April Fool from the Cadets


My time teaching at the Air Force Academy was one of the high points of my Air Force career. The cadets were bright, motivated, and highly engaged in all that they did. Not the least of which was playing pranks on April Fools and other occasions.   I have previously written about “LCWB,” the ultimate cadet prank, when the last all male class had these letters inscribed in their Academy  rings — LCWB meaning Last Class with Balls.

But  the first time I encountered their inventiveness was about the first year I taught there.  On April Fools Day the dome of the cadet planetarium was disguised to look like a giant  8 Ball. Some time during the night they had covered it will what appeared to be black material and a white circle with a big 8 in it.   From talking with other instructors, I learned that this was not the first such prank.

In a previous year one of the small aircraft that was on static display moved from the main plaza, called the Terrazzo, into the court yard of the academic library area.  This was not the first time an airplane had been moved from location to another– one was reassembled on the roof of a building.  On another occasion, the weekend of the annual Army – Air Force football game, the office of a visiting Army professor was transported to an elevator, where it was re-assembled.  ac5

These activities were dubbed “Spirit Missions,” and I suspect were carried out by the basic cadets called “Doolies” – in honor of General  James Doolittle – under the direction of various upper classmen.  Spirit missions were not limited to just April Fools, but could occur throughout the year to build esprit de corps and camaraderie in the cadet squadrons.  Almost any thing was fair game, strange items appeared on the Terrazzo,  airplanes were repainted, and various cadet squadron emblems graced the doors of other squadrons.  Doing these pranks became in effect institutionalized and  were seen as indicators of cadet morale and identification with the wing.   There were few cadets who graduated that some time during their four years did not undertake a “spirit mission.”  a21

Some times cadet pranks took a very unexpected direction.  In November 1978 after the movie, “Animal House,” was in the theaters, one night some one yelled “food fight,” and the entire cadet wing of 4,000 had the mother of all fights.  While it was later determined that only about 50-60 cadets were really involved, it didn’t matter.  The entire wing was restricted to the academy grounds   The local newspaper reported that the menu that night consisted of mashed potatoes,  peas, stuffed peppers, and cherry cake that was heaved with abandon.  I remember hearing about it from other instructors, and then later in class when my students vented about the unfairness of all being punished for the actions of the few.

Cadets pranked officers as well.  When ever an officer was outside on the Terrazzo, the cadets were required to salute him.  It didn’t matter if they were 300 yards away, they saluted and you had to return the salute.

Chapel and Terrazzo area.

Chapel and Terrazzo area.

I remember going from the academic area to the cadet chapel, and I am sure that the cadets waited in ambush to catch officers out in the open.  By the time I had walked the gantlet, I must have saluted about 300 cadets. Where they came from is beyond me.   It was as if they waited beyond the Lance Sijan Hall, one of the cadet dormitories, and then emerged in a steady stream to catch me — an unsuspecting officer on the Terrazzo.  I quickly learned to time my trips to the period when the cadets were in class.

It really was a matter of survival.








About jenorv

John E. Norvell is a retired Air Force Lt Colonel, decorated air combat veteran of the Vietnam War, and former Assistant Professor of American and Military History at the U.S. Air Force Academy. He has written freelance for the Washington Post, the Middle Tennessee Journal of Genealogy and History, and for several newspapers around the country.
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