Entry Date: 63

Exit Date: 65

Rating: AX3

Squad: 21

Status: K

“My name is Jerry Preston and I served with VP-21 from September 1963 to August 1966. I flew on CAC-8 for most of that time, finishing out my enlistment with Bill Locke as our PPC (I think I remember the right term).
I was the radio operator on CAC-8 although I was also trained to work radar, JEZ, JULIE, MADD etc. Somebody suggested that I “go” to radio operator’s school at NAS Brunswick shortly after I arrived. I did for nine weeks and I really loved my work as the radio operator.

I am 6’7” tall, so you can imagine that my height posed a small problem in getting around inside Airmail 8 (or 7BMO, the morse code call sign). In fact, it was a problem outside the aircraft as well, particularly one time when I was doing an inspection, writing on a clipboard, and walked into the flaps which were set at 30 degrees. I cold-cocked myself…next thing I remember was waking up in the hospital.

I played a little basketball for NAS Brunswick and for the squadron wherever we flew to. Most memorable was our deployment to Keflavik Iceland and our championship game against the Marines. Their center stepped on my foot when I went up for a rebound. I left the foot on the floor, tearing some ligaments. I remember Bill Locke being just a little upset that I had been grounded for the flight the next day.

In Keflavik we had our fun, flying around Little and Big Surtsey, both active volcanoes, and flying a high speed, low pass over the field that the tower said we could not fly. We did it anyway. I was in Gitmo for our deployment…I think in 1963. We flew around the whole crazy island; it seemed like one day after the other. I remember our low, high speed approach into Havana Harbor, close enough to the waterfront that I could read the sign “Havana Hilton!”
I suppose my “rack” cost the Navy quite a few bucks when it came loose in the bomb bay while we were underway, I think, to Key West. My 7’0” rack pierced the left door of the bomb bay. After that episode, my Brunswick rack was grounded, and everywhere we deployed to, the AM’s would fix me up with a new long rack.

We had a great crew and super pilots – I flew with Mr. Hartranft, Lyle Hanson, Bobby O’Connor, Carter Nute, and of course Bill Locke, who in my opinion, was absolutely the best. Our enlisted crew members were great guys as well – Leo Picone (he and I were quite a contrast in height!), Dave Detterman, Mike Weatherington, Bill Rule, Ron Novay, and others whose names slip my mind at the moment.

I finished my enlistment on August 19, 1966, and went to Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa, then to Wartburg Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa. I married Margy Hanna in September 1971. I was ordained as a Lutheran pastor on July 14, 1974.

In 1979 I was commissioned as an Air Force Chaplain. I served at Barksdale AFB, LA, home of the B-52’s (I have 17.0 hours in a Buff), Sembach AB, Germany, (A-10’s and CH-53’s), Gunter AFB in Montgomery, AL, Woomera AS, Australia (deep space surveillance, crucial during the first Gulf War), and Vandenberg AFB, CA (space and missile country). I retired from active duty on July 14, 1995 as a Chaplain, Lieutenant Colonel, USAF. I loved every minute of active duty and I know that I was a much better chaplain because of my service with VP-21.

I have been married for 32 years and have two sons, a daughter, and two and a half grandchildren (one in the bomb bay!). I have bee an ordained Lutheran pastor for 30 years, currently serving Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Shreveport, and in December 2003 will begin my new position at Lutheran Church of Hope in Broomfield, Colorado, a beautiful place.

I think often of all my mates in VP-21. I only wish I knew the whereabouts of some of the guys who are not on the current roster – Ed Heathcote (CAC-9), Dick Stuart, and others. I won’t be able to attend this coming reunion in 2003 but will one day make it.

All the best to former mates, crewmates, and friends!
Jerry Preston 9/03”