It seems that Billy's desire to be assigned to a training unit (expressed in letters from Newfoundland) was granted, although not in the Southwest region of the U.S., but rather in the Southeast. His assignment, beginning in January of 1955, after a long leave accompanying his return to the States, was in Valdosta, Georgia, at Moody Air Force Base. The unit to which he was assigned was the 3550th Flying Training Group, and he was to take a twenty-week advanced flying course in the F-94C aircraft. According to Moody's history webpage, Billy's arrival coincided with a surge in personnel at the base, as they took on additional training and evaluation responsibilities.
We knew that the duty in Georgia was to be of short duration; I had attended kindergarten in Houston when June, Joan, and myself were living there with June’s parents (while Billy finished up his tour in Newfoundland). But it was decided that I didn’t need to have the second half of kindergarten, so I wasn't put in school in Valdosta, only to have to be taken out and moved somewhere else after a few months.
My primary memory of the time we spent in Georgia is of daily excursions to the swimming pools on the base (presumably late in the spring when the weather had grown warm). We also took some trips to tourist attractions in Florida (St. Augustine and Silver Springs) and Alabama (Bellingrath Gardens). You can see some pictures from our time in the southeast here. (It is possible that some of these photos were taken when Billy came to Alabama for the Mint Julep meeting in October, 1953; the slides from the visit are not dated.)
As to Billy’s work at Moody, we have nothing flesh it out except a joke and a real diploma, awarded upon completion of the course which he attended there. Then there is the assignment order for his next duty: with the 29th Fighter Interceptor Squadron at Great Falls Air Force Base (it wouldn’t be re-named Malmstrom until the next summer) in Montana.
The only thing we knew about Great Falls, at least in my memory, was that it was occasionally listed as the coldest spot in the nation! For a family of Texans, moving there was a somewhat daunting prospect!
When we arrived in Great Falls, we took up residence on the base, where we stayed until the next summer, when we moved into a brand new house in town. I remember that the base housing was a small apartment, with two bedrooms upstairs, and a tiny kitchen that June was very glad to move away from. Billy began his career in Montana as Operations Officer, effective August 3, 1955, according to an order dated August 10.
In October of 1955, the Great Falls Air Force Base was renamed Malmstrom, in honor of Einar Malmstrom, a former Deputy Commander of the 407th Strategic Fighter Wing in Great Falls. He was killed in a T-33 crash in 1954. The official re-naming ceremony didn’t take place, however, until the following summer. I can't help but wonder if the unlabelled photo on the right might have been taken at the dedication.
Although Billy’s duties were primarily administrative in nature, at least as far as we can tell from the orders, he did have to keep up flying proficiency. For this reason, in October 1955 he was officially attached to the 29th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, “for purpose of maintenance of flying proficiency only.” However, he was also, in an order dated later in October, appointed as an instructor pilot in T-33 aircraft.
Also later that month, he was assigned to a “Battle Staff Team,” an assignment that specified alternate 12-hour periods for alerts. I remember the concept of “being on alert” very well, since it meant that Billy wouldn’t be at home for the time that he was on alert. In my memory, this seemed to happen fairly frequently, probably reflecting the tense international situation during the Cold War.
Throughout his time in Great Falls, Billy was appointed to many, many boards constituted for various purposes. One that is particularly interesting was detailed in a November 1, 1955 order. The board was to “investigate and make recommendations to the Commander [of the] 29th Air Division concerning pecuniary liability for a pistol, caliber .45 … at the 581st Aircraft Control & Warning Squadron, Cut Bank Air Force Station, Montana.” Cut Bank is a small city it northern Montana, where, it seems, a pistol might have gone missing?
Early in 1956, Billy was able to escape from the coldest months in the coldest part of the country. According to orders we found, he was released from regular duty in Great Falls for the following purposes:
The picture on the left, though, would have been taken during a subsequent winter, since it shows our house in town, where we moved in 1956. It was located on the same side of town as the base (fortunately, or by design) so I could keep going to the same school. I couldn’t help but think about poor June, left to do all the snow shoveling while Billy was spending this time in warmer climes!
[We visited Great Falls in 2014, and discovered that the house has only had one other owner, besides our family! Read about the visit here.]
In between these trips, Billy was also appointed to an Accident Investigation Board, the first mention of several of these appointments that we noted. He was also assigned an additional duty as an Instructor Pilot in F-94C aircraft, in February.
Billy made more trips during the summer. In June, he was authorized to be gone for three days, in order to go Lowry Air Force Base in Denver, and Hill Air Force Base in Ogden, Utah, to pick up aircraft. Later in the month he was authorized to spend 15 days as an advisor to the 186th Air National Guard Fighter Interceptor Squadron during their summer training period. This advisory stint was apparently highly successful, since in August we have a laudatory letter and commendation regarding Billy’s activities with the Air National Guard:
“By your action you have not only materially aided the Montana Air National guard in fulfilling their mission but also have helped to continue the cordial relations between that unit and this division. My hearty congratulations on a job well done.” Signed by Harold L. Neely, Brig. General, Malmstrom Commander
“I wish to take this opportunity to express my appreciation for the very fine support given us by your Division during our 15 encampment this year. This support contributed greatly to the success of our encampment and in accomplishing our objective.
Both Maj. Lewis and Capt. Cappelli contributed outstanding lectures and gave our Pilots their complete Indoctrination on ADC Procedures and Operations, a major factor in our ground training. Signed by Major Rodger D. Young, Commander of MANG [Major Young was MANG commander for the rest of Billy's service in Montana]
Later in the summer he was released for five days to go to Luke Air Force Base and Yuma Air Force Base in Arizona to do some briefing “on matters pertaining to augmentation and to visit the 29th Air Division Rocketry Team.”
In August, we see that Billy’s instructor pilot status has been expanded to include L-20-A aircraft.
In October, Billy was appointed to another aircraft accident investigative board. This time the accident involved a T-33A aircraft.
A somewhat curious order was dated October 25, and gave Billy permission to pilot other than government aircraft. “Flights will be made from Skyway Flying Service, Municipal Airport, Great Falls, Montana or any airport deemed necessary for proper training.” Did this relate to the fact that Billy was occasionally assigned to fly Montana state officials from one place to another? (See this letter.) Or was he just interested in learning to fly non-Air Force planes as a hobby? I don’t remember hearing any discussion of this latter idea.
Billy was given a new assignment late in 1956. In November he was authorized five days temporary duty at the Pentagon, for the purpose of “Air National Guard indoctrination.” (Here is a scan of that order.) His official assignment was to the 2322nd Instructor Squadron, with the 4th Air Force Headquarters, at Hamilton Air Force Base in California, but his Permanent Duty Station is given as the 186th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, Montana Air National Guard at Great Falls Municipal Airport. He became a Senior Advisor to the Montana Air National Guard, 120th Fighter Group, effective December 18.
We felt that the reason we were able to stay in Great Falls for so long, when Air Force personnel are usually transferred to a new duty station every couple of years, is that Billy was transferred, but to a new duty that just happened to be in the same city.