Streetsmarts

Street Smarts: Retired Tucsonan a decorated fighter pilot, leader in the Air Force

2014-05-27T00:00:00Z 2014-07-02T15:11:58Z Street Smarts: Retired Tucsonan a decorated fighter pilot, leader in the Air ForceBy David Leighton For the Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Veterans Memorial Overpass and the Veterans Memorial Plaza were built in 2005. They are named in honor of all veterans — the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard, said Priscilla S. Cornelio, director of the Pima County department of Transportation.

In honor of Memorial Day, Street Smarts is sharing the stories of four local veterans. Here is the fourth:

Major Gen. Hoyt Sanford “Sandy” Vandenberg Jr. was born in Riverside, California, on Aug. 12, 1928, to Hoyt. Sr., and Gladys (Rose) Vandenberg.

His father was born Hoyt S. van den Berg and attended West Point from 1919 to 1923. During his time there he combined his last name to Vandenberg to prevent being addressed as Mr. Berg during roll call.

The elder Vandenberg became a pilot in 1924 and rose to become a four-star general as Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force under President Truman. He also was the second director of the Central Intelligence Group, predecessor to the Central Intelligence Agency, and was featured on the covers of Life, Time and Parade magazines. He is the namesake of Vandenberg Air Force Base in Lompoc, California, as well as the former Vandenberg Village, now called Kachina Village, at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.

Sandy Vandenberg’s great uncle Arthur H. Vandenberg was a Republican U.S. senator from Michigan who is considered the father of American bipartisan foreign policy.

After high school, Sandy spent a year at Sullivan’s Prep School, which was designed for students to pass the academic exam to get into the U.S. Military Academy at West Point or the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis. He got into West Point without assistance from his father or great uncle and graduated in June 1951 as a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force.

He recalled, “The most important thing that I took from the academy, was the Cadet Honor Code,” which stated: “I will not lie, cheat or steal, nor will I tolerate any who does.” Later on, the Air Force Academy adopted the same code.

Vandenberg also remembered, “In 1949, on summer leave from West Point, I flew with my father to Europe to visit some of the headquarters he had during World War II. Aboard the aircraft was Charles Lindbergh, with whom I had an all-night visit. He had refused a bunk and told me he had trouble sleeping over the Atlantic ever since his famous solo flight. I wasn’t about to sleep and pass up the chance to talk to him. We talked all night. He was very interested in the type of girls that West Point graduates married. It was almost as though he felt the offspring of graduates should perpetuate the sterling qualities embodied in our motto, “Duty, Honor, Country.”

Sandy’s next step was Flying School at Hondo Air Base near San Antonio. But a month into his training he was in a head-on collision that severely injured his left leg. He had multiple surgeries and spent eight months at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C.

After he was released, he married Sue Johnson in May 1952. He had met her in London in 1949. Her father, Gen. Leon W. Johnson, was a Medal of Honor recipient for the famed low-level Ploesti raid in 1943 in Romania. They had two children: Hoyt S. Vandenberg III in 1953 and David J. Vandenberg in 1956.

Sandy Vandenberg became a fighter pilot and was sent to Europe as part of NATO. For two years while based in West Germany, he flew the F-86 fighter plane in preparedness for a Soviet attack. During one flight, his plane caught on fire and he was forced to eject over the Rhine River, landing safely in an apple tree.

He was eventually promoted to Captain and, in 1960, he was selected to attend the Air Command and Staff College, graduating in June 1961. After three years in West Germany helping to prepare for a potential Soviet attack and then holding other high-ranking positions, he was promoted to Lt. Colonel and sent to Da Nang, South Vietnam.

Assuming command of the 390th Tactical Fighter Squadron, he completed 100 missions over North Vietnam and 52 missions over South Vietnam in the F-4. Most involved dive-bombing targets, but he also protected fellow dive bombers from North Vietnamese MiGs so they could do their job.

Vandenberg still remembers the horrible food at the Da Nang Officers Open Mess (nicknamed the DOOM Club) like cold spaghetti, tough meat and powdered milk and eggs.

For his service in Vietnam, he received a Silver Star for gallantry in action, a Bronze Star for outstanding performance in the combat area, four Distinguished Flying Crosses for heroism, and 12 Air Medals.

In 1967, he was assigned to the Pentagon, writing papers and getting generals to approve requisitions related to the U.S. Air Force. He despised the job, since he felt it wasn’t a logical way of running headquarters.

After seven months, he was promoted to Colonel and then was selected to attend The National War College in Washington D.C., from 1968-69. Some of the highlights of his time there were talks given by government and civilian leaders including National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger and foreign leaders.

He went on to supervise the Air Force’s pilot instructor training program and, in 1973, he went to the Air Force Academy, in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where he served as Vice Commandant and then Commandant of Cadets and was promoted to Brigadier General. His role was to train cadets to become officers and to supervise all facets of their life.

In 1976, he was promoted to Major General and served as an advisor to the Shah of Iran and his staff. Eventually he was sent back to the Pentagon, where he served in various roles and ultimately became Vice Commander in Chief of Pacific Air Forces at Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii.

In 1981, Vandenberg retired and moved to Tucson. He has spent much of the last 35 years studying the Apache Wars, writing articles for Armchair General magazine and reminiscing about war times with fellow veterans Frank Chambers, Ann Gardiner and Dave Rickard at the Rincon Rotary Club.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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