FRAZEYSBURG, Ohio –
The Berlin Crisis was escalating. Tensions between the U.S. and the Soviet Union were stretched thin and the threat of nuclear war loomed over the world.
On a farm in central Ohio, Jim Hoover was trying to keep up with summer chores. Hay needed to be made, cows had to be cared for and it wouldn’t be long until the corn would need harvested.
He knew about the problems overseas and kept an eye on news reports.
Hoover was in his early 20s and three years earlier he’d joined the Ohio Air National Guard. It was an alternative to the draft and the Guard had typically been called up to deal with problems within the states.
But one night that summer, Hoover saw President John Kennedy giving a speech on TV. The president said some of Ohio’s Guard units would be activated in response to the Berlin Crisis and Hoover had an inkling that his life was about to change.
Before long, that inkling turned to reality – Hoover was being deployed to France.
Somewhere east of the Mississippi, about 21,000 feet in the air, a KC-135 Stratotanker pumped fuel into a C-17.
In the KC-135, Hoover watched as 1,000 gallons of fuel per minute transferred into the C-17.
The planes were about 40 feet apart, moving somewhere between 316 and 380 miles per hour.
It’s been 46 years since Hoover’s Ohio Air National Guard unit went to France. And although his commitment to the Guard ended in 1963, this air refueling mission reminded him of his days as an airman.
He knows what it’s like to be responsible for supporting fighter planes, he knows what it’s like to handle the fuel. And he knows what it’s like to be a part of this unit.
Hoover got orders to report to Lockborne Air Base in Columbus Oct. 1. Young and single, he was looking forward to the experience. He’d been training regularly with his unit, the 121st Supply Squadron, and he knew the other men well.
Just over two weeks later, he had a seat on the unit’s first plane to a NATO base in Etain, France. Hoover was part of an advance party, going ahead to set up for the others. Twenty-seven more planes would follow.
Hoover’s job was to refuel planes on the ground. Semi-trucks carrying thousands of gallons of JP-4 fuel would pull up to the aircraft and it was Hoover’s job to properly fasten the hoses that transferred the fuel. The pumping engines on the semis moved 600 gallons of fuel per minute.
Some planes required hydrant refueling, which meant the aircraft were refueled at hydrants instead of with trucks.
In addition to refueling in France, Hoover also spent three weeks in Libya, Africa, refueling F-84s during training missions.
On leave in June 1962, Hoover decided to visit Holland and Paris. While crossing the English Channel, he met Merridy Roesch, a California girl who was going to school in Switzerland.
It was a chance meeting, but it would eventually change Hoover’s life once again.
The 121st Air Refueling Wing
, formerly the 121st Supply Squadron, is one of 88 Air National Guard flying units in the U.S. Its primary mission is to provide aerial refueling to the Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and allied aircraft, but the Wing also serves support functions like security, engineering, communications, aircraft maintenance, food services, transportation and medics.
When the Guard practices for refueling missions, it often invites public officials along for the ride. Through these orientation flights, the Guard hopes to educate Ohio’s decision-makers.
The purpose of the flight is to educate community leaders about the mission of the unit, according to Lt. Col. Kathy Lowery, Wing executive support officer and community affairs manager.
With 1,400 members throughout the state, the Ohio Air National Guard wants local leaders to understand its role on federal, state and community levels. And that understanding includes not only what Guard members do, but how they do it.
“We really need a strong partnership with employers and family members,” Lowery said.
She added that the Guard hopes public officials use their experience on the orientation flights to “make decisions to help improve the quality of life for military members and their families.”
Although Hoover already had a deep appreciation for Ohio’s Air National Guard, he was invited along to see the current operations. A retired principal, Hoover now serves as a township trustee and a supervisor for the Licking Soil and Water Conservation District. He is also an Area 3 director for 16 counties and serves on the executive board for the state’s federation of soil and water conservation districts.
Even though Hoover’s days in the Guard are behind him, the years haven’t erased his eagerness. When he received his application to participate in the orientation flight early in 2007, the anticipation from more than four decades ago trickled through his veins.
There was no doubt about it – he was ready to fly.
The Berlin Crisis wasn’t a shooting war, so Hoover’s deployment was a positive experience. However, his activation did disrupt life on the farm.
While Hoover served his country on the other side of the globe, his family had to take over his chores and hire extra help to get the work done.
Hoover’s education had to be put on hold and he missed his family. Roesch was on his mind, too, as the pair kept in touch through letters.
Then, in July, Hoover got word that his deployment would end in August. The timing turned out to be perfect – he got home just in time for the county fair.
It’s been 43 years since Hoover married the California girl he met on the English Channel. Today, the couple owns Pleasant Hill Farms, an Angus cattle operation in Licking County.
Hoover’s roots run deep in the area – the farm has been in his family since 1837 when one of Hoover’s ancestors acquired it for his service in the Revolutionary War.
For the Hoovers, the April 19 practice mission with the 121st Air Refueling Wing has given them a reason to reminisce. It’s allowed them to appreciate their past and consider the changes that have taken place since that year in France.
“It was a little different experience,” Hoover said. “I’d never seen that (air-to-air refueling) done other than on tapes.”
Being a civilian on a practice refueling mission isn’t quite the same as a year of active duty. But Hoover values the similarities between the two experiences.
“Being on a plane is just a snapshot of the activation,” he said.
As his plane touched down at Rickenbacker Airport (previously Lockborne) after the refueling, Hoover remembered how it felt to come home. And once again, the timing was perfect – he was back just in time for dinner.
(Reporter Janelle Skrinjar welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)