WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — From the time he was little, Terry Marr loved airplanes. However, his Air Force story begins with a presidential letter and a coin collection.

Marr’s neighbor, who was in the Air Force, would send him coins from his travels around the world. Inspired by his example, Marr decided he, too, would one day join the Air Force.

At the same time, his grandmother lost loved ones in Vietnam and wrote to former U.S. President Richard Nixon to address her grievances. President Nixon actually wrote her back, saying her first-generation grandchildren would not be required to serve in the military. Regardless, that didn’t stop Marr from pursuing his dreamlike his neighbor had done.

“I always looked up to him, and he looked so sharp in his dress uniform, and I said, ‘That’s what I want to do, that’s what I want to be,'” Marr said. “Specifically, I wanted to be a crew chief on KC-135s because he said crew chiefs fly with it, and you can go all around the world.”

After joining the Air Force in 1977, Terry Marr started out maintaining KC-135s in Minot, North Dakota.

“My biggest accomplishment at Minot—I was there six-and-a-half years — was [that] I became a strategic air command master crew chief,” Marr said.

Marr flew around the world three times by the time he turned 21 years old, but the journey was not without its death-defying experiences. Marr told KSN News about one particular incident in Panama.

“We had just refueled a KC-135 — we weren’t on the ground long, and when we took off, there was a big explosion, and it just rocked our aircraft in the air,” Marr said. “That explosion was … one of the guerrillas fired a shoulder-launch grenade at our fuel bladder that we had just refueled from … there was enough in there to make quite a mushroom cloud.”

His experience as a crew chief would land him in Okinawa, Japan. There, he maintained E-3 Sentries: a brand new, state-of-the-art aircraft at the time.

“The E-3A, AWACS with the radar dome on top: it had in-flight air traffic control capabilities and identification of aircraft,” Marr said.

From ground maintenance crew chief to flying crew chief to quality insurance inspector, Marr would go on to become an aircraft instructor. Then, in 1990, Marr would return to the states to be stationed in upstate New York. But soon after he got there, he would head right back overseas.

“I was on KC-135 R-models, and, of course, Desert Shield kicked off — I deployed for Desert Shield, Desert Storm,” Marr said.

Marr deployed to several countries, including the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait — in each instance serving as a crew chief for a KC-135R. Marr recalled Scud missiles flying overhead near his base in Kuwait.

“To me, they’re like just bathtubs full of stuff, you never know what was in ’em, or where they were gonna go, and the alarms … sirens kept going off, that we had to put our chem gear back on,” Marr said.

But his time overseas wouldn’t last too long.

“And then they found out I had instructor experience,” Marr said.

Marr was moved back to upstate New York to train airmen on KC-135Rs at Griffiss Air Force Base. When it closed, Marr moved his training program to McConnell Air Force Base.

“Came to McConnell in 1994, and then the Commander asked me to be the First Sergeant for the Logistics Group,’ Marr said.

A few years later, Marr would be back on the flight line as a production superintendent.

“I was in charge of all the airplanes that fly for that particular day on my shift,” Marr said.

Marr would spend 24 years and more than 3,000 hours of flight time in the Air Force and retired in 2001.

“We’re trained to do what we’re supposed to do, and you don’t give it a second thought … you just do it,” Marr said. “Absolutely, I’d do it again.”

Marr would go on to start his own maintenance business, where he still works today. He also went on to join the American Legion and was a state commander from 2017-2018. Despite his grandmother’s initial reluctance toward Marr joining the Air Force, Marr says she was proud of him for serving and was even prouder when he retired.

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