Monday, November 14, 2011

Meet Jack Missler: 78-year-old, United States Air-Force Veteran

In 1952, Jack Missler, 19, of Dedham, MA, enlisted with the United States Air Force as a Firefighter participating in Crash and Rescue missions. At the time, the United States was at war with Korea. The Korean war, a civil war between North and South Korea, was a result of the physical division of Korea by an agreement of the Allies at the conclusion of World War II. The situation escalated when North Korean forces invaded South Korea on June 25th, 1950. It was at this very juncture the United States got involved to aid South Korea.

Stationed at Truax Airfield, just outside of Madison, Wisconsin, Jack’s job was to rescue the lives of pilots severely wounded in training accidents. As a member of the 176th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, Jack recalls one of the many times he saved a pilot:
“When we came to the scene of the accident, there was smoke everywhere. The goddamned pilot was buried inside the plane--couldn’t get him out. We had to take a ladder and attach it to the door. I remember climbing up, making eye contact with the pilot, and motioning to him that he was going to be okay. We pulled that son-of-a-bitch out just before it caught on fire. Later, at the base, the pilot came into our bunk with a bottle of whiskey. He had tears in his eyes; looked at the Crash and Rescue crew and said, ‘you guys are the best.’ We all had a drink; shared a tear and a smile. I’ll never forget that.”

Jack, a graduate of Dedham High School, went into the USAF at a measly 176 pounds. When he exited three years later, he was a massive 225 pound machine. He says it was the intensity of boot camp training which caused the transformation:

“Oh boy! I remember going into camp at Sampson Air-force Base in New York. We spent 12 grueling weeks there in the winter--and boy--was it freezing. Every morning, they would rip us out of bed and make us run our asses off. We’d be out there--together as a unit--running mile after mile in the cold, freezing rain and snow. They’d beat us down only to build us back up. The instructors would have us on the ground doing push-ups, sit-ups, and anything physically grueling you could think of. But, let me tell you, it paid off. We all had each other’s backs; we loved each other; we learned respect and discipline.”

The United States Air Force was formed as a separate branch of the military on September 18th, 1947 and is regarded as one of the most sophisticated air-forces in the world. Its core values are: Integrity First, Service Before Self, and Excellence in All We Do. Jack reflects on these values:

“If you didn’t have integrity, you didn’t belong there. That was figured in the first week, or so. The guys in my unit--they all had integrity and respect for themselves, and for each other. As for ‘service before self,’--well--that was the name of the game. You never knew when you were going to get a call to rescue a fallen pilot--never! It was scary to have to arrive at the scene of a massive plane accident, but you had to be positive and ready and willing to help. The combination of all of these qualities is what surely lead to ‘excellence in all we do.’”

Jack was stationed in Wisconsin from 1952-1955 during the Korean War, and everyday was a crapshoot as to whether or not his services would be needed overseas.

“It was a scary time--for sure--but we were ready. We were always ready. In fact, we knew how ready we were for wartime action when a plane of ours came in, and landed on fire. The son-of-a-bitch was loaded with ammunition and 50 caliber bullets were firing in every which direction from the fuselage. Christ, we all hit the deck! Luckily, the ammunition stopped firing and we were able to extinguish the fire and get the pilot out to safety before a catastrophe happened. Boy, was that a true test of our determination.”

The United States Air Force had a very important role in Korea because it was the first war in which the USA’s jet aircraft entered into battle. The different types of fighter aircraft deployed were the North American F-51D Mustang, the Lockheed F-80C Shooting Star, the Republican F-84E ThunderJet, and the North American F-86A/E/F Sabre.

Jack Missler’s squadron never got called to Korea, but he says it was very close:

“We weren’t called; we stayed in Wisconsin and conducted hundreds of training seminars. We actually trained a squadron--our neighboring troop in Truax--the 30th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, and they got called to active duty in Korea; we were that close to being called, that close! Well, anyways, they went over there to help with crash and rescues. My good friend, Winston Smith, was part of the crew. A skirmish broke out, one of the fighter jets--the North American F-86 Sabre--was shot down and crashed. Winston and two of his crew members died trying to rescue the pilot, who also died, when the plane went up in flames. One of the worst days I had in the Air Force.”

Tears bead up underneath Jack’s eyes as he recalls this experience. When asked about what being a veteran means to him, Jack takes a minute:

“It’s about wanting to help, to fight for, and to protect this country. It’s about national pride, an unending devotion to the red, white, and blue.”

When asked about his stint in the United States Air Force, Jack finishes by saying, “It was a wonderful experience. I am glad that I made the choice to enter the air-force. It was definitely a life changing experience; one to which I am indebted. We met so many great men; we shared tears, laughter, and smiles. I would do it all over again if I had the chance; I absolutely loved it.”

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