Graves, Fred

Fred Graves, FE
18th SOS, Nakhon Phanom, Da Nang, and Bien Hoa, 1971-72

Fred Graves was born on October 12, 1945 in Atascadero, California and moved to Utah where he grew up before joining the Air Force in 1965. He retired after 22 years, including two Vietnam tours. Fred died from cancer on December 12, 2001 in his home at Mountain Home, Idaho. He was 57 years young.

Fred can be best described as a man of honor; honest; true to his family and friends; (proudly) not always the model of Air Force protocol and decorum; definitely an individual with a little bit of maverick thrown in (again, proudly), and with a wonderful sense of humor.

In 1991 Fred became a heart transplant recipient, and he enjoyed telling about his visits to the local high school to let the kids meet and ask questions of a real heart transplant recipient. Invariably, someone would ask if he knew whose heart he received, “No, but I know it was a young woman.” This was again invariably followed by a question about whether the “medical legend” (like an urban legend) was true, that recipients could “feel” the spirit of the person they’d received their heart from. Fred’s response, “Not….. really…, …… but I have noticed I get a little grumpy once a month or so.” ALL with a totally serious face, and followed by a grin.

For four years Fred focused his energy on reuniting AC-119 Gunship friends, culminating in the first AC-119 Gunship Reunion and the formation of our AC-119 Gunship Association. Fred, Jim Bennes, Bill Petrie, and Norm Evans are known as the Founding Fathers of our Association and all us AC-119ers would not be rekindling old friendships, making new friends, and getting our AC-119 and our impact into the history books (including this one) without the dream those four men fulfilled. Thank you.

If it seems Fred’s calling card might be his sense of humor, one more story nails it. Fred was flying with Colonel Teal and in the midst of multiple break calls from triple A, the good Col. broke the opposite direction from one of the calls. With a little extra pulling on the yoke and a few extra “g’s” all was safe, but Fred and another fellow crewmember felt some kind of action was needed. So, despite their deep respect for rank and position, they snuck into Col. Teal’s room and marked a large dark “L” on one of his flight gloves and an “R” on the other. Ask Doug Wohlgamuth…..

On another occasion, Fred “procured” a rather large piece of a 122mm rocket…..intact. It didn’t take long before he became “inclined” to turn it in. But, that lesson was short-lived. Shortly after the 122, Fred inherited an AK-47 (a Russian field rifle), and after a beer or two one evening, took it outside the enlisted hootch at NKP and let off a few rounds. Fred rapidly learned that the distinctive sound an AK-47 makes when fired late at night draws all kinds of attention. Although the MPs swarmed the area, they did not locate the AK-47, or Fred. The next day, Col. Mathews put out a short note that (paraphrased) said, “If anyone has an AK-47 they want to turn in without repercussion, doing it before tomorrow morning would be good.” Informally, Col. Mathews sent another message, “If it’s not on my desk in the morning, your ass will be mine” (noteworthy because Col. Mathews did not often swear). No one said Fred was dumb. The AK-47 appeared on the Col’s desk, no repercussions occurred, and quiet returned to the enlisted barracks – at least until the beer can bazooka appeared…… Fred did enjoy life, and he was also an exceptional Flight Engineer, Instructor Flight Engineer, and NCO. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and 7 Air Medals while in AC-119s. He knew his job well and did it extremely well.

Fred later demonstrated his abilities by enrolling and graduating from a Culinary School as a Master Chef in 1991! Fred’s wife Karen Graves has been to every Reunion since the first one, honoring Fred’s memory and dream, and continuing the friendships forged there. A friend always, Fred is missed.


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