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|An up close and personal interview with U.S. Air Force Veteran and Togetherweserved.com Member:|
Maj Harry Welch U.S. Air Force (Ret) (1954-1974)
WHAT INFLUENCED YOUR DECISION TO JOIN THE MILITARY?
My brother was in the Air Force. The Korean conflict was still active and I decided that I wanted to be a part of the Force. I had no idea (being a "backwoods" kid from New Hampshire) that not everyone in the Air Force flew in airplanes. So although I was facing a 9-month waiting list to enlist, I pestered the recruiting sergeant almost on a daily basis. Finally one day he said that if I applied for Aviation Cadet training, he could put me on a bus tomorrow. I applied and he put me on a bus to Geneva, New York for three days of testing. I passed everything and when told that I qualified for either pilot or navigator, I selected "navigator" recalling that Columbus was a navigator. This won me a 3-month deferment from the draft and I was called to Lackland AFB on January 13, 1954.
WHAT WAS YOUR SERVICE CAREER PATH?
My career path was an open meadow. I had no idea where I was going, only that I was finally in the Air Force.
After Lackland AFB, I was sent to Ellington AFB for Navigator training. My first flights were in the C-47, and soon we were upgraded to the T-29. I soon decided that I was cut out for this and enjoyed solving navigation problems. Radar, of course, really simplified the process, and I found Celestial Navigation to be time-consuming but an accurate way to solve the "Where are we?" problems.
I graduated withCclass 55-08 and was sent to Sheppard AFB at Wichita Falls, Texas. Moving up there with my new wife, I found out that this was a training base for engine mechanics but that the Strategic Air Command had a piece of the territory while awaiting the construction of new bases in the north east.
After a year we were transferred to Plattsburgh AFB, NY, with about 22 KC-97s, F and G models. I now was an operational navigator for SAC.
In 1958 I applied for and was accepted for pilot training and now had to move my wife and two boys to Malden, Missouri for Primary Training where I soloed in the T-34 and the T-28. After completion of this school we were sent to Big Spring Texas, Webb AFB for Basic in the T-33 where I breezed easily through instruments, aerobatics and formation flying. I enjoyed both schools, the courses were not much of a challenge and I loved the flying. Unfortunately the Korean War had ended and the Air Force found that it was glutted in pilots. Those of us with navigator wings were chosen to exit and make room for new officers who didn't have wings yet.
From here I went to Westover AFB, Massachusetts and KC-135's. The 99th AREFS sent me to school Castle AFB, California and then to Walker AFB, New Mexico. Five years later I was transferred to Ramey AFB, Puerto Rico for my "over seas duty". While at Ramey, I started getting TDY assignments to Southeast Asia. This continued on for several years so that I served in the sky over Vietnam every year from 1965 through 1969 in support of Young Tiger missions. In these five years I managed to log 130 combat missions. During this time period I was also sent PCS back to Plattsburgh AFB where the 380th AFREFS was now flying KC-135s.
Between doing TDY service in-country in Southeast Asia, I was also involved in Tanker Task Force missions where I served as the Tanker Task Force Navigator. A nice title that meant that I had to draw up all of the mission paperwork for the crews, arrange and conduct the briefings out of March AFB and Hickam AFB and on occasion, out of Pease AFB. It was at March AFB where I found out that I had made Major. I was the Captain giving the mission briefing, at the end of which the TTF commander stood up and announced, "When we reach Hickam AFB, the Mai Tais are on Major Welch."
Then in 1970 my crew was selected to represent the 380th BW in the SAC International Bomb and Navigation competition. All went well until about 20 minutes after take off, when the radar died and resisted all of my efforts to relight it. A major portion of the competition route was based on radar navigation but I had to fly it doing Dead Reckoning with the aid of the Doppler system. As we were in the middle of the "stream" of aircraft, we landed at Little Rock to refuel and refile back to Plattsburgh. While on the ground, I received a phone call from the Wing CO informing me that we were #1. On arriving back at Plattsburgh we were now #6. Next morning after all of the results were in we found ourselves in 8th place.
I was next assigned to 380th BW Current Opns Office. Shortly after being assigned here, my mentor retired. I was now the Current Ops Officer. Next, deciding that I didn't have enough to do I was also named the Wing Life Support Officer. I attended some very interesting schools with these duties. I attended ARTC indoctrination training as well as Central Altitude Reservation Facility familiarization. Finally going to Scott Field for Life Support Officer Training. For the last three years in the USAF I wrote Ops Plans, escorted fighter aircraft to or from Southeast Asia, gave briefings and published manuals.
I had no goals other than to do my duties as best as I new how. I retired from the USAF at the end of January 1970.
DID YOU PARTICIPATE IN COMBAT OPERATIONS? IF SO, COULD YOU DESCRIBE THOSE WHICH WERE SIGNIFICANT TO YOU?
Combat operations in Southeast Asia for the KC-135 usually involved off-loading fuel to three flights of four aircraft each. Each aircraft took usually from 2,000-4,000 lbs of fuel. When we were operating out of Kadena AFB, Okinawa, the missions usually ran about nine hours. Later, operating out of Takhli RTAFB or Utapao RTAFB, the missions seemed to average about four hours. My missions were all Young Tiger Missions which meant that we supported the fighter aircraft rather than the B-52's that were called Arc Light Missions. Our orbit points had names such as Cherry Anchor or Orange Anchor and were a constant fixed point. When we had the first "chicks" on the boom we would start giving directions to the second flight, etc. It was all very straight forward and uncomplicated which is why the tankers passed fuel to more than 800,000 receivers without missing one.
WHICH, OF THE DUTY STATIONS OR LOCATIONS YOU WERE ASSIGNED OR DEPLOYED TO, DO YOU HAVE THE FONDEST MEMORIES OF AND WHY?
My favorite station was Plattsburgh AFB in New York. I suppose because this is my first operational assignment, to the 380th AREFS and one to which I would return in 1968, and retire from in 1970. I liked the town, the area and enjoyed boating on Lake Champlain. The winters up there were tough for the average person but not so much for a New Hampshire boy.
FROM YOUR ENTIRE SERVICE CAREER WHAT PARTICULAR MEMORY STANDS OUT?
In 1957, while serving with the 380th AREFS on TDY to Mildenhall, England, my crew was selected to perform a fly-over at Le Bourget air port in Paris, France where they were celebrating the 30th anniversary of Lindbergh's crossing of the Atlantic. We were given a control time of 1559 1/2 to be over the center of the runway on a specific heading, with a B-47 on the boom. This is the only time I was ever in the air space over France.
WERE ANY OF THE MEDALS OR AWARDS YOU RECEIVED FOR VALOR? IF YES, COULD YOU DESCRIBE HOW THIS WAS EARNED?
Performing air-to-air re-fuelings isn't a particularly valorous duty. Something like operating a filling station in the sky. My Southeast Asia duties won me four Air Medals but that is primarily arithmetic.
OF THE MEDALS, AWARDS AND QUALIFICATION BADGES OR DEVICES YOU RECEIVED, WHAT IS THE MOST MEANINGFUL TO YOU AND WHY?
I am particularly proud of my Southeast Asia service ribbon. Early on in the late 60s and early 70s I was generally afraid to admit that I had served in the Vietnam War. Lately it seems that people have mellowed out a bit about this and it is a little easier to talk about it. I have the ribbon with one star and I now share these proudly.
WHICH INDIVIDUAL PERSON FROM YOUR SERVICE STANDS OUT AS THE ONE WHO HAD THE BIGGEST IMPACT ON YOU AND WHY?
Fairly early in my career I started flying with Maj. JC Wyatt. Initially he was my co-pilot but later became my Air Craft Commander. JC had an easy way about himself, a very high standard of ethics and I admired him. He never seemed to be in a rush and always seemed to have the time to sort out things and make the proper decisions. He was an excellent pilot, and an unequaled Air Force Officer. At times, when things seemed almost impossible, JC could always see our way through. Yes, I always admired the guy from Kentucky.
CAN YOU RECOUNT A PARTICULAR INCIDENT FROM YOUR SERVICE THAT WAS FUNNY AT THE TIME AND STILL MAKES YOU LAUGH?
When I reached my 100th mission in Southeast Asia, I was unacquainted with the custom of "splashing". Recognizing that this was to be my 100th mission, my boom operator (who shall remain nameless in this episode) had smuggled a bottle of champagne on board and kept it hidden in the ice-water container. After taxiing back in the pilot asked me to drop down and check the nose wheel. Not questioning, I dropped obediently down the crew entry chute. Reaching the pavement, I became aware of something hitting my back. I soon realized (with relief) that I had champagne being poured on me. I won't say what my first thought was, but certainly champagne is by far the better choice.
WHAT PROFESSION DID YOU FOLLOW AFTER THE SERVICE AND WHAT ARE YOU DOING NOW? IF CURRENTLY SERVING, WHAT IS YOUR CURRENT JOB?
After retiring back to New Hampshire, I opened up a small business selling and servicing consumer electronics, such as TVs, stereox, calculators, amplifiers, and later musical instruments and tapes and records. After seven years I had paid off all my debts and decided that retailing wasn't for me. I had the opportunity to join the M/S Mount Washington Cruise ship on Lake Winnipesaukee here in New Hampshire, where I worked for the next 30 years. I recently retired from this as Captain of this 230 foot 800 ton ship and am now totally retired. While captaining this vessel, I had many opportunities to utilize the navigation skills that I had acquired in the Air Force.
WHAT MILITARY ASSOCIATIONS ARE YOU A MEMBER OF, IF ANY? WHAT SPECIFIC BENEFITS DO YOU DERIVE FROM YOUR MEMBERSHIPS?
I am a lifetime member of the VFW, a member of the American Legion and Military Officers Assn as well as the Air Force Navigators and Observers Assn. Belonging to these organizations gets me good seats in parades and military ceremonies in our small town. I also found out what a great fraternity we have by being a member of the Air Force. This affords us many networking opportunities as well as opening many doors. I also am a member of the Air Force Assn. Who isn't?
HOW HAS MILITARY SERVICE INFLUENCED THE WAY YOU HAVE APPROACHED YOUR LIFE AND CAREER?
The military has made me value organization. Whenever I enter a task, I am able to organize the task into bite-size portions, which allows me to progress with confidence and assurance that "I can do it". My retirement has made me independent of financial pressure and enabled me to maintain my home and do some traveling. Finally, the military has been a healthy environment in which to raise my children.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU HAVE FOR THOSE THAT ARE STILL SERVING?
For those who are on the fence as to whether or not to stay with the military, I must say that it is the best job I have ever had. Yes, there is often pressure but this only makes you perform to the best of your abilities. Twenty years is not a lifetime, and giving the military 20-30 years will give you the foundation to do what ever you set your mind to. I have realized lately that I have been out of the military longer than I was in. Twenty years can seem like a long time when you are in it but when you near the end, it seems to go pretty fast. I would advise anyone who is going to make a career out of the Air Force to find a mentor, Aaperson who is senior to you, and who you admire- and ask him for guidance. This is probably one of the surer ways to make promotions and intelligent career decisions. Listen to him and you will always be glad you did.
IN WHAT WAYS HAS TOGETHERWESERVED.COM HELPED YOU MAINTAIN A BOND WITH YOUR SERVICE AND THOSE YOU SERVED WITH?
Joining TogetherWeServed.com has made me more aware of my service and has given me the ability to take pride in my service. Further, I have made many contacts through this and renewed acquaintances that were only a memory. I am certainly glad I did this and look upon it as leaving a legacy.
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