My Father was raised on a farm, the eldest and only son, with four sisters and hardworking parents so tough they could weather any storm. He spent thousands of backbreaking hours laboring in the fields with my grandfather, cultivating a tobacco crop that the family prayed would be bountiful enough to get them through the winter. But he learned at an early age that no matter how hard a person worked their land, it only took a single episode of bad weather to destroy a crop and erase the family’s income. There were good years, years when the crop provided money for extras. But there were also plenty of bad years. So when it came time for him to make his own way in the world, he set his sights outside Grainger County, Tennessee.
It was the summer of 1960, and he’d depleted all his savings attending the University of Tennessee. As political tensions grew, he was afraid he’d be drafted into the Army and have no control of his life. He had loved being a member of the ROTC at UT so he joined the Air Force with a hunger to see the world.
And see the world he did. As a proud member of the 604th Communications Squadron, he served on ground communication control at Ramstein AFB Germany. And he loved it. He joined the local Boots & Ruffles Square Dance Club, took correspondence courses and learned enough German to be the one guy every airman wanted to be around whenever they went out for a night on the town.
He was the good ol’ boy from Tennessee and knew how to follow orders so well that he was put in charge of the men before he thought he was ready. He dated the colonel’s daughter and was always telling jokes and pulling pranks to get a laugh.
He and his roommate, Lonnie, saved up their money while most airmen drank away their paychecks. So while the guys were nursing hangovers, my Father and Lonnie used their savings to embark on a trip across Europe, touring France, Monaco, Switzerland and Italy.
He loved being part of the US military and was more than excited to fight for freedom during the Cold War. He toured the Berlin Wall while it was being built and saw makeshift memorials for those who’d tried to escape from East Berlin and lost their lives in search of freedom.
He looked into the eyes of those trapped behind the wall, knowing they had risked their lives just to catch a glimpse of West Berlin. He even took a small piece of the Berlin Wall with him that day so he would never forget the constant battle between those who wanted to control mankind and those who fought for every man’s freedom.
My Father has always told me that joining the Air Force was one of the best decisions he’d ever made. His longing to see the world was fulfilled and he was thrilled to use his engineering prowess to help people on a grand scale. He loved having a front row seat to world history. He soaked up everything he could about communications, which catapulted him into another front row seat in American history while enabling NASA astronauts to communicate during our nation’s Great Space Race.
Not too bad for a Tennessee farm boy.