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Award brought coffee breaks with Air Force One crew

I received a letter from Senior Master Sergeant Joseph Wingo’s daughter of Summerville, Mass., telling me her whole family knew of me.

She was going through her late father’s 30-year military career papers. Her brothers and sisters grew up looking at the award their father received from the Noncommissioned Officer Academy. She also had our graduation photo from the early 1960s at McCoy Air Field, Orlando, Fla.

When I arrived from Travis Air Force Base, Calif., the commandant, who was in my unit on my first tour overseas, assigned me as flight leader for the President’s Air Force One crew. The crew chief was Sergeant Wingo. He outranked me and I could tell he was not happy taking orders from me.

We were one of five flights of 25 men. My flight had not marched in formation since basic training. The first morning when I marched them to the mess hall and later to class, the other flights were making fun of us.

After talking to Sergeant Wingo, telling him I could help his men, he was smart enough to know he needed me. After class, I took them to the drill field and marched them for hours. On our fifth week, we received the award for the best marching flight. We also won the award for the best softball team.

As the flight leader, I would take the marching award back to my base. The last morning when we were saying our good-byes, I felt sorry for Sergeant Wingo. I handed him the marching award and told him to take good care of it. He gave me a big hug with tears in his eyes.

Every time the President’s plane landed at the base I was assigned, Air Force One’s crew at least took me out for coffee.

Writer Everett Vanover is a former Letcher County resident now living in Fairfield, Calif.

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