Steve  Backman
Class of 1962

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                                                                           Steve shown above with Avy

Fifty-plus years seems like a very long time of memories to conjure up. For sure, they are filled with some significant emotional events that I will attempt to capture.  Hell, I can’t really remember what happened 10 minutes ago.  But I’ll give it a try.

My lasting memory of High School, finally graduating in 1962, was that I spent every summer attending classes.  Trust me, they were not advanced classes.  The only good part was that after my senior year, I took Driver’s Training which kept me from having to drive to Florida with my folks and my brother.  Remember, the route to Florida was Rte. 1 -- No air conditioning!  Large Palmetto bugs!

My after high school years started very badly.  I had only one college in mind that I wanted to attend— Northeastern University in Boston -- because of their work / co-op program.  But my guidance counselor sent my college application to another college.  Not good!  Immediate denial.

 

So besides being untalented and unmotivated, I trekked off to the only college I could get into away from home, Hartwick College in Oneonta.  It was cold and awful, and I rebelled and acted poorly and got the opportunity to leave after a couple of years.  And yes sports fans, I got to go to summer school again, not for advanced classes either.  I did not help my case much when I “assisted” the Dean with a push up the hill in the snow.  Somehow his car slithered down into a ditch where it remained for several weeks.  He couldn’t prove I did anything.  But he was pissed!  So, after being asked not so nicely to leave, I returned to Hicksville , hunkered down on the couch, and watched a lot of TV until my mother informed me, I had two choices: go to school and get a job, or move out.  A real attention getter!  So I trotted over to C.W. Post and continued my educational pursuit of mediocrity.  A mere five years of additional full-time, night attendance later, I was a graduated Post “Toastie.” (I had always wished that was their nickname). During one of the many semesters at Post, I got to take a Poly Sci class with none other than Leon J. Galloway.  He was a very fine teacher. At mid-term, I was about to repeat the class in summer school.  No folks, there were no gimmies from Mr. G.  He told my father, who was the District Treasurer that I dressed like a slob for school.  So, from that day on, I did not change from my suit after work but wore it to class.  I went from near failing to a solid B. Amazing!  (Not a significant emotional event.  Just fun).

 

Throughout my seven-year college career, I worked five of them for Dorne & Margolin, an antenna manufacturer, in Westbury and later Bohemia .  They were great and wound up paying for my education.  All I needed to do was get a “C” and I got reimbursed.  College still cost me a lot to finish.  They also kept me out of the draft until a bad summer’s day when I returned from my honeymoon to find my draft notice waiting for me.  (Significant emotional event 1).  So a few weeks later, I went to Great Neck and took the big bus to Ft. Hamilton with Joe Fatula for sure and I think Marty & Fred Winkle, and maybe Mike Clark.  Joe failed his physical, and the rest of us were classified “ready to die”—the dreaded 1-A.  As I for waited for the bus to take us back home, a gentleman came to the lobby, read off about 20 names, and said congratulation, you are now Marines! (Significant emotional event 2).  My life flashed before my eyes!  I knew that on my induction day, my name would be read.  Two choices: head to Canada or suck it up.  I chose option three.

 

After returning to Great Neck, I drove directly to the Air Force recruiter’s office and said, “sign me up.” I tested, passed, and was sworn in that day and put in the delayed enlistment program for 4 months until my son, Robert, was born. (Significant emotional event 3).  I think I was one of the first people drafted who was married and had a child on the way. What an honor?  I went to basic training in San Antonio.  It was spring/summer.  So off I went to the United States Air Force.  I was enlisted for the first year, 10 months and 26 days (who’s really counting?) until I got accepted into officer’s Training School. It was quite an accomplishment for someone with my academic achievements.  I had a 2.0001 G.P.A. at Post—yes, you can actually graduate with such low grades. I applied six times for OTS.  All denied!  Then the Air Force, in its infinite wisdom, took all of the pilots who were flying in the back seats of F-4s out due to attrition losses in Vietnam and a need for pilots to actually fly the airplanes, not shoot missiles. The Air Force decided to replace the pilots with navigators.  This created an immediate 2,000-navigator shortage.  Basically, if you could leave a mark on a mirror, you were in. Excellent timing on my part!  I could pass the breathing test.  No summer school required!

I went off to navigator training after scoring a pair of butter bars from OTS.  Once I decided that I was really going to stay in Nav School, I aced everything and finished near the top of my class.  I wanted to fly in C-141s but when they got to my choice, all were gone.  Since I could not get the plane I wanted to fly, I opted for B-52 training and wound up in Rome, N.Y. Aside from the great Italian food, it was an awfully cold and snowy place.

I started trying to get out of Rome, NY the day I arrived.  Unfortunately, my commander felt I needed to attend the festivities in Southeast Asia, and they shipped me off for most of 1973 to the island paradise that was known as Guam and then to also relax along the Gulf of Siam in Thailand at U-Tapao Royal Thai Navy Base.

 

On my departure from the States, my folks showed up at the airport to see me off.  It was the first and only time I ever saw my mother cry.  I flew 37 combat missions before the war came to a screeching halt in August 1973.  Within days, we were back pulling nuclear alert in Guam.  But if you had to be in a war zone, these were the two best places.  Did I say there were golf courses in both locales?  Reminds one of M.A.S.H., eh?  My daughter, Corey, was born while my crew was flying a combat mission (Significant emotional event 4).  I got the news within about 15 minutes.  That was pretty spectacular for those days.

 

The war ended and we reconstituted the B-52 force back to the U.S. (meaning Rome, NY).  When I left Guam, it was 87 degrees.  My first stop was Minot, ND and it was minus 9 and that was in October.  Once I arrived back in Rome, NY, I found that it, too, was pretty cold.  (Still October).  I immediately started trying to get out of the cold.  I lucked out and was reassigned to Mather AFB in Sacramento which was the start of being assigned to almost all warm weather locations for the next 20-odd years.

I had the usual collage of assignments in California starting as a Bomb School instructor, head of standardization, and the Executive officer in the Bomb / Nav School.  I also attended Pepperdine University and finished my masters.  Yes, you can get into grad school even with crappy grades and no GREs. I returned to B-52 crew duties in Ft. Worth and was fortunate to be later selected as a squadron commander of a basic training unit in San Antonio, the same one I went through as a recruit.  It was the best job I ever had.  I laughed every day and learned so much about people and their uniquenesses.

I was then transported to a new time dimension in Los Angeles where I commanded a recruiting squadron for 3 ½ years. That was probably the most difficult challenge I ever faced. If you can imagine anything that could be wrong with a business, I had it times 10.  I have never witnessed so many illegal activities happening in one place.  I fired and replaced 60 of the 100 people who worked for me the first year. Fortunately, we were able to turn the squadron around and for the last 2 ½ years of my tour, it was one of the best units in A.F. Recruiting after having finished number 35 of 35 units for 10 straight years.

 

My reward for all the hard work was an all-expense paid year at the Air Force Air War College in Montgomery, AL, working on my golf game and getting a second master’s diploma in Strategic Studies.  My reward for a decent handicap (5) and a great suntan was an all-expense-paid trip to Misawa, Japan.  It was actually a fairly quaint locale in Aomori Prefecture on the northern end of Honshu Island, not terribly far from Sapporo, just on a different Island. It was a fun place.  I was the director of Resource Management responsible for providing supplies and equipment to most of the base units.  Misawa was a new and growing base.  If we whispered that we thought we needed a new building for whatever purpose, the Japanese government built it.  (The Japanese were the Base host—it was their base).

When I arrived, there was one newly completed aircraft shelter.  Three years later, there were 52.  These were all Fourth-generation shelters to house our F-16 jets, and they were spectacular.  I was supposed to leave after 2 years but was asked to remain for a third year as the Director of Public Affairs.  It was a very interesting job. I was the newspaper publisher, wrote many editorials, and had a great staff of very young, eager folks. We won the Best Newspaper in the Air Force that year.  I was also interviewed by TASS - you remember them? I got to talk to a lot of senior ranking people in Washington after that!  (Significant emotional event 4 ½). I also worked quite a bit with the local Mayor and his staff.  Some spoke English, some not.  Truly a challenge.

 

On my first day on the job, we had an F-16 returning to the base declaring an in-flight emergency.  He dropped his wing tanks in the ocean about twelve miles offshore where the Pacific is 12,000 ft. deep.  Our rescue helicopters went out to fish the tanks out of the ocean while they were still floating.  Their commander told me they retrieved the tanks.  Sure, 1 ¾ of them. Of course, the local newspapers called for comments, and I told them we picked up the tanks.  A few days later, a fisherman brought in a piece of a tank and a couple of days later, the last piece emerged.  More calls.  I said we regretted providing bad information.  Regretting was not the politically correct word.  The Press was looking for something like we lied!  They skewered me every day for months.  I finally had to give them a tour of a satellite tracking building under construction without admitting it was a satellite tracking station.  All it was at that point was a concrete building.  I also let them run up some F-16 engines in our test cell.  I also had a luncheon for them in the Officer’s Club.  (No sushi) All returned to normal after that.  We did have to compensate the fishermen like $10,000 each for “hurting their nets.” What a scam!

As I was about to commit to a fourth year, I got a call that my mom was dying and within 3 days, I was back in the States.  Unfortunately, she passed away while I was enroute home.

I stayed around the Air Force for a couple of years before retiring.  My feeling had always been that when I quit laughing, it was time to retire.  I had remarried in Japan at the end of my tour.  The mayor, with whom I had many dealings, sent his gardener to the base to do a bonsai trim on all the bushes.  It was spectacular.  Unfortunately, it rained and rained and rained some more (almost a significant emotional event).  I also managed to pick up two more children, Sam & Colby.  (Significant emotional event 5).

 

Retirement from the Air Force was also a biggie – (significant emotional event 6).  You take all you have done and completely change and, voila, you are a civilian—in Salt Lake City.  Talk about culture shock!  In Salt Lake, you are either a Mormon or a Gentile.  It was the first time in my life anyone referred to me as a Gentile.  I spent eight years working in four colleges starting as the Dean in one and then President of the rest.  It was, and continued to be, very interesting work helping people change their lives.

In my last year in Utah, I was able to make contact with Rita Paisani Felt right before our 40th reunion. She was a nearby Utah resident.  She was in the “big singing group” also known as the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.  Probably the most sought-after ticket every year was to the Christmas show. Rita gave me her tickets as her family had seen the shows many times.  If you have never seen the Choir, it is a must-see.  The show I saw was spectacular and featured Walter Cronkite narrating the 1917 Christmas truce and then leading the Choir and Orchestra in the Hallelujah Chorus.  It was a wow!  I was also on hand at the Delta Center, when the Choir sang the National Anthem at the home opener for The Utah Jazz after 9/11.  Knock your socks off stuff especially since there are no acoustics in the place!

I finally escaped Utah in 2003 and headed for Tampa for a couple of years and then on to Mobile, AL where I still reside.  I was the President of Remington College for the last 11 years, once again refuting the notion that you must be really smart to be successful. The truth is you just must outwork everyone else and earn the opportunities.  Unfortunately, my wife passed away from cancer some years ago.  I was lucky enough to find the real love of my life, Avy, who has changed my life forever.  (Significant emotional event 7).  I was also able to acquire another son, Zach, and daughter-in-law, Katie, who have provided us with a grandson, Del. (Significant emotional event 8)

 

All told, we now have accumulated four grandchildren: Corey and her husband Paul, have 2 girls, Ava & Emma, (Significant emotional events 9 & 10) soon to be in Huntsville, AL; Sam & Angie have Kaylee (Significant emotional event 11) in Birmingham; AL, and Zach and Katie have Del in D.C.  My son Rob and his long-time significant other, Ruby, have two children, Franz, and Paige.  Paige graced us with a great-grandson, Victor recently.  (Significant emotional events (11 ¼, 11 ½, and 12).

I have finally retired, I think.  I made four previous attempts with little success.  After retiring the third time, the good folks at Remington asked me to go to Baton Rouge.  It was supposed to be a two-month gig to help them get through an accreditation visit.  But, as most things go, it lasted 6 months.  Good news!  There were no discrepancies!  I have finally called it a day and do not regret any part of the journey.  Avy and I have cruised all over the world since our wedding in 2011 and have seen so many wondrous things.  The Wailing Wall in Jerusalem; the pyramids at Giza; The Parthenon; and of course, The Vatican.  I know many of you have also been to these hallowed locales.  They are truly miraculous!  We recently returned from Normandy and Paris.  If you haven’t been, it is must-see.  How we won the war is just simply amazing!

We are an all-over-the-map kind of family and are really enjoying life now.  We still have not decided where to retire.  So for the moment, we are staying in Mobile.

I don’t think I mentioned that I’m certain I was the youngest grad in our class and believe I continue to be so today (thus proving my fine quantitative skills). So to all you old farts, I’m sorry.  Not!  I’m just glad we have all managed to live this long.

 

Did I mention that I frequently went to summer school?  Hence 12, not 10 significant emotional events! Also, it’s been more than 50 years. So who’s counting anymore? Certainly not me.