My greatest dream was to fly airplanes. I was always reading books and watching movies about flying. I purposed my life to reach that goal. I studied, got the grades and won an appointment to the U.S. Air Force Academy where I knew I would live my dream. But God had a different direction for me.
My first memory, after getting my hair cut off, receiving shots, collecting the supplies, etc., and being directed to my room, was of my first roommate. He, with great confidence, stated, “I know the system, just do what I do and I will get you through this.” Yes, Mike Schmid was confident, but best of all, he did what he said and has become a great friend. The following summer, he demonstrated his friendship by suggesting I get to know his new friend- Jesus Christ. At the time, I was not interested.
Yet God began to get my attention. A classmate from my high school in Alamogordo, NM, Ron Rentschler, also received an appointment to the Academy and we both started together. As we entered the summer of our 3rd class year, Ron met his dad (an Air Force Pilot), mom, and girlfriend at Peterson Field and took off in a Cessna to fly to Wisconsin for the first leave period. The plane apparently stalled and went down in the Black Forest shortly after takeoff. All but Ron’s girlfriend died at the site. A few of us went to the crash site the next day and “helped” the initial investigators. Back at the Cadet Area that evening, I asked God, “Why did this happen?” I realized the mortality of life. No one is guaranteed old age.
The new semester began for me at 37th Squadron. There, two guys from ‘73 drew out an illustration showing my inability to reach God but for the bridge of Jesus Christ. After considering what they showed me, I realized that the only thing that made sense was to get to know Mike’s friend. I believed that Jesus is the Christ, the forgiver of my sins, and began a new dream - serving and being pleasing to God forever. Flying was still an important focus, but only secondary to living for Christ.
After pilot training at Webb AFB with three special friends, Harry Durgin, Norm Michel, and Greg Kurtz, I went to Offutt AFB, the home of SAC.
God continued to show me His care. One spring on the morning Glass mission (Airborne Command Post), we were finishing the after takeoff checklist. With the sun just coming over the horizon, it was a beautiful day. In the background, we heard someone say “birds”. Then louder, the Nav said, “Watch the birds.” We finally focused outside and realized we were on a collision course with about 50 geese heading north. We quickly banked toward the thinnest part of the wedge, nearly bumping heads, the AC and I ducked down over the throttles. The General in the jump seat just sat there and watched the whole thing. We took seven confirmed bird strikes. Fortunately, none hit the windscreen. Number three engine took one goose through the engine which stunk up the whole plane. We flew the full Glass mission and landed 8.5 hours later with the engine running well. Following shutdown, we noted several of the initial compressor blades had pieces missing the size of a softball. Yet, the TF-33 engine held up for the whole flight. (After tearing the engine down for repair, they found that those pieces of the blades went through the engine and took out some turbine blades, one of which went through the engine, cowling, wheel door and bounced off the hub of the main gear. This kept it from going through the crew compartment where we were carrying a full battle staff.) God protected us. It could have been much worse.
After accruing over 4,000 hours without upgrade, due to the USAF policy at the time that upgrades could only come through Castle AFB, I investigated staying in Omaha. I had married a Nebraskan and we were both committed to the church we were attending. After six months, I separated from the USAF (1981) and shortly became one of the pastors of the church. We have since continued in ministry through the church in various rolls. I am now full time in the printing business, meeting new challenges every day, and keeping focused on being pleasing to my Lord, Jesus Christ. God continues to be gracious.
Bill Van Horn
9491 South Johnson Court
Littleton, CO 80127
USAFA Class of '74 - published a book of our experiences for our 40th reunion!