I was born and grew up in the small, West Texas town of Rotan, located 60 miles northwest of Abilene. It was similar to growing up in the town in “The Last Picture Show” in that the sand regularly blew down the unpaved streets and I spent a great deal of time at the pool hall. I was the youngest of four children, two daughters and two sons, of Barney and Elizabeth Bigham. My dad, who was 43 when I was born, was known in his youth as the best broncobuster in that part of the country. He served in the army in World War I and, after returning home, bought his own barbershop where he worked contentedly until a few years before his death in 1971. My mother, 16 years his junior, was known as “Fizzing Lizzy” and was into everything in the community. At various times, she ran a hamburger joint, managed a drug store, worked on the local newspaper, sold insurance, and sewed beautiful patchwork quilts and bridal gowns. She attended our OCS graduation and had a great time, as did my brother and his wife. She suffered a heart attack and passed away in 1979. Both my sisters now live in Brownwood, Texas and my brother lives in Houston.
Growing up, I was the smallest kid in my class until the summer before my senior year in high school when I must have grown a foot. I had played all the sports (none very well) and was finally big enough to play football and basketball. Unfortunately, I wrecked my knee in a pre-season scrimmage and spent most of that last year on the bench. I also played the clarinet and baritone saxophone in the high school band until I gave them up for football. I should have stayed with the music!
After high school I attended Texas Tech for one semester and then decided I was tired of going to school. Several buddies and I headed to West Texas to make some money in the oilfields. It didn’t take me long to discover that money isn’t everything, especially if you have to work that hard for it. During that period I dated and married Jan (my wife at OCS). She was sixteen and I was eighteen. I worked for a couple of years in a Safeway supermarket until a co-worker who had been in the Air Force convinced me that was were I should be. I enlisted in May 1956 and went to Lackland for basic training.
After basic training, I was selected to attend an intensive Russian language course at the University of Syracuse, followed by two advanced courses at Ft. Devens, MA and the National Security Agency at Ft. Meade, MD. I then spent a year at a remote location in Turkey working as a radio intercept operator. My son, Kyle, was born that year, 1958. I returned to Security Service Hq. at Kelly AFB with the intention of serving out my term and returning to West Texas; however, I elected to reenlist with the guarantee of a 3-year stabilized tour as an instructor at Goodfellow AFB, TX. My daughter, Valecia, was born there in 1960. Just before my three years was up, I applied for the education and commissioning program. Since the tests and physical were the same, I simultaneously applied for OCS. I was a few semester hours short of qualifying for the E and C program but was accepted for OCS, which is where I encountered you bunch of scoundrels.
After OCS, Larry Caley and I were sent to Communications Intelligence Officers’ School at, you guessed it, Goodfellow AFB. Following graduation, we were both selected to remain as instructors so we were able to pal around for a couple of years. In 1965-66, I attended the University of Omaha under the Bootstrap Program and received my degree. While there, I encountered Bob Ackerman from our class and a couple of guys from 63-D, Mr. Davidson and another (whose name I can’t recall).
I spent 1966-68 in San Vito, Italy as the Chief of Exploitation, supervising communications analysts and crypto-analysts. We lived off base, it was a lovely place and we made a lot of great Italian friends. Following that, I went to Osan AB, Korea for a year. I arrived there shortly after the Pueblo was captured and things were a little tense. Midway through my tour, the North Koreans downed a Navy EC-121 and our intelligence unit was the first to detect and report it. Things really got tense after that. As Squadron Commander, I hosted and briefed about thirty generals and admirals over a two-week period, including the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, CINCPAC, CINCPACAF, Director of NSA and others. Jim Burns from 63B attended one of the briefings and we saw each other again later in Hawaii when we worked on a project together. It was an exciting time.
Following Korea, I spent three years at HQ, 5th Air Force in Fuchu, Japan as Chief of the Watch Division, an intelligence center. I returned to Security Service Hq., Kelly AFB in 1973 and worked in plans and programs. Jan and I divorced that year. She died in 1988 of complications from diabetes. I remarried a schoolteacher from Boston and in 1975 was transferred to Hanscom AFB, MA as Special Security Officer where I retired as a Major on June 1, 1976. I saw Hank Beebe while I was there, which is about all that is memorable of that tour.
While at Hanscom, I bought a house on a lake near Windham, NH and, after a year of doing nothing, decided I would buy a restaurant. Two years and a divorce later, I sold everything and moved to Austin, TX where I became a tax auditor for the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission. Incidentally, one day I ran into Mary Small (63D) having lunch at a barbeque place I frequented.
I met my current wife, Lynette, while she was visiting in Austin in 1980. She lived in Baton Rouge and after dating awhile long distance, I moved first to Houston and then on to Baton Rouge. We were married on May 23, 1981 and have been extremely happy since. She had a son, Jeff who was 3 when we met and I later adopted him after his dad died. He graduated from LSU with a degree in Petroleum Engineering and now works for Schlumberger in Bossier City, LA. My two older children both live in New Hampshire and I have four granddaughters.
During the ’80s I worked offshore on oil rigs, was a real estate broker, and finally managed a printing and graphics company. In 1991, I met an entrepreneur who wanted to start an oil and gas company but was not good at administrative matters. I became the Executive Vice President and Secretary of GulfWest Energy Inc. We took the company public and moved our main office to Dallas in 1992, then to Houston in 1999. Lynette and I keep our home in Louisiana and an apartment in Houston and commute back and forth on weekends. I have no plans to retire.