By Don Hall
In a small town in northwest Ohio in 1954, Tom Wesche and a friend, both high school students, decided one day to skip classes.
While Tom says he often played hooky, their goal that day was a bit unusual. They went to the friend’s farm, got gasoline out of a tractor, put it in the father’s 2-seat airplane, and proceeded to fly around for the next 45 minutes. That was Tom’s first time in the air, but it certainly wouldn’t be his last.
In 1960, in an era when military service was not only common, but expected, Tom Wesche joined the Air Force. “I always was interested in flying,” Tom says. “I didn’t want to be a ground-pounder; I wanted to be in the sky. I decided that if I was going to die for my country, it would be in the air.”
After enlisting, Tom was sent to Harlingen, Texas, for Aviation Cadet Training as a navigator. Upon graduation, he went to Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Miss., for further training as an Electronic Weapons Officer on a B-52 bomber. “The job of an EWO was to monitor radios to see if we were being swept by enemy radar, from the ground or from the air; if they got a lock on us, the EWO would jam their radar, and, if necessary deploy ‘chaff’ and flares to throw them off.”
Tom graduated 1st in his class (as he would in all his successive training throughout his Air Force career), and was offered his choice of where he would be stationed.
Initially, he says, “I wanted to go to Florida,” but at the last minute he decided instead on Ramey AFB in Puerto Rico.
Katie grew up in Nashville, Ark. She wanted to be a teacher and received an education degree from Harding University.
After graduation, she found out that the Department of Defense operated schools on military bases around the world for the children of servicemen, and, being young and wanting to travel, she signed up.
Initially, she says, “I wanted to go to Hawaii,” but at the last minute she decided instead on Ramey AFB in Puerto Rico.
Each year, there was a beach party at Ramey to welcome the new school teachers. NW Ohio met SW Arkansas.
After serving two years at Ramey, Tom was transferred to Wright-Patterson AFB in Ohio. “We couldn’t stand being apart,” he recalls. Katie soon followed him and they were married.
After serving four years as an EWO on B-52s based in Ohio, Tom was accepted to pilot training. Following a year in Selma, Ala., learning to fly propeller- and jet-powered aircraft, he began in the C-141 Starlifter, a 4-engine turbofan (jet) cargo airplane with a crew of six.
For the next four years Tom was stationed at Travis Air Force Base in California averaging more than 1,000 hours each year as pilot-in-command, flying supplies into Viet Nam and wounded soldiers back to the United States.
In 1971, after 11 years in the Air Force, and with a wife and two children, Tom decided to leave the military. “Katie had lots of close friends and family in Nashville. The people here were so friendly, the weather was so nice, and we decided to move back to her hometown.”
Over the next year and a half, Tom earned an accounting degree from Henderson State University; and in 1973 they moved briefly to Fayetteville and then to Batesville, where he began working for the IRS.
The health of Katie’s father caused them to move back to Nashville in 1978 and, after a brief period with Farm Bureau Insurance, (“I found out I’m not a salesman!”) Tom went to work with the Arkansas Division of Legislative Audit, a position he would hold until his retirement in 2003.
When they moved back to Nashville, Katie had been teaching for years in Department of Defense schools. In Nashville, during a single weekend just before they moved, she interviewed for the position of primary school principal, she was hired, and they bought a house. “It was a very busy weekend!” she recalls.
Katie would serve six years as a principal, then 18 years as assistant superintendent in the Nashville School District before her retirement in 2002.
This is the last in a series of articles about our friends and neighbors, ordinary citizens, who have done extraordinary things to protect the freedoms that we all enjoy. Our purpose is not to call attention to particular individuals, but to point out that many of those who live quietly in our neighborhoods have served our country in ways that we would not have imagined. Ask veterans to tell you what they did in the military, and thank them for their service and for giving up years of their lives to benefit the rest of us. We owe them a debt of gratitude.