Class’ return flight after 45 yearsPublished 9:06pm Saturday, October 30, 2010
Craig Air Force Base began in 1940 as an Army Air Field, one of the Air Training Command’s Undergraduate Pilot Training bases, with its mission the training of student officers to become qualified aircraft pilots.
After World War II Craig was part of the Air University until it became part of the Air Training Command. In 1961 the Air Force’s new Undergraduate Pilot Training program was inaugurated, remaining the major mission of the base for a number of years until base closure in 1977.
At the Old Depot Museum last weekend a number of former air cadets who received their silver wings as pilots in 1965 at Craig Air Base spent several hours getting reacquainted with their former military training careers as well as their lives in Selma. The opening of the air base in the cotton fields across the Alabama River was of far greater significance than its mission of preparing pilots for the skies of Europe, North Africa and the South Pacific.
Opening its arms and hearts to them, the town welcomed the young military men to our churches, the USO, our homes and introduced them to the pretty young women. After each class graduation we kissed the boys goodbye, realizing we might never meet again, nor in many cases have we, and welcomed a new class.
Although Craig closed more than three decades ago, memories remain. Thus it is that the weekend visit of several of the Class of ’65 became a homecoming. Menzo Driskell, executive director of the Craig Field Airport and Industrial Authority, welcomed the seven former class members, their wives and the wife of a deceased member at a reception in Craig Airport and Industrial Authority headquarters.
The group especially enjoyed the memorabilia room, where they became reacquainted with their Air Force careers.
The following comments are from their Class of 1965 Yearbook with a photograph of each member, wearing his leather flight jacket, and a humorous personal comment printed beside it. Those present for the reunion, their wives and commentary were:
•Capt. E.D. Cherry (his wife Sylvia) of Kennesaw, Georgia, is remembered in the UPT Class for “his tolerance of his boozin’ buddies and his wife’s statements.”
• Lt. R.J. Chimera (his wife Sylvia) Buffalo, N.Y., “who owned two cars, had flamboyant military bearing, who turned down helicopters until he rode in one.”
•Russell B. Darden (his wife Betty) of Clarksville, Tenn., “who was noteworthy for his not too dependable sedan, spring loaded to the attention position regardless of command.”
•R.V. Draper of Batesville, Miss., “who will be remembered for his many accomplishments, such as running off the runway on landing roll, attempting gear-up landings and others. After graduation he plans to fly for the Confederate Air Force.”
• Tom Grygotis (his wife Shirley) of Linden, N.J. is remembered as “a mainstay of emergency procedure in study hall and an infallible engineer oriented to being nicknamed ‘The Admiral’ as base gym comes to attention in his presence.”
• J.L. King (his wife Kay )of Oxford, Miss., “recalled as this big man known as Agent 007 who smoked four packs a day because he claimed the fear of the unknown gets to you. A rebel he claimed the South will rise again.”
• W.E. McFaul (his wife Carol) of Manhasset, N.Y., “was well known for his tremendous execution of jet engine shutdown procedures, although he left the engine running while he went to buy a loaf of bread. He discontinued riding his horse to the flight line because the flight surgeon refused to provide ear plugs for his horse.”
• Betty Lisle, widow of the J.M. Lisle, LaFayette, La., one of the illustrious ‘F’ classers. Known as Piggy he led the class to the chow hall and the weight room.
These personal reminisciences provided laughter as well as nostalgia during the Saturday spent at the Old Depot Museum where they researched their memories of an earlier Selma, recalling a vibrant “downtown, Teppers, all the other stores, eating at the restaurants.”
Each person spoke of “the nice people in Selma, their kindness, their interest in us and their helpfulness.” They asked about friends made during their stay in Selma and each expressed thankfulness that “the wonderful history is being preserved and that Craig Field is now a busy industrial center.”
A number of photographs were made during their time at Craig, including a visit to the Flight Line and some of the aircraft.