Class Of 1964 USAF Academy

How I Got to the Zoo

Clint Running, my Dad, was 16 when he migrated with Grandpa Running from Michigan's Upper Peninsula to Montana. They were looking for work whilst the iron ore pits were strikebound. As winter set in and word that the strike was ending reached them, Grandpa went back to Michigan, but Dad stayed; he was enjoying the challenges a lumberjack faces.

If you didn't know, wiki will tell you: "Because of its historical ties, the term lumberjack has become ingrained in popular culture through folklore, mass media and spectator sports. The actual work was difficult, dangerous, intermittent, low-paying, and primitive in living conditions, but the men built a traditional culture that celebrated strength, masculinity, confrontation with danger, and resistance to modernization."

Clint Running met Doretta Bedard at a community dance in Frenchtown, Montana. They married and produced a family of five, three sons and two daughters. The runt of the litter, and the fifth to join the family, they named Nels.

Nels learned early in life that he had to make decisions early on the career path he would follow. The earliest path he chose was to live life as a cowboy.

Nels2yrs_editedSm.jpg We had a horse, a cow, chickens, gardens, an orchard and a hayloft in our barn. After milking the cow, feeding the chickens, gathering the eggs, weeding the garden and harvesting the produce and orchard provisions, as well as mowing the alfalfa and putting up the hay in the hayloft, Nels found little time to ride the horse. So, the cowboy life didn't seem to germinate.

Nels graduated Frenchtown High School as valedictorian of the 20-person Class of '58. He went to work for the Yellowstone Park Co. that summer to earn some cash for college. The tourist season closed in September, and he was off to Carroll College in Helena, Montana. His older brother was entering his junior year and he had the wheels. So, Nels missed the Freshman Entrance Program by two days; first big mistake. All the rooms for freshmen were filled. The Carroll solution was to place him in Borromeo Seminary, where the resident seminarians were studying for the priesthood. I was instantly reminded of the charge the Bishop had made when he visited our church in Frenchtown to confirm the class. He said, "Nels, you will make a fine priest!" Holy Horrors... was it becoming reality???

Again, Nels went to West Yellowstone for the summer of '59 to work for the Park Company. It was business as usual, until 11:37 pm on 17 August 1959, when the Yellowstone Earthquake of 7.3 - 7.5 magnitude on the Richter Scale threw him out of bed. The Park Co. had to close the business in West Yellowstone, Montana. Nels was transferred to the Grand Teton Lodge in Jackson Hole, Wyoming to finish out the tourist season.

Another event, not quite as calamitous as the earthquake, occurred in 1959. Having said goodbye to his roommate at Carroll, who had received an appointment to the Naval Academy, Nels was pleasantly surprised to see 'Life Magazine' that summer with a photo spread of the "First U.S. Air Force Academy Graduation." Wasn't that something? The cadets looked Hollywood sharp in those uniforms. And the Corvette that stud stood by was to drool over. But, that cadet's best asset was the gorgeous blonde hanging on his arm! "Yes, PLEASE --- I'll take some of that!!!" So, as he entered his second year at Carroll, Nels began the process of applying for the USAFA Class of 1964.

Early in May, 1960, Nels received an invitation from the U.S. Naval Academy to join ranks with the squids. Admittedly, he had never been on any flotation larger than a raft, but he just couldn't see himself spending his life on the high seas. After sweating it out for 10 days, along came the letter from the Air Force with the tender to come to that beautiful new campus. Nels packed his bag, said his goodbyes to family, friends and the Ninemile Ranger Station home where the family had lived since '53, and off he went in his first ever ride on an airplane. Who said you couldn't join the Air Force if you didn't know how to fly!

What a rude awakening! Lowry AFB didn't look anything like the photos in Life Magazine.
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