Silver Wings at Last

UNT Graduation 3538th NTS 

Mather Air Force Base – July 25, 1972

That long ago afternoon at Mather, the Officers Club ballroom filled with family and friends gathered to celebrate the occasion. The wives waited in their finest, ready to pin their husbands. These women had, for the past eight months, spent long hours alone as their husbands flew. Today they were Mrs. Lieutenant, but some day down the line they might be Mrs. Colonel.

The promise was there, the men had done well. The future lay ahead, but on that afternoon they eagerly waited for the pinning to begin. My fiancee could not be present to pin on my wings, she was in New York. The first time she would see those new wings on my blues was a month in the future at our wedding August 20, 1972. So on that day in July, my sister had flown out to California from New York to do the honors. 

We filed in by rank. The captains would graduate first and receive their certificates of aeronautical rating as navigators. From that point on to the end of their service, they would be rated officers apart from the others who were non-rated or “ground pounders.” You see, even before Star Wars coined the term, we now were sky-walkers and we knew it. In the words of John MaGee’s immortal poem High Flight: “we had slipped the surly bonds of earth.” To remind us of this fact, the poem was on the first page of our graduation program. As if we needed reminding. We had flown. We had fixed our positions by capturing star light. We had done “a hundred things you have not dreamed of…” The pride in our eyes could have lit the room.

The room filled, behind us all the lieutenants had taken their positions. The chaplain offered an invocation, our 3538th Squadron commander and the wing commander spoke, and then the big moment was at hand. I walked up, saluted and was given my certificate and a brand new set of navigator wings, my sister walked up to me and pinned them on. 

My nav wings are pinned on the first time.

Pinned on my wings.

The sound of that phrase echoes to me across the years. Pinned on my wings. I repeat this as nearly 50 years later, its almost as if it were unreal.
But there I was:

Me an old man of 28 who had been non rated in a dead end job for nearly 4 years.

Me a history major in college who couldn’t do anything more than simple math.

Me who gained confidence in my abilities to do an important job in the Air Force.

Me with Silver Wings on my chest. 

As my sister pinned them on, I looked down almost in amazement that this thing had happened.

I was on my way to upgrade to the back seat of an F-4, but first other things took precedence: two survival schools. 

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, Mather AFB, Navigator, Navigator Training and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Silver Wings at Last

  1. Nhuan Vu ( Deep Check ) says:

    This brings back lots of memories , I was an Air Cadet from South Vietnamese Air force and graduated September 1974 , Class 7504 – C . After graduation I went home and flew in an Electronic Reconnaissance Squadron until the end of the war

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