‘Training all the time’: No down time for Air Force vet from Poland

No down time for Air Force vet from Poland

Retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. William J. Moss of Poland holds a series of awards he won in various air drop competitions.

EDITOR’S NOTE: To suggest a veteran for this series, which runs weekly through Veterans Day, email Metro Editor Marly Reichert at mreichert@tribtoday.com.



POLAND — If one word acted as a thread that ran through Lt. Col. William J. Moss’ long U.S. Air Force career, it likely would be “retraining.”

“Training is the name of the game,” said Moss, who served 29 years in the Air Force before retiring in December 1990. “It’s training all the time; no dead time, if you will, in the Air Force.”

That training dates to 1962, when the 1958 East High School graduate enlisted in the military after having spent a few years studying engineering at Youngstown College (now Youngstown State University).

It began when Moss spent 11 months of training in an aviation cadet program at the James Connally Air Force Base in Waco, Texas, which closed in 1968. The training was so intense and challenging that the program began with 51 students but was winnowed down to 18 graduates, he remembered.

“It was a pretty tough program. A lot happened in those 11 months,” Moss said.

A successful finish in that effort led to additional training at a few bases in California from November 1962 to March 1964 to be a navigational bombardier and fly B-52s, which are long-range heavy bombers that the Boeing Co. designed in 1948 and were first flown four years later. His initial assignment took Moss to Westover Air Reserve Base in Chicopee, Mass., as a navigational bombardier.

“We had to be on alert with nuclear weapons and react at a moment’s notice,” Moss said, adding that he worked with the same five fellow “hard crew” members that consisted of two pilots, two navigational bombardiers, a tail gunner and a warfare officer.

Part of his detail was to fly training missions between seven days of being on alert in secured areas, or “mole holes,” as well as develop specific procedures for those who were in need of training for the Vietnam War.

Moss also participated in what were called “chrome dome” missions in which he spent about 26 hours in flight. Operation Chrome Dome, a Cold War-era mission that ran from 1960 to 1968, entailed B-52s armed with thermonuclear weapons being on continuous alert while flying routes to locations along the border of Russia.

Over time, Moss grew tired of alert training, which deprived him of seeing family, so he asked to be reassigned. That inquiry, however, produced no new positions, so he opted to get out of active duty. In 1967, however, Moss was assigned to the 757th Tactical Airlift Squad at the Youngstown Air Reserve Station in Vienna, where he trained on C-119s, which are twin-engine, twin-tail transport planes designed to carry cargo, personnel and mechanized equipment, with the capability to drop troops and cargo via parachute.

His training occurred about a year before a Fairchild C-119G Flying Boxcar struck a mountain and crashed near San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Dec. 14, 1968, killing all eight crew members.

The C-119 missions ran until 1969, at which time Moss began training at the local air base to fly the A-37 Dragonfly, a light-attack turbojet that Cessna in Wichita, Kan., developed during the Vietnam War that could reach speeds of more than 500 mph. The A-37 was designed as a more modern counterinsurgency aircraft to replace older types of such planes.

In 1971, Moss joined the 758th Tactical Airlift Squadron based at Pittsburgh International Airport, where, once again, he found himself in retraining mode — this time to fly Douglas C-124 Globemasters, which are heavy-lift, long-range cargo planes that were built and manufactured in the late 1940s and able to handle up to 74,000 pounds of cargo.

Before being retired in 1974, C-124s provided airlift capacity during the Korean War, as well as for such needs in Southeast Asia, the Far East and resupply missions to Antarctica.

In 1973, that mission was changed to accommodate the C-123, for which Moss received additional training at England Air Force Base near Alexandria, La., before he returned to the Youngstown Air Reserve Station “to train other people back home,” he recalled.

“The C-123 was nicknamed ‘thunder pig” because it was so noisy,” Moss said with a chuckle.

Moss also interspersed that with necessary training as a navigator, which meant continual flying missions.

In some cases, he flew as low as 200 feet in elevation and up to 300 mph while dropping bundles to hit specific targets. Moss flew such drop missions at bomb sites across the U.S; he also flew one in the Grand Canyon, he explained.

One memorable mission came during an NFL Pro Bowl game in the late 1970s in Hawaii, at which he helped drop the Golden Knights, an elite U.S. Army parachute team, into the stadium.

Moss’ specialized training, however, was not over yet. He retrained to navigate the C-130, a four-engine turboprop designed to transport troops and equipment in combat zones via airdrops or small runways. That aspect of his work encompassed water, winter, jungle and desert survival training, Moss noted.

Before retiring in December 1990, he had been to 26 countries,, Moss said, adding that his military and civilian travels took him to all 50 states.

After retiring, he spent the next 10 years until 2000 as chief operations officer in civil engineering at YARS.

In addition, Moss stayed proficient via learning celestial navigation, something he called “the most interesting thing I’ve done,” in part because the science can’t be manipulated or tampered with by enemy forces. Celestial navigation entailed memorizing the positions of 51 stars while flying such missions every six months.

Moss also continues to play a significant role for the local Boy Scouts. In 2009, he created a curator position at Camp Stambaugh in Canfield; in addition, he was instrumental in starting the Boy Scout Museum there.

The longtime career military officer continues to enjoy giving presentations on topics that include navigation and Scouting, along with performing as Lt. Gen. Robert Baden-Powell, a British Army officer perhaps best known as a founder of the worldwide Scouting movement.

“I’ve been doing the performance in six states,” said Moss, who has 7,400 hours of flying time to his credit.

William J. Moss

AGE: 82



AWARDS: Meritorious Service Medal, Air Force Achievement Medal, Commanders Youth Relations representative

OCCUPATION: Chief operations in civil engineering

FAMILY: Wife, Peggy; sons Martin and David


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