jack walsh autobio


This humble writing is in memory of our classmates who have gone away beyond the blue.  

                In 1943 the beautiful USAAF C-69, later called a Lockheed Constellation, and finally a C-121, was to make its public debut at the Washington National Airport, Virginia.  And Orville Wright was going to fly the plane!  Actually he sat in the right seat and rested his hands on the yoke after the A/C engaged the autopilot and he was shown doing this very thing in one of the old Warner Pathe newsreels.  Well anyway, I lived in Arlington then, I pedaled my bike out to the then beautiful airport and waited for the "Connie" to land.  I squeezed right up against the rope.  They taxied in and parked right in front of us.  Just as they got the grand old man to the bottom of the stairs, I ducked under the rope and ran up to him and we shook hands. Yes, by God, I shook hands with one of the Wright brothers.  I eat, sleep, and breathe airplanes, did then, still do.

                December 10, 1932.  I can not prove it, but there is considerable evidence that I was born on that date, in a farm house, in Farmer City, Illinois, to Mr. & Mrs. Jack Walsh.  Hell, I was a happy kid, I didn't know my childhood would have made a chapter in The Grapes of Wrath.  But, we were all there in those years.

                In 1947 a buddy of mine and I were both juniors in Woodbury High School in Woodbury, New Jersey.  His family owned a huge tomato and asparagus farm. They had their own crop duster.  It was a battered looking, W.W.II, L-3; a kind of an Aeronca Champion. Unlike a Cub, the center of gravity of a Champ is at the belt buckle in the back seat, I think.  Anyway that's where they put the hopper.  After upgrading from 65 h.p. to a screaming 75 h.p. they could load the hopper with about 200 lbs. of whatever they sprayed on their tomatoes and asparagus, if the kid was flying.  We had a ball.  With the cover off, I'd ride in the hopper while he "instructed" me from the front seat.  Then he'd ride the hopper, hollering like hell.  It was their plane, their land, and  by God they'd fly over it as much as they wanted to.  FAA?  Who they?  It might still have been the old CAA or CAB for all I know.  How I loved it.

                The good folks at Woodbury High felt that I was becoming a slight problem so I eased on down the road to Gloucester City, New Jersey.  Gloucester City High School graduated their senior class, to which I belonged, in June of 1949.  Actually, since I had degenerated from a child prodigy, an "A" making, grade skipping whiz kid, to a lazy, class cutting, snot nosed, 16 year old do-nothing, the school decided that it was more expedient to give me a diploma than to keep me.  My only claim to fame was on Friday, November 28th, 1948, when on our first date, I told Ruthanna that I was going to marry her.  She told me that I was cracked in the head.  I didn't tell her about the Champ up in Woodbury.

                As my mother stood in the background, softly crying, my father explained to me that since he was going to foot the bill, I had better start bringing home A's or pack my bags and get the hell out.  With these gentle words ringing  in my ears I matriculated at Bordentown Military Institute in Bordentown, New Jersey, for a year of  post-graduate, college prep work.  When I started at Drexel Institute of Technology, Philadelphia, in the fall of '50, even though I had maxed their entrance exam, they told me that it was a damn good thing I had made all those A's at B.M.I or they wouldn't have let me in the front door.

                On the second try I aced the Second Congressional District of New Jersey competitive exam for an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, to enter the summer of 1953.  Dropping out of Drexel in '52, I went to work as a mechanical designer at the old  G.E. plant in Trenton, NJ.  With a few extra bucks in my pocket I decided to get reacquainted with my old obsession, flying.

                Bill Vandergrift was without his two front upper teeth.  He was a tall, skinny ex B-17 bomber pilot and ran a one-man flying school just off old Highway 130 in west central Jersey.  When I pulled in, late in 1952, in my '37 Plymouth, I could barely see the top of his hanger behind the piled up snow.  Bill had two Piper cubs.  Now all of my fellow flying enthusiasts still say that I was out of my mind.  It's the truth, so help me God, one of those cubs had a tricycle landing gear.  It was a matter of turning the mains around and adding a nose wheel.  It still had the tail wheel on it!   Bill said it was the coming thing and asked if that was the one I wanted to fly.  Without a doubt, that was the ugliest thing that the good Lord ever allowed on this earth.  I stuck with the tail dragger.  Bill soloed me after about four hours.  One learned to "keep the feet alive" landing between those snow banks.  To this day guys will comment on how much I work the rudders during a landing.  You betchum, Red Ryder!

                In the summer of '53 I entered West Point.  Jim Hope, I think, was telling the story about one of our incoming Officer Candidate underclassmen.  I guess he was getting the standard greeting, and you remember what that was like, when that hard nosed NCO told us all to go to hell, picked up his bag and left.  The memories of that first day of Beast Barracks at the Point came flooding back.  Through that arched gate walked a uniformed, beribboned Army Sergeant, who, obviously had gotten a battlefield citation in Korea with an appointment to West Point.  The Beast Barracks detail converged on him and began immediate "dynamic correction and instruction".  He flipped a quick salute, picked up his bag, and walked right back out that arched gate.   It was too bad he didn't hang tough a little longer.  It was more out of respect than harassment that they wanted to "test" this soldier, just be near him, look at his ribbons, listen to what he had to say.  Years later in a conversation with one of the "firsties" involved in that incident he wished that had not happened, that we really needed guys like that. Still do.

                One of the course requirements at the Point, at that time, was engineering drawing.  Yep, drafting.  The young captain in charge wasn't much of a draftsman.  He had been assigned the unpleasant task of teaching it.  He looked at my first drawing and his eyes popped out.  I then made the sage suggestion that I take the final exam, and that if I made an A, and if it was O.K. with the Colonel, credit me and let me bypass the course.  I had visions of sitting in my room and relaxing during those two hours.  It took me about thirty minutes to finish their four hour exam.  I corrected the typos and errors in their exam and even made up an errata sheet.  I was assigned as an assistant instructor and tutor.  So much for the relaxing time.

                After leaving the point in '55 due to family problems, I went to work at the old  Mathis Ship Building Yard in Camden, New Jersey as a piping designer.  That is where I learned that a ship is nothing but a device to keep afloat all the piping, hvac, pumps, engines, boilers, valves, gages, ad infinitum.  People are last.  The work was fun but civilian life was, well just that, civilian life.  On March 19, 1956, I joined the Air Force.

                Lackland.  Basic training and, as crappy as it was, it felt right.  Then came the battery of tests that all new "rainbows" go through.                

                "Airman, you can go into any field you want, just name it."                                                                          
"I want to stay right here at Lackland and work as a T.I."                                                                           
"But why?"                                                                                                                                                    
                "Because OCS is here."                                                                                                                               
                 "I'll be damned, but O.K."

                After a couple of weeks of helping my T.I. get the new guys squared away the Squadron Commander, gentle old Captain Eastman, said to hell with this noise and sent me over to the Tactical Instructor School with the proviso that I get sent back the 3711th BaMilTraRon.  And so it was in the year of our Lord, 1956.

                We all know-- I mean know-- regardless of rank, from airman to general, that nothing can be accomplished--nothing--without  the NCO's on your side.  We all know that it is not the formal chain of command of the NCO's, but it is the informal organization of the NCO's that allows you-- I mean allows you.  My NCOIC, TSgt Kunz, needed to pass a high school equivalency test or no promotion, so, after hours, I taught him basic algebra.  I showed Airman 1st Class Panzer, the squadron clerk, how to prepare documents, in a sort of staff study format, for Capt. Eastman's signature.  Panzer soon made Staff.  I became the unofficial squadron drill & ceremonies guru.

                After a couple of years, the paper work for OCS began to take shape.  Panzer was typing up a storm.  Almost everything to be signed or approved by an officer is prepared by a sergeant.  

"Sir, this is ready to go."                                                                                                                              
"Everything O.K. in here, Sarge?"                                                                                                                   
"Yes sir.  Had a couple of problems, but it's all straight now."                                                                  
                 "Oh, that's great".                                                                                                                                            
I can hear the conversations now.                                                                                                                    

                "Hiya, Sarge."                                                                                                                                            
"Whatta ya say, pardner?  Hey, those forms you sent over on
Airman Walsh, I don't care if he did go to West Point, you know he doesn't have enough rank."                                                                                    
                "Yeah, but he just got put on the Airman 1st list."                                                                                      
"Oh, O.K., is that enough?"                                                                                                                         
"I think so.  Think he'd make a good lieutenant?"                                                                                          
                "If not, we can straighten him out.  Let's have another round."

                Sweet Mother McCree!  Was I going to be "plebe" for the rest of my life?  Those six months we spent together were  truly an adventure.  Tell any 9 to 5 civilian how you earned your gold bar in the United State Air Force and what you did before that. Watch his eyes and then listen to his, "I coulda, shoulda, woulda."  The tales keep coming from one of us and then another.  What books they will be!

                OCS, at least our class, stands out.  Of all the units I've been in, ours is the only one to really have reunions, to really care about the well being of their members, to commemorate the struggle, the commission.  Some of the happenings were funny then, but choke me up now.  As you all know, Don Rousseau had a third degree black belt.  What you might not remember, is that he earned it in Japan!  He and I were underclass room mates.  

                "Come on, Rousseau", I'd yell, "We gotta polish the barracks hall floors.  Rousseau, where are you?"  Whereupon, he would leap off the transom like a damn panther, grab me, stuff me into a laundry bag, tie the top, and slide me up and down the hallways, polishing the floor.  I would fight, punch with all my might, hold on to a bed post.  It made no difference to him, with that low chuckle, he'd still cram me into that bag and bounce me from wall to wall.

                Undergraduate pilot training.  The dream of dreams had finally come true. Those of us that were together in primary at Moore AB, Texas, remember how we would have to go out to one of the auxiliary fields, Chile or Tamale, and spend half of a day, getting dual or just standing around those old W.W.II shacks? 

                Well, Don Rousseau and I were out at Tamale one hot Texas day, waiting for our instructors and I asked Don, "Hey, Rousseau, you remember all that neat stuff you used to do back in OCS, breaking boards with your feet, and things like that?" 

                His eyes lit up, "Yeah." 

                "Do you think you could kick a hole in that wall?"


                "Well, do it."

                WHAM! One each hole in wall.

                "Man, that was great.  Do it again."

                WHAM!  Two each holes in wall.

                "Go baby, go"

                WHAM!  WHAM! WHAM!  Five each holes in wall. 

                We were pretty close to razing the joint when R.C. McGrath, my instructor, landed and walked in to have a smoke.  He looked at the wall.  He knew who had kicked those holes, because I sure as hell didn't know how.  He didn't even look at Rousseau.

                "Damn it, Walsh , takin' advantage of..of...him. What the hell's the matter with you?  Wreckin' a government building....." and on and on.  He really chewed me out and poor ol' Rousseau just stood there.  Damn, that was fun.  But I have trouble swallowing now when I think of it. Don went 'way beyond the blue, on an Oil Burner route, in a B-52

                One of the guys at my table had earned his private ticket in some college program and had been working on his commercial.  R.C. put him in the washing machine after about three weeks.  Unless you had been an Air Force air crew member it was best to keep your mouth shut.  We were almost done at Moore and I finally told R.C. about Jersey, the Piper cubs and Bill Vandergrift.  R.C.'s face lit up, "You mean ol' toothless Bill?  I always wondered what happened to him after the war.  We were in the same B-17 outfit in England."  Small universe.

                Vance AFB, Enid, Oklahoma.  Basic pilot training.  T-birds.  I remember the first time my instructor told me to follow him through on the controls.  The controls had not moved as far as I could tell.  And then, "You got it....I got it", seemed to be in one breath.  I thought, "What the hell's the matter with this airplane?  Touch the stick and it wants to do an aileron roll."  Ah, but it was fun. 

                Thou shalt not drink and fly, I also learned.  We were close to the end and we were all getting a lot of solo time.  We actually had to ask an instructor to go with us so we could get in some more bag time.  Weather was lousy one morning so everybody was sent home.  No flying today.  I went home and had lunch which consisted of a turkey sandwich and two bottles of beer...good beer...from the club.  The phone rang.

                "Weathers O.K. now.  Get your butt back here and get some solo time."

                The pitch-out was alright, but when I rolled out on final.....50 kts too fast.....200 ft too high.  Go!

                The second pitch-out was O.K. too, but when I rolled out......200 ft too low....airspeed dropping way too fast.  Go!  I drove out to the area, went on 100% oxygen and started some deep breathing to clean out my stupid blood stream.  Two, that's all, just two bottles of beer.  But remember this Charlie Preston and Jim Hope, I did not, I say again, I did not have a beer the day of my "electrical fire" in the cockpit.  The class of 60-A graduated in June of 1959.  Why can't the government start the year on January one like the rest of the world?

                SAC. Strategic Air Command.  Peace Is Our Profession.  Practice for a suicide mission.  No family life.  McConnell AFB, Kansas,  Little Rock AFB, Arkansas,  Mountain Home AFB, Idaho.  Reflex to Guam, North Africa, Alaska.

                Five years in the back seat of a B-47 is like solitary confinement.  Now add a few amenities; belt  you down real tight, put a 76 pound helmet on your head, strap a rubber mask over your nose and mouth, no food, no water, keep it dark, vary the temperature from 40 below zero to 150 degrees, slap a yoke and panel in front of you every once in while and make you fly instruments, make you keep logs upon logs, make you talk incessantly on a radio, make you shoot stars with a sextant, read aloud pages and pages of checklists, make you solve problems in mechanics, hydraulics, electronics, electricity, aerodynamics, all in your head, and no flunking-- or you die where you sit.  If you put up with all of this, you get a reward.  You are let out and get to spend a week inside a brick dungeon at the end of some wind swept runway. And you get to do all of the above again and again and again.

                There were moments of flight and moments of fright.  My crew stayed intact the whole time.

                My A/C was a natural pilot, his instruments were impeccable and his abilities saved our cans more than once.  But Ace did not know the first thing about aerodynamics or any engineering for that matter.  Over the Atlantic, at about 30,000, I had the seat turned around and was fiddling with the radar, getting ready to shoot the guns.  I stepped on the intercom button and said, "Ace, were pullin' six beautiful contrails."  And we were.  It's mesmerizing to watch those beautiful white trails streak out behind you.  Only I could see them.

                "Just what the hell is a contrail?", Ace asked, in his soft Texas drawl.

                "Ice.", I answered incredulously.

                "Ice?  How the hell can it be ice?  The damn EGT is almost 700 degrees."

                So, in a very snotty tone, I said, "Mostly two things come out of the exhaust of an internal combustion engine, carbon dioxide and water, not to mention some unburned hydrocarbons and oxides of nitrogen.  When the water comes out and gets a few feet behind the engine, where the temp is a minus 60, it freezes.  Now you can see it, and that's your contrail."


                Soon, "Aw, bull___, you college guys give me a pain in the butt."

                After a very short stint as an A/C, all of this merriment and fun flying came to an end when I finally got into the AFIT program and went back to college at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Oklahoma.  I did some charter work, ferried some stuff, taught instruments on the side, got my sailplane and seaplane rating, flew U-3's out of Tinker, had more than a few wild experiences.  There's a whole book in there.  I'm working on it.

                In May of 1967, with a degree in aeronautical engineering in hand, I headed for Eglin AFB, Hurlbert Field, U-10 training and then on to the 606th Air Commando Squadron In Nakhon Phanom, Thailand.  Now a U-10 (Helio Courier) is a blast to fly.  It's a noisy, no viz, slat banging, heavy controlled, tail dragging, ground looping monster.  I loved it, still do.

                 Everybody who has spent any time in S.E. Asia could write a book, and many have.  I'm working on mine.  The stories abound, some funny, some tragic.  I'll relate just one.

                One of the many problems U-10's had was chronically fouled plugs.  Platinum tipped plugs were just not to be had.  I carried at least three plugs plus a socket and a breaker bar.  I always returned to base after making the rounds, mail run, passengers, cargo, etc.  I never had any plug problems and never had to call for help, which is a royal pain for everybody.

                "Walsh, how the hell do you that?"

                "Oh, I just change the bad plug after I land."

                "Damn you, Walsh."  

                I was playing with their minds, it was a ball.  This I learned  from "toothless" Bill Vandergrift back in New Jersey.  The left mag fires the upper left and the lower right plugs, the right mag fires the upper right and lower left plugs, that is, if you're sitting behind an American made, horizontally opposed engine.  One of other guys in the outfit also new this, but kept it to himself.  The engine maintenance guys new it too, but they wouldn't tell.

                This is how it goes.  During flight, if the engine gets rough, check the mags.  When you've got it made on final, switch to the "bad" mag.  Land, taxi, park, shut down, get out, open the cowling, and mark the stacks, close to the jugs, with a black grease pencil. The dead jug is cold and will not burn the grease pencil mark to a chalky white like the others will.  Let's say the left mag was the rough one, and the mark on the right center stack did not  burn off.  Change the lower plug on the right center cylinder.  Voila.

                The year long wait at the bus stop, waiting for that bus to home, finally ended late in 1968. I ended up at Hill AFB, Layton, Utah.  Hill was (and may still be) an AMA, an Air Materiel Area.  There were maybe 500 military people, but there were about 5,000 civilians, and we all belonged to AFLC.  There were retrofit production lines for the F-4, B-57, B-52 and some other aircraft that I can not remember.

                The task I was assigned was to track MIPS.  A MIP is a Material Improvement Project. Any change to an aircraft, radio upgrade, hydraulic cylinder improvement, instrument addition, tougher tires, even a different paint scheme, is a MIP.  I had to track progress, estimated completion date and stuff like that.  Hell's bells, I could do that during lunch hour.  Some good high school freshman could have done it during his lunch break.  I was also the aircraft bailment officer and that's a whole 'nother story.  I still own an F-4, somewhere.

                The civilian I worked for was not a pilot, of course.  Every time he saw that I was away from my desk, he wanted to know if I was down at the "airport" playing with the airplanes again.  I was. 

                After I took over as the chief of standboard, I.P., chief pilot, and all the other things that make up a flying operation, the C-118 section went from 50% in commission rate and a 10% on time take-off rate to 90% in commission and 90% on time take-off.  You know what made it work?  The NCO's.  There were some hair raising, as well hilarious, times in the C-118.  Ask Charlie Preston, a C-118 master.  Or ask Glenn Stallard, who flew C-124's for about a million hours.  Glenn, I still have the knee board you gave me on my birthday.

                In 1970 I went to the Air Force Academy where for three years I was the assistant in charge of Airmanship and the fourth year I was in charge.  Airmanship at the AFA is roughly equivalent to what other colleges call their Aviation Education Department.  At the AFA we were responsible, to the cadets, for: jet plane orientation, sailplane training, parachute training, the aero club and a lot more.  If it had anything to do with aviation we had a class, a school, sometimes on the ground, sometimes in the air.  The sailplane section averaged 8,000 sorties per year, the most in the United States.  All cadets in the sailplane program got their sailplane rating.  We even had two Picard hot air balloons, each had 77,000 cubic feet and burners that could put out four million BTU.  Towing sailplanes, flying sailplanes, flying balloons and making paradrops can produce some pretty exciting moments.  I just have to get all my notes together.

                The meteoric career of this Major came to a screeching halt at the AFA.  One does not tick-off a general, especially one whose name is Hoyt S. Vandenburg Jr.  In fact, I did such a good job, he wrote a letter of reprimand that went into my 201.  Goodbye L.C.

                The planning was now geared toward how to make the last two years as pleasant as possible.  1975 and 1976 were spent at Wright Patterson AFB in Ohio.  Another Major and I ran the simulator section and the C-118 operations.  He retired and I inherited the whole ball of wax. There were about forty pilots I was responsible for, the usual things, training, instrument school, upgrade, check rides...all the fun things.

                One quick one.  After a long day of instructing in a C-118, TSgt Danny Wooten, my flight engineer instructor, (big, tough, mean, and sometimes MSgt, who I think was born in the tail cone of a C-118) and I went across the street to a little beer garden to inhale some suds.  Unofficially, the place was For NCO's only, not for officers and certainly not for some snotty Major.  I always changed into civvies before we went and they called me "Sarge" in there.

                Danny and I were about to order the second round when a mountain of a man appeared at our booth.  I looked up at a grizzly Master Sergeant with battle ribbons down to his belt.

                "I been lookin' for you for damn near twenty years."

                My voice cracked, "Who, me?"

                Danny just smirked.

                "You probably don't remember me, but you were my T.I. at Lackland and you were the meanest little S.O.B. that ever walked.  But you taught me, and by God you taught me well.  Major, you'll never have to pay for another beer in this place as long as I can breathe."  One of our classmates scared the dickens out of me, in the same place, in much the same manner.  I can not remember, for the life of me, who it was.  Help me.

                A short stint in the C-5 Special Project Office at Wright Pat pretty much wrapped it up. In March of 1976, I retired and went to work as a chemical process equipment engineer for Union Carbide in Chicago.  What a change!  Maintenance hated engineering. Production hated engineering and maintenance.  Engineering hated everybody.  I thought we were all supposed to be on the same side.  The damn company made money in spite of itself.  There are a thousand stories to be told about those twenty two and a half years.  I have to start getting those notes organized.  Tomorrow.

                 Roonie (that's the nickname of the First Shirt of this outfit) and I decided to migrate west, along I-80, to the thriving, high desert, wind blown, sage brush strewn, metropolis of Rock Springs, Wyoming.  Actually, that's where our oldest daughter, her husband and their two sons live.  I now take the grandkids for rides at the Rock Springs airport.  In the summer the density altitude can be as high as 10,000 feet.  It's a good thing that the runway is 10,000 feet long. Flying, and the love of it, continues to this day.     

                There is one NCO that has put up with all of this for the past half century and more.  If it was not for that one NCO, I would probably be dead.  At best I would have been an airport bum, sleeping in a corner of a hanger.  That NCO never complains.  That NCO provides inspiration and solace. That NCO's name is Ruthanna Given Donges Walsh.


Click Here To Read A Message from Jack November 9, 2003