Updated on Monday, December 20, 2004 08:00 AM
Tom Waskow '65 Retirement...
In late October, my wife Chris and I had the distinct honor of attending Lieutenant General Tom Waskow’s retirement ceremony near Charlotte, NC. I wanted to share the experience with each of you, whether a classmate of Tom’s or simply one who has benefited from his service.
Tom attended Bushey Hall from 1962 until 1964. He was a standout in all respects. With a great attitude and sense of humor, he was a class leader, an excellent student, and a superior athlete. He was also a great friend. He returned to the states to complete his senior year in Northern Virginia. When I returned to the states after graduating London Central in 1965, Tom and I spent the summer at his family’s vacation home in Maine. I still vividly remember lying on the hood of his parent’s car, backs on the windshield, gazing in amazed silence at all the stars. For the past 34 years, Tom has made that sky his home.
Tom’s military career spans 34 years, not including his four years the United States Air Force Academy. His military career can only be described as distinguished, both in the cockpit and out. He has logged over four thousand hours of flying, with over a thousand of these as combat hours. He has flown 29 different aircraft with our allies and against our enemies. Tom and I had the opportunity to trade war stories in the mid-seventies when we got together at his parents home in Northern Virginia. Tom had served as an airborne FAC (forward air controller) out of Tan San Nhut RVN, flying low and slow while marking targets and coordinating air strikes against Viet Cong and North Vietnamese troops. Since our visit, Tom has continued to serve his country in increasingly more responsible roles around the globe. He has held senior leadership positions that include Chief of Staff of NATO and Commander, US Forces Japan and Commanding General, 5th Air Force. With three stars, Tom is one of the top forty general officers charting the course for our Air Force. Presently, Tom’s command includes Air Force, Army, Navy and Marine elements. He currently has nearly 110,000 men under his command.
When I arrived at the Friday golf outing at Tom’s home course near Charlotte NC, Tom and I bumped into each other in the parking lot and hardly recognized each other. We hadn’t seen each other for nearly 30 years. While I have aged somewhat, I hate to admit that Tom looked pretty much as I remember him: fit, trim and with a smile on his face. It would be hard to describe that round of golf except to say that I had the opportunity to chat with a good number of his friends and comrades during the day. They related their experiences with Tom, serving with and supporting him in various roles throughout his career. The common theme: respect. One general flew all night from Poland to be with Tom for this special occasion. Nearly all were distinguished Air Force officers and SNCOs who had been profoundly touched by Tom’s leadership at one point or another in their respective careers. You will be pleased to know that they are all most certainly better warfighters than golfers, so you can sleep well tonight.
After golf, we all got together for cocktails and hoisted the fighter pilots’ toast of Jeremiah Weed bourbon (for the uninitiated, think really strong cough syrup with a huge kick……) to Tom. While pouring wine, I bumped into Chip Ruth who had flown in late in the afternoon with his lady Lisa. He recognized me right off, and I am positive that I would have recognized him except for all the little tiny hairs growing out of his chin. Chip has had a very successful career in his own right as a founding partner and current GP of Marquette Venture Partners, a highly successful venture capital firm located in Chicago. After a couple of rounds of drinks, Chip and I resigned ourselves to the fact that we were never going to be able to keep up with the Zoomies and their Jeremiah Weed. We quietly departed with the ladies to catch up over dinner. When we returned several hours later, the party was still in full swing except that all the Jeremiah Weed was gone. The junior birdmen had moved on to attack anything else they could find at the bar. To the chagrin of other hotel guests, the festivities went on well into the morning hours.
On Saturday morning well over a hundred guests made their way back to the club for Tom’s retirement ceremony. We were greeted at the door by an honor guard from the University of North Carolina ROTC. Pre-ceremony music was provided by the 20th Fighter Wing band from Shaw AFB, SC. Honors were rendered to colors and the ceremony began. Tom and his close friend General Greg (“Speedy”) Martin are the last two members of his Air Force Academy class still on active duty. General Martin spoke extemporaneously for over twenty minutes on his relationship with Tom as they each navigated extraordinary military careers. Tom then spoke to the assembly and thanked all who had served with him over the years for their support. Tom had specifically requested that the ROTC cadets perform the flag folding ceremony for our nation’s flag. While the flag was folded into a precise triangle, the narrator explained each step in the process and its meaning within the context of our nation’s history and values.
It was very moving and I had the feeling that I was not the only one finding it difficult to keep the mist from my eyes. Tom’s personal flag was then cased and he was presented with a shadow box that contained all his rank insignia, badges, and personal decorations. The Air Force’s senior chaplain then gave the benediction and we adjourned to a reception that included champagne, cake and great conversation. Chip and I found Tom’s brother Steve in the crowd and we were able to catch up and remember old times in London. Steve has a beautiful family, is an MD, and lives in Colorado Springs. Steve served as an officer in the Army Medical Corps. We were able to snare Tom for a few minutes and get a photograph of four aging Bobcat veterans.
After the reception, Tom was good enough to secure a tee time for Chip and I and we were able to get in 18 holes of passable golf and a ton of reminiscing. It was great catching up with Chip hearing about his life experience, including his service as an officer in the United States Navy.
In the evening, we all convened again for Tom’s retirement dinner. After cocktails, Chris and I were seated with Chip, Lisa, Steve and his family.
The dinner began with the posting of colors, our national anthem, and the invocation. Then followed a solemn and extremely moving ceremony in honor of Tom‘s fallen Tan San Nhut squadron-mates. With lights dimmed, a single ROTC cadet strode to the front of the room and placed a flight helmet on a dinner table with a single candle and four place settings. He was followed by a second, then a third, and finally, a fourth cadet, each placing a helmet at one of the place settings. As each helmet moved to the table, specific information about the pilot and the circumstances of his loss was read. Memories of comrades lost or now gone most surely stirred in each of those present. Words cannot convey the impact of this simple ceremony.
The chaplain gave the blessing and we all enjoyed a terrific meal. During dessert, we watched a video presentation of Tom’s career that was put together by 5th Air Force media team. Great photos of Tom’s younger days and also of his “fini-flight” in the F-15, complete with a crash crew hose-down, on his return to base.
Tom and Sheila then followed with personal remarks and we adjourned to a show and dancing to music provided by the Heritage Band of the Air Force.
I was able to get a photo of Tom and seven members of his Academy class. Some are still flying commercially and one is a developer of flight simulation and war-gaming software.
Tom presented each classmate with his own personal challenge medal, minted for the ceremony.
Chris and I had to rise early for the drive back to Memphis, so we excused ourselves at about 11PM with the party still in full swing. The last thing Tom told me was that he was looking forward to an upcoming wargame with the Japanese Self Defense Force and that he might just be able to finagle one more “fini-flight”. After spending time with his family, Tom returned to Japan where he is awaiting his replacement.
I can’t tell you how honored I was to attend this ceremony and how impressed I was by the tradition, comradeship and sense of duty reflected in the ceremony, dinner, and all who attended. Tom has distinguished himself throughout his career and has left quite a legacy for those who come after. He leads by example and doesn’t expect anything from those in his command that he doesn’t do himself. It was great to see his eyes light up when he spoke of dogfighting with much younger pilots and waxing their fannies. In his remarks, he made it clear that he respects all under his command and that recognizing their contributions, especially the young enlisted troops, is extremely important to him. He has also distinguished himself in his personal life. His faith and patriotism are without question and presented a consistent theme throughout the ceremony and dinner. Tom’s wife, Sheila, has provided tremendous support for Tom and is a real delight. One can easily distinguish the real spark plug in the family…..
Tom and his family have spent 19 of the last 34 years living abroad in service to our country, and to each of us. Our nation has been blessed for his service and stronger because of his contribution. We all owe him a debt of gratitude. If you would like to thank him personally you can email him at WASKOW@aol.com .
In the near future the silver eagle will retire to a roost in North Carolina. Having spent just a little time with him, however, I would be willing to bet that we haven’t heard the last of him. It's very likely that we will simply see him soar high in new skies…..
Dave Aldridge '65
link to the Stars & Stripes article on Tom’s retirement:
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