Veteran recalls Air Force training days


Cannon Connections photo: Liliana Castillo George Speck helped ground troops during his time in the Vietnam War by targeting enemy troops long enough for bombers to make their run when troops were under enemy fire.

George Speck, 77, of Portales, retired from the Air Force in 1972 as a major. He is involved in the Portales Lion’s Club and currently leading the movement in preserving the Portales Springs.

During his time in the Vietnam War, he helped American bombers take out North Korean targets when the ground troops were under heavy fire. His journey to that point was a long one, he said.

“While in basic training, they came by and said that when you apply with the Air Force you have to take a test,” Speck said. “The test is to see what career field you can go into. They came and got me and couple of guys to test to be a pilot or navigator.”

He passed the test and was transferred to a training base in San Antonio. When they did his physical for pilot training they found a problem.

Speck said they told him his left eye had lost vision due to disease.

“So I go through the training to be a radar operator in the back of the jet fighters,” Speck said. “But the school they sent us to up in Waco, Texas, had only B-25’s for us to practice in. So we were using B-25’s to run intercepts and when we finished there they were supposed to send us to another air base to get jet training.”

During this time the Cold War was just starting and the Korean War was still going on. Speck said Air Force officials said they needed combat-ready crews immediately. They sent five people from class straight to the squadrons and Speck had never been in a jet before.

Speck said he had talked to another airman before his first flight who knew how to turn on the radar and when they sent him up nothing really happened, he said.

On his second trip he fell asleep because it was a long and boring ride because the team was doing fighting maneuvers.

“My third flight they told me I was combat ready and I hadn’t seen a target on the radar yet,” Speck said.

He said they put him on a five-minute alert and gradually moved him down to three minutes.

“Boom — we were off into the sky and the first time the radar screen worked,” Speck said. “They vectored us to intercept an aircraft coming in. It turned out to be a British bomber who was off course so they gave them an escort.”

He said he was later sent to an air base in Michigan where they flew F-89s and then later the F-89J, which is an all-weather interceptor fighter. Speck said he learned what had caused his eye problem. The disease cleared up and he reapplied for pilot training and was sent to Florida where he trained in different fighter planes.

As part of his fighter training he was sent to Tucson, Ariz., which is where he hoped to go for his training, but when he arrived there he noticed they only had F-89Js. Speck said the operation’s commander had seen that he was a radar operator in an F-89 and said he could fly the F-89.

After a mix-up, in which he ended up flying the jet without training, the operation’s commander asked him to stay on as a radar operator while training to be a pilot until they got more radar operators in.


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