I realized last summer how special the bond is that we share as Academy classmates.
My home for 33 years, and where my wife Joanie and I raised our family, was in North Pole, Alaska. It was a great life there. I was stationed at nearby Eielson Air Force Base, and then went to work for the Fairbanks airport. Joanie had a wonderful job with the University of Alaska.
Although North Pole was a great place to live and raise a family, the winters were long and brutal. We would often get snow starting in August, with snow remaining in May—leaving June and July as the only months in the year without snow. There is cold, and then there is Alaska cold. Nearby Fairbanks is known as the land of the midnight sun, but that makes winter a time of near perpetual darkness.
North Pole is the home of the Santa Claus house. Imagine that. Bet you can guess what kind of stuff they sell there. For a mere $12, you can have the store send a computerized Christmas letter to someone, post-marked from the North Pole. Our local Catholic Church is Saint Nicholas Catholic Church.
Well last summer I got an email from some guy I never remembered meeting. He said he was going to be visiting North Pole, Alaska, and apparently wanted me to be a free tour guide for him. It all seemed rather strange. However, he said he was a classmate from the Academy. That made it seem (somewhat) less strange.
Anyway, I gave directions to our home, and Bill Van Horn and his wife Penni showed up in our driveway. Being a classmate, Joanie and I figured we should give him the Academy treatment. We backed our restored ’57 Chevy out of the garage, and Bill and I, Joanie, Penni and our grandson climbed in to tour the town. We drove to a favorite dining spot in Fairbanks for lunch, showed the sights of our home town, and drove through the University of Alaska at Fairbanks to the musk ox farm (bet your town doesn’t have a musk ox farm). Although I still don’t remember ever meeting Bill at the Zoo, it was amazing that we could talk for hours and hours. As Academy classmates, we have so many shared experiences, shared memories, and even shared views of the world.
During our conversations, I learned that Bill had been on the Cobra Ball aircraft that had crashed at Shemya in 1981. One of my friends and neighbors had also been on that aircraft—and had died in the crash. I helped fix up his house for sale for his wife/widow. What a small world we have as classmates of the Air Force Academy Class of ’74.