The Unholy Trinity: Resolution – Flying

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…

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