I was devastated when I was tossed out of the ROTC flying program. I felt like a “second-class” citizen – especially being so “gung-ho” for my first 3 years of ROTC. Because I had already been enrolled in FIP, I was offered to take the ground school portion of the course with the caveat that the highest grade I could receive would be a “C.” I took the deal.
In the spring of ’68 I was assigned to attend the Aerospace Munitions Officer Course at Lowry AFB, CO. I don’t know when I began this, but I went to the AF manual for ‘officer training,’ and looked up the course. One of the prerequisites was “normal color vision!” Well, fuck me! Does anyone really wonder why I hold “shoeclerks” (bureaucrats, gumshoes, etc.) in so much contempt?
Having discovered that, and actually satisfied a Munitions Officer school slot – in Denver, I kept quiet about it all. Thought it would be ‘amusing’ that at a later date, with the schooling behind me, to lay this in some shoeclerk’s lap – at a time and place of my choosing.
Before I went on active duty I caught a ‘hop’ to San Antonio to visit my folks. While I was there I went out to Randolph Field one day. At that time Randolph was a UPT (undergraduate pilot training) base. I remember sitting on the curb, just outside of Base Operations, watching the T-38s as they conducted flight operations. I remember praying something like, “God, if I only had a chance…” It was something I knew I could do… On 4 July 1968 I left home for active duty.
After completion of Munitions School I was assigned to Nellis AFB, NV just outside of Las Vegas. This Air Force life was looking good so far! I showed up in early January 1969, and was assigned to the 430th Tactical Fighter Squadron (TFS) as a Weapons Load Officer. I was assigned to a shop with 105 airmen working for me! The 430th TFS was an F-111A squadron.
As much as I enjoyed the people, and the job, I still couldn’t escape my desire to fly. I managed to grab hold of an old helmet from Supply, about my size, and took it home. I remember sitting in my apartment, wearing that damned helmet and listening to Gordon Lightfoot’s “Early Morning Rain,” drinking myself stupid – night after night. The line, “…and I’m stuck here in the grass, with a pain that ever grows…” was coring my soul. And I would sit there and drink – drinking alone until I drank enough to where the line, “…and I stuck here on the ground, as cold and drunk as I could be…” rang so very true. And I would either pass out, or fall asleep, still wearing that damn helmet…
So, in early February I decided that I had not been rejected from flying while on active duty – and they just might, cut me some slack. So I went over to the Flight Surgeon’s office, and took a flight physical. The med tech administering the color vision exam knew I was struggling. So when I would say “13” for a color plate, he would reply, “Subtract ‘5’” and I was ‘good-to-go!” I was always a lot better at math than I was seeing those damn numbers!
So I ‘passed’ my physical, and applied for flight school. Felt pretty good about it until it got bounced at HQ Air Training Command (ATC). They had my physical from Wright-Patterson on file. Color vision doesn’t change: I was toast.
It wasn’t long before I received a call to report to the Flight Surgeon’s office. those folks were pissed, to say the least. They wanted to know who administered the eye exam. I’ll be damned if I was going to ‘rat the kid out,’ so I played the ‘dumb 2nd Lieutenant’ for all I was worth. It worked. I got a strong lecture, and sent on my way… Crap!
In August 1969 I received a call from Mom, telling me the USAF changed their color vision standards. They now accepted the FAA’s color threshold test – the one I passed at Wright-Pat in 1967! (Probably a good place to mention that my Mom worked at the HQ ATC Surgeon General’s Office at Randolph…) I told Mom I was tired of failing the flight physical – that I just wanted to serve my time, get out and find something else to do…
I had never heard Mom use such language! She essentially told me to get over to the Flight Surgeon’s office, or she would kick my ass! So, I went through the drill again.
They gave me the FAA color vision threshold test again, with a ‘cast of thousands’ in the room, and I passed. (More on this in another post). In September 1969 I was notified that I had been accepted to UPT!
I soon received orders for flight training at Randolph AFB, TX, UPT Class 71-07 and subsequently received my Wings on 24 April 1971. From that date until I retired in July 1988, I flew all but 2 years whilst on assignment to Australia. (I actually flew down under, however without Air Force permission…) I retired with 5165.7 hours of Air Force flying.
Tonight I sit here with so much gratitude, and humility. I was able to live a “childhood dream!” And I actually flew twice on the day I retired from the Air Force. I flew a student sortie in the morning, and went up on a two-ship ride with 3 dear friends for my “Fini-Flight.” When we shut down the jets after landing, I was retired at the base of the ladder…on the flight line, not far from that curb I once sat on and dreamed!
I am so grateful tonight…