MARTINSBURG, W.Va. (AP) — Douglas Dearing gets a little choked up when he talks about his career in the U.S. Air Force.
"I'd do it all over again, if I had to," he said in a recent interview. "I'm glad I went into the service. I think the world of the service."
However, a 21-year career in the military was not what the 78-year-old Martinsburg native had in mind when he joined at 18 years old in 1954 and just out of high school.
"I didn't know what I wanted to do," he said. "They told me what to do."
Early in his career, Dearing was told he was going to be a military training instructor — a teacher. He didn't know anything about teaching. He didn't like school.
He was told, "OK, you're going to be a cook. And I said, 'When do I start teaching.'"
Dearing spent two years as a drill instructor.
Before joining the Air Force, he had been accepted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, but decided to join the military. His FBI clearance and his newly acquired teaching skills got him assigned to military intelligence in Japan as a secret service instructor for all branches of the armed services.
"I loved it," Dearing said. "That was the best two years of my service, but I can't talk about it. It was highly classified — so highly classified. It was demanding, stressful."
This role was not about rank, he said. It was about people and all the people were the same, which is what he liked the most.
In late 1963, Dearing was transferred to Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington, D.C., where he was in charge of air space systems for Air Force One, the president's plane.
"I always wanted to be an aircraft mechanic," he said.
Dearing served nine years, during all the Lyndon Johnson and most of the Richard Nixon administrations. Air Force One then was a C-137 Stratoliner, which was a modified, long-range Boeing 707.
Air Force One is more than one airplane, Dearing said. The wing consisted of 35 aircraft.
"I didn't feel any extra pressure working on the president's plane," he said. "We got anything we wanted and we had the very best people working for us."
One time, Air Force One had a fuel leak that could not be fixed, Dearing said. His boss told him "to fix the damn leak." ''I told him it wouldn't be by the book. And he said, 'Damn the book — fix the leak.'"
And so he did.
The fuel leak ended up in court with the Air Force suing the manufacturer and Dearing had to testify, explaining what he did. His testimony was followed by a so-called expert with five degrees, whom Dearing said could not solve the problem.
"The judge said to him, 'This dumb poor tech sergeant did more than you could do with your five degrees,'" Dearing said.
Dearing received several citations for his performance working on Air Force One.
Coincidentally, another West Virginian served on Air Force One during Dearing's stint — the late-Col. Ralph Albertazzie. Originally from Preston County, Albertazzie was the pilot of Air Force One from 1968 through 1974. After the service, he moved to Berkeley County. He was involved in politics and business. He died in 2011 at age 88.
In 1972, Dearing was sent to Vietnam for a one-year tour throughout Southeast Asia.
When he returned, he was stationed at Langley Air Force Base in Hampton, Va., retiring in 1975 with the rank of first sergeant.
He was offered the rank of chief master sergeant, the highest noncommissioned officer in the Air Force, but he would have had to have gone back to Vietnam and he did not want to do that.
"Retiring was one of the hardest things I had to do," Dearing said, his emotions rising slightly again. "I had a hard time getting over it. Here I was in Martinsburg, by myself. The phone didn't ring. No one came to visit."
So, he went to the West Virginia State Police Academy, graduated first in his class, and served as a Berkeley County deputy sheriff under Sheriff Lyle Catlett.
Dearing also taught at James Rumsey Technical Institute for five years.
He lives on the same street in Martinsburg where he was raised. He has seven children, 17 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren, with the 15th on the way.
Over the years, Dearing has kept busy volunteering at CCAP/Loaves and Fishes and the Rescue Mission, and is a member of the VFW and American Legion.
He would recommend to all young men and women that they join the service for a couple years so they can find out what they want to do.
And he is a devoted supporter of veterans.
"Veterans deserve everything they can get, everything they've got coming to them. Period," Dearing said.
Information from: The Journal, http://journal-news.net/