Veteran Salute: Watching aircraft fly again was most rewarding

Veteran Salute

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – An Air Force retiree says he knew very early on, he would someday join the military.

Mike Henry used to build model military planes, and he made a career out of working on the real ones.

Before he retired from the military, Henry worked on thirty different kinds of aircraft, in many places around the world.

He said those he worked with mean the most to him since he says camaraderie built in the military last forever.

“This is what I look like at 19 years old,” Air Force Retiree Mike Henry said.

The Vietnam draft was still going on when Henry signed up to serve.

He said sometimes it got tough out on the flight line.

“We went from a rainstorm to a sleet storm to heavy snow, and we are trying to fix airplanes,” Henry said.

At one time, he was doing just that in Greenland.

“When it gets almost zero, then the ice out there starts to liquefy and then it is really hard to get off,” Henry said.

You know it’s cold when huge cargo planes need snow skis.

“Then, we went to Minot, North Dakota,” Henry said.

There he worked on the B-52s and KC-135s, but Henry says he will never forget his first plane. It was an SR-71.

“They are the highest-flying, fastest jets ever made,” Henry said. “They were photo-reconnaissance or spy planes.”

He said they were also the toughest to work on.

“Then, we get sent to Alaska, where we had a dozen different airplanes, so I had to be a jack of all trades there,” Henry said.

He said after many years in the Air Force, he and his wife wanted to stay in Wichita.

“Being in the military you never know when they are going to move you,” Henry said.

Henry took a job in the civilian world but was laid off a short time later, so he signed up for a different branch of service.

“This is my Navy days,” Henry said.

Days turned into two years for the sailor, who at times, was in very tight quarters on a ship.

“You get up, somebody else takes your bunk, you go to work and somebody else sleeps where you were sleeping,” Henry said.

Then he got word the same plane he was working on in the Navy, was also being maintained by the Kansas Air National Guard, and he was given the number to the Commander.

“I was told don’t call during duty hours, go home and call from your house, and call him at home, and he said you are hired,” Henry said.

While in the guard, Henry was an advisor, teaching mechanics at McConnell Air Force Base.

“I knew all the guys, in the shop, since I trained most of them,” Henry said.

He eventually went back to active duty Air Force and was back to a plane he knew well.

“I had to write the course for the airplane when they put new engines on it, so I ended up as a training instructor,” Henry said.

He said his students were from all over the world, and the toughest part was helping them troubleshoot issues.

“They’d been in high school six months before, and they may not have been mechanically inclined,” Henry said.

He said years after his retirement, two of his students reached out.

One former student apologized for throwing tools at Henry, the other offered words of great thanks.

“He called me up one day, he found me on Facebook and said, I want to thank you for everything you have done, you turned me into a man,” Henry said.

He said those two students alone, made all his years of instructing worth it.

“When you see the light come on in their eyes, it’s like that light bulb goes on over their head, then you know you have done your job correctly,” Henry said.

He earned many accolades for a job well done, but said the biggest reward was watching aircraft they repaired to get back in the air.

You might recognize Henry, and his wife Linda, as they are 20-year volunteers at Cowtown Museum, a place you can catch them in action on Sundays, during the live performances.

Henry plays Doc!

For more information on how you can catch them in action at Cowtown Museum, click here.

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