A Whole New World

2018  is a memorable year for me.   

In 1968, after a stint in graduate school, I began my full time Air Force career. My initial duty assignment was to be in Washington, D.C. I had orders to report there on February 15, 1968.

My entry into the Air Force was not without some bumps. I had received permission to go to Syracuse University for graduate school, but during my time there, my vision had deteriorated and I could no longer qualify for any type of flight training. So when I went on active duty, the Air Force assigned me to a Security Police Squadron in Washington DC. This to my surprise turned out to be the Air Force Honor Guard. The Guard serves at the White House, Arlington, the Pentagon, and at all major US ceremonial events. I was assigned to the Air Force Honor Guard for about 15 minutes . Why you may ask, – well – members of the honor guard are very, very – TALL. And I am not.  And oh yes, one more small thing — I wore glasses, AF Honor Guard folks did not.  Other than that I was perfect for the job (made me wonder if the people at the Air Force Military Personnel Center ever looked at the requirements for the job.  Actually it was a good introduction to the wonderful world of AFMPC, whose actions and policies often didn’t make much sense).

In recent years I have tried to imagine how that Captain in charge of the Honor Guard reacted when I walked in the door.  I remember his mouth literally dropped open.  It must have been like the Head of the Emperors Imperial Guard in Star Wars expecting a new storm trooper and in rolled R2D2.    In addition I looked very young.  Although I was 24 most folks thought I was about 16.  They called me the 16-year old lieutenant.  So here I was short (5 foot 5 inches), young, and not the imposing Imperial Trooper that he expected. 1

2nd Lt John E. Norvell

So I became an operations planner and worked in the base command post. It was another surprise in a year filled with many such events.

It was from the command post in DC, where we were charged with coordinating the Air Force responses to events in the city, that I would witness a year of one mind-numbing event after another. These would include the assassinations of both Dr. Martin Luther King Jr in April and Senator Robert Kennedy in June. The turmoil of the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in the fall and increasingly more and more violent anti-war marches in the streets of Washington.  The election of Richard M. Nixon as the president of the United States and December 1968 trip of Apollo 8 from the earth to the moon and back.

And I had a front row seat to the events that shook the nation’s capital.


1 My height would later be perfect when I went to flying training in 1971 and trained to be a Weapons Systems Officer in the back seat of an F4, I fit it perfectly.


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.
This entry was posted in Air Force, American History, Vietnam Protests, Vietnam War, Washington DC and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to A Whole New World

  1. JL Mutolo says:

    …and fortunately your vision improved!

    • jenorv says:

      Well perhaps but I suspect the Air Force needed aircrews badly and changed the vision requirements so that more men could qualify and I now could be a Nav, not a pilot but at least I flew and believe me it was better to fly than work in a command post.

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