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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9523rd AFRES

Jim at a Veteran's Day event in the early 2000's

Jim at a Veteran’s Day event in the early 2000’s

When I first met Jim he was an active member of the Jamestown unit of the Air Force Recovery Squadron. One weekend a month he had to spend the entire weekend at the airport doing something with a bunch of airplanes and military men. Then, to top it off, they went to somewhere exotic, like Rapid City, South Dakota, every year for two weeks for extended training. I didn’t understand why he was spending all that time with the Air Force.

This and the next couple of letters describe the second half of Jim’s military career. It’s a long and involved story that deserves the three letters he invests in it. He was adamant about getting his time in, making up weekends when he couldn’t get to the scheduled one, even when they moved to Fargo, a hundred miles away. I just didn’t understand how he could give up a weekend of camping and fun to run off to the airport so often.

The other thing I didn’t understand is how much he was teaching me by example. He had a goal in mind, a goal that was years in the making. I was only a teenager when I learned about his dedication to the Air Force Reserve so the idea of investing in a goal for something thirty years out was impossible for me to imagine. In fact, as I aged it became clear that my past limited my view of the future. I don’t recall exactly when I figured it out, but at age twenty I could only see twenty years into the future. Retirement was beyond my comprehension. Now that I’ve reached retirement age, the future is all too clear.

Jim could see far enough to know that retirement would be something to plan for. Between his military retirement and Tri-Care military medical insurance his decision in 1962 allowed him to live the last years of his life in relative comfort and plenty.

Jim writes:

After spending ten years in the Navy and all those years spent on different types of ships at sea it was a startling change of military careers when I enlisted in the Air Force Reserve in August of 1962.

Being completely landlocked in the midwest didn’t offer much in the way of advancement and training in a Naval career field. At this time there was a small Naval Reserve unit headquartered in Fargo on the NDSU campus. It wasn’t very active and had little to offer. Thru a friend in Jamestown, Dave Robertson (of AAU fame!) I learned that there was an Air Force Reserve Unit right here under my nose and I wasn’t even aware of it! Continue reading