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The Air Force saved my dad

This morning I looked at the calendar and saw that Armed Forces Day is May 15. It made me think of my father, who died last November, and tears sprang to my eyes. He told me more than once the Air Force saved his life.

He was born in 1930 during the Great Depression, and his family was poor. His father left when my dad, Jacob Fischer, was 6, and his mother, Vivian, struggled to take care of four little children.

My father changed schools many, many times in Staten Island, New York; his mother moved the family when they couldn't pay the rent. He missed a lot of school, too, working to help support the family. He hand-set pins at the bowling alley and helped his mother on the bakery truck making home deliveries.

Many of his friends and his younger brother Jimmy got in trouble and went the wrong way in life. My father's dream since he was a boy making model airplanes and watching World War II play out was to fly airplanes. Instead of getting into trouble, he worked like a fiend and saved up $80 to take lessons and get his small-plane pilot's license.

But his mother borrowed the money and never paid it back. He dropped out of high school and single-mindedly saved up the sum again. He got his small-plane license at the age of 16.

As soon as he turned 17, he marched down to the Air Force recruiter. Never was there a more unlikely looking candidate: my dad was scrawny and looked like a 15-year-old kid.

He went through the battery of tests and was promptly rejected for “emotional immaturity.” He went home furious and dispirited. His Uncle Dougie, who he later discovered was actually his half brother, told him to get back down there and tell them a thing or two. So he did.

“Is this emotional immaturity?” he demanded. He told the recruiter how he twice saved up the money to get his pilot's license, and then got it. The impressed recruiter took him on.

My father knew the Air Force was his ticket out of poverty and limited options in life. He was the most stubborn person I've ever known. People said he could never become an officer nor a pilot without a college degree. He became both. Yes, some circumstances were on his side, but he never took “no” for an answer.

He often told me and my brothers how grateful he was to the Air Force for saving his life and making him a man. He said he didn't know what he would have done with his life without that opportunity.

He became a jet pilot and served in the Air Force for 21 years, retiring as a major.

He just missed serving in World War II by a few years. He tried to volunteer in the Vietnam War but was turned down because he was a reserve officer. My father was proud to serve his country, and I am proud of the man he became.

Sharon Fischer lives in Eagle Point.

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