Colonel Fred, a term of endearment we called him among ourselves, was one of the few officers I had the privilege to serve with who fully respected and acknowledged the capabilities of the men who made up his command. His own experience had taught him that the men were trained, capable, and willing to accomplish the mission as it was assigned. He depended on results, and the results he received were those he wished. To be sure, he was military-minded, knowing and adhering to the lines of discipline and good order, but he was both firm and fair. In addition, he possessed a sense of humor.
Two examples of this: One of the NCOs in the Detachment, TSgt Allen Romero, injured his arm severely by falling over a chair in the darkened living quarters. Colonel Fred fashioned a large heart-shaped piece of cardboard, colored purple, and at a later impromptu party, presented it to Romero as his “Purple Heart.” Sad to say, Romero would later receive a real one.
Shortly before Christmas, Colonel Fred mock-growled at TSgt Bob Lundy, “Have you gotten my Christmas present yet?” To which Bob answered, “No, sir. When did you mail it?” Colonel Fred merely rolled his eyes and shrugged his shoulders to acknowledge the one-upmanship. Then, on the way to his office, he broke out laughing.
But he graciously and gratefully stood as he accepted the Detachment personnel’s actual Christmas present and his plaque commemorating the vital contributions to Operation Skyspot. Without his guidance and supervision, I doubt the ground-directed bombing campaign in Vietnam would have had the success it attained.
Serving with Colonel Fred was one of the highlights of my career, and I wish we would have had more time together. Duties, however, conflicted as each of us was frequently away from the detachment on various tasks. But I learned more about him from his daughter, Patricia – a most gracious lady. We met at a ceremony in 2008 at Barksdale AFB, LA that dedicated a monument to the 19 men of the 1CEG lost in Vietnam and Laos.
She informed me that her father had been born in Exeter, New Hampshire, and had enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1942. She told me that Colonel Fred had flown as a crewman – navigator – starting with B-24s and later B-17s in the 8th Air Force’s bombing campaign of World War II. She let me read excerpts from a combat diary that a fellow crewman maintained. When I was asked to comment on some of the excerpts, I was struck by several references to the term “milk run,” meaning an easy mission. Having extensively researched 8th Air Force activities, I took exception to this casual statement.
These air crews took off in a thin-skinned airplane, loaded with tons of high explosive bombs and thousands of gallons of inflammable fuel. They faced the danger of crashing on take-off, climbed through impenetrable clouds and fog, and dodged other aircraft on their way to the assembly point. Extremely cold temperatures were a constant companion at altitude. Not so willingly, these men anticipated and accepted fighters and flak en-route to the target, and, once there, often faced the danger of erroneous bomb drops from aircraft higher in the formation. The turn-off target for home meant avoiding other aircraft assembling in formation, more fighters, flak, and a cruel, unforgiving sea between them and home. Facing these facts, how could there ever be a “milk run?” Indeed – the Greatest Generation.
I learned Colonel Fred had been struck by a round from an enemy fighter, but his flak shield prevented injury. He was also credited with a “probable,” meaning he almost certainly shot down an enemy fighter as it attacked. Certainly not an easy task when operating one of the “cheek” guns in a B-17.
But it didn’t end there. After the war, he continued flying. But by now it was in jet-powered aircraft. His favorite, I learned, was the B-47, and later he switched allegiance to the B-52. He had a series of assignments as he continued his career.
In 1948, he attended Army Finance School at Dow Field, ME, and followed that with an assignment to a navigator training wing at Mather AFB, CA. In rapid succession, during the period 1951-1954, Colonel Fred saw service in the 28th Bomb Wing (Rapid City, SD); the 9th Bomb Wing (Travis AFB, CA); the 3605th Pilot Training Wing (Ellington AFB, TX); and the 44th Bomb Wing (Lake Charles, LA). In addition, he spent a year at Thule, Greenland and by 1954 was stationed in Sidi Slimane, Morocco.
Attaining the rank of Major, he served the years 1956-1958 as a B-52 Radar Observer and B-52 Standardization Board Evaluator (StanBoard Eval) with the 42nd Bomb Wing at Loring AFB, ME. The next assignment was to the 3908 Strategic Stanboard Eval Team at Barksdale AFB, La, a position he held until 1962. Other staff level positions awaited him, and in 1966, he was selected to proceed to Vietnam and assist in establishing the ground-directed bombing campaign. It was while here that he continued his practice of writing to his family, telling them of the conditions and experiences he was encountering. At least, some of them. His daughter shared the contents of many of these letters with me, and as I read them, I felt the persona of Colonel Fred in each one.
Colonel Fred rotated home to the U.S. during the very last days of 1967, or possibly, the very first days of 1968. He then assumed staff duties at 1st Combat Evaluation Group until his retirement in 1970.
In the days of settlement on the Texas frontier, the fledging Texas Rangers learned quickly that to survive in their daily efforts to guard the border against outlaws, Mexican bandits, hostile Indians, and rustlers, each man needed a partner with courage, stamina, truthfulness, integrity, and the total involvement in the job at hand. People of this nature were acknowledged as being first-rate by saying of them, “He’ll do to ride the river with.”
But even though I could truthfully say this in summation of Colonel Fred, I would rather use an expression we used in our long-ago days of service. It was the highest praise a man could hope for, and the bestowing of it was not done lightly. It was the ultimate mark of respect, admiration, and acknowledgement of great personal worth.
So, I say once again of Colonel Fred:
“He was good people.”
Donald C. Skinner
Chief Master Sergeant (USAF) Retired