Demise of the 9523rd AFRES

In this letter, Jim writes about the end of his time in the Air Force Reserves. After moving to Jamestown he committed to the military, primarily to earn the retirement income. After years of active duty, he felt that a regular income was within reach. All he had to do was stay with it to reach the thirty year mark. Now they tried to take it away.

Jim (r) and friend in uniform.

Jim (r) and friend in uniform.

These were stressful times, making it an easy bet that the military would be around for a long time. The Cuban Missile Crisis had been in the papers just a couple of years earlier. Even many of us who lived through that time didn’t really understand how serious that threat was. Recently I heard a B-47 navigator give a talk about his experiences during those tense days in October of 1962. He told us about sitting on the runway with live, armed nuclear weapons. He talked about the route they would take to Russia, refueling over the Atlantic, dropping the bombs in Russia, refueling again over Norway, then returning to somewhere in the States. The most unsettling part of his talk was his description of a talk he had with his wife and young children before he took off. They decided where to meet … “after the war.” They actually made plans to meet at a particular motel in Texas. Gen. Curtis LeMay, who Jim talks about in this letter, wanted to “bomb the hell” out of the Russians. There was a need for these Air Force Reservists.

After Jim defended our country against the Japanese empire, this must have been a simple extension of his duty, with the added benefit of a possible retirement check. Assuming we were all still alive.

I was only fourteen when all this happened, so was oblivious to much of the drama. I focused on the fact that he had friends in the unit and wanted to stay with them.

This was a big deal, Jim had several really good friends in the unit. This was shortly after I met Jim, and I was pretty young, and did not understand the concept of retirement or career, I just knew he thought it was important. I saw that some of his best buddies were in the reserves, so it seemed like the right thing to do.

Jim writes:

The future of the 9523rd AFRES was doomed …. the unit to become another relic of the past. We were to be disbanded. Following studies and evaluations by the Air Force it was determined that there was no foreseeable future military need for these units. This move involved about 8,000 reservists in 44 states and the District of Columbia. This was to be a forerunner to the merger of the Air Force Reserves into the Air National Guard.

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What to do when you grow up?

There’s that question parents and uncles ask kids. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” We all ask it. Kids don’t have a clue. Parents aren’t much better at giving advice. The job choices I had won’t exist for my grand children. Today’s process of getting a job bears little resemblance to what I went through. What I’m trying to say here is that parents have no idea what a kid should do. In the end, I’m not sure anyone has very good advice. My mother thought I could be a good TV repair man. Judy’s grandmother thought I did something with telephones. What would I be when I grew up?

920911I rewrote this post several times. All I wanted to do was describe how I chose two jobs that were important to me. Describing those two choices was difficult, more than I thought it would be. It’s hard to find similarities between the two jobs. More importantly, neither job was anywhere near what I thought was a possibility, but both were exactly what I wanted to do. One relates to my many experiences with the medical establishment, but let’s start with my early time at IBM.

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Meeting Anke

Meeting Anke

Eric writes:

Eric

Eric

It was while working in Dallas, Texas at the Redbird Airport project that I met Anke. She was working in the airport restaurant when I came in for coffee. I would sit there reading my book and drinking coffee. I guess she got curious about me and asked me out. Since I was getting a divorce, I saw no harm in it.

We were together for about ten years. More about our time together later.

— Eric H

Moving to Jamestown

Jamestown ND

Rear view of the “Pink” house a few years after they moved to Jamestown.

How about something a little different this time? Reading this letter from Grace brought up so many memories that I feel the need to say something about every sentence she wrote. There is a story behind each sentence, and this time I feel like I know the back story.

For this letter, I’m going to use a different format than you’re used to. After each sentence of Grace’s, I’m going to give you some background about it. Every sentence in every one of her letters, Louie’s letters, Lucy’s letters and Jim’s letters could probably get the same treatment, but today is my mother’s turn.

Grace writes:

Hi everyone,

We’re on the road again this lovely late summer morning in Wisconsin.

Guy’s comment:

After Grace and Norris got married they usually took at least one trip each year, often several. They brought Chris, Eric and Linn along when they were young enough. Later it was just the two of them. These trips sometimes involved fishing in Canada, hunting in Montana, national parks in Arizona, tourist stops in Wisconsin, or relatives in North Dakota. They put on thousands of miles, stopping every 100 miles for a quick break and to change drivers. On one of their trips the car broke down and they bought a new one in Jamestown. Each of their trips could be its own story. The year she wrote these letters they went through North Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin, stopping to visit relatives, including Judy and me.

Grace writes:

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Horse and Buggy

Farm house where Lucy grew up. Gardner ND

Farm house where Lucy grew up.

From the time I knew Lucy until she left us in 2008 music was the important theme in her life. She was always part of the church choir and other activities. In this letter Lucy talks about riding to school in a horse-drawn buggy. Music plays a key role in the story. One of her earlier letters also described riding to school with her brother and sister, and this story adds to the drama.

There are so many comparisons we could make between today and ninety years ago. They had dirt roads, horse power, mud, boarders … my grand children have none of those challenges. As I write this, two of the grand kids are sitting on the couch playing with iPads. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

At least they seem to love music as much as Grandma Lucy did.

Lucy writes:

My folks always took in High School students during those depression years, if they couldn’t finish high school. After Alice + Lewellyn finished school whoever was staying with us would drive the horses. Now George Beardsley was that man. He would always remark about how spoiled we were. He came from a very poor humble home so living with us was a real treat for him.

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Campus Radio Station

KDSU Studio, Fargo ND

KDSU Studio

There were always connections helping me find a job. My friend Don gave me his job sweeping floors at the downtown dress shop. My mother got me a job at the cemetery. Jim got me the job at the Credit Union League, which taught me a lot. My first real job, found sort of on my own, was at the college radio station. Just like other jobs, it came to me through connections. This connection was my friend Cliff O, who lived in the room next door in the dorm.

KDSU was the college radio station, a public radio station before there was National Public Radio. The hours were limited, going on the air in late morning or early afternoon, signing off just after midnight. The fare was classical music in the afternoon, some news in the evening, more classical music, then jazz to close out the night. Most of the staff were nerds like me, more interested in radio technology than radio, and weren’t afraid to talk to a microphone.

Back in high school I had been part of the radio club. (My memory is dim here.) I had befriended one of the KEYJ announcers and put together some programs for high school news. That experience and my hobby of taking apart radios and televisions made me ideal for the job at KDSU. All I needed was a third class radiotelephone license. As I recall all I had to do was send in my name and address.

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Inspecting FAA facilities

Inspecting FAA facilities

Eric writes:

Eric

Eric

I went to work for ATC Environmental the day after I finished working with Linn. When I walked in the door, Dan Beneke hired me on the spot, because he was familiar with Linn and I, knew the quality work we had done in the past. I worked as a field project manager for a couple of years and then they sent me to Chicago to train for Polarized Light Microscopy. I went to work in the asbestos laboratory as an analyst. I was later chosen to train for the new Transmission Electron Microscopy laboratory that ATC was opening. At about this time, Jenny Meyer over at Research Management Consultants, Inc. offered me a job. I had just started in the TEM lab and wanted to give the company at least a year considering the investment they had just made to train me. I worked in the TEM lab for a little over a year, when I finally moved on to RMCI.

Working at RMCI was the most fun I think I ever had working for somebody else. Remember, I was and still am in love with anything that has to do with flying. They hired me to inspect buildings and do building materials surveys at Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) facilities all across the country. I started out working on the Air Traffic Control tower inspection program. I would go out with a partner for five days to a different facility every day. For example, one week started at the Minot, North Dakota tower, the second day at Grand Forks, on to a radar facility north of Fargo, then to the Fargo tower on Thursday; and finishing up with the Bismarck ATCT on Friday.

We would spend a full day surveying a facility. A small tower might take only four hours to inspect. A large facility might take longer than the eight hours allotted. I remember one trip to Oklahoma City, where any partner and I spent ten hours per day at a facility and almost missed our Friday evening flight because we were working so long. I spent the next three or more weeks producing the inspection reports.

The smallest building I ever looked at was a radio building at the end of the runway at Valdez, Alaska. The largest building was Hangar#8 at the Monroney Aeronautical Center in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. One was a twenty-minute inspection; the other took almost 60 hours to complete the physical inspection.

One of my friends at RMCI was Chuck Mumey. He was a fellow inspector and a pilot. He owned his own airplane and had about every rating there was except ATP. At lunch time we would go for walks and talk about all kinds of stuff, but would always wind up talking about flying. Chuck wanted to teach me to fly, but my wife, JoAnn, was afraid that I would get killed. So I didn’t get to learn to fly from Chuck.

One Saturday morning Chuck called me to see if I would be interested in going for a flight. Chuck also asked Rhonda Bliss, a mutual friend, to come along. I was also able to take my son Joel along for the ride. We flew from Denver to Pueblo and had a pizza lunch. Then we flew back. Once again a beautiful flying experience. The whole time, my wife JoAnn was sitting at home afraid that we were going to crash and die.

We didn’t.

When we completed the tower inspection program, we started working with the Raytheon Company to produce specifications from our inspection reports for the Fire and Life Safety Program. This started another round of inspections.

This time I was in Washington DC for an extended period and then out in the field at towers again collecting lead paint samples. Once these inspections and specifications were completed, they assigned us Environmental Oversight Supervisors to the individual construction projects. These projects could take months to complete.  They expected us to be on the job site the entire time. I would be gone for ten days straight, come home for a weekend and then back to work on Monday.

I remember being in Nantucket, Massachusetts for several weeks in the fall of one year. I would leave work to catch a flight home at 3:30 PM and not get home until after midnight. I would be so exhausted that I would sleep until noon Saturday and then have to be back at the airport by noon Sunday to fly back to work. I was gone so much that I wound up getting divorced, as did one or two others I worked with.

— Eric H