Col Sonny Croom
“There is just a thing about airplanes! They’re fascinating, and have always been a huge draw for me. As a kid, I built every model of aircraft I could get my hands on and then some. Why I never became an aviator is beyond me, as much as I enjoyed flying and being around aircraft. It’s a small wonder, but then I did have to work for a living. I joined the Navy as a youngster straight out of high school and got a job that put me close to aircraft, that of a Photographic Interpreter, which was an “air dale” rating, a green striper, in the USN. Although I was not flying, I worked in an aviation rating. Good enough for me!
Spent about six years with the Navy, met and married my wonderful bride Patricia, and, with the Vietnam War raging, managed an inter-service transfer to the U.S. Army, with a significant jump in rank, to Warrant Officer.
Still doing the same job with a different name, Imagery Interpreter, I somehow managed to survive two tours which included over one hundred combat support flying hours involving the taking of aerial photography and aerial observation of enemy forces.
The Army gave me the chance to actually fly, finally, in the OH-6 Cayuse, O-1 Bird Dog, U-6 Beaver, and the UH-1 Huey. Given the opportunity, I flew every chance I got for either imagery or observation purposes, utilizing whichever aircraft was available for the mission assigned. It was a dream come true for me. Guess I was too young and invincible to realize the danger, but Lady Luck was on my side. Hey, I was flying, and the best kind, normally low and fast, well, maybe not so fast.
Later in my career, and with a son and daughter added to our little family, we moved to the great state of Alaska, where I was assigned to the Aerial Surveillance Target Acquisition Platoon, with the Grumman OV-1 Mohawks. Once again, a dream come true and flying in the right seat of the Mohawk, for me, was as good as it gets.
Being primarily the imagery technician, my flying was limited but we supported several great projects in addition to our standard military operations. During the four year tour in Alaska we flew pipe line coverage for the building of the Alyeska Pipe Line from the north slope to Valdez, flew caribou herd counts for the Bureau of Land Management, Seal counts on the Bearing Coast, mapped underground tundra fires with our Infrared system for the Fire Fighters and underwater lava flows out of volcanoes for the University of Alaska. An amazing array of missions with never a boring day. In and around these missions most of us were into family camping, salmon fishing, bear and moose hunting, and just enjoying the great outdoors of the “Last Frontier”. A dream assignment for sure!
A few years later, upon retirement from the military, I landed another dream job. This time with Martin Marietta, assisting in the design, building, testing, and the fielding (delivery and training) of intelligence computer systems to active army units. These systems computerized nearly all of the intelligence functions many of us had manually accomplished during our entire careers.
Finally, retiring for a second time and this time for good, something was needed to fill the void. While attending an air show, put on by the Highland Lakes Squadron of the old Confederate Air Force, and seeing Lefty Gardner’s P-38 White Lightning sitting in the northeast corner of the hangar, and then later performing its incredible aerobatics, I was hooked.
Thanks to a very fine gentleman, the late Martin Holeman, I was signed up that day as a Colonel in the Confederate Air Force, another substantial promotion, minus the pay!”