WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – A retired Air Force Veteran was part of the ROTC program all through high school, so when he graduated he signed up for the Air Force.
Larry Emerson loved photography and just knew that was what he would be doing in the service.
If the Air Force had allowed him to go that way, he would have been sent directly to Vietnam, but the branch chose a different direction for him, once they saw Emerson’s scores in electronics.
“We have a saying in the Air Force, why did you join the Air Force, because my scores were high enough,” Larry Emerson said.
His high scores would eventually land Emerson in Bitburg, Germany.
He was assigned to the Mace missile.
“The hangar that we were assigned to had nothing but crates in it, full of equipment,” Emerson said.
The airman were responsible for getting the underground launch site up and running.
“When you get it uncrated, you gotta set it up and check it out and make sure it works,” Emerson said.
The weapon was run by a first generation inertia guidance system.
Emerson said the crew used the equipment to test and maintain nose cones, that guided the computerized weapon.
“We had a combat crew badge that as a missle crew member we would wear the combat crew badge,” Emerson said.
He said the launch crew and the maintenance team were on alert 24-7.
“We all got a long together, and we worked very good together,” Emerson said.
He said it took them two years to get everything operational, and that’s when he headed to Orlando to work in missile maintenance.
“In a very short time the maintenance supervisor decided he wanted me to be an instructor,” Emerson said.
He said when that base was shut down he was given a choice on where he would go next.
He chose to go back to Germany, since it was one of only two places in the World that housed missiles, but he wouldn’t be there too long.
“I was there when we started it up, and I was there when we shut it down,” Emerson said.
He went on to spend more than a decade on the Titan system at McConnell and he helped write course manuals for missile maintenance.
“You had to know where to plug it in, how to plug it in, you had to know which cable to put in first or second, because if you did things in the wrong order, you could screw things up,” Emerson said,
Due to his dedicated work on the crew and as an instructor Emerson was selected to be part of an Olympic Arena Missile Competition Crew.
“We had a unique crew, we all came from different families, different parts of the country,” Emerson said.
The diverse team went on to win big, first a shiny ring, and then, the second year the team brought the very first Blanchard Trophy back to McConnell Air Force Base.
Emerson has held onto it all these years, just like he has many other things that remind him of his days working on the Mace and Titan systems.
“I received an Air Force Commendation badge, while I was on crew,” Emerson said.
He still has his original missile badge, and in the end he got to use his photography skills.
When Emerson returned to Germany the second time, he finally got to use his photography skills, setting up a makeshift studio and taking family photos of troops for only ten dollars.
He also went on to have a successful career as a professional photographer.