The summer of ’66 was a time of great challenge. Basic training as a “doolie” at the U.S. Air Force Academy was physically and mentally challenging. You try to survive, hang in there, one hour at a time. In August basic training ends and for those who made it, they are accepted into the Cadet Wing. Life is better but still difficult beyond belief that first year. Only the brothers with whom I shared those months truly understand (and it was brothers, no women would be admitted until years later.)
That fall I was a member of Fightin’ Fourth Squadron. The commander of 4th was a first classman (senior) Scotty Albright II. He represented the best of the best and became a role model for myself and others. Knowing the hellish times we would face that first year, he called a meeting for the “doolies” in 4th. We assembled in a room where there were chairs. Scotty asked us to sit and he did also, at our level, facing us. He talked to us sincerely and realistically about our coming months, sharing his wisdom and perspective.
He told us about the challenges ahead, how to face them, how to rise above the obstacles, how to be successful as a cadet. Then he took off his class ring and held it high. “Persevere and toward the end of your 2nd class year, you will receive one of these. It will represent all that you have achieved.” He gave the ring to the nearest doolie and we proceeded to pass it around, looking at it, holding it, and internalizing that drive to succeed. It was a powerful moment. Scotty was a great leader.
Three years later, a cold December, I was a 1st classman in another squadron. We assembled and marched to lunch in Mitchell Hall with 39 other squadrons totaling over 4000 cadets. Before lunch the Wing staff made announcements from their tower overlooking the Wing. It was the years of Vietnam. Among the announcement were Academy grads lost to that war.
"Lieutenant John Scott Albright II, Class of 1967, missing-in-action."
I was stunned. Missing-in-action. But MIA. There was hope. But as the years passed, hope took a trip and never returned.
Lt Albright was navigator on a C123K. The mission was to find truck convoys on the Ho Chi Minh trail in Laos and light them up (infrared) so B57s overhead could do their jobs. But a B57 clipped the C123 which went into a spiral. No one is sure how many of the crew jumped from the plane but the pilot survived and was rescued the next morning. He reported that he had seen at least one other parachute.
Whether Scott Albright died that night or later in captivity in Laos, we do not know. Decades later I stood before his name at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the Mall in Washington, D.C. and slowly shed tears. I so admired the man. He was the first in a line of friends and classmates who made the ultimate sacrifice. This is Memorial Day. Let us never forget its meaning.
Image of John Scott Albright II, photographed from the 1967 Polaris, Vol. 9.
© John Ballard, PhD, 2019. All rights reserved.