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In time for Father's Day, Air Force Veteran Dad honored with nostalgic KC-135 tour

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Vincent De Groot
  • 185th Air Refueling Wing

Sioux City, Iowa -- Castana, Iowa resident Larry Lamb arrived at Clinton-Sherman Air Force base in Oklahoma during the late 1960s where he was assigned as a KC-135 crew chief.

This week, the retired Iowa farmer had the opportunity to revisit that time of his life during a tour at the 185th Air Refueling Wing in Sioux City, Iowa.

The Strategic Air Command base where Lamb served near Burns Flat, Okla. no longer exists, but air refueling mission and the KC-135 have stood the test of time.

It was Larry’s son Carl who arranged the KC-135 tour for his Air Force Veteran dad at the Iowa Air National Guard unit where KC-135s are still flown. It just happened that the timing of the nostalgic tour was just in time for Father’s Day.

Although significantly updated, the jets at the 185th ARW are the same KC-135 air refueling aircraft that the elder Lamb crewed in 1968.

As with many veterans, Lamb’s time in the Air Force and experiences made a lifelong impression on the farm kid from Western Iowa. Like many from his generation, the 76-year old’s history with the Air Force was brief but significant.

As part of the Air Force’s Strategic Air Command the KC-135 aircraft that Lamb help crew had a serious mission. The refueling aircraft in Oklahoma were co-located with B-52s where they stood on continuous nuclear alert.

During Lamb’s tour in Sioux City this week, he met 185th Crew Chief Master Sgt. Michael Vander Wilt and talked about the mission and history of the KC-135. Both Lamb and his son commented on how well-kept the aircraft looked and noted the many modifications to the aircraft over the past 50 years.

Lamb and his son Carl, who farms near Allen Neb., quickly found they had a kindred spirit in Vander Wilt who also farms in Northwest Iowa, when he is not maintaining airplanes for the Air National Guard.

The elder Lamb commented that he and others like him who grew up farming had an advantage in maintaining aircraft. Lamb said even as a young man he and his contemporaries who grew up on a farm, came to the Air Force with years of practical experience but also with a distinct work ethic.

Lamb said he had a good experience in the Air Force even though it was a volatile time in American history, especially for members of the U.S. military.

Since Lamb’s time, Clinton-Sherman Air Force base along with the 70th Bomb Wing, its components and even Strategic Air Command have been relegated to the page’s history. Some of what remains are the Airmen’s stories and experiences. Because of each generations contributions and faithful maintenance of the KC-135, the Stratotanker has also been persevered, even outliving organizations to which it once belonged.  

Now approaching 70 years of service, the KC-135 continues to be a vital part of America’s national defense.

As the current generation of KC-135 crew chiefs chronical their experiences with the aircraft, military planners continue to find ways to extend the aircraft’s life and keep it in service. It is becoming increasingly likely that Vander Wilt too, like Lamb will be able make a reunion tour with the KC-135 in the decades ahead, long after his retirement.