Veterans' Voices: Pursuing A Passion For Flying In The Air Force
Becoming a pilot in the United States Air Force is a long, challenging, and very competitive pursuit. Those who earn their wings are among the elite in the armed services. Air Force veteran Fred Abrams of Springboro tells his daughter and grandson about his lifelong passion for flight.
Amy Schenck (AS): So, Dad, how would you summarize your military service in a couple of sentences?
Fred Abrams (FA): I spent twenty-seven years in the Air Force, became a 2Lt through ROTC in college while getting a degree in mathematics, and I spent about a third of that twenty-seven flying fighter type aircrafts, including the F-100, the F-4, the F-15 and T-38 supersonic trainer, which was my final flying job.
AS: Awesome. At what point did you decide, yeah, this is it, I want to fly planes for a living?
FA: Well, in college, I went up in a light plane. I said, Wow, they can pay me money to do this. And I realized that not only would it be flying airplanes, but I'd be able to fly fast and low. And that was my first real passion, discovering flying.
AS: How did Grandma take the news?
FA: Not well. Total disbelief. And the family was also scared because in ‘65, Vietnam was building up and it was likely that I would end up in combat.
AS: I remember the stories of grandma. You sent her pictures of your bullet-ridden plane.
FA: Oh, yes. Not thinking. I also sent recordings of rockets and mortars impacting around us while we were in the bunker.
AS: Poor Grandma! When you were in Vietnam, what was happening in the war at that point? What year was it?
FA: I arrived in early January ‘68, and got combat-ready and started flying missions. And, of course, January 31, ‘68 was the beginning of The Tet Offensive, but we were flying very intensively up to three missions a day.
AS: I'm going to pass this next question to Evan because he loves your war stories, so...
Evan Schenck (ES): Do you have any special war stories to tell?
FA: March 13th, ‘68, maybe one of the most significant days of my entire life in that we were putting in an attack for troops in contact, and a .50 caliber site opened up on the two of us, firing tracers. And the other aircraft, my lead, a good friend named Obi saw where they were coming from, rolled in on them, and took three hits. And at that point, I saw where they were coming from, and I rolled in, face to face with a .50 caliber site, and he stopped firing. He lost, I won. The reason it was so significant is when the .50 caliber site opened up on me, I fully expected to die. And I saw in the next few seconds, I'm going to be dead. And I pushed over and the bullets went across the top of my canopy, and I survived. And that then led to a face to face shootout with the guy who was trying to kill me. Fifty years of bonus life, in ’68, over fifty years now.
ES: What were the biggest life lessons you learned from your time in the Air Force?
FA: Most of all that came from the fighter flying is to remain calm and analytical in all stressful situations. Including those, as a World War II buddy of mine said, where someone is not shooting at you. Always being calm and analytical regardless of how stressful because you make better decisions when you're not stressed.
ES: What are the biggest lessons learned after your military service?
FA: Thoreau was right when he said how tragic it would be to come to the end of one's life and discover that one had never really lived. And Helen Keller was right when she said that life is either an adventure or nothing. If you follow your passions, in my case flying in the early days, your life becomes an adventure.
Fred Abrams, Amy Schenck and Evan Schenck's conversation took place at WYSO as part of StoryCorps' Military Voices Initiative which visited the Miami Valley last summer. Veterans’ Voices on WYSO is presented by Wright-Patt Credit Union with additional support from CareSource. This story was edited by Alan Staiger and Will Davis and created at the Eichelberger Center for Community Voices at WYSO.