Veteran Salute: Vet served during Missile Crisis and Space Race

Veteran Salute

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – One man dreamed of flying.

“Even when I was a young kid, I would go to the airport and watch the planes take off and land,” Air Force Veteran Bill Melanson said.

Melanson went on to fly and he has never regretted one minute of his time in service. He said it gave him a lifetime occupation that involved aviation.

“I was ripe for Army, draft, infantry, no way,” Melanson said.

His father was a career Air Force so he signed up for the same branch and was inducted in California in 1961.

“You are not a very happy camper after basic training,” Melanson said.

He went on to become a jet engine mechanic on bombers and tankers.

“When you are that young, you don’t realize the historical aspect that could be in the future,” Melanson said.

The missile crisis stands out the most to him.

“I thought that was it,” Melanson said. “We immediately went on alert.”

He said every B-52 on base, and many tankers were ready.

“Every airplane we had, had two hydrogen bombs on them,” Melanson said.

He said they only left the flightline to eat.

“We stayed there for three days,” Melanson said. “We came that close to an all-out war with Russia.”

Melanson was part of other major headlines as well as the space race.

“This is for the shuttle program, this obviously is the shuttle carrier aircraft,” Melanson said.

He said when they resumed launches after the Challenger tragedy, President George H.W. Bush came up and greeted the crew.

He said the President also gave them all a special letter.

“Inspiring, for me, because I worked out there,” Melanson said.

He worked on the 747 aircraft that was the carrier for the shuttle.

“There’s big crane devices, they hook onto the shuttle, they go like this, then, we pull the 747 in, and they just lower the shuttle,” Melanson said.

He said they couldn’t fly on the 747 when they were headed for a launch.

“When the shuttle was mated to the 747, the fuel that the shuttle uses is highly, very dangerous,” Melanson said.

He said he did get the thrill of his lifetime on a return flight.

“We used to fly on the shuttle carrier back from Florida, and he let me actually fly the airplane,” Melanson said.

He did more than carpool and dine with astronauts and said he really got to know those like Gordon Fullerton.

He loved everything about working around the space program.

“That was a thrill of a lifetime,” Melanson said.

He cherishes one special picture of the shuttle and the carrier.

“I was quite moved over that,” Melanson said.

The photograph is signed by the NASA personnel he worked with.

“It really tugged at my heart strings when they did that,” Melanson said.

He also remembers the Vietnam War.

“Seven days a week,” Melanson said.

He said they kept 70 combat missions up and taking off, every day.

“They just pounded Vietnam, pounded with iron bombs,” Melanson said.

From aviation assignments in the jungle to ones that gave him out of this world opportunities.

“I love flying, I love airplanes,” Melanson said.

He had so much knowledge to share that he taught aviation technology.

He’s been in the business since he stepped into basic training, and he took his first solo flight many decades ago.

He said he got his pilot’s license by working for it. He worked for Western Airlines at the time and took care of the company’s airplanes so he could use the planes to get in his flying hours.

He said there is one leap of faith he has yet to take.

“I haven’t sky dived, that’s the only thing I haven’t done,” Melanson said.

Melanson really enjoyed his trip on the Kansas Honor Flight and said he even got the opportunity for them to raise and lower the flag for him at Fort McHenry.

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