WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — After watching old movies feature war planes taking flight, Carl Nickles knew he wanted to fly. He joined the Air Force on Nov. 22, 1963, but what was supposed to be a day of looking forward to the future quickly turned into one of the most infamous days in American history.

“November 22, 1963. The day John F. Kennedy was shot,” Nickles said.

Just hours after joining the Air Force, Carl Nickles would head to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas.

“We weren’t sure if we were actually gonna go to Dallas and be armed or ready to go,” Nickles said.

Nickles would stay at Lackland to train as a member of the Air Police, what’s now known as the Air Force Security Forces.

“Learning laws and different regulations, and what you can do and what you can’t do. What you need to look out for,” Smith said.

From Lackland, Nickles would then be stationed at McConnell Air Force Base.

“I was part of the, what they called the 381st missile wing,” Smith said.

His mission was to guard 18 Titan 2 missiles, each standing more than 100 feet tall.

“I’d say to walk the perimeter fence, at a slow walk, 15 to 20 minutes at most,” Nickles said.

Nickles says he was part of the first line of defense.

“You’re always in radio communication with the commander down below,” Smith said. “If one was to be released, the guard upstairs is gone. We considered, well, thought of ourselves as expendable if they had to release one.”

After two years guarding Titan 2 missiles, Nickles would take on a much different job in security.

“The airman that was at the keypunch machine at the time was about to get discharged,” Smith said.

Nickles quickly learned everything there was to know about keypunch machines, one of several predecessors to the computer. At times, Nickle tended to secret documents.

“Probably a bunch of numbers, kind of like 1’s and 0’s. When it goes through a reader, it tells you what it actually says,” Nickles said.

Nickles would retire after four years in the Air Force. Years later, he would receive his pilot’s license and become a member of the Wichita branch of the Black Pilots of America. There, he got to work alongside George T. Johnson and “Rip” Gooch.

“Between him and George Johnson, you asked them a question about what they did, and you would just sit back and wait because all the war stories that they came up with,” Nickles said.

Through his work with the organization, Nickles helped nearly 30 future flyers take wing.

“We helped sponsor several young men and women in trying to getting them to learn how to fly,” Nickles said.

Nickles would also pass on his love of flying to his son. Currently, his son works as a pilot for a large commercial airline.


If you would like to nominate a veteran for our Veteran Salute, email KSN reporter Hannah Adamson at hannah.adamson@ksn.com.