U.S. Air Force Korean War Des Plaines, IL Flight date: 06/06/18
By Carla Khan, Honor Flight Chicago Veteran Interviews Volunteer
Robert Jaegers likes to joke that the Korean Armistice (July 27, 1953) was signed because the powers in charge knew he was about to sign up for military service. In fact, his decision was rather impulsive. His best friend had signed up a couple of months earlier before finishing high school. Robert stayed in school. In 1953, he graduated from Saunders Trades and Technical High School in Yonkers, NY. He had always wanted to become an architect and had accepted a job with an architectural firm when suddenly, he decided to join the US Air Force. For an only child, raised by his mother and grandmother, it certainly was a brave move to strike out on his own and one he never regretted.
Basic Training at Sampson AFB, NY. was not too bad. However, it was so cold in October, 1953 that the so called “butt cans” (cans filled with water where the airmen would leave their cigarette butts), froze over. Robert had a slight problem distinguishing his left from his right foot while marching. This “problem” was taken care of by the drill sergeant who stomped on the nose of his left boot, crushing it forever. With Basic Training completed, it was off by train to Lowry AFB in Colorado. The climate in Colorado was a pleasant surprise. During the winter, the dry cold didn’t feel that cold at all and the airmen were able to be outside in their “Ike” jackets.
Because he had scored high on his registration test, Robert was assigned to Technical School, and trained to become a Control System Mechanic, working on a pilotless bomber. This particular aircraft-sized drone, the B-61, was a top-secret prototype that never left the facility; it was used for research and training purposes only. Instead of being sent to Florida after his six months of training ended in April of 1954, he traveled by bus to Rapid City, SD where he was assigned to a gunnery range with target drones. The only problem was that the drones never materialized, and Robert spent his days as a clerk.
Before long, Robert was sent on a T.D.Y. (temporary duty assignment) in Guam. Robert and a few other airmen enjoyed a two day layover in Hawaii. The oldest soldier in the group rented a convertible so they could tour the entire island. Being stationed in Guam with a clerical position wouldn’t have bothered him, but he was unable to qualify for promotions since it wasn’t his trained field. He mentioned it to an officer and within days he was on his way to Sahuarita Air Force Range near Tucson, AZ. This was a bombing and gunnery range where he finally got to work on drones. The purpose of these radio controlled drones was to simulate B-47 targets. The drones reached speeds of 200/mph and cost about $2,600 each (in 1953 dollars). Although they were targets, they had to be saved if possible by deploying a parachute when they were damaged. It was interesting and enjoyable work he shared with a group of about 40 airmen, 15 of whom were married. Robert wanted something to keep him busy during off hours and found a job as a dishwasher at a restaurant in town, a job he held for 2 years until he received his honorable discharge from the Air Force in August, 1957.
Early in Robert’s military career and around the time he was completing his training in 1953, he received a “Dear Soldier” letter. It was from a girl named Carol in Chicago who had volunteered to write letters to servicemen. He liked the letter so much that he responded to Carol and they kept corresponding. During his first furlough, Robert stopped in Chicago to meet this girl. They kept the writing each other for four years and got married two months after Robert’s Air Force discharge. They plan to celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary this year. Carol and Robert settled in the Chicago area, where Robert started his career with R.R. Donnelly. They raised three children and now have four grandchildren and two bonus grandchildren.
Although Robert left the USAF, his connection was renewed throughout his life. Eight years after he left South Dakota, he met a familiar looking man in a bowling alley. Once they started talking, they discovered they had served in Rapid City at the same time. An even more remarkable reunion occurred during his son’s wedding, when Robert again saw someone whom he thought he had met before. This time, the uncle of the bride turned out to be the very same person who, so many years before, had rented the convertible and driven 19-year-old Robert and his friends around the island of Hawaii! Robert might have left the Air Force but apparently, the Air Force never left Robert!
Robert, thank you for your service. Enjoy your well deserved Honor Flight!