Class Of 1964 USAF Academy

45th Reunion of the Class of 1964

by Joe Rodwell

Sue and I just returned from a week in Utah following the 45th reunion for the Class of 1964. Our last attendance at a reunion was our 10th, where we hosted a party for 10 of our closest classmates that year, and discovered that only 3 of the 10 couples were still married to their original spouses. Sue and I discovered how blessed we were – we met at age 14 and began dating at age 16. We both went to Catholic high schools, although mine was a boarding one, St. John’s Prep School, the oldest secondary school in Minnesota. St. John’s U. (Minnesota, same location as the Prep School) is more famous for having the college coach with the most wins (471) of any college coach, ever. John Gagliardi grew up in Trinidad, CO, and graduated from Colorado College. His 1st real coaching job was at St. Mary’s high school in CO Springs (our son, Scott, graduated from there). We were really fortunate because her Dad had a chance to move to either Denver or Salt Lake City between my sophomore and junior year, and he chose Denver. So, we saw each other every week-end for the final 2 years. We were married in the Catholic Chapel 2 days after graduation – both of us were 21 at the time. When Sue meets St. Peter at the Pearly Gates, she has a sure immediate entry into heaven – all she has to say is “I’ve been with Joe Rodwell since age 16” – St. Peter is likely to say “Go right in!”

This reunion was extremely uplifting, for reasons that will follow. Here are the highlights of the events most meaningful.

Friday Prayer Breakfast

There were 4 speakers from our class at this breakfast – each address was powerful. Sue and I had close personal connections to 3 of the speakers. One was Beth’s godfather, Mitch Cobeaga, and 2 others were classmates from my 78th Squadron in England. Mitch and I were longtime friends at the Academy, and I remember a liquor run we made together to Nogales from Tucson. We spilled margarita salt all over our apartment and by the time we moved, Sue and I had been able to remove only ½ of it! In our defense, however, we were celebrating the fact that our Beth was recuperating from her 2 week stay in Denver’s Children’s Hospital after her life-threatening bout with spinal meningitis when she was only 4 ½ months old. When Mitch & Sylvia’s son, Joe, was a cadet, we became his “2nd parents” while he was at the Academy while living in CO Springs, which we did from ’74 to ‘86. The 2nd speaker, Tim Kline, was the funniest cadet I ever knew and a close friend. The 3rd, Chris Mineau, was a friend who successfully ejected from the F-4 at near supersonic speed while assigned to our 78th Squadron – he suffered incredible damage to his body and his 4 limbs were either broken or severely damaged (he still walks with a limp). After somewhat recovering from the plane ejection, he was scheduled to return to the U.S. for more comprehensive medical treatment. As was the case with every officer leaving our squadron, we had a going away party for Chris. However, he had to attend the party in a hospital bed. For whatever reason, this was a most depressing event for me, as I saw first-hand the injuries he had suffered. I took the event to an extreme, which I am not proud to admit. Sue and I drove separately, as she was very pregnant with Mark and left the party early. After imbibing too much, I successfully drove my Austin Healy home (on the wrong side of the road, no less, for we were, after all, in England). When arriving at home, I knocked on our door-window and Sue didn’t answer, so I apparently banged on it pretty hard and broke the window – that was the “good” news. The “bad” news is I was a couple of doors off, so the lady inside screamed and called the Bobbies. By the time they arrived Sue had let me in the right door and she was outside hysterical, talking with the Bobbies. She promised them I would see them in the AM, which I did, with many apologies to follow. I got a slap on the wrist and a warning, but was not charged because we had lived in the neighborhood for over 3 years by then without any incidents, and the neighbor lady testified in my behalf with the Bobbies. Anyway, Chris obviously had no way of knowing the story, because the next day he was on his way back to the U.S., so I relayed the story to him at the reunion, just before we went to the Memorial Service, which I will later discuss. Chris conducted most of the Memorial Service, for he is a pastor today- as is my other previously mentioned 78th squadron-mate, Tim Kline.

Friday Football Luncheon at Falcon Stadium

This may have been my personal highlight of the reunion, because my teammates and I were able to spent about 2 hours together at a large reserved table for our class at head coach Troy Calhoun’s regular Friday luncheon and discussion about the next opponent, in this case, Army. We reminisced about “old” times, visited, and went onto the field. 2 of us were interviewed for a local radio station – I was 1 of the 2, and was told that, if the Falcons receive a Bowl bid, which they probably will, my interview would be aired prior to the Bowl game. Some of the questions were: “How did I decide to go to the AFA?” Ans. – a friend of the family was an AF Colonel who helped me get uniforms for a play in high school that I performed in, Stalag 17, told me the Air Force Academy and flying was better than the Navy and being on a ship – no offense to my Navy compatriots, whom I respect deeply, especially those landing on carriers at night, but, I believe, our family friend was right then and right now. My favorite question was “Did we think, in the beginning (our team opened Falcon Stadium in 1962) that we were building such a significant program?” I said, “heck no, all I was trying to do was to make the team and get playing time.” I also shared with the reporter a story that Ben Martin (our head coach) told me, several years after graduation – I was the 1st person every brought on “campus” at the Air Force Academy (another recruit, Bruce Geary from Red Wing, MN, was with me, but he left AFA after our 1st or 2nd year). I met Mike Quinlan and Rich Mayo from the ’58 season Cotton Bowl Team – they were 2 of the most impressive young people that I had met in my life, at that point.

All of us got pictures with Troy Calhoun, and we were in coats and ties, except for 1 who was wearing his “I was the only Vietnam War Ace (5 MIG 21 “kills”) brown leather flying jacket (in fairness, Steve Ritchie was the only Vietnam War Ace – we all respect his accomplishments, but I can’t resist the occasional “forearm,” Steve). Sue took an even special picture of me with a rather well developed young lady who happened to be wearing my jersey number, 54. All my teammates tried to remind me that we were the class of ’64, but I told them I knew what my own jersey number was!

Briefing By Superintendent, Commandant, Dean & Athletic Director

Lots of “Rah! Rah!” – they are still the “best and the brightest,” and there were a couple of pretty important statements that impressed me. The average cadet (an oxymoron) spends over 100 hours per year in community volunteer service – I bet you never heard that from anyone! That is in addition to the academics, the military side and the athletics – when I attended, all cadets were required to participate in an intramural sport each semester, if they were not on an athletic team – my worst was Water Polo, because I am not buoyant. 2nd, every graduate knows they will be serving in a hostile war zone, either in the Mideast or in Afghanistan. And 3rd, the Air Force Academy collegiate scores are typically in the top 5 of all academic institutions in the U.S., “far, far above that of West Point or Annapolis.”

Dedication of the Mall of Heroes

The host of this event was my classmate and friend, Rod Wells. Rod played freshman football and was a fullback - in those days, I played QB. The CO Springs Gazette newspaper ran a humorous article about Joe Rodwell handing off to Rod Wells and interchanged our names several times in the article (my parents kept the article, which I still have, somewhere). The Academy has graduated 51 classes. Prior to our reunion, there has not been a statue of any graduate located on the grounds, which surprised me. The Class of ’64 dedicated 3 beautiful statues on the Mall of Heroes. Two I knew personally, again through football. Lance Sijan was my age, but a year behind because he went to a Prep School before entering the Academy. Lance played football, and we became fiends as he was from WI and I from MN. Lance is the only Air Force Academy graduate to have been awarded, posthumously, the Medal of Honor. A living quarters hall is named after him, and a book about him, “Into the Mouth of the Cat,” which I recently re-read, tells of his being shot down in North Vietnam flying the F-4 Phantom (same plane I flew), being captured, escaping twice, and eventually dying in captivity at age 26. The 2nd was Karl Richter. Karl flew F-105s over North Vietnam – in those days, if you flew 100 missions over the North, you should have gone home – Karl volunteered for a 2nd 100. On his 198th mission over the North, he was shot down, successfully ejected, but unfortunately landed on shale rock and was dragged over the rock and died as a result at age 25. I 1st got to know Karl through freshman football, and on the Southern European Field Trip between sophomore and junior years, we were roommates on the trip, as both our names began with an “R.” In Madrid, Karl spent most of his “free” time with “ladies of the evening,” and the last night missed a bed check and was restricted for most of the rest of the trip. Karl said, “I don’t care, I had a great time and I spent all of my money anyway!” It is appropriate that Richter Lounge at the Academy is named after him!

Memorial Service

Our class graduated 499 people – 82 have passed on. We bore a heavy burden in Vietnam, because the Gulf of Tonkin (beginning of the Vietnam War) occurred in August of 1964 when most of us were in pilot training. A number of our class were POWs and another number were shot down and killed. Every one of the 82 was named and mentioned in the Memorial Service, conducted at the Cadet Chapel, and there were probably no dry eyes.

Dinner & Dance

We were seated by squadrons, and only 1 other person was from my squadron (normally 20 – 25 classmates in a squadron, then) – I didn’t know him well at the Academy, but we had a great visit. Our then 23rd squadron commander, Fran Zavacki, upon graduation, decided to join the Marine Corps, and died from internal injuries during the Vietnam War. The Marine Corps failed to recognize his injuries, thus not awarding him the Purple Heart, and last year, one of my then upperclassman worked hard to get Fran recognized as dying from war wounds so he could appear on an Air Force Academy Memorial plaque. Another freshman football player and current physician (and Wing boxing champion all 4 years – I think), Jim Ingram, helped overcome the obstacles to having Fran approved as a casualty of the war. At the dinner, Fran’s story was recited, and his sister and her 3 children were seated at our table. I spoke to her for awhile, then saw Jim Ingram go by the table to pick up a bottle of wine. I asked Fran’s sister if she knew Jim, and she said, “Only by name.” I asked Jim if he would like to meet Fran’s sister, and he said, “Absolutely.” So, I introduced the 2 and they talked for about ½ hour. Jim told her that he and Fran were up for Class President our senior year, and that Fran was elected – what a coincidence (or was it)!

When Sue and I left the dance floor that evening, there were only 6 other couples remaining (we started with 175) – this statement is for our children and grandchildren, who see me asleep much before midnight, normally!

Saturday Tailgate

Sue and I had 2 tailgates prior to the game. One was with our dear friends, John and Kathie Gross – John was ’65 from my squadron and was in our wedding. John and I were close as he was from Fargo Shanley, another Catholic high school that I remember playing in Fargo, the coldest day I ever played in a football game. We saw John & Kathie at the Air Force – MN game earlier this fall, and they generously asked us to sit with them at the game – we also joined them post-game. Our 2nd tailgate was with our ’64 football teammates in the big tent, and we had about an hour long visit there before we had to go onto the field.

Air Force – Army Football Game

Many of you know that one of my personal heroes was/is former Army head football coach, Red Blaik. I 1st became exposed to him when I was recruited to play football at the U. of Minnesota by then coach, Murray Warmath. When we met (he knew my 1st choice was the Air Force Academy), the 1st words from him were, “So you want to be a professional killer, huh?” I thought it was a great “line,” and I wondered where he got it. I discovered that Murray was an assistant coach at Army under Red Blaik. Red coached Army from 1941 – 1958. During that time, Army had 3 Heisman Trophy winners, Doc Blanchard (“Mr. Inside,” 1945), Glenn Davis (“Mr. Outside, 1946), and Pete Dawkins (1958). Army had a 32 game unbeaten streak from 1944 – 1947, winning national titles in 1945 and 1946, finishing 2nd in 1947 after a tie with Notre Dame in Yankee stadium. Red had 20 assistant coaches become head coaches, including Vince Lombardi (5 NFL titles, 2 Super Bowls), Paul Dietzel (LSU nat’l champs ’58), Warmath (U. of MN nat’l champs ’60) and 17 others. I have carried a clipping about Red and football in my wallet for over 25 years, “Col. Blaik retired after the 1958 season, when Heisman Trophy winner Pete Dawkins paced the Cadets to their last unbeaten season. ‘If it is the game most like war,’ Col. Blaik said, ‘it is also a game most like life, for it teaches young men that work, sacrifice, selflessness, competitive drive, perseverance and respect for authority are the price one pays to achieve goals worthwhile.’”

Thus, I was delighted to be asked to be an honorary captain for the Air Force – Army game – if I could have picked any game, it would have been this one, based on my tremendous respect for Red Blaik. Al McArtor (Cadet Wing Commander, Air Force Thunderbird Aerial Demonstration team member, head of Air Operations for Federal Express, head of the FAA, current Chairman of Airbus), John Lorber (scored 1st TD in Falcon stadium, present for Sue’s only "martini experience" ever, Commander of Pacific Air Forces as 4 star General, head of international sales at Boeing) and I were on the field for the coin toss. When I walked down the ramp to the football field, I got goose bumps and the beginning of a queasy stomach, just like I had done on my last trip down the ramp in 1963, as we played Colorado 2 weeks late after President JFK’s assassination. I spent most of my pre-game on the field time in the end zone watching the linemen warm up and talking to Jack Braley. Jack began the Falcon weight-lifting program – in our days none of us lifted weights. In fact, I never lifted weights at all until I turned 65 – I got with a personal trainer, got a regimen, and have religiously been on it for 3 years. I lift 3 days, with treadmill and stretching in between. When I returned from Utah, I was 14 pounds under my AF playing weight, and my BP was 120 over 60 on a medical exam earlier this month. Jack and I talked about the Falcon weight lifting program – he said today they are trying to keep linemen’s weight down. I told Jack my story of senior year – I had Survival Training as summer detail. Naturally, the powers that be, put me through the survival program again, and I took 2 Doolie classes through it also. I showed up at football camp (Oxnard AFB, N. of LA), and I only weighed 189 – Joe Moss (linebacker coach) was livid, because I had played the previous year at 215. So they put me on a program every night of 2 sandwiches and a milk shake before bedtime – I regained the lost 26 pounds before our 1st game (6 weeks away), but I’m sure it didn’t do much for my “dietary” system.

Going onto the field for the coin toss was fun, but as Army completely stopped the AF offense in the 1st half (I think minus 35 yards rushing), I was hoping we honorary captains hadn’t “jinxed” the Falcons. I felt much better when Troy and his staff made some great halftime corrections and scored 28 unanswered points. What Air Force did the 2nd half was put a back in motion one way and make a direct handoff to the tailback the other way for an off tackle hole that yielded 2 long runs, one a TD. AF also threw the ball and Fogler caught two long balls, one also for a TD. Whew – they got us off the hook. I was so brave as to volunteer our support for next year’s Navy game, but that’s another story.

Personal Reflections on the 45th Reunion and the Football Reunion

These have been difficult personal times for me, because I am concerned about the direction of our government, in both foreign and domestic policy. I think my parish priest put politics in context at this past Thursday’s daily Mass. At his brief homily, he told us about a conversation he had with a fellow priest who told him, “All politicians are liars and cheats, but I like the Democrat liars and cheats the best.” In our prayers following the homily, we even prayed for the “liars and the cheats.” Following politics and the developments over the few years has been depressing, especially the past 8 months – I am convinced that both parties in Congress are comprised of trust fund, ego-maniacal narcissists.

Having said that, I had a completely different feeling about our country after our reunion. I left the reunion with the feeling that I had been surrounded by “greatness.” When I look at the accomplishments of my football classmates (“If it the game most like war, it is also a game most like life, for it teaches young men that work, sacrifice, selflessness, competitive drive, perseverance and respect for authority are the price one pays to achieve goals worthwhile”) as well as my regular classmates, as well as who they have become as people, I am greatly heartened. One classmate, former Falcon basketball player, Rich Porter, whom I played basketball with in Pilot Training, made a very astute observation as we discussed national health care. He said “British and Europeans don’t mind standing in lines, Americans never will.” Having lived in England, I agree with Rich. So how about this. Let’s replace the members of Congress with the Class of 1964. Perhaps we can achieve low taxes, limited government, greater individual freedom, and enhanced personal responsibility – wouldn’t they be novel concepts!

Other “greatness” feelings came from learning that the AF Academy academic, military, athletic, and community service programs are top of the line. The leaders who instruct these young people also have impressive credentials, academically, militarily, and athletically. Troy Calhoun is a tremendous asset to the Academy. Apparently 9 of his assistants are also grads, so the cadet football players are hearing it from people who have “been there.” In his Friday Falcon Stadium talk, he spoke of his tremendous respect for Army, it’s program and its people. He said, paraphrasing, “We are all combatants in arms, and we will serve together upon graduation, but for 3 hours tomorrow, we want to beat their brains out.”

So, the 45th reunion was a most heartening experience, and I enjoyed every minute of it (except the 1st ½ of the football game) – I am proud to say my Class of 1964 has served our country well with honor and distinction.

Hail to the Class of 1964!!

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