Class Of 1964 USAF Academy

Tom's History

Pre Cadet Days

I was born and raised in Weirton, in the northern panhandle of West Virginia between Ohio and Pennsylvania along the Ohio River. This was a steel town with opportunities for many middle class workers. Unfortunately the area was impacted by the closing of almost all of the mills.
My interest in an Academy appointment came in my junior year of high school. My exposure to the military was limited. My Dad and five uncles fought in World War II, but none made it a career. Dr. E. L. Justice, our family doctor who delivered me, suggested I apply for an appointment to West Point or Annapolis. I decided to apply to USAFA even though the first class had not graduated. My Uncle Clayton Heaton, a B-17 pilot who flew combat missions from Italy, influenced my decision.
No one from my family had gone to college. I was disappointed when I qualified, but did not receive an appointment. My options looked like go to West Virginia University or stay in Weirton to work in the mill or in the bar my Dad owned. The USAF offered a slot to the Naval Academy Preparatory School (NAPS) if I enlisted and went through basic training. The USAF used NAPS for USAFA candidates since they did not have their own prep school at that time. My first thought was to reject the offer as a scam. I showed the offer to my high school principal who suggested I look at it like a scholarship with another opportunity to attend USAFA. That changed my mind. On 1 AUG 1959 I was at Lackland AFB for basic training with about 100 other similarly qualified candidates without an appointment. After basic, we went to Bainbridge Naval Training Center near Havre de Grace, Maryland. The program there included math, composition, English, military training, and athletics. The best education was the exposure to the 300 sailors and marines who came out of the fleet to attend NAPS. I received an appointment after completing NAPS.

Cadet Days

Basic Cadet Training (BCT) was different. My weight was over 185 pounds (I was overweight) when I reported to USAFA. My element leader took one look at me and said I should weigh less than 150. I thought fat chance of that. The last time I weighed that was my sophomore year of high school. At the end of BCT I was below 150, but I do not recommend the weight loss program. I passed out on the terrazzo while standing at attention with my M-1 rifle. I lost a number of teeth and broke my jaw. Part of the reason may have been lack of food along with pneumonia. I got to meet a number of high ranking USAFA officials, but my memory about that is hazy. I spent so much time in the dispensary that I was told the survival trek would determine if I remained with my class or would be washed back. Jay Kelley and I teamed together and completed survival. We ate baby food through a straw since we both had a wired jaw.
I was assigned to the 16th Cadet Squadron fourth class year. The Wing expanded from 20 to 24 squadrons my third class year with 16th becoming 21st Cadet Squadron, where I spent my last three cadet years. As a cadet I concentrated on academics. I was gratified to be selected squadron honor representative, which required a large commitment of time and effort. During a squadron sponsor trip to Vandenberg AFB first class year, a group of us entered a collegiate elephant race held at what is now California State University Fullerton. The entrance fee ($300) to rent the elephant was contributed by donations from the cadet wing. I rode the elephant, Bimbo, to victory with a great deal of help from the handler. We were awarded a trophy which was presented to the Commandant.

USAF Service Days

After graduation I went to pilot training in class 66-A at Williams AFB, Arizona. Based on my pilot training standing, which was not very high, my choice was either a KC-135 or a B-52. I figured if I had to fly a big plane, I would prefer being the one delivering weapons rather than performing a support role. I spent five years in B-52Ds with four temporary duty assignments (six months each) to Southeast Asia. The Math Department sponsored me for a masters at Texas A&M University with a follow-on assignment to teach math. Luckily I met my wife, Kay Elmore, at A&M. She was working as a clothing specialist for the Texas Agricultural Extension Agency. We married in April 1972 during spring break after I reported for duty at the Math Department. In addition to teaching math, I also flew as a T-41 Instructor Pilot with the cadet indoctrination program.
I enjoyed teaching cadets so much I applied for a Ph.D. program sponsored by the Academy. An interesting time came when the Academy agreed to send me to school. Military Personnel Center (MPC) stepped in to say I did not have credit for a Southeast Asia tour and would need to do that first. I said certainly if they would guarantee grad school after the flying tour. MPC said no guarantees. Finally the personnel chief at USAFA said look at the record: 244 B-52 combat missions with over 24 months temporary duty. That should equal the one year overseas requirement. MPC finally agreed to an Arizona State University (ASU) assignment with a cockpit tour to follow before returning to USAFA. So after ASU I was assigned to Sheppard AFB as a T-37 Instructor Pilot for three years. I joked with my Texas in-laws that the bad news was we had a foreign assignment, but the good news was it was Texas.
While at Sheppard AFB I was fortunate enough to be assigned with two classmates, Jim Sears and Park Hinman. A tornado hit Wichita Falls in the spring of 1979. Park lost his home, but his family was safe. Jim lived on the same street, but both our homes were not hit. Jim told me he had been through the same tornado drill at both Webb AFB and Wright-Patterson AF.
After the move back to USAFA, our daughter Lauren was born at the Academy hospital. We were living on base with the hospital close. Monday evening Kay said maybe we should go to the hospital. We waited to leave for the hospital until the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the New England Patriots in overtime with a field goal. Lauren did not arrive until late Tuesday morning.

Civilian Days

We decided to retire from the USAF in 1983. My enlisted time counted toward 20 years. One factor we considered was the number of moves we thought would be required if we remained on active duty. As it turned out we made about the same number of moves anyway. I went to work as a systems engineer for TRW in Redondo Beach, California, for a year with a move back to Colorado Springs to work at Falcon AFS (now Schriever AFB). In 1987 we moved to Redlands, California, to work at Norton AFB with the ballistic missile program. Interesting work, but they closed Norton AFB so we moved back to Texas to work at the Superconducting Super Collider, which was canceled after President Bush lost the election.
I wanted Lauren to stay at the same high school since she had two more years to graduate. I took a job in Richland, Washington, working at a Department of Energy site. Kay and Lauren stayed in Texas, but after 12 months Kay was diagnosed with breast cancer. I returned to Texas to be with her for chemo and radiation. I joined Raytheon in Garland, Texas, and worked five years each in signals and images. In the meantime Kay's cancer returned. She had brain surgery, but that did not help. She died in January 2001. Lauren was attending Abilene Christian University at that time and graduated that spring.
In 2002 Carol Ann Murchison, from Amarillo, and I married. Getting married to Carol was a smart move on my part. Our new family has three daughters, Lauren, Erin, and Shannon, who are about the same age. We are fortunate to have four grandchildren. Lauren married Robert Hance and they have two daughters, Magdalene and Anna. Erin married Evan Belcher and they have a son, Ethan, and a daughter, Emily. Shannon works in Tulsa for an energy company. The future looks bright as we anticipate being able to spend many quality hours doing what grandparents do best, spoil their grandchildren.

Tom and Carol

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