Return to Rick O'Kelley

Please join the effort to establish "The National Cold War Museum" and the former Blytheville Air Force Base by giving to the Go Fund Me Page

June 29 2019 the former base hosted its first Air Show to help raise awareness and revenue for The National Cold War Museum.  I traveled to Blytheville and took many images at the Air Show.  There was an effort to being a B-52 to the show but the current tensions with Iran prevented its appearance but all things start somewhere and this was a great beginning that hopefully will grow in the coming years expanding the economy and bringing new jobs to Northeast Arkansas which has experienced a slowdown since the closing of the base in 1992.  You may view my images of the 2019 Air Show here.

Staff Sergeant Rickie D O'Kelley
Nov 10 1971 - Nov 9 1977

Nov 10 1971 - March 20 1972 inactive duty Delayed Enlistment Program
Mar 21 1972 - Mar 20 1976  Active Duty
Mar 21 1976 - Nov 9 1977 US Air Force Reserve inactive duty
Mar 21 1972 - May 1 1972
3701 Training Squadron Flight 0309
Lackland Air Force Base San Antonio TX

May 2 1972 - June 28 1972
3435 Student Squadron ATC
Lowry AFB Denver Co
July 14 1972 - Mar 20 1976
Blytheville AFB Blytheville AR

97th Supply Squadron
97th Combat Support Group
97th Bomb Wing
42nd Air Division
2nd & 8th Air Force 1/1/75
Strategic Air Command

Photos relating to the 97th Bombardment Wing, Blytheville Air Force Base and Eaker Air Force Base can be viewed at

YouTube - My North American P-51 Mustang Gunfighter Flight over Blytheville

Mostly remembered today as the former Eaker Air Force Base, Blytheville Air Force Base was its name for most its operational life but before that it existed during WWII as a US Army Air Force Air Field two engine training base.  During WWII one of the planes used was a TB-25 which was the training version of the B-25 Mitchell Bomber a plane I have flown in, you can see a video of my B-25 flight on You Tube.  Eaker Air Force Base was deactivated and shutdown in 1992.  It was located in Northeast Arkansas just below the boot heal of Missouri.  When I drove my 1966 Mustang up to its gate for the first time July 14 1972 it was Blytheville Air Force Base and it was my first and only duty station during my four year enlistment in the USAF.  I arrived at its main gate in 1972 and on my final day of duty I departed from the main gate January 30 1976 stopping for my last time at the Security Police Station that set just outside the gate to signed out on terminal leave and turn in my Air Force ID Card.  For me the renaming to Eaker Air Force Base will never stick.  I will always remember it as Blytheville Air Force Base but Eaker was a worthy name for an Air Force bomber base as General Ira C Eaker became the commander December 1942 of what was to become the famed 8th Air Force.  General Eaker flew in a B-17 on the first daylight heavy bombing mission over Germany and almost 40 years after his retirement by an act of congress he was promoted to a four star general.  General Ira C Eaker was one of the men who helped defeat the Axis Powers and secure our liberty and freedom.

When I arrived Blytheville AFB the 97th Bomb Wing was assigned to the 42nd Air Division, which was assigned to the 2nd Air Force based at Barksdale AFB.  The sign with the landscape is how it appeared in those days but in 1975 it was reassigned to the 8th Air Force also based at Barksdale AFB and the sign was changed to reflect the 8th Air Force.
I dedicate this page to the brave men from Blytheville AFB who lost their lives in December 1972 flying Linebacker II missions over North Vietnam.  
97th Bomb Wing Lapel Pins are available at a costs of $10.00 plus $5 shipping and handling.  Please make a Paypal Payment of $15 for each lapel pin to 
The 97th Bombardment Wing has an amazing history.  The 97th Bombardment Group was first assigned to the VIII Bomber Command of the 8th Air Force in 1942 and it was the B-17 Flying Fortresses of the 97th Bombardment Group commanded and piloted by General Frank Alton Armstrong, Jr that flew the first missions and dropped the first bombs on the Germans in France in 1942.  The 97th Bombardment Group was awarded two Distinguish Unit Citations for missions during WWII.  In 1957 while based in England the 97th received an Air Force Outstanding Unit Award then in 1962 when the 97th Bombardment Wing was based at Blytheville Air Force Base and it flew nuclear armed B-52G bombers missions during the Cuba Missile Crisis and received a second Air Force Outstanding Unit Award.  I along with every assigned to the 97th wore these two ribbons with oak clusters on our uniforms. 

In 1988 Blytheville Air Force base renamed Eaker Air Force base after the famed General Ira C Eaker who first commanded the VIII Bomber Command when the 97th Bombardment Group flew is first missions.  In 1992 the 97th Bombardment Wing was deactivated and Eaker Air Force Base closed and the 97th was reactive as the 97th Air Mobility Wing and assigned to Altus Air Force Base in Oklahoma. 

The 97th Bombardment Group commander Frank Alton Armstrong, Jr was inspiration for the main character played by Gregory Peck movie 12 O'clock High

If I seem a bit detailed, it is because I seek to record my experience before old age or disease robs me of my memories and I put it in this public place to aid my reconnection to long lost Air Force buddies.  I was a young man of barely 20 years old when I loaded my 1966 Mustang with my meager worldly possessions, hitched my 1973 Suzuki in the front wheel carrier that my father had built for me and we attached to the trailer hitch we installed on the rear of my Mustang so I could tow my new motorcycle behind my Mustang the 316 miles from my parent's home in Alma Arkansas to my duty station at Blytheville Air Force base.  The city of Blytheville Arkansas is located in the far Northeast corner of Arkansas along the Mississippi River and the boot heal of Missouri and in 1972 it has a population of approximately 25,000.  In comparision, the Northwest Arkansas city of Fayetteville Arkansas had a population of about 5000 more than Blytheville in 1970.   The deactivation of the Eakers(Blytheville) Air Force Base in 1992 hit the community hard as in 2019 the population is about 15,000 while the population of Fayetteville exploded to near 90,000. 

When I arrived in July 1972, Blytheville Air Force Base's B-52s, KC-135s, pilots, navigators, electronic warfare officers, tail gunners and many support personnel were overseas assigned to the 72nd Strategic Wing (Provisional) Anderson AFB Guam in support of Operation Linebacker.  Before being assigned overseas Blytheville AFB was a fully functional Strategic Air Command or SAC base assigned fifteen B-52G Aircraft and "Hound Dog" nuclear weapons where were basically guided missiles that mounted under the wings of the B-52 and like all SAC bases Blytheville Air Force Base kept six Hound God armed B-52s on a 24x7 alert mission to go to war on a moments notice should America be attacked. Also assigned were twelve KC-135 Tanker Aircraft to provide refueling support and three fully loaded were also kept on alert.  Our bombers and tankers took their rotation in Operation Chrome Dome.  For those who think our jobs in SAC wasn't important, they need watch the STRATEGIC AIR COMMAND - THE GLOBAL SHIELD - 1980 USAF DOCUMENTARY on YouTube.  This was serious and deadly business that "desk jockeys" &  "ground pounders" such as Supply and Maintenance were critical in the accomplishment of our mission to protect and defend The United States because no plane got off the ground without fuel, parts and maintenance. 

I wasn't fully aware of what my future as part of SAC held for me as I headed out for my new life early that morning, I had nothing to guide me or aid in my expectations as to what was to come in my future.  (The B-52G in the photo to the right was assigned to Blytheville AFB and it has the Red Razorback Hog on its tail section)  Thanks to the Internet one can watch a 30 minute video of a real Eaker Air Force Base 1989 Operational Readiness Inspection which depicts what would happen if the B-52 bombers and KC-135 tankers on the alert pad were ordered to war.  This was the way it was done in the 1970s when I was stationed at Blytheville AFB, ours was a serious life and death mission that could determine the future of our entire world and in 1972 I was a part of that.  There are also brief moments in the video where one can see the Alert Facility where the pilots, air and ground crews lived during their duty time.  It was very much like firemen living at their fire station on duty for the next fire alarm. 

It was July 14 1972 and my Mustang like most cars of that era had no air conditioning, we didn't know what it was like to drive down the interstate in a cool and quite car in those days, I did as most people did, rolled down my windows, turned the side vent glass so it would push the rushing outside hot air onto me, pushed a tape in my 8-Track player and set out on my new adventure.  I probably listened to Neil Diamond, Credence Clearwater, maybe Jesus Superstar, Carol King's Tapestry or the Doobie Brothers as I cruised down the highway heading to my base and my future.  

It was late in the afternoon when I pulled up to the Security Police station that set just outside the main gate at Blytheville.  I gave them my orders and asked where I was to go and they provided me instructions.  I drove through the gates, stopping to show my military id card that had been issued to me in Basic Training.  From the gate I drove down the main fairway which is "Memorial Drive" today and turned on Halifax Street arriving at the single airman's parking lot.  I found a space where my motorcycle that was in tow would be out of the way.  At the gate I was issued a sticker that had to be displayed on the fork of my motorcycle, I attached it and then went inside the barracks that the Security Police told me I was assigned to.  The old WWII barracks had been broken into "apartments", it had a long hall down its middle from end to end with rooms on both sides much like modern hotels.  In the middle was the place that the airman who managed the barracks worked and he had me sign in, gave me my sheets and blanket and escorted me to my room which was very close to the entrance.  I don't remember the rooms having locks, there were great concerns about fire in these old wood structures so I think the room doors had no locks but inside the two man rooms we had closets that had locks to secure our uniforms and valuables.  My roommate, Airman Donavan also newly assigned wasn't there so I took the unmade bed and I set about moving my possessions from my Mustang into the empty locker in our room.  I then set out for my evening meal at the near by "chow hall". 

I think I recall six or eight of the old WWII Barracks and the "Chow Hall" set in the middle, three or four on one side and an equal number on the other side.   My barracks was in the middle of the barracks that set on the northeast side of the "Chow" Hall.  The WAF Barracks set between my barracks and the "Chow Hall".  The "Chow" Hall is all that remains today, sometime in the 1980s the old WWII Barracks were torn down and replaced with modern brick apartments.

The Air Force had the best "Chow" halls that I have ever experienced.  They always had a wide selection to choose from and as a single airman, in 1972 the meals were maybe a quarter, they were very inexpensive and they were all you could eat.  Most Air Force personnel were within their weight requirements, most Americans in 1972 were within their weight requirements, over eating and being fat wasn't a way of life in that time and eating out was considered a treat and there were no 24 hour fast food restaurants.   That was a much different time than now. 

Our barracks had a TV room and a place to do our laundry.  The sheets were the responsibility of the Air Force, we did our personal laundry and while the TV room picked up all the stations I don't recall spending any time in the TV room.  My first night on base, I got in my Mustang and left the base and drove into Blytheville to explore returning when I got tired and going to bed.  The next day I got up, took my shower, dressed in my summer uniform and followed the map given me by the Security Police to 97th Supply Squadron where I reported for my first day of duty.

When I arrived at Blytheville AFB early July 1972, our American ground forces in Vietnam were being withdrawn and the Air Force had to cover the withdrawal of our US ground forces and provide increased support to the South Vietnamese military.  The Blytheville Air Force Base B-52G Stratofortress bombers and KC-135 tankers were part  of that support.  This wasn't some overseas training mission, our crews served in Linebacker then in December 1972 they were part of the Linebacker II mission and some of our Blytheville B-52Gs and their air crews were shot down during the December 1972 raids over Hanoi.  Some of our personnel were taken prisoners but some crew members were killed when SAMS hit their aircraft and I believe this has been forgotten because today their lonely and sad memorial dedicated to these crew members set in front of what use to be the Base Hospital at the now abandoned Eaker Air Force Base.  (Note, at the time I wrote this in 2013 the memorial was falling into disrepair but new interest in restoration restored the memorial in 2017 and efforts to establish a National Cold War Museum in the old Alert building is on going.) 

To the left is how the Base Memorial looked in the winter of 1976 my last day at Blytheville, the long sidewalk leads towards the Base Hospital which in 1976 was a hub of activity.  To the right is how the memorial appeared in September of 2013. 

 There are photos are fixed to the base of this memorial for Lt Col Keith R Heggen, Lt Col Donald L Rissi, Major Bobby A Kirby, Capt Randall J Craddock, Capt George B Lockhart, Capt Ronald D Perry, 1st LT Robert J Thomas, 1st Lt Charles E Darr, and Msgt Walter L Ferguson.  This is a hell of a thing to be remembered for but Blytheville Air Force base is one of the few Strategic Air Command Wings to have lost both B-52s and airmen during combat and the base memorial is mostly abandoned by the US Government.  I think it is lost on most Americans that the first time a B-52 was used in actual live combat was in Vietnam,the only time a B-52 was lost to enemy fire.

Fifteen B-52s were lost during the 1972 Linebacker II Christmas bombings and three of those B-52s originated from the 97th Bombardment Wing; B 52G 58-0201 "Charcoal 1" went down on the 18th, B 52G 58-0198 "Olive 1" and B 52G 58-0169 "Tan 3" were shot down on the 21st. Airmen from the 97th Bombardment Wing lost their lives and their photos appear on the lonely memorial at their abandoned base in Blytheville; Lt Col Keith R Heggen was in "Olive1", (now buried at Arlington Nat'l Cemetery) Lt Col Donald L Rissi, 1st LT Robert J Thomas and Msgt Walter L Ferguson were in "Charcoal 1" Major Bobby A Kirby, Capt Randall J Craddock, Capt George B Lockhart, Capt Ronald D Perry and 1st Lt Charles E Darr were in "Tan 3". These three 97th BW aircraft were stationed and flown out of Anderson AFB, Guam, as part of the 72nd Strategic Wing (Provisional).

Some who have never served in the military might find it surprising that my highest ranking supervisor was a grandmotherly civilian, Mrs. Mabry, she asked that I call her "mama" Mabry as that was the name everyone called her.  Mama Mabry was about the same age as my own maternal grandmother and looked a great deal like her.  She was a very nice person but could go into a business command mode when needed.  I never felt the leather side of her boot, she was always kind and polite to me but there were a few airman that she would get in their face and let them know that she was the boss.  Al Cherepski was Mrs Mabry's civilian supervisor, no doubt they are all deceased today.  My immediate military supervisor was SSgt Sell who was a good hearted man.  Attached is the Personnel assignment to my duty station and my immediate supervisor.    To be frank, from my first day of arrival at the 97th Supply Squadron it was no different than walking into a major company and going to work.  It was very laid back, very friendly and everyone very helpful, encouraging, and often praising of my work.  I fit into the Air Force like a fish in water.  I had a clear chain of command, I knew the rules, and I learned every job and always tried to do them above and beyond. 

I was a farm boy from a small town in Arkansas but just a few months in the Air Force and I had many exciting adventures occurring in my life.  My second week on base Lt Yarbro and I began to ride to Memphis and Jonesboro, he had a 400 CC motorcycle then the first of August Lieutenant James Blue Hoyt from Leachville Arkansas starting riding with me, he had a 500 CC Honda and there weren't any other large bikes on base that I recall, I had the only 750cc motorcycle on base.  My 1972 Suzuki 750CC "Le Mans" Motorcycle was brand new. I don't recall exactly all the places we rode but in those days the Dyersburg bridge didn't exist so we had to ride to West Memphis to cross over into Tennessee and we spend the night in Memphis somewhere on Beale Street on one of our trips.  Hoyt was a more experienced and aggressive rider than I but he had difficulty keeping up with me on our trips with his Honda. My Suzuki left Lt Hoyt's 500 CC Honda in the dust.   Lt Hoyt traded his Honda for a "California Burgundy" Suzuki GT750J and he never had any trouble keeping up after that, I had trouble keeping up with Lt Hoyt more aggressive riding style, he had a lot more experience and miles riding big bikes and he took more risks because he was more confident in his abilities so he would sometimes leave me behind now that he was on a Suzuki. 

In those days the Interstate Highways were rarely patrolled and our bikes had 160 MPH on the speedometer and we were young and reckless, we thought we were bullet proof and wanted to see just how fast our Suzukis would go so on a Sunday morning early when traffic was light we headed south out of Blytheville towards Memphis on Interstate 55 and in less than 15 seconds we were flying down the highway so fast that it became difficult to hold on.  These two cycle engines were like rockets, twisting on the throttle brought immediate results sometimes so quickly that just holding on would cause one to twist more and go even faster. He had a windshield and faring but I didn't so just holding onto the grips became difficult.  I backed off at 100 MPH but Hoyt continued on a bit more then he had to back off.  The bikes seemed to still had some throttle left so who knows how fast they would actually go.  People have asked me if I became a law enforcement officers so I could carry a gun and I would grin and tell them, "no, I became a law enforcement officer so I could drive fast in a police car".  When Blue got out of the Air Force I bought his faring from him.  I would put it on for winter but when summer came and the weather warmed up I would remove it because I didn't like how it looked. 

When I arrived at Blytheville Air Force Base I was told not to settle in too much because I would likely be sent for 6 months duty TDY to Guam in 30 days, most newly arrived airmen were but the Air Force changed it policies just a few weeks after my arrival mostly I suspect because Vietnam was expected to be over sometime in the next year, the Air Force stopped sending new 3 level airmen such as I and started sending 5 level sergeants and second enlistment personnel who hadn't yet served overseas.  I took to the Air Force life so well that with only four weeks experience working in supply Staff Sgt Fike the 97th Supply Liaison Officer to Base Procurement lost his aid to a base deployment and I assigned and I must have done it well because about 90 days later when Staff Sgt Fike received his orders to go overseas I was left to do both our duties.  Base Procurement was located a considerable distance from Supply.  It was located at the main gate so vendors would have easy access but Supply was near the flight line so I had been in the Air Force barely six months and I was working unsupervised.  Base Procurement was its own group, mostly it was all civilian workers whose job was to let the bids and do the contracts for the supplies that the Air Force authorized the base to purchase directly from local vendors.  Ninety-five percent of everything stocked in our Supply warehouse came from five USAF military depots but light bulbs, film, and some other items were bought locally probably mostly to keep the local community employed and my job as the Supply/Procurement Liaison Officer was to resolve the many problems that came with making these two systems work within Air Force Regulations. It wasn't difficult for me, it was an easy task yet the Air Force determined that it was a job for a Staff Sergeant and an Airman First Class (E3) and I was an Airman (E2).  I recently traveled back to the old Air Force base that was a part of my early adult life and the Base Procurement building still stands and is the office of the Airport Authority.  In the photo to the right, my Procurement office was on the left side of the building, my red 2013 Mustang appears in the photo in the exact spot that I would park my 1966 Mustang forty years ago when my duties were in this building.  Forty one years to the day have passed but it seems like I was just there a couple of years back, a young newly married airman.  The building has been altered, the exterior door that set in front of my Mustang that lead from the parking lot into a hallway where my office was located has been removed, walled up and is now a window.

I worked several months without an aid in SSgt Fike's position but was later assigned an Airman as my aid.  This added responsibility and my performance are mentioned in my nomination for P-R-I-D-E AIRMAN for the month of January 1973, I was promotion to Airman First Class February 1 1973.  

As a SAC Base, we had a squadron of fifteen B-52Gs assigned to the 340th Bomb Squadron and a dozen KC 135 Tankers assigned to the 97th Air Refueling Squadron.  Most of the time we had five B-52G bombers armed with two AGM-28 Nuclear Hound Dog Missile and four KC 135 Tankers setting on our Alert Pad ready to take off on a 15 minute notice to defend our nation against a Nuclear attack.  A photo of our Alert pad with Alert Aircraft appears to the left and a B-52G with the pre Vietnam SAC paint scheme with a white AGM-28 Nuclear Hound Dog Missiles appears right. 

In Feb 1973 I was transferred from Procurement to NORS Control or Not Operational Ready Supply which was a unit within 97th Supply Squadron responsible for the providing the parts needed to keep the alert aircraft operational 24x7.  I was green, I had no clue that "ground pounders" duties would help win the Cold War.  The pilots and planes were a major part of our war effort but without the many "ground pounders" like myself, those pilots and planes never got off the ground to accomplish the mission.  When most veterans learn I was in the 97th Supply Squadron, they often respond with, "you had it easy, you were a "8 to 5" office worker who was off on weekends".  But NORS was a 24x7 always at War Readiness, because our entire mission was about keeping the bombers, tankers, and missiles setting on our Alert Pad supplied so they could take off in 15 minutes or less and go to war, we were like a cocked gun, every request that came into our office was handled as if we were already at war.  When the ORIs came, nothing changed for us, we were already working at ORI status each and everyday.  After I was trained, I worked a 16 hour shift on Thursday night from 1600 hrs to 0800 hrs on Friday and a 24 hour shift that began at 8AM on Saturday and ended at 8AM on Sunday and our work was reported daily and directly to the Wing Commanders office, to the Numbered Air Force and to SAC so it really was a big deal. 

NORS Control wasn't about supplying the base with toilet paper and ink pens, our mission was to support the 97th Bomb Wing Alert Aircraft that were setting on a war footing on our Alert Pad.  Our sole duty was to provide the mission critical parts that kept our planes on Nuclear Alert operational.  We were the "Federal Express" the "Domino's Pizza" because when a B-52G, an AGM-28 Nuclear Hound Dog Missile or KC 135 Tanker setting on our alert pad became "Not Operationally Ready Supply" for their nuclear mission because of a failed part, we set in motion the process to have the part issued without delay insuring it arrived in the hands of maintenance quickly, often in minutes.  we didn't remove the part from the warehouse and get in a truck and take it to the guy who would install it.  We rarely touched the part, our role was to supervise, monitor, and push using the authority of the Squadron and Wing Commander to see the job done promptly and without any screw-up's but if we didn't have that part in our supply warehouse on base, it became the task of NORS Control to locate a replacement part as quickly as possible and no matter where that part was in the world have it placed on an Logistics Aircraft and flown to our base so the Alert Aircraft or missile could be repaired and return to service and wing accomplish its mission.  That was my job and I knew my job was critical to the Strategic Air Command mission because without parts, maintenance couldn't fix the broken aircraft and a broken aircraft or missile could not do its mission so pilots and air crews and maintenance crews all depended upon us, you might say the "buck" stopped on our desk and it was up to the NORS Controllers to keep the ball moving or at least doing all we could to ensure the ball didn't stop rolling because of supply. 

I had been in NORS only a few months when my performance resulted in my selection as the Blytheville Air Force Base Airman of the Month in June 1973, that certificate appears to the left, the photo released to the newspaper appears to the right.  Other photos appeared in the Blythe Spirit June 22, Blythe Spirit July 20, Blythe Spirit August 10, The Courier News.  I had received the 97th Supply Squadron Pride Airman Award six months before, attached is my January 22 1973 nomination letter for P-R-I-D-E Airman.  While we didn't have bombers on the alert pad during much of my first year at Blytheville AFB, because of the intense bombing of North Vietnam so many B-52s were being damaged that the repair depots could not keep up with repairs so while our nuclear mission had been suspended, our flight line and shops were empty, damaged B-52s began to arrive and our base and during much of 1972 and early 1973 but that all began to change after the Paris Peace Accords had been signed and our B-52Gs and KC 135s began to return and our nuclear mission resumed.  For me the kudos continued as April 15 1974 I was awarded Proficiency Pay and May 1 1974 I was promoted to the rank of Sergeant E4 then Oct 2 1974 I received the Supply Airman of the Quarter Award for my duties in NORS Control.

Staff Sergeant E5 - Promotion to the non commissioned officer rank of Staff Sergeant E5 was the US Air Force's first enlisted competitive promotion and it was awarded by earned points from supervisor reviews, performance, medals and ribbons, time in service, time in rank, and a written promotion test; this was not an automatic promotion like E2 through E4, a promotion one could earn just by staying out of trouble and waiting for the time to elapse.  Most didn't obtain promotion to Staff Sergeant on their first attempt.  I didn't hold any hopes that I would be promoted on my first attempt but my delayed enlistment program moved my time in service and rank to 5 months earlier than my peers so seven months after being promoted to Sergeant E4, I received my promotion notice from Major James E Bailey to the rank of Staff Sergeant E5.   You may view my promotion letter at this link, it is dated January 25 1975, 34 months and 4 days after I stepped off the bus to begin my Basic Training at Lackland AFB Texas. I had been a Sergeant E4 only 7 months and 25 days and my name appeared on the 1975 promotion list for Staff Sergeant E5 a remarkable feat. 

Special Order A-1155 August 1 1975 made my date of rank or DOR May 1 1975 or exactly one year after my promotion to Sergeant E4.  While I waited for the day I could sew on my Staff Sergeant chevrons plans were made for my transition from NORS Control to head my own section, DIFM Control where I would begin by supervising a Sergeant with 6 years more experience in the Air Force than I, and an Airman First Class and an Airman.  For the first time since working as the Liaison for Base Procurement I would be working a normal 8 to 5 Monday through Friday work shift.  My promotion to Staff Sergeant really was a big deal, my NORS Control Supervisor was a Technical Sergeant, he was only one rank above me and I was on the fast track to Technical Sergeant.  Maybe it didn't seem like a big deal because by that time, most people around me just expected it.  I was living by myself in Blytheville so there was no celebration relating to my Staff Sergeant promotion but it was a very big deal.  The Air Force had nine enlistment ranks and in 37 months and 9 days of active service I had earned five of them, I had earned more than half of them, today the average time to obtain Staff Sergeant is 6.9 years so my promotion to Staff Sergeant so quickly was a rare accomplishment and I remember to this day how I felt when I wore my uniform for the very first time with my Staff Sergeant rank on its sleeve, I felt that I had arrived and was truly somebody in my nation's US Air Force.  My US Air Force ID Card number was 8608227.  I do not have a copy of that card.

I worked with some really great people.  Major James E Bailey was the commander of the 97th Supply SQ during most of my enlistment, Captain John C Slaughter was the officer over the Supplies Management Branch which I was assigned and TSgt Arthur R Briggs was my immediate military supervisor when I worked in NORS Control.  TSgt Briggs was an excellent supervisor who I admired and learned a great deal about how to be a Sergeant.  David Shewmaker was a civilian working in NORS Control who I kept in contact these past 40 years.  As a new Airman First Class, I had to learn the procedures so I worked days with TSgt Arthur R Briggs and David Shewmaker from February 1973 until late April 1973.  In addition to Tsgt Briggs, my records identify SSgt Jackie W Lewis and SSgt Stowall as my trainers.  I was move to nights.  Working nights I didn't get to see some of my counterparts that much.  We had a WAF named Donna Marshall from Nashville Arkansas who worked days because she became pregnant, David Hall Foshee (deceased 2014) from Alexandria LA, and Robert Wilder from one of the northern states also worked night shifts doing the same work I did.   SSGT Jackie W Lewis replaced TSgt Arthur R Briggs as the NORS Supervisor.  My original shift was Monday, Wednesday, and Friday nights from 1600 hours until 0800 Hrs the next morning then later I moved to working two days a week, 24 hours from 8 AM Saturday to 8 AM Sunday and 16 hours beginning at 4 PM on Thursday night and ending at 8 AM Friday morning, David Hall Foshee or Robert Wilder worked the same hours but 8 AM on Sunday to 8 AM on Monday then 16 hours Tuesday night and the other worked 16 hours Monday, Wednesday, and Friday nights.  I think we had the best jobs because we were our of sight and out of mind and exempt from inspections.  I rarely saw an officer or a supervisor.  That changed in my last year when I became the Repair Cycle Unit NCOIC Due in from Maintenance Supervisor.  I came in daily contact with our new Squadron Command Major James J Bluett, Captain John R New Supplies Management Branch, and 2Lt William P Hester Jr, Supply Operations Officer and Sgt Donald J Clayton was one of those I supervised. 

We had a Univac 1050-II computer that occupied a room about 75 feet by 75 feet and the computer didn't have 1% of the computing power of the cell phone in my pocket but is was the top of the line computer of its time but there was no Internet or global network in those days, everything had to be done manually when it was outside the reach of our computer so we had a bank of six phones and lines that allowed us to call anywhere in the world, 24x7. This was a big deal in 1973, people didn't just pickup a phone and direct dial anywhere in the world without the aid of an operator, one couldn't direct dial to most places in the state of Arkansas in 1973 but we had that ability, we had our own special phone book with all the direct phone numbers to all the Strategic Air Command bases through out the world.  NORS was a lot like police work, a lot of boredom intermixed with times of great pressure to get things done and done right in a very limited amount of time.  During the day, there were sometimes as many as three to four controllers on duty in NORS, one was a civilian worker but after hours and on weekends there was only one person on duty and while my position was suppose to be manned by a SGT or Staff SGT, I was an Air First Class and was filling the position.  I was one of those who worked after hours so I listened to a lot of music, watched TV until the station went off the air and sometimes when bored, I would call Guam, Japan, Korea, or England and Air Force personnel working in NORS Control at other SAC bases would call me just to have something to do.  Just as kids today do text messaging late at night when they are suppose to be asleep we visited over the phones as we had the rare "unlimited" plan, we could talk as much as we wanted and for as long as we wanted to anyone in any NORS office in the world.  Sometimes romances would occur between the females working in far away bases and because the Air Force allowed us to fly "space available" on the aircraft flying between bases, Air Force personnel would fly to other bases for the weekend or when ever they were off.  This was risky as one sometimes had to take a commercial flight back but one of the female Sergeants that worked at one of the northern SAC bases flew to Blytheville often to date one of the single Sergeants that worked in NORS Control and they got married so the work I did wasn't always boring, there were a lot of "global" happenings going on.  I worked a 24 hour shift on Saturday and a 17 hour shift on Thursday night and I would set up very late into the night making phone calls trying to locate parts.  The rest of the week I was off, so I rarely took any leave time, didn't need to I was off a lot and I received many 3 day passes which didn't count as leave.  NORS Control was the sole supply office open after hours so we sometimes also issued parts after hours for B-52Gs and KC-135s that were not on alert but were being repaired so NORS was considered the elite of 97th Supply Squadron, top performers were assigned to NORS Control, most were promoted to E5 rank more quickly.  We had to wear a lot of hats and do the duties of several sub departments within Supply, we had to know more about the jobs others did and we had "Secret" clearance because some of the parts that were kept behind lock and key had "Secret" classifications.  If a plane couldn't fly because of a part, the mission could not be completed so everyone on base had a role to play in our nation's defense, from the cook to the pilot, everyone was important to the mission and that included ever man and woman who worked in NORS Control.  People tend to think only the pilots are heroes and don't let me mislead you, they are critical to the mission but think of this as your car.  You might be the best driver in the world but if your prize car is broke down then it doesn't matter how talented of a driver you are, you aren't going anywhere until that parts guy delivers the parts and the maintenance guy installs those parts to put your ride back in operating condition so everyone in the USAF plays an important part in US Air Force mission.  Being a pilot might sounds like a "glamour" job but those missions were long, hard, often uncomfortable and dangerous while my job in NORS Control might have been the best job in the US Air Force as I worked in a heated and air conditioned office, I was exempt from inspections and formations, rarely saw an officer, got to sleep on the job, watch TV, listen to the radio, read and I worked mostly alone.  My mission had nothing to do with the Vietnam War and everything to do with the "Cold War" nuclear mission.  A loss in Vietnam didn't mean the end of our way of life but if we lost the "Cold War", everything was going to change for every person living in America and the world so winning the "Cold War" was everything, it was our future, my family's future, all our family's futures were on the line something few people get the magnitude and importance.  The "Cold War" was a much bigger deal that most understand and being in SAC, everyday was like the day the war would start, we had to be ready for war as if we were already firing bullets at the USSR.  Unlike the US Army, US Marines, most of the US Navy and the other commands of the Air Force, those of us assigned to SAC were always on a "War Footing", we were always only 15 minutes away from going nuclear and in October 25 1973 during Yom Kippur SAC was ordered to DEFCON 3 and we were all recalled to duty stations on base, President Richard Nixon almost order SAC to war and this is when I became aware of the seriousness of my Air Force Duties. 

They call to alert came in the early morning of October 25 1973, my wife and I lived off base and we were sound asleep when the phone woke us.  Our neighbor was a master sergeant with 5 children and as he headed to base his wife packed their station wagon and left town with their children.  My wife stayed while I went to work.  I was 21 and had been in the Air Force 18 months and didn't really know what to expect but those older and more senior than I were somber, the officers had serious faces and huddled in quite conversations.  They were worried.  Supply personnel went on a 12 hour shifts to stay open 24 hours.  Since NORS Control was already on a 24 hour schedule, we worked everyday as if we were at war, I was sent home to resume my normal work schedule.  The alerts lasted almost 24 hours then it was over.  A month later my wife and I went home to have Thanksgiving with my parents and brothers and I mentioned that we almost went to nuclear war, there was a very brief discussing and the topic went to other routine conversations.  Clearly this event never really registered with most people, it was just business as usually but that day most humans in our world came close to death.  It would be 5 decades later that the true cause of that event would be declassified.  The alert occurred because CIA reported that the USSR was transporting nuclear weapons via ship to Egypt and America threatened to go to war if those weapons were delivered. We gave Israel nukes, this was documented in the fictional movie "Sum of All Fears" but our American leadership believed that was okay but it wasn't okay if the USSR gave Egypt nukes and that disagreement almost killed us all.  There were about 75 million Jews living in our world in 1973 and only about 5 million Jews were living in Israel at the time and it is incomprehensible to me that our American leadership was willing to kill most humans on this earth to protect 5 million Jews desire to live in the middle east.  More than 45 years has pass and this still baffles me.

The B-52 was manufactured in an A through H model.  One can easily identify the older A through the F models by their taller vertical stabilizer or tail that terminates in a narrow top line.  The B52G and B52H have the shorter tail which terminates in a longer running top line and the G and H appear identical except for their engines.  The B52H has what appears to be a cone attached to the front intake of their engines.  At the time I served the D, F, G, and H were the only bombers that were assigned or visited our base.  By the beginning of the 1990s only the G and H models were still flying but the Gs were all grounded and cut up as a condition of the START treaties with the USSR.  Today, of the 744 B-52s manufactured only about 75 of the B-52H remain in service and they remain in service because no other aircraft has been build that can replace them.  The last B-52H rolled off the Boeing Wichita Kansas assemble line June 22 1962.

Surprisingly the 97th Supply Squadron building is one of the best preserved buildings still standing on the old Blytheville or Eaker Air Base.  May 29, 2014 in a visit with Dave Shewmaker one of the people I worked with in NORS Control 38 years ago, we traveled back to the place that we once worked and the photo displays the supply building almost as it was when I first walked through its doors in July 1972.  The interior is much different, there are many offices where open work space was in our day but the old document control and receiving offices still exists in the warehouse.  There were then two main entrances as there is today and our NORS Control office set just inside the window that appears in front of the white Tahoe in the photo.  I parked my Suzuki motorcycle in the space where the Tahoe sets and I road my motorcycle to work, rain or shine, winter or summer.  I was a dedicated motorcyclist and the helmet that I wore was the "Stars and Stripe" helmet appearing in the movie "Easy Rider".  When there was ice or snow on the roadway, the Security Police working the gates would just shake their heads as they motioned me through.  There is nothing left of those gate houses and it seems strange to see cars move freely about the base for in my time, a great many places on base were restricted.

I returned again to the old base August 16 2014 but this time I flew over it from the back seat of the P-51 Mustang Gunfighter.  Some of my life's most memorable adventures occurred in the back seat of a "Mustang" and this flight was to become one of them.  It was a remarkable experienced, we took off from the old Dyersburg US Army Air Force Air Field at Halls TN and flew almost due west until we arrived over the base.  You can watch a brief You tube Video of my fight.

Blytheville is a much different place today than it was in 1976 when I drove away.  There is little evidence of the important history or mission of this place.  As I drove the streets that I drove as a young man it was evident that the base closing made a very hard impact on the area and there are some studies that indicate that these closings costs the America tax payer more in lost jobs and taxes than they saved.  The military provides steady employment for those in and out of uniform during a good economy and a bad economy creating stability and they flood places like Blytheville with cash that builds homes, buys furniture and appliances, cars and trucks thus creating even more jobs and more taxes.  Closing these bases put many people out of work and on government assistance when they could have been working and paying taxes to support the costs of these bases. I think it was a mistake to have closed these bases and reduced the size of our military as our world might not be such a dangerous place if SAC was still patrolling the skies.   We loose in another way as the US Military Basic Training provides young men and women and education and experience they receive no where else.  It creates better citizens, better mothers and fathers. 

Blytheville (Eaker) Air Force Base Patches 
Strategic Air Command 2nd Air Force 8th Air Force
Assigned 1/1/75
42nd Air Division 97th Bomb Wing 340th Bomb Sq  97th Air Refueling Sq  97th Supply Sq
The above is only a particle collection of Squadron patches authorized 

United States Air Force Thunderbirds

Blytheville Air Force Base was the smallest Strategic Air Command B-52 Air Force base; we had the 340th Bomb Squadron with fifteen B-52G bombers and I think twelve KC-135 tankers assigned but our planes, their crews, and many of our senior support personnel had all been sent to Anderson AFB Guam in the summer of 1972 to support the Operation Linebacker mission; we had no B-52Gs setting with nukes on our alert pad the summer when I arrived but we did have a few B-52D and B-52Fs being repaired due to the huge workload on the regular repair depots.  Because of the deployments there was a desire to keep moral high for the families separated from their Airman by these war time deployments into the Vietnam War theater so the base held an open house and the US Air Force Thunderbirds and the US Army Golden Knights came to Blytheville Air Force base to perform.  The following notice appeared in the October 24 1972 Blytheville Courier newspaper "The Thunderbirds will be among featured attractions at tomorrow's o p e n house at Blytheville Air Force Base. Also appearing will be the U. S. Army's Golden Knights precision parachute team. Open to all citizens, the event will begin with gates opening at 12:15 p.m. and continue until 4:30 p.m. Here the Thunderbirds fly the "Missing Man" formation, a formation commemorating the American prisoners of war and missing in action in Southeast Asia. (A photo of the Thunderbirds missing man is displayed in the newspaper).  In the photo to the right, Diamond Head appears in the background. The photo to the left was taken March 15 2016 at South Park Monet Mo.

Note - I am wearing a Pararescue Hat and T-Shirt in the above photo.  No I wasn't Pararescue, I bought these from and wear them to show my support for Pararescue just as one might wear their favorite sports team and I wear them because I had been in Basic Training only 5 days when me and two other Airmen were selected from our 45 man training flight we were shown several movies and asked to try to become Pararescue, that was how it was done in 1972, the Air Force selected us.  I turned the opportunity down because I had promised my mother and Renee' that I wouldn't volunteer for anything dangerous. 

There must be millions of US Air Force Thunderbird stories each one just as unique and just as special as my own memories from four decades ago.  The USAF celebrated it's 25th birthday September 18 1972 and exactly 1 month after Renee' and I married we were setting in the bleachers that had been setup along the Blytheville Air Force Base flight line and witnessed something I had never seen before in my young life, something that was much larger than I was.  One can study about America in a classroom, they can see it in a movie or on TV but this was different, I were seeing the awesome might and ability of America with our own eyes, hearing it with our own ears and feeling it in the vibrations going through our bodies as those powerful US Air Force F-4E Phantom II Thunderbirds roared by and I were witnessing this demonstration as members of the US Air Force family.  We weren't just spectators who came to see an air show that October 25 1972; We were part of the "US Air Force family".  We had US Air Force photo identification cards in our wallets, mine as an active duty Airman, hers as an Air Force Dependent and I wore a US Air Force uniform in my duties and the United States Air Force F-4E Phantom II Thunderbirds were at Blytheville Air Force base because we were all part of the same "Air Force family", they weren't there for them, they were there for us.  I was twenty years old and the US Air Force Thunderbirds would become 20 years old before my 21st birthday. This was a very big deal because not before or since had I been a part of something so large, so powerful, and so unique.  Watching the USAF Thunderbirds that day was like watching the home team win the National Championship.

I didn't own a camera at the time so I don't find I have any photos of the October 25 1972 Blytheville Air Force Base air show but about 75 miles from our current home is found in a city park in Monett Missouri displayed atop a stick as if performing one of it's powerful roaring flybys that it did that October 1972 is F-4E Phantom II Thunderbird #3.  I had forgotten this Thunderbird was on display in Monett Missouri until I came upon Gary Younglove's book "Phantom Memories - In Search Of Thunderbird F4Es".  Buried within the fog of time I had forgotten the events of Oct 25 1972 until Gary's book triggered my memories of that care free time in the beginning of our adventures as a newly married couple.  I saw this jet flown by USAF Captain Rip Blaisedell in the right wing position as one of four Thunderbirds in the Thunderbird diamond formation.   

According to Air Force records, 2014 was the 20th year anniversary for Thunderbird #3's home in Monett; it is a wonderful addition to the park, its placement and manner of display is perfect, there is a Kiwanis Club 1995 stone marker dedicated to all who have served, and it is fitting that a memorial bench for US Army Spc Christopher G Stark killed in Afghanistan February 28 2011 sets not far from the base of this Thunderbird because when I saw this Thunderbird fly Oct 25 1972 it flew in the Missing Man Formation to honor those killed, missing, and held prisoner in Southeast Asia.  You may see all my Thunderbird #3 Monett Missouri photos at this link.

1969 - 1974 F-4E Phantom II Thunderbirds

Burke Lakefront Airport in Cleveland, Ohio #1 (66-0284) | American Legion P109 Corona de Tucson AZ #4 (66-0294)
MacDill Air Force Base Florida #1 (66-0302) | Castle Air Museum Atwater California #6 (#5) (66-0289)
VFW Post 5146 Athens Tn #2 (66-0319) | Pima Air and Space Museum Tucson AZ #7 (66-0329)
South City Park Monett Missouri  #3 (66-0315)  | Fixed Base Operations Battle Mountain Nevada  #7 (66-0286) 

There are two F-4E Phantom II Jets setting on poles at the Burke Lakefront Airport in Cleveland, Ohio one is USAF Thunderbird #1 66-0284 and the other USN Blue Angels #1.

1972 Lackland AFB BMT YearbookGary Younglove's book resonates with me, I have ridden motorcycles since I was 15.  I can relate to Gary's 2005 quest because motorcycle riders are always looking for a "mission", looking for an "excuse" to ride and Gary is a retired Air Force Officer, former administrative officer for the Thunderbirds so we share the brotherhood that comes from the experience of a great motorcycle road trip and the brotherhood that comes from the wearing of the Air Force uniform.  Gary's book reawaken my USAF Thunderbird memory of the F-4E Phantom II Thunderbirds.  My 1972 Air Force Basic Military Training Yearbook displays the USAF F-4E Phantom II Thunderbirds on its cover, the Monett Missouri Thunderbird #3 that gave birth to Gary's 2005 quest appears in its right wing position in this yearbook cover photo and I was a young Airman and a proud spectator when I saw this jet fly at my base so long ago. 

Thunderbird #3 history's is as follows: 66-0315 was last used as an NF-4E by the 6512th Test Squadron, 6510th Test Wing at Edwards AFB. It arrived at AMARC (Davis-Monthan AFB) on 08/29/1991 and was assigned inventory number FP 744.   66-0315 was processed out of AMARC on 08/01/1994 for display in Monett, MO.   I don't yet know the complete story how this Thunderbird came to be in Monett but according to it was a group community effort headed by the Monett Kiwanis Club and Mr Dayton Mackey was the project chairman.  I recall on a motorcycle trip in the 1990s on my 1988 Honda Goldwing seeing the Thunderbird as it sets beside the highway when one comes into Monett from the south on Missouri Highway 37.  It is an unexpected thrill to come over the hill and see that jet setting close to the road.

The F-4E Phantom II began a new page for the USAF Thunderbirds.  Before the F-4E Phantom II or before 1969 all the jets flown by the Thunderbirds had only the Thunderbird red, white, and blue markings but because of the use of different metals in the making of the F-4E Phantom II outer skin this became the first Thunderbird to sport the new all white paint job.  The US Navy Blue Angels painted their F-4E Phantom II jets blue.  In the book "We Rode The Thunder - The Autobiography of the United States Air Force Thunderbirds", the writer notes that the F-4E didn't have the "artistic elegance of the T-38 or the agility of the F-16"  but the F-4 is described as "hair-on-chest brutality" and compared it liken the B-52, it was not a machine called "she".  I think this description is accurate as I believe the F-4 was one of the ugliest fighter jets ever flown, it has a "mean" look which is likely why it was so popular with pilots. Since the F-4E Phantom II all USAF Thunderbird jets have been painted white and bear the Thunderbird markings and the F-4E Phantom II was also the most powerful and loudest fighter every flown by the US Air Force Thunderbirds.  The F-4E Phantom II was the only jet flown by both USAF Thunderbirds and the US Navy Blue Angels.  Because of the Oil Crisis that began in October 1973 the F-4E Phantom IIs Thunderbirds were retired and replaced by the smaller and lighter T-38 Talon in February of 1974.  This changed the Thunderbird tradition of flying the same fighter that the rest of the USAF flew as the F4 continued to be used by the USAF and USN in combat.

Rick O'Kelley