Personal History

Paul Woodford: Personal History


Born October 31, 1946, in Cape Girardeau, Missouri.

Parents: Charles & Eileen Woodford.

Siblings: Susan, Mary, Cecelia, Charleen.

Places lived: Jackson, Missouri; Mascouta, Illinois, Kaiserslautern, Germany; Alexandria, Virginia; Denver, Colorado; Laramie, Wyoming; Sacramento, California; Wiesbaden, Germany.

Narrative: My father was in the US Navy during World War II. He mustered out after the war, and when I was born he was attending college on the GI Bill in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, where he had met and married my mother. After Dad graduated we moved to Illinois where he taught school. When I was six or seven he joined the US Air Force. We moved to Ramstein Air Base in Germany in 1955, just at the end of the allied occupation. Kaiserslautern was beginning to rebuild, but there was still quite a lot of war damage, and I vividly remember playing soldier in Nazi pillboxes and anti-aircraft gun emplacements in the woods behind the base. Even as a child I was aware of recent war and devastation: in addition to bullet holes, craters, and bombed out buildings, there were very few men in Germany in those days, so many having been killed in the war, and whenever we went into town we’d see German kids my age hobbling around on bent legs, victims of rickets.

After returning to the USA in 1958 we moved from post to post, winding up in Sacramento, California as I started my sophomore year in high school. Since I went to high school (and later, college) in Sacramento, it has always felt like home to me – the place where I grew up.

After graduating from high school in 1964, I enrolled as a freshman in a local community college, where I met Donna, soon to be my wife. At the time I was driving a 1949 Mercury and spending every cent I had on gas, so I posted a note on the student union bulletin board asking for someone to ride with me and share fuel expenses. Donna was the one who answered, and we soon began dating.

Late in my freshman year, my father returned from a two-year remote posting in Pakistan (my poor mother, running a household and raising five kids on her own while Dad was away!), and we started packing for his next assignment, once again Germany (this time to Wiesbaden Air Base). Since I was still 18 and not yet living on my own – no job and less than a year of college under my belt – I decided to go along.

Almost as soon as we arrived in Wiesbaden, Donna called to say she was pregnant and we decided we’d better get married. She flew into Frankfurt in October and we were married in Wiesbaden in December 1965. I got a job assembling and repairing bicycles at the USAF base exchange and took evening classes on base through the University of Maryland’s overseas division. Donna and I lived in Wiesbaden-Bierstadt, renting a small apartment from a German landlord, but we couldn’t have made it without my mother and father, who helped with clothing and food expenses and occasionally loaned us a car for weekend trips.

Our son Gregory was born in the USAF hospital in Wiesbaden (the very hospital to which we airlift troops wounded in Afghanistan today), and soon after Donna also went to work at the USAF BX. Some friends – fellow exchange employees – told me about a better job opening up and saw to it that I got it: for the last year Donna and I lived in Germany I was a BX truck driver making $1.16 an hour and Donna was a clerk in the BX finance department making $1.12 an hour. We were able to save enough to fly back to the USA and start our own lives, and in mid-1967 we did. Since up to then we couldn’t have made ends meet without help from my family, I lump this time in with childhood. Adult life started when Donna and Gregory and I returned to the States.


Married December 2, 1965, to Donna Rae Giustina.

Children: Gregory, born March 10, 1966; Polly, born March 16, 1975.

Places lived: Sacramento, California; Glasgow, Montana; Enid, Oklahoma; Montgomery, Alabama; Hoevelaken, the Netherlands; Anchorage, Alaska; Norfolk, Virginia; Tampa, Florida; Okinawa, Japan; Honolulu, Hawaii; Las Vegas, Nevada; Tucson, Arizona.

Narrative: Upon our return from Germany, we flew to Detroit, Michigan, where I finally met Donna’s family (and, I hope, gained their approval). We spent some of our savings on a second-hand 1963 Chevy Nova and drove west to Sacramento. Back in California we spent the rest of our savings on the deposit and first month’s rent on a small apartment, then settled into work, school, and child raising. We decided that the smart thing to do was to get me through college first, deferring Donna’s education until I was established and making money. Which is what we did.

I worked a combination of part-time and full-time jobs, attending school during the time I had left, while Donna worked full time at different jobs, eventually winding up as office manager for a traffic signal contractor. It took a little longer than normal (six years compared to the normal four), but I finally got my BA in English at Sacramento State College in 1970. By then I’d decided to be a teacher, so I started working on my MA and applied for a teaching fellowship to go along with it. I taught freshman composition classes at Sac State while I worked on my MA, graduating again in 1972.

That summer we bought an old VW bus and hit the road. I had a couple of interviews with college English departments, one as far east as Chicago, so our road trip was both a vacation and a job-hunting expedition. We visited with my family, back in Cape Girardeau after my father’s retirement from the USAF; with Donna’s family in Ohio and Michigan; and with two of my younger sisters, now married and living in Montana.  My interviews didn’t lead to a faculty job, but during our stop in Montana I landed a teaching job at a federally-sponsored retraining facility for low income people.

Six months into the job I was ready to bail. We were working with people who had exhausted their welfare benefits and who had dropped out of Job Corps and other federal programs. The men were in general wife-beaters, alcoholics, and child abusers; the women were alcoholics and child abusers too, and some were husband-beaters. I started out a soft-hearted pinko and ended up a John Wayne conservative. That was about the time the USAF recruiter came to town.

Our war in Vietnam, though winding down, was still on, and the USAF was recruiting pilots to fly missions there. I was eager to go, so, in the summer of 1973, I joined. Donna and Gregory stayed in Montana while I finished officer training in San Antonio, Texas; when I graduated as a second lieutenant we reunited and moved to our first assignment, pilot training at Vance Air Force Base in Enid, Oklahoma.

The air war in Vietnam ended a couple of months after I started pilot training. The USAF suspended our training for two months, during which time my classmates and I performed miscellaneous duties around base. During this time the USAF was trying to decide what to do with its sudden pilot and navigator surplus. Eventually the USAF decided on a RIF (reduction in force), firing thousands of young captains to make room for the new lieutenant pilots and navigators in training. I always felt bad about that, taking another man’s job and airplane, but had the USAF gone the other way – kicking out all the new officers in training in order to keep the trained officers – I would never have had an Air Force career.

The details of my military career are posted here, if you care to read them. Here’s the short version:

  • Pilot training at Vance AFB, Oklahoma, 1973-1974
  • T-37 instructor pilot at Vance AFB, Oklahoma, 1975-1978
  • Student, Squadron Officers’ School, Montgomery, Alabama, 1978
  • F-15 pilot at Soesterberg AB, the Netherlands, 1978-1982
  • F-15 pilot at Elmendorf AFB, Alaska, 1982-1985
  • Student, Armed Forces Staff College, Norfolk, Virginia, 1985
  • Joint staff officer, US Readiness Command, MacDill AFB, Florida, 1985-1986
  • Joint staff officer, US Special Operations Command, MacDill AFB, Florida, 1986-1988
  • F-15 pilot at Kadena AB, Okinawa, Japan, 1989-1991
  • Chief of flight safety, Pacific Air Forces, Hickam AFB, Hawaii, 1991-1995
  • Chief of range operations, Nellis AFB, Nevada, 1995-1997

Our daughter was born in Enid, Oklahoma during our tour there. By the time we went back overseas, this time to the Netherlands for my first fighter assignment, Gregory was twelve and Polly was three. We rented a house in the Dutch village of Hoevelaken, 25 km from the air base. Gregory attended junior and senior high school in the Netherlands, first at the Department of Defense school on Soesterberg AB, then at the American Embassy school in The Hague. Polly attended a local kleuterschool, where she learned to speak Dutch, before starting first grade at the DoD school.

During our time in Alaska, in 1984, Gregory graduated from high school and moved off on his own. He came home a couple of years later, while we were in Florida. He enrolled in college and got his BA from the University of South Florida in Tampa. In 1992, during our Hawaii assignment, Polly graduated from Aiea High School and moved off as well, marrying a local kid in Honolulu. As did her brother, Polly came home too, divorcing and rejoining us in Las Vegas before once again striking off on her own. Today, Gregory’s in Las Vegas, where he lives with his wife Beth and our two grandchildren, Taylor and Quentin. Polly recently changed jobs and now lives in Las Vegas too.

When Donna and I took the Las Vegas assignment, we’d already decided it would be our last: we were ready to move on to civilian life. During our time in Okinawa Donna took classes from the University of Maryland and earned her BA in business management. She was ready to start a career of her own. Although I didn’t want to be an airline pilot, I did want to continue working in flight safety.

When I retired in 1997, I went to work for a civilian contractor to the USAF, training fighter pilots in a flight safety discipline called crew resource management. The contractor was based in Tucson, Arizona. I moved down by myself and lived in an apartment until Donna joined me a few months later. We rented a house in North Tucson for a year or so, then bought our current home at the foot of Mount Lemon on the east side of Tucson. I was on the road almost all the time, teaching CRM all over the USA and at our bases in the Pacific; Donna had her own accounting business in Tucson.

A few years ago an old friend from my flying days in Alaska offered me a job developing academic and simulator courseware for the A-10 pilot schoolhouse at Tucson’s Davis-Monthan AFB, and I was finally able to quit traveling. Initially I loved my job as courseware manager, but as contractors changed so did the job, eventually becoming a high-pressure, low-reward grind. I finally asked myself if I wouldn’t be happier quitting and finding something else. The answer was “yes.”

I went to work as a school bus driver, then as a driver for the regional VA hospital, finally retiring for good in late 2008. Donna sold her accounting business and works part time doing the books for individual clients while she gets her home embroidery business going. We see our children and grandchildren two or three times a year, either here or at their homes in Las Vegas.

We started hashing in 1988 while we were in Tampa. We still hike trails almost every weekend here in Tucson. I’ve been riding motorcycles off and on since 1965 (my current ride is a Honda Goldwing). Donna and I ride bicycles for exercise, and try to take our dog for a walk every day. She works hard at her labor of love — embroidery — and I spend far too much of my spare time blogging (in addition to this blog, here and here), and writing about hashing for two periodicals, Asia Pacific Harrier and On-On Magazine. Life is good and we’re both happy, 40-plus years into our marriage.

What comes next?  Whatever it is, we’ll take what comes.

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