Air Force Veteran Began Flying Career When He Won a Free Flight

Air commando transport pilots fly C-47 Skytrains or "Gooney Birds" that have been strengthened to protect the aircraft from rough dirt and sod. (U.S. Air Force photo)
Air commando transport pilots fly C-47 Skytrains or "Gooney Birds" that have been strengthened to protect the aircraft from rough dirt and sod. (U.S. Air Force photo)

When James Glaze was 14 years old, he received an award from the local chapter of Sons of the American Revolution for demonstrating good citizenship.

The prize that came with the award was a free flight, he said.

That was the beginning of his 66-year flying career in the Air Force and in the private industry, during which he said he logged more than 11,000 hours of flight.

"There was a lot of adventure and excitement in those flights," Glaze, now 85 and father of four sons, said.

He joined the military as a Navy reservist, inspired by his brothers who had served. He went on to spend 20 years in the Air Force, during which he served in the Korean and Vietnam wars, among other missions.

Korea was devastating, he said. He was stationed in Chuncheon, a city about 50 miles east of the South Korean capital of Seoul, in 1952.

He completed 100 combat missions during that time, he said. He was a fighter pilot and an air controller on the ground, working with a South Korean artillery unit.

"Seoul and everywhere else was a mess," he said. "It was bad. There were thousands of people getting shot."

Glaze recalled once when he put his arm out of the window while taxiing on the runway as he was returning from a mission in Korea.

"I could put my thumb down in a bullet hole," he said.

But his time in Korea also included a delightful memory -- one of meeting Marilyn Monroe, who visited the troops in Chuncheon.

"She was very nice, pretty, young and engaging," he said. "I was impressed with her."

There was another woman who he was "impressed" with: Dolores, a young anesthesiologist and self-described farm girl from Texas who would become his wife after his return from Korea.

"It was love and that was it," he said.

While in Korea, he said he wrote to her every day and hoped to marry her.

After they wed, the couple saw the world together as he was stationed in numerous places, including Madrid, Casablanca and Morocco.

"He's been good all the time," Dolores Glaze said. "He really has."

In Vietnam, he flew a C-47, a transport aircraft. One time, he said he was transporting refugees into Saigon. He discovered that they had built a campfire on the floor of the aircraft to cook dinner.

"I thought, 'This is not a good idea,' " he said.

He also transported military equipment, troops, ammunition and more.

"Occasionally, we would have the sad duty of flying people's bodies back," he said.

After his retirement from the Air Force in 1970, Glaze went on to get a master's degree in social sciences and a doctorate in higher education.

He had a career as an expert witness and consultant in safety engineering and moved to Tucson when he got a job at the University of Arizona as a senior safety coordinator.

Glaze said he had a fulfilling civilian career, but his experience in the Air Force is his proudest achievement in life.

"I did my job. I flew the mission," he said. "And I came home."

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