and Gracie was teaching school! The 319th FIS was made up of some of the best fighter pilots and great guys you could ever hope for. We constantly flew air combat training, fired on the dart, and even strafed with the 20mm Gatling gun. We scrambled off alert almost every night. Our detachment base was Patrick AFB, so I would occasionally hook up with my ex-roommate, Max James who was flying “astronaut pick-up” helicopters. Our classmate Frank Packer was with me in the 319th FIS. I will never forget the tragic news of his fatal base-turn bailout.
Another Lieutenant joined our squadron, Peter K. Foley. He had just completed his F-105 tour. I suddenly got panicked...What if the Vietnam War was over before I could get there? So, I volunteered for an F-105 slot. I got one, but it was short lived. I got a call from HQ that said I was going to RF-4Cs and they wanted some jocks who had air-to-air experience. Huh? “Don't ask” I was told! So it was off to Survival School then Mountain Home AFB for RF-4C training. Roger that!
Grace was pregnant, but we got matching dirt bikes anyway. I truly loved the recce mission. Flying in the weeds as a single ship and going the speed of stink! I teamed up with a young navigator named Fred Wells. He had a great wit and was fearless. Plus he was a very talented Nav. We won the Top Crew award for the CCTS and shipped off to the 12th TRS in Tan Son Nhut, Vietnam. Stopping at Clark AFB for jungle survival school, of course.
It was just after Tet in 1968, so the base was in the midst of adjusting to the very real threat of attack. Bob Dempsey was already in the 12th when I got there. Bob was an IP and the Squadron Scheduling Officer (a job I would assume after Bob's tour ended). Bob took me up for my dollar ride checkout, but we diverted up the coast and hooked up with a tanker. We got a call from the DASC about a target just north of the DMZ. Why not? We ran the target just behind an airstrike that had been there minutes before. That was the first of 200 missions.
Steve Ritchie and I often talk about flying combat. I like to say, “No one likes war, but God, I loved combat!” The more demanding the mission, the better I liked it. Like all squadrons, we had some guys who liked to mix it up and some guys who constantly got “weathered out” over the target. As scheduling officer, I got to know who was who, so it was pretty easy for me to put the tigers on the Hanoi, Hyphong, Dong Hoi, Rat Fink Valley, Tchepone missions and the others on “area covers” in the Delta. We lost some guys that year, but not nearly as many as our classmates flying fighters out of Thailand. Most of my missions originated out of Saigon or Udorn. We had a detachment base at Phu Cat. The Misty FACs were there. Jimmy Fiorelli, Don Sheppard and Ron Fogleman were Misty's. I had just run a mission looking for a 37mm gun near Tchepone (the “extreme western DMZ”, as we would call it). The gun was “hot” and the mission got a bit hairy; we recovered at Phu Cat. While the photo lab and intelligence guys were pouring over our film, I drifted down to Misty Ops to see if “Buzzard” was there. A mission briefing was in progress, and the Misty's were going to go hunting for an alleged 37mm gun near Tchepone. “Ahem, Major”...says I...”pardon my interruption (scowl), but the gun was “hot” about an hour ago...and if you give me just a minute, I will get some photos for you. It is tucked in some rocks on a ridge.” I dashed to the photo trailer and retrieved some photos of the gun. The Misty's blew the crap out of it that morning! We invented a way to short circuit the lengthy time it took to get actionable intelligence down to 7th Air Force and back to Misty. We just briefed Misty each time the recce boys had something hot from that same morning. Worked like a champ!
I flew a lot of different kinds of recce missions. Some quite exciting and some quite scary. Freddy Wells and I found creative ways to penetrate thick weather and how to fly really, really low. We got particularly good at night targets. We ran on trucks, bridges, POW camps, AAA, SAMs, roads, harbors, airfields, ships...everything. Sometimes it was just after the strike force had been over the target and the smoke was still thick (and the gunners still pissed). Like many of you, I can remember hanging around the tanker track waiting for permission to run on a target. Permission from Washington, DC! Go figure. I tried some Fast FAC missions, which was also fun. Occasionally, we got chased by some MIGS and even some Navy F4s. To them, everyone looked like a MIG!
I got some holes in the airplane a few times but never had to bailout. Had a fire going into DaNang one evening and got chewed out for not bailing out, but the Phantom was still flying, and the runway was just a couple of miles away. Seemed like a good idea to keep flying at the time.
I can remember getting called for my R&R to Hawaii. Gracie was already there with her folks. Our son, Andy, was born while I was in-country...so I would see him for the first time at age 6 months. What a thrill! (Andy would graduate from USAFA Class ‘90 and become a pilot.)
I finished my tour and returned from Vietnam in the summer of ‘69. I had been awarded the Silver Star, DFC, and some Air Medals. I had made Major but thought my flying days were over, so I went to Arizona State University on an AFIT deal to get my Masters Degree. I was to go teach at USAFA in Phil Erdle's Engineering Mechanics Department. I graduated several months early, so I reported to the Academy in the Winter of ‘71. As a new instructor, I was out of phase, so I began helping with the baseball program and became Assistant Baseball Coach to Joe Robison. I started teaching that fall, but also helped coach the freshmen quarterbacks. Terry Isaacson was a varsity football coach, and we used to go on football scouting missions together flying the T-33. I was getting quite comfortable with this routine, when my very good pal, Nels Running, had a suggestion. Nels had just left an Academy assignment for the Thunderbirds. Nels said I should submit an application to the team...YGBSM, Nels! But I did. I was more than surprised to be accepted to the Thunderbirds, so I made my excuses to Col. Erdle (who was very supportive), and we bid the Academy professor/coach life goodbye and headed to Las Vegas.
In 1972, we had two boys (Andy and Scott) and an infant girl, Kelley. Our little girl had been diagnosed with a brain tumor at age 5 months. With some surgery and some radiation, we thought things would get better.
I can't tell you how great the Thunderbirds assignment was. We were flying F4Es at the time (‘72). The pilots and enlisted troops were the best. Tom Swalm was Leader at the time. The summer before I joined the team, Joe Howard was killed in an air show at Dulles Airport. So the team had made some mid-season adjustments. In November, I was assigned the Number 7 position (Narrator). Not long into the training season in December just before Christmas, my very good friend and our classmate, Jerry Bolt, was killed on a test flight. The team had taken another blow. Tim Roels moved up to the slot position. Nels Running was Left Wing and Rip Blaisdell was Right Wing. Kirk Brimmer was Solo, as Steve Dwelle had retired from the team. The 1973 show season was a hard working year with a trip to South America among other things. The “fuel crisis” was punishing America, and the fate of the Thunderbirds team was in jeopardy. Headquarters decided to keep the team but to transition to the T-38 as a demonstration airplane. Nels had left the team, and I was now Left Wing (TB-2) and the Ops Officer. The team was trying to adjust to the T-38, and the 1974 show season would get delayed. It was then that I learned that daughter, Kelley, would need further sophisticated treatment for her brain cancer (which had now begun to seed into her spine). No Air Force base was capable of providing such treatment I was told by the Flight Surgeon. I wasn't going to separate the family, so I tendered my resignation from the Air Force in the Spring of 1974. No regrets. I loved the Air Force and every experience I had.
We moved to Memphis where St. Jude Children's Research Hospital was located. Kelley became their first brain cancer patient (they specialized in leukemia at the time). I started some small companies with my brother. Along the way, I met Fred Smith, the founder of Federal Express. Fred was a Marine (2 tours) and we hit it off from the beginning. Fred asked me to join the FedEx executive team and to create a Systems Operations Department. It was 1979.
In 1980, Kelley finally ran out of treatment options and passed away that July. She got great treatment at St. Jude, and I have been very active supporting the hospital ever since. We were blessed to get eight years with our precious little girl that we didn't think we'd have.
I became FedEx's Sr. VP of Telecommunications during the ramp up to digital networks and satellite communications. Along the way, I was appointed by the President to form the “Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee” in Washington, DC.
In 1987, President Ronald Reagan appointed me to be Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration. I served in that capacity the last two Reagan years (‘87-'89). Fred Smith asked me to return to FedEx to be SVP Air Operations and to run the merger with Flying Tigers. I did that until 1992 when I formed FedEx Aeronautics Corporation to look at advanced systems and technologies. A couple of years later, I retired from FedEx to explore some ventures on my own.
I really was attracted to the concept of forming a new airline to operate out of Love Field in Dallas, TX. It was one of the best experiences ever! We fought American Airlines and the City of Ft. Worth in State and Federal Court. We operated a superior service from Love Field to major cities, but AAL was too tough in the end. When I folded up Legend Airlines, it broke my heart. But I wouldn't have traded the experience for anything.
It was then that Airbus was looking for a new Chairman of Airbus North America. So in 2001, I joined Airbus and am currently based in the Washington, DC area. That is my current job, although now we are “Airbus Americas” since I now oversee both North America and Latin America.
Each of my career experiences has been a pleasure and a team effort. I have enjoyed being a part of the Falcon Foundation for many years and some other AFA initiatives. I was one of the trustees for the Air Force Memorial, which was another great team effort.
I was honored by the Air Traffic Control Association in 2009 with the “Glen A. Gilbert Memorial Trophy” for career contribution. And in 2010, The Wings Club of New York presented me with the “Distinguished Achievement Award”. To be honored by your peers is humbling, for sure.
Grace and I have two wonderful sons and daughters-in-law, and five grandkids, and we count our blessings every day! Thank you to the Class of ‘64 for the friendships, the support, the sacrifices you have made for our Country and our freedom. I am profoundly proud to be one of you!
A Toast To the Class of 1964
Trusten Allan McArtor
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