Earlville, Illinois population 1200 purported to be the “Center of the Universe” according to my story telling cousin, first home to Robert Thomas Harmon. Born August 26, 1935. I was the middle of five kids. Like most post-depression families, we were family-centered Catholic. Everyone got a job as soon as possible. The first twelve years of school were in the Earlville School District. My grades should have been better and my mouth less loud. With a “B” average and some family ties, I was admitted to St. Bede College, managed to stay afloat for one year in spite of my study habits. Second year overtook me and I dropped out in favor of the Wild Blue Yonder.
In November 1954, I reported to Lackland AFB, TX for basic training. Language school was my assignment after basic, but I applied for and was accepted as a tactical instructor – lots of spit polish, and yelling. Applied three times for Aviation Cadets, failed the dreaded red lens test twice. October ’57 I was accepted. My study habits caught up with me again, dropped out, and was shipped out to Keesler AFB as a personnel specialist (read Morning Report Clerk) in February 1958. This was my first of four tours at Keesler. I took my discharge in November 1958, got a job as an inspector at Caterpillar Tractor and re-enlisted in February 1959. It was back to Keesler for Avionics Repair Technical School. Did well and finally mastered Ohm’s Law. My first real assignment was at March AFB, Riverside, CA. The first plane I worked on was a B-47 and then lots of KC-97’s. I met and married Rosalie Lobreto on September 24, 1960. In October, I shipped out to Kindley AFB, Bermuda to a SAC Air Refueling Squadron (303rd). We spent a 19-month honeymoon on the pink sand beaches. The assignment to OCS ended the tour AND the honeymoon!
One of the dumbest things I did was to report in wearing gabardine tans and highly spit-shined shoes with hard heels. The first weeks were not to be believed. Ask Tom (OT) Hansen, my first roommate. Biggest fears were Mr. Annist, Morgenthau and Organski. Most fun was first class privileges and Wednesday goody gobble. My wife, pregnant with Theresa, lived through the heat and comfort of Billy Mitchell Village and never complained.
Life After OCS
Teri was born January 23, 1963 at Kessler AFB Hospital. This trip was for Ground Communications Officer Course. Several from the class were there, Rocky Goodall, Candyman Scarlett, Jack Ashcraft and others. First assignment was 2054 Communications Squadron at Sheppard AFB, Wichita Falls, TX. I considered that I had a head start on other Second Lieutenants but I did my share of Second Looey stuff. In February 1964 the base was hit by a large tornado. Demolished my Maintenance Shop a couple of minutes after Ro picked me up. Recovery from that lasted until I was shipped to Udorn, Thailand in July 1965. Ro stayed in Ontario, CA. When I got there, the base population was 450 U.S. troops, Air America, Waterpump Ops, Thai and Lao Air Force units, Jolly Greens, F-105’s, F-4’s, A-1’s, and T-28’s, etc. We were a detachment of 1965 Communications Squadron in Bangkok and later the 1973 Communications Squadron. Received word of Regular selection while there. Departed in July 1966, base population was 4,600. I picked up Ro and Teri and reported to Det. 7, 2134th Communications Squadron in Zweibruecken, Germany as Detachment Commander. We maintained radio, crypto and teletype gear for NSA, ASG, and USAF 6901st Security Group. In February 1968 the operation moved to the I.G. Farben building in Frankfurt, the 1945th Communications Squadron. Did limited travel and maximum spending in the face of “Gold Flow” problems of that era. Neurbergring and Hokenheim were frequent visiting spots. We returned to the States in February 1969 having had a family expansion, Kathleen Ann, compliments of 98th General Hospital in Frankfurt. Keesler again (#4), this time to Communications Staff Officer School. The highlight of that nine-month tour was sitting overnight in a classroom waiting for Hurricane Camille to pass with her 208 miles per hour winds. Suffered no damage. It seems that all communications folks spend time at Scott AFB and we did that for nine months then the AF Communications Service moved to Richards Gebaur AFB near Kansas City. Fairly routine staff jobs in Voice Communications Division. Became a “Chiefs” fan, a Barbershopper, and finally completed my BA in Business, Economics, and Secondary Education at Park College at Bootstrap. September 1973 was moved to Norton AFB where I became Commander 1965th Communications Squadron. Great job! Prosecuted a lot of druggies. The biggest mistake of my career proved to be my applying for and getting a Communications Staff job with Space and Missile Systems. The draw of a four-year stabilized tour was big. I lasted mine months and retired 1 September 1973.
For two months, I drove Ro crazy while I had no job and worked on a Model A Ford most of my waking hours. My first job was Regional Communications Manager with Kaiser Permanente Health Plan. I found that many subordinates in civilian life pay little attention to “rank” or position and that doctors, as a group and individually, are pretty much experts at almost everything. I managed to last four years. Pacific Bell was my next learning opportunity. Only the acronyms are different. In 14 years I supervised local and toll test desks, special services, leadership development, marketing and financial analysis. I retired in March 1994. Went immediately to my favorite job ever, taking tickets at Disneyland’s main entrance. That job lasted for a year. I got involved in sub-contract communication cable installation, some pulling, and some supervising.
In December 1996, Ro was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma, a malignancy of the plasma cells in the blood. She went through some pretty horrendous chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant. She lost the battle June 26, 1999.
I’m spending my productive time as a volunteer for a non-profit group two days a week. I take tap dance lessons Monday and Wednesday mornings and ballroom class Wednesday afternoon. I also belong to a classical chorale with which I have performed at Carnegie Hall, scheduled to do so again on June 16th, 2003. Have toured Oslo, Stockholm, Helsinki and St. Petersburg. We’re planning to do a concert tour of Greece in July 2004. I just sold my home of 27 years and moved to a condo, the backyard of which is the 14th fairway of Upland Hills Country Club. Just keep on Keepin’ On!