We were soldiers once, and young.

I posted this throwback photo on Facebook today, but wanted to say a little more about it. It’s from 1981, taken in the bar of the 32nd Tactical Fighter Squadron Officers’ Club, Soesterberg Air Base, the Netherlands.

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In the photo, left to right: Steve Beck, Jeff Cliver, Donna, and me. Jeff’s holding Donna’s Swiss army knife, which she carried everywhere she went (and still does). Jeff, then a lieutenant colonel, went on to three-star rank. Steve got out early and went to work for the airlines. Donna and I stayed in for 24 years.

We drank at the O’club bar almost every night after flying. Most of us were functioning alcoholics by the time we left Soesterberg, although few of us knew it (I didn’t until many years later). Jeff favored white whiskey — straight Beefeaters over ice. Steve and I, along with Jeff’s other wingmen, came to love it, although as you can see in the photo we’re drinking Dutch beer. Donna wisely stayed away from the hard stuff. Another detail: the Seiko Pogue on my wrist, which I still own and wear.

Peter van Oest, who took the photo, was at the time a Dutch Army major, assigned as our liaison with the host government. He worked at the command post during the day and partied with us at night. Before he died last year, he threatened to share other photos he’d taken. I can only imagine what was in them — Peter was one of us and we held nothing back in his presence. He later married an American woman, Judith, who had previously been married to “E. T.” S______, one of our fellow F-15 pilots. Here we are at their wedding in 1982, held at nearby Slot Zeist. Judith and Peter are in the center; Donna and I are in the back row by the wall and drapes (Donna mostly hidden behind someone’s head). I can pick out several of the men I flew and worked with: “Bull” Baker, Al “Gorilla” Guarino, Larry “Crumer” Crumrine, Steve “Spence” Spencer, and Ron Tatus, our public affairs officer.


Peter and Judith are gone now, along with Bull and Crumer. We’re still in touch with other squadron members, more so than from other squadrons we were later part of. Oh, how I wish now we’d taken more photos back in those glorious days! Why couldn’t they have invented camera phones sooner?

Thanks for indulging me in this display of nostalgia. Stay fresh, cheese bags!

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