Revisiting Some Of My Past

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(Williams AFB 82 FTW T-38)

Last week, while in Casa Grande, AZ, for some really good late model and modified races, I thought that this would be a great opportunity to revisit some of my past.  It just so happens that Casa Grande is just about 40 mile directly south of the place that launched my aviation career, Williams AFB, AZ.

It was almost 40 years ago, August 9, 1973, that this baby-faced, young Second Lieutenant first drove onto the base for processing and orientation for USAF Undergraduate Pilot Training.

On an off day from racing I decided to take that nostalgic drive North to see what is left of the former Williams AFB, or as we, in the Air Force called it with great affection, “Willy”.

As I left the Pinal County Fairgrounds, that is where the Central Arizona Raceway is located, I headed Northeast for my first stop on this tour down memory lane.  About 15 miles NE from the race track stands a seldom used airfield that is now Coolidge Municipal Airport.

Coolidge Municipal Airport, in its previous life, was built and utilized by the USAF as for various support roles from 1941-1993.  During WWII that facility was used as a support field for ferrying supplies and personnel to support the war effort.  Following WWII, the airfield was aligned with the USAF’s effort in training pilots at Williams AFB, AZ.

It was at this auxiliary airport that I would fly visual approaches, both straight-in approaches, and single engine approaches, in the T-37 back in 1973.

Notwithstanding the fact that I had flown more than 50 approaches to this facility in 1973, I had never driven to this airport, stood on the taxiways and runways.  Now some 40 years later, I was able to stand at this facility and reminisce the significance it has played in my aviation career.

There were many emotional thoughts that ran through this old man’s mind during my revisitation to Coolidge Municipal Airport.  As I was standing out on the tarmac, I could hear the voice of my T-37 instructor in my head, talking me through the traffic pattern and onto the runway successfully.

As I gazed out over this, personally important historic old airport, I couldn’t help thinking……

Forty years, man where’d they go?

After more than an hour of reminiscing at Coolidge Municipal Airport, I worked really hard at gathering up all those emotions that had run rampant through my brain, walked back to my car, and decided to drive another 30 miles North to some more of my old stomping grounds, Williams AFB, now called Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport for some more soul-searching.

On the drive from Coolidge to “Willy” there were many thoughts that began to float around in my head.  I wasn’t sure just how this old man would handle what would surely be more emotional thoughts that would gush into my brain, after all, it was where my future was shaped in many ways.

As I drove through a back way from Coolidge to Willy, I noticed that this route used to be a deserted country road.  However, now there are subdivisions abounding everywhere! As I drove North on Power Road, I came to Williams Field Road, the entrance to Williams AFB in the old days.  I made a right turn on Williams Field Road, the old guard-house was still there, marking the entrance to Willy.

I was on a mission to find certain buildings that were key to my days on base.  I first drove to where my old T-37 squadron building was located.  That building has now been updated, and is now incorporated into part of the Arizona State University extension facilities now located here.

The memories of the morning standup briefing before we went flying the ol “Tweet” bounced around in my brain.

Forty years, man where’d they go?

Next stop was across the street.  That is where my T-38 squadron building was once headquartered.  Likewise, that building has been updated and incorporated into ASU extension.

Forty years, man where’d they go?

As I stood between these two buildings, I gazed out to the ramp area where all those T-37’s and T-38’s used to be parked.  The nostalgia rushed into my brain like a herd of stampeding buffalo!

Those thoughts resurrected my early days of flying the T-37, trying to learn how to be an Air Force officer and pilot, and to all the struggles of trying to manhandle the supersonic fighter/trainer known as the T-38.  The thought of 57 Second Lieutenants, “young studs” in our flight suits, strutting our stuff, flying jets, and living large, was absolutely overwhelming!

Forty years, man where’d they go?

My next stop was to find the Officer’s Club.  My most prized memory of this building was when I brought my Dad down to Willy for my “Dining Out”.  The Dining Out was a formal function, for men only, just prior to my graduation.  The Dining Out is a USAF tradition, a right of passage of sorts for the young USAF Officer and pilot.  It was a night with me in my mess dress uniform and my Dad in a tux.  What a memory!

That night still is one of the highlights of my life!  It marked, in my mind, when my Dad really realized that his son had passed into manhood!

Forty years, man where’d they go?

After the Officer’s Club, I headed back near the guard-house entrance.  Just to the South of the entrance stands the old base chapel.  The base chapel is where my graduation ceremonies were held.  It is where I got my USAF pilot wings pinned on my uniform at the end of USAF Undergraduate Pilot Training, September 7, 1974.

As I stood near the front door, I vividly relived that warm September afternoon with my family in tow helping me to celebrate a monumental event in my young life.  Once again, the emotions rushed and gushed all over me!

Forty years, man where’d they go?

My last point of interest to find was the base house that I lived in.  This was also the first house that my oldest son, Jason, came home from the hospital to!  The street names have all been changed since the Air Force gave the facility back to Arizona.  But with a little effort I found the house!

Once again, there were memories that overwhelmed me!  There were too many memories to even lightly touch upon!  But nevertheless, this movie lasted quite a long time as I sat down on the sidewalk in front of the house!

Forty years, man where’d they go?

As I left my old base housing house, I found myself pulling back into the base chapel on my way out of the base for one last stop.  I got out of my car one last time and walked up to the front door at the base chapel.  I just touched the front door one last time!

When I was able to gather myself up, I slowly walked back to my car.  As I pulled out of the old base chapel parking lot, I peered one last time over my left shoulder for a final glimpse of Willy and my past.

Good bye Willy!  Forty years, man where’d they go?

As I pulled out of Willy, on the radio quite coincidentally, was one of my all time favorite songs by Bob Seger.

It really sums up just how I felt last week as I was reliving the life of Captain Blowdri, forty years later!

Forty years, man where’d they go? Now I  recall!

I will leave you with the video.  Listen to the lyrics, they have left an indelible imprint in my mind for many years!

ROGER, WILCO, OVER, AND OUT!

2 thoughts on “Revisiting Some Of My Past”

  1. Great read Leon. I started pilot training forty-five years ago next month but it was at Webb AFB in Big Spring, Texas. I think it’s a prison now; so, I don’t think I’ll be going back to visit.

  2. I enjoyed the read and revisited memories of my 3 plus years at Willie. My job was a Physical Training Instructor working for Ned Jolley. I also did Drownproofing Training and Unarmed Combatives. You arrived in 1973 but I was there slightly ahead of you from 1965-1968. It was with great joy that I read your thoughts and I do thank you for the “trip”. Since I got along with most of the officers I was fortunate to have been to the BOQ side on occasion and the Skoshi Tiger (T-38/F-5) is still my favorite aircraft (apologies to the SR-71). Thanks again!! You wouldn’t have, by chance, a breakdown of the sister flight pairings of 3525 and 3526 PTW? I’ve been in contact with Boysan/Hacker Warlock/Goodgrief through a Norweign contact. A house fire and bad memory has made that info disappear.

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