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Veteran played volleyball for U.S. Air Force

Cary Ashby • Nov 7, 2018 at 10:00 AM

After going to high school in New York, Bob Germond wanted to serve in the U.S. Navy.

“Initially I wanted to join the Navy because I wanted to be on an aircraft carrier working on Navy aircraft,” said Germond, who was told he wouldn’t be able to enlist for at least four or five months. “I wanted to go in immediately; I didn’t want to sit around doing nothing.” 

That led him to calling the U.S. Air Force. He enlisted as an airman Nov. 12, 1957.

“I came from a poor family. I have five sisters and two brothers,” said Germond, who was born and raised in Venetia, N.Y.

Germond went to high school in Boiceville, N.Y. in the Catskills Mountains.

The biggest nearby industry was IBM, which was about 30 miles or more away from Germond’s childhood home. With no jobs available to “make a fair living” and a desire to help his mother, he decided to join the military.

Germond went to Albany, N.Y. for his swearing-in ceremony. He said some of the men didn’t raise their right hands as they were told and they thought that meant they weren’t in the Air Force, but “the officer said, ‘Too late. You’re going.’”

“I joined the Air Force to see the world and I spent five months in Columbus,” Germond said with a laugh. “That’s where I was stationed.”

 

Air Force training, playing volleyball

His basic training was at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.

“Then I went to Shepherd Air Force Base to learn more about planes — how they fly (and) how they were supposed to function,” said Germond, who has lived in the Norwalk area since 1975. 

Germond, who was on his high school volleyball team, was selected to play on the Air Force team for about five months. One of his teammates was an Olympic pole vaulter.

“By being selected to play on that team, we flew to Biloxi, Miss.; we flew to Kansas City. We played the No. 1 volleyball team in the country, the YMCA team, and we beat the heck out of them,” said Germond, who also played softball and baseball for the Air Force. 

“That was quite an honor for me because there were guys on there who were commissioned officers. The master sergeant and I were the only non-commissioned officers (who) were on the team and I was only 19 years old. I was playing with these guys (who) were superstars,” he added. “That was kind of neat. Those are things you don’t forget.”

Germond wanted to “get out of school,” go home to see his family and the Air Force offered him to stay in the sports department. 

“If I had stayed in sports, oh my God, the stripes would have gone up my arm like crazy because that’s where you made some good promotions. I turned that down because I wanted to get out for a while,” he said.

 

‘Flying crew chief’ 

While at Lockbourne Air Force Base in Franklin County, Germond said he was a “flying crew chief.” His job responsibility was to start planes as well as maintain and perform safety checks on aircraft.

“I used to do a lot of flying with them. … I flew on the Gooney Bird, which was a C-47 during the (Korean) War. I flew quite a bit with the guys on the B-25 Billy Mitchell bomber, which flew off the aircraft carriers during the war,” he said. “That was a popular aircraft; that was the one that dropped the bomb on Hiroshima.”

Over the years, Germond received various medals for outstanding performance, service and good behavior. He said his philosophy was if “someone wanted it done, I’ll do it” — a contrast to other airmen when asked to do various tasks.

One of those jobs he volunteered for meant he “spent the better part of the damn day peeling potatoes.” That memory prompted a long and hearty laugh. Germond said the incident taught him not to volunteer as often.

“I peeled potatoes for probably five hours,” he added. “I said, ‘I’m never doing this again.’”

His willingness meant pilots often asked Germond if he wanted to join them on various planes.

“I flew at one time without being a pilot,” he said, referring to being allowed to fly on missions. “When you sit in the pilot’s seat, there’s not a whole lot you can do because when you put it on autopilot, it pretty well flies itself. If something happened — if there was an engine fire, I knew what to do to solve it.”

Germond flew with a colonel once whom he had to remind to put down the landing gear before “the point of no return.” During that instance, he reached over and pulled on the throttle to keep the plane from landing too late and possibly crashing.

“I told (him), ‘This thing has wheels. It’s better to go in on wheels than on the belly,’” Germond said.

 

Leaving … but not yet

Germond left the Air Force on May 15, 1962 as an “airman first,” the equivalent of a staff sergeant in other branches of the military.

“That’s when I got extended during the Berlin air lift; that’s when the Russians blocked all the traffic going into Berlin. Then the military had to fly supplies into Berlin — food, water, all the necessities,” he said.

Germond was supposed to be discharged in November 1961. He even had all his bags packed two weeks beforehand. But President John F. Kennedy had other ideas — news that Germond received via letter.

“It had, ‘Dear Bob, you have been involuntarily extended for one more year,’” he said, recalling the contents and his reaction. “You’ve got to be kidding, so I was (extended). Now all the stuff I had packed, I had to unpack. … It didn’t bother me; I just said, ‘Really?’”

The commander-in-chief had spoken and Germond had to obey.

“You didn’t have a choice. That’s a case where you don’t negotiate,” he said with a smile and short chuckle.

* * *

During his five years serving with the U.S. Air Force, Bob Germond said “I was not a hell-raiser, but I liked a little excitement.”

That so-called “little excitement” and encouragement from a captain to “take the stick” led to a couple fly-bys in Erie and Huron counties when Germond was stationed in Ohio. He enlisted as an airman Nov. 12, 1957. Germond ended his service May 15, 1962 as an “airman first,” the equivalent of a staff sergeant in other branches of the military.

While at Lockbourne Air Force Base in Franklin County, Germond was a flying crew chief. His responsibility was to start planes as well as maintain and perform safety checks on aircraft. He said his willingness to work hard led to pilots offering to fly with them. 

Germond received various medals for outstanding performance, service and good behavior. He said his philosophy was if “someone wanted it done, I’ll do it” and “you don’t get anywhere when you fight the boss” — a contrast to the attitudes of other airmen when asked to do various tasks.

“I was never one to back away from something,” Germond added. “So when they asked you to do something, (I thought), ‘Why not?’”

Fighter pilots “didn’t fly by the book,” he said, so when he had the opportunity, he went with them.

Germond recalled flying with Capt. Harry May, who allowed him to pilot planes even though Germond wasn’t trained to do so.  

“We had T-37 jet trainers and them suckers could scoot,” said Germond, who was in the back seat.

“He said, ‘Are you game for some fun?,’” he added, recalling that May suggested they fly north to see the girl Germond was dating. “I said, ‘This guy is a fighter pilot, so anything is possible.’

“He took that sucker straight up … and the engine stalled and we fell over backwards. We must have free-fell probably five or 6,000 feet. (We) just dropped. Then he restarted and we took off,” Germond said. “He said, ‘Want to do that again?’ I said, ‘Whatever you want to do.’”

May had Germond “take the stick” and the pair flew to Lake Erie, where the pilot pointed out the boats. Germond remembered it was a beautiful day with clear, blue skies.

“I said, ‘Oh my God. I have a feeling of what’s coming,’” said Germond, who was open to May’s offer to “have some fun.”

May put the plane in a nose dive.

“He headed for them sailboats. I tell you; we were probably only a couple hundred feet above them. Them people on the sailboats saw us coming and jumped in the freakin’ lake; they thought we were going to crash,” Germond said.

The Norwalk resident and New York native estimated the plane was going 300 to 400 mph, “so you weren’t going to get the tail number.”

There was another time when May had Germond take the controls of a F-100. At May’s urging, they flew near Monroeville by the residence of farmers Carl and Mildred Heyman, Germond’s future in-laws from his first marriage. The Heymans owned some chickens.

“He said, ‘Bob, have some fun.’ So we lowered that plane along the tree tops, headed toward the farm. I got toward the farm, raised that sucker up and hit the after-burner and blew those chickens right out of the chicken coop,” said Germond, laughing at the memory as he flew the jet with its wing tipped down. “I mean, they were going all over.

“I saw (the Heymans) come out of the house. Too late; they couldn’t get our number,” he added.

Several weeks later, Carl Heyman told Germond about “a problem with their chickens.” He said Heyman recalled a plane came by his farm, “made a big bang and the chickens were flying all over the place.” However, the farmer didn’t know Germond was the pilot.

“The chickens won’t lay eggs now,” said a chuckling Germond, recalling Heyman’s words. “He said, ‘It about blew our windows out.’”

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