Meet Dick French
I was christened Richard Dale French back in '37. I was raised in the
Washington, DC area, going to St. Paul's Academy, H D Cooke and 7th and 8th grades at old Central High School.
We moved to Durango, Co. in 1950. I graduated from Durango High School, class of '54.
Luckily, I received a full ride scholarship to Illinois Institute of Technology.
Chicago was a blast! Really had a good time exploring the City. Matter
of fact, I majored in Chicago, and its feminine components. Yes, I passed PE at IIT but was invited not to return
for the spring semester.
Such is Life! Worked a short time for Sears in an accounting office, decided
Office politics and I did not agree and then joined the Navy. Married a Chicago girl in late '55, then started
Navy Air Traffic Control and Ground Controlled Approach schools at Olathe KS. GCA is a radar talk down system wherein
the controller, with reference to radar scopes continually issues heading corrections and descent profile to place the aircraft
near the end of the runway ready to land under adverse weather conditions.
We had tours of duty and children at Key West, FL.; Argentia, Newfoundland,
Canada; then West Malling , Kent , England.
Wow- that was good for 2 children! Transferred to Glenview IL. where
another pair arrived.
We were gifted with 6 amazing, healthy children!
I almost always have been lucky to find good mixed in with the bad!
I had been promoted quickly to E-6 in the first 3 1/2 years, but left IL,
going to the USS Forrestal with 12 years service., still as E-6. I was aboard Forrestal in the Tonkin Gulf on July
29, 1967 when we suffered a catastrophic fire; lost over 130 of our crew, the ship then required a trip to the shipyard
at Portsmouth Va. for repairs and overhaul.
All survivors received "Letters of Commendation" for our work in saving the
God, Please look after those -then young- 18 and 19 year olds who actually
did the job, please. It was a terrible fight but we persisted, the ship stayed afloat. Barely.
Even our advancement tests burned.
Strange to say, but I know- I changed that day. Not for the best.
Uncle flew in replacement tests in time to meet the "required" date. Somehow
I aced that test and promoted to CPO.
( Amazing- opened the test- read the first 2 Questions - thought to my self-
that's strange, read the last question- No. 150, and -Viola. "I know I am going to make it this time" passed through my head!
It was a copy of the same test I had taken last time!) So I became the Carrier Controlled Approach crew Chief.
In the Med the following year, I had to call the bridge- Capt., we have an
extra aircraft in the "stack"- we got directions to assist his approach- so we did. He leveled off at about 100 ft. above
the deck - and flew across us- bomb bay doors open. It was a Soviet "bear" recon aircraft.
In '69 I transferred to Navy Memphis, Millington TN.. Upon walking in the
door to report in, The Officer in charge told me "Welcome, Chief, You are our new Tower CPO!".
Oh, yes, I remember- I went to tower school in '55; now 14 years later, I got
to use the little I remembered. We had a lot of talent and did manage to set a new record for the facility with the percentage
of Controllers actually holding their FAA rating tickets. The last year there, I became training Chief for the division,
Radar, Flight clearance and Tower personnel.
The heavens smiled again, I was promoted to Warrant Officer in '72.
But the marriage failed. Wife and Children departed for CA., I transferred to Adak island, in the Aleutian chain, Alaska for
an unaccompanied tour. Adak is about 1000 miles west south west of Anchorage, another 1000 more over to the Kamchatka
Yes, it's true, there were single women on the island - nearly equal to the
amount of trees growing there. A half dozen USN nurses, a dozen teachers, and a few civilian employees of the Navy.
I did a thorough search of the island and found and catalogued all 26 trees. including those massive 6 footers in the "Adak
national forest", mostly planted by the Army folk stationed there in WW2. The gargantuan trees were 3 placed in a cove
on the side of the MT. as a memorial to fliers who crashed there. for whatever reason they made it up to about 12 feet.
Unfortunately, some sailor took umbrage to the "forest" and cut half of them
while I was there.
In those days there were no native Aleut people living on the island, the
nearest civilian community was about 90 miles up the chain at Atka Island. They were a mix of ex- Attu residents and the reminants
of the original Atka town folk. They were known for their inability to get along together.
Unlike the Florida Keys, there are no roads between the islands. We provided Tugboat
ferry service to the Atka residents so they could fly out and then took them back.
One of the most memorable events of my career occurred after we had been using
our radios at the GCA unit to broadcast as if we were aircraft moving in and out of the island, to facilitate training of
our tower controllers. I was in the BOQ when the tower called. They reported they had seen a lit flying object south
of the Airport which rapidly arced over the runway and out to the north west. Radar had seen "blips" at 2, 6 and 11 miles
as it accelerated away.
The antenna turned at 12 RPM so that was 5 seconds between those blips.
In talking with the Command about this event we determined that the answer
had to be that the Soviets had gotten so curious about the radio traffic indicating a build up of aircraft at Adak,
they had to come take a look with their version of a "Blackbird" spy aircraft. 9 miles in 10 seconds is a hoot!
54 miles a minute, 3,000 miles an hour-and we did not hear a sonic boom.
I promoted to CWO2 after 2 years, and transferred to Moffett field, South
of San Francisco, CA. Hey- both brothers were stationed within 40 miles, and it's a lot easier to go see the kids! Was selected
for Lt. (jg) there, then full bull Lt.
Seeing the kids was even easier when we moved to San Diego As Air
Traffic O. in '77- and they came to live with us- Anna and I had married in '75.
WOW -there went 25 years, I retired in 1980 after completing my BS in '79
from Southern Illinois University. In '80 we moved to Danville IL. as Airport manager, then moved to So. Lake Tahoe
in '83. Retired from "work" at 57 in 1994. That marriage failed in 2008.
So I live where I live and enjoy!