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The Air Force Song: A Perspective

 

I just returned from the 30th-anniversary reunion of the class of 1988 from the US Air Force Academy. It was awesome — but the story I would like to tell starts and ends at Falcon Stadium with the Air Force song.

The Cadet Drum and Bugle Corps takes every opportunity to play the first and most well-known verse of the Air Force Song. Come on, you know you want to sing it…

Off we go into the wild blue yonder,
Climbing high into the sun
Here they come zooming to meet our thunder
At ’em boys, Give ‘er the gun!

Down we dive, spouting our flame from under
Off with one helluva roar!
We live in fame or go down in flame. Hey!
Nothing can stop the U.S. Air Force!

Pretty good fight song actually, and perfectly in line with other sentiments pilots and crew have, like:

“Because I fly, I envy no man on earth” — Grover C. Norwood

or

“I fly because it releases my mind from the tyranny of petty things” — Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Of course, there is always this admonition for those who fly.

“Aviation in itself is not inherently dangerous. But to an even greater degree than the sea, it is terribly unforgiving of any carelessness, incapacity or neglect.” — seen at just about every flying school

The second verse (much less well known) is written for the rest of the Air Force — the scientists and engineers and the missile crews and everyone else who has a hand in making the USAF the most violent and precise military force the planet has ever seen.

A buddy of mine, a missileer, was retiring this past summer and I suggested that he make the audience sing the second verse of the Air Force Song — just to drive home that it isn’t just about Pilots and Aircrew. (And to highlight that they probably didn’t know the Air Force Song had a second verse — but I am just an instugator that way.)

Minds of men fashioned a crate of thunder
Sent it high into the blue
Hands of men blasted the world a-sunder
How they lived God only knew!

Souls of men dreaming of skies to conquer
Gave us wings, ever to soar!
With scouts before And bombers galore.
Nothing can stop the U.S. Air Force!

The third verse of the Air Force Song is our memorial verse. I got to sing it twice at the reunion. The first time was at our memorial ceremony for our fallen classmates — the first of which we lost 33 years ago. We held the memorial ceremony in the Academy Chapel. Presided over by our most senior active member, a Lt. General and two of our own who have become chaplains. For this ceremony, those of us who were in cadet choirs gathered into a single choir, under the direction of our retired choirmaster to sing for the memorial. The third verse is sung at every home game, where the football team stands in front of the cadet wing and we all sing to our departed airmen. It has a different melody and is sung in a more somber tone. Typically, when the service academies compete, we each take time to sing each service’s memorial verse — with the visiting team going first followed by the home team and everyone in attendance singing.

Here’s a toast to the host
Of those who love the vastness of the sky,
To a friend we send a message of his brother men who fly.
We drink to those who gave their all of old
Then down we roar to score the rainbow’s pot of gold.
A toast to the host of men we boast, the U.S. Air Force!

The fourth verse is for people like me, past our active service and giving a nod to the generations following us — perpetuating the Long Blue Line.

Off we go into the wild sky yonder,
Keep the wings level and true
If you’d live to be a grey-haired wonder
Keep the nose out of the blue!

Flying men, guarding the nation’s border,
we’ll be there followed by more!
In echelon we carry on
Oh, nothing’ll stop the Air Force!

Nothing’ll stop the U.S. Air Force!

My class is the thirtieth to graduate from the academy. This year, the academy graduated its sixtieth class. From this point forward, the class of 1988 is closer to the beginning of the school than we are to current senior class (2019).

The reunion was the first time I had seen the Air Force Falcons play in person since the 25th reunion. My middle son and I made this trip ourselves and it was the first time he had seen a football game played in person. It was a great game!

We talked about how the game is played on the field, but actually has three domains it is played in — the field, the clock, and the rules. The game against Nevada showed how it is played in all three domains, eventually coming down to the very last play. The last play, with seconds on the clock was an Air Force Hail Mary that was incomplete and Nevada won 28-25. It could have gone the other way.

The most remarkable thing though, was when the Falcons came over to sing the third verse with the cadet wing they were joined by the Wolf Pack — this is the picture at the top of the post. Sure, other service academies do it all the time but I have never witnessed a civilian school do the same. That was class. Well Done Nevada!

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There are 39 comments.

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  1. Coolidge

    Colorado Springs was a nice big town/ small city when I was there in the late 70’s. Smart place to locate your Academy (and a lot better than where those other two dummies put theirs) and to have a class reunion. 

    FYI: There is still no Marine Corps Military Academy because we are still arguing about which small country deserves us first.

    • #1
    • October 10, 2018 at 2:10 am
    • 2 likes
  2. Thatcher
    Instugator Post author

    Simon Templar (View Comment):
    There is still no Marine Corps Military Academy because we are still arguing about which small country deserves us first.

    I always thought it was because it was because you guys were too busy protecting protecting Annapolis to get one of your own.

    • #2
    • October 10, 2018 at 3:29 am
    • 3 likes
  3. Reagan

    Instugator (View Comment):

    Simon Templar (View Comment):
    There is still no Marine Corps Military Academy because we are still arguing about which small country deserves us first.

    I always thought it was because it was because you guys were too busy protecting protecting Annapolis to get one of your own.

    Hey Quiet you…

    • #3
    • October 10, 2018 at 7:51 am
    • 2 likes
  4. Thatcher
    Instugator Post author

    GLDIII (View Comment):

    Instugator (View Comment):

    Simon Templar (View Comment):
    There is still no Marine Corps Military Academy because we are still arguing about which small country deserves us first.

    I always thought it was because it was because you guys were too busy protecting protecting Annapolis to get one of your own.

    Hey Quiet you…

    Not my fault squids have no backbone.

    • #4
    • October 10, 2018 at 7:54 am
    • 3 likes
  5. Reagan

    Instugator (View Comment):

    GLDIII (View Comment):

    Instugator (View Comment):

    Simon Templar (View Comment):
    There is still no Marine Corps Military Academy because we are still arguing about which small country deserves us first.

    I always thought it was because it was because you guys were too busy protecting protecting Annapolis to get one of your own.

    Hey Quiet you…

    Not my fault squids have no backbone.

    Biggests mistake Truman ever made…. Spliting you guy off from the Army. If it wasn’t for the guns and missles, you all would be the most expensive exclusive flying club in the world.

    Did Trump just sucked some of the wind from your service mission?

    • #5
    • October 10, 2018 at 9:31 am
    • 2 likes
  6. Coolidge

    GLDIII (View Comment):
    Biggests mistake Truman ever made…. Spliting you guy off from the Army.

    Agreed but maybe he needed some new HQs in which to park some aging generals’ backsides?

    • #6
    • October 10, 2018 at 9:43 am
    • 1 like
  7. Member

    A previous issue of Air Force magazine, a year or so ago, had the story of the AF song. I only know the first verse but then the only time I hear it anymore is when they do a tribute to all the services so there is no time for a second verse. Even at OTS we only sang the first verse. The memorial part is only familiar to military types, I think. The music for it is pretty, too.

    We watched the game on TV and have attended two homecomings since my husband graduated. My husband flew the F4 on the grassy knoll below the chapel. It was last operational at Homestead AFB and his squadron flew it from there to the AFA. It has Richey’s MiG kill stars.

    • #7
    • October 10, 2018 at 11:23 am
    • 6 likes
  8. Member

    The recessional song at my grandfather’s funeral was a spirited arrangement of the Air Force Song played on a massive pipe organ. It caught me by surprise and I was momentarily overtaken by emotion. I have loved it ever since.

    He was the navigator/bombardier on B-25 Mitchells in Burma, China, and India. That’s him in 1945, along with a picture of his seat in the plane, and a picture of me crawling around in a B-25 a few years ago.

    • #8
    • October 10, 2018 at 11:47 am
    • 5 likes
  9. Member

    • #9
    • October 10, 2018 at 11:49 am
    • 3 likes
  10. Thatcher

    GLDIII (View Comment):
    Biggests mistake Truman ever made…. Spliting you guy off from the Army.

    In the Navy, we used to say, “We have our own army – the Marines. We have our own Air Force – Naval aviation. Who needs the other two branches?”

    Of course, the truth is we need all three – or four, depending on your viewpoint. Heck, throw in the Coast Guard and make it five.

    One thing I regret on our family trip out west in 2003 was not stopping at the Air Force Academy while we were in Colorado Springs. It was at the end of two weeks away from home, and we just wanted to head up the Interstate back to the Denver airport.

    Maybe next year . . .

    • #10
    • October 10, 2018 at 11:50 am
    • 3 likes
  11. Member

    Our son (engineering degree earned on USAF ROTC scholarship and now in his 9th year of active duty as an engineer who has no interest in flying) often emphasized the value of the Air Force in “projecting power” ahead of the ground forces.

    I finally understood that when watching a movie made in the 1940’s set in southeast Asia that in part dealt with American prisoners of war held in a Japanese camp. As presented in the movie (I can’t remember the name of the movie), the American commanders in the prison camp were having trouble keeping up a will to live among the prisoners. Neither the prisoners nor the Japanese captors knew that American ground troops were approaching to liberate the camp – until an American bomber flew low over the camp. The movie showed how both the Japanese captors and the American prisoners recognized that a low flying American bomber was a sign that the rest of the American might was on its way. 

    USAF – projecting US power by extending its reach!

    (Our son is also fond of the phrase “Peace through superior firepower.”)

    • #11
    • October 10, 2018 at 11:59 am
    • 10 likes
  12. Member

    Stad (View Comment):

    GLDIII (View Comment):
    Biggests mistake Truman ever made…. Spliting you guy off from the Army.

    In the Navy, we used to say, “We have our own army – the Marines. We have our own Air Force – Naval aviation. Who needs the other two branches?”

    Of course, the truth is we need all three – or four, depending on your viewpoint. Heck, throw in the Coast Guard and make it five.

    One thing I regret on our family trip out west in 2003 was not stopping at the Air Force Academy while we were in Colorado Springs. It was at the end of two weeks away from home, and we just wanted to head up the Interstate back to the Denver airport.

    Maybe next year . . .

    My mom is old enough to remember when it was “nothing can stop the Army Air Corps.”

    • #12
    • October 10, 2018 at 12:04 pm
    • 5 likes
  13. Thatcher
    Instugator Post author

    GLDIII (View Comment):
    Biggests mistake Truman ever made…. Spliting you guy off from the Army

    Disagree. (Of course). Like Mahon for Seapower and just about everyone else for landpower (or whatever they call the land domain) the need for different branches to do the proper theorizing on how to best control and exploit domains of warfare came into its own with both the Airpower and Space power. 

    Yes, I expect the USAF to cough up the most with the creation of the space force, but since everyone uses space, I expect the space domain to be advocated for by spacemen. Even if most of them never physically enter the space domain. 

    The users of space are going to need to pay the space tax to find it.

    • #13
    • October 10, 2018 at 12:09 pm
    • 3 likes
  14. Thatcher

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):
    (Our son is also fond of the phrase “Peace through superior firepower.”)

    One of mine is, “Death from above.”

    • #14
    • October 10, 2018 at 12:26 pm
    • 4 likes
  15. Thatcher

    Instugator (View Comment):
    Yes, I expect the USAF to cough up the most with the creation of the space force,

    I agree, and one thing I hope happens is the Space Force will use the same rank structure and procedures as the Navy. Space exploration and military control is going to be a long term endeavor when it come to establishing dominance near and away from Earth. The traditions and practices of naval units are precisely what will enable us to better achieve this goal.

    Of course, none of this is going to happen, because Hillary is going to give a 2020 campaign speech where she says, “No manned, deep space exploration vehicle ever fed a hungry child.”

    Let the liberal hearts bleed . . .

    • #15
    • October 10, 2018 at 12:34 pm
    • 4 likes
  16. Member

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):

    (Our son is also fond of the phrase “Peace through superior firepower.”)

    I have a poster on my office wall that says “Peace Through Superior Firepower and Immediate Retaliation” captioning a photo of a Trident II D5 SLBM with its aerospike extended, boosting up and away from the water.

    Image result for trident d5
    (Not the same image)
    • #16
    • October 10, 2018 at 1:52 pm
    • 3 likes
  17. Member

    Stad (View Comment):
    Space exploration and military control is going to be a long term endeavor when it come to establishing dominance near and away from Earth. The traditions and practices of naval units are precisely what will enable us to better achieve this goal.

    The Space Force is not really an exploration and manpower delivery organization. It is for deploying, maintaining, and defending unmanned space assets (i.e. satellites and space launch rockets) in near Earth orbit that support operations on the Earth’s surface. There are of course related near-space capabilities such as counter-satellite and counter-counter-satellite (or even counter-space-launch), but it’s not going involve fleets of spaceships with navy-like crews. 

    Or perhaps I misunderstood what you wrote.

    • #17
    • October 10, 2018 at 1:57 pm
    • 2 likes
  18. Coolidge

    Mark Wilson (View Comment):
    Peace Through Superior Firepower and Immediate Retaliation

    Love it.

    • #18
    • October 10, 2018 at 2:04 pm
    • 2 likes
  19. Thatcher
    Instugator Post author

    Mark Wilson (View Comment):
    The Space Force is not really an exploration and manpower delivery organization.

    True, for the foreseeable future. Although there is analysis to show that had we not wasted money on the space shuttle we could have already had a permanent colony on the moon and manned missions to Mars.

    There may come a time where science fiction becomes science fact and those procedures are needed.

    • #19
    • October 10, 2018 at 2:05 pm
    • 5 likes
  20. Member

    A high school friend of mine graduated from the Academy in ’73, and I flew out to watch him. Colorado Springs was a nice town, just before the mountains took off.

    • #20
    • October 10, 2018 at 2:39 pm
    • 3 likes
  21. Reagan

    Instugator (View Comment):

    Mark Wilson (View Comment):
    The Space Force is not really an exploration and manpower delivery organization.

    True, for the foreseeable future. Although there is analysis to show that had we not wasted money on the space shuttle we could have already had a permanent colony on the moon and manned missions to Mars.

    There may come a time where science fiction becomes science fact and those procedures are needed.

    To be fair the requirement that made the shuttle a white elephant and have such a hugh cross track capability was from being “in bed” with the Air Force for the launching of the surveillance satellites. The original concepts were mostly for crew delivery while rendezvous with bigger already positioned payload (ie like the Skylab scenario)

    • #21
    • October 10, 2018 at 4:39 pm
    • 4 likes
  22. Member

    GLDIII (View Comment):

    Instugator (View Comment):

    Mark Wilson (View Comment):
    The Space Force is not really an exploration and manpower delivery organization.

    True, for the foreseeable future. Although there is analysis to show that had we not wasted money on the space shuttle we could have already had a permanent colony on the moon and manned missions to Mars.

    There may come a time where science fiction becomes science fact and those procedures are needed.

    To be fair the requirement that made the shuttle a white elephant and have such a hugh cross track capability was from being “in bed” with the Air Force for the launching of the surveillance satellites. The original concepts were mostly for crew delivery while rendezvous with bigger already positioned payload (ie like the Skylab scenario)

    My understanding (as a millennial who was born after the first shuttle launch) is that several requirements and unfortunate facts coalesced to create the lamentable situation:

    1. The shuttle would only be cost effective if it had a high launch rate
    2. The high launch rate could only be achieved if it had a monopoly on all US space launches
    3. The Air Force flew the majority of US space launches
    4. The only way the Air Force would grant the space shuttle a monopoly on its launches was if it had the capability to launch into polar orbits
    5. Polar orbit launches are more efficient from Vandenberg Air Force Base on the west coast
    6. Manned missions require a safe abort and return capability
    7. West coast polar launches don’t provide anywhere to do a safe direct return
    8. A once-around orbit was another option for an abort
    9. After one polar orbit, the west coast rotates with the Earth to move about 2000 miles east from where it started
    10. The shuttle was designed to have 2000 miles of crossrange glide capability
    11. The crossrange glide compromised several other design features and required a much bigger heat shield
    12. The Challenger disaster and subsequent flight hiatus broke the Air Force’s confidence in space shuttle launch assurance
    13. The Air Force executed the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program to develop Atlas and Delta rockets and abandoned the space shuttle
    14. Therefore, the shuttle’s crossrange capability was never used
    • #22
    • October 10, 2018 at 4:55 pm
    • 2 likes
  23. Reagan

    You got it correct, conflicting requirement, but I thought that would been too long to explain to a Stu, my best buddy Air Force Jet Jockey. 😳 😄

    • #23
    • October 10, 2018 at 5:35 pm
    • 3 likes
  24. Member

    Mark Wilson (View Comment):

    GLDIII (View Comment):

    Instugator (View Comment):

    Mark Wilson (View Comment):
    The Space Force is not really an exploration and manpower delivery organization.

    True, for the foreseeable future. Although there is analysis to show that had we not wasted money on the space shuttle we could have already had a permanent colony on the moon and manned missions to Mars.

    There may come a time where science fiction becomes science fact and those procedures are needed.

    To be fair the requirement that made the shuttle a white elephant and have such a hugh cross track capability was from being “in bed” with the Air Force for the launching of the surveillance satellites. The original concepts were mostly for crew delivery while rendezvous with bigger already positioned payload (ie like the Skylab scenario)

    My understanding (as a millennial who was born after the first shuttle launch) is that several requirements and unfortunate facts coalesced to create the lamentable situation:

    1. The shuttle would only be cost effective if it had a high launch rate
    2. The high launch rate could only be achieved if it had a monopoly on all US space launches
    3. The Air Force flew the majority of US space launches
    4. The only way the Air Force would grant the space shuttle a monopoly on its launches was if it had the capability to launch into polar orbits
    5. Polar orbit launches are more efficient from Vandenberg Air Force Base on the west coast
    6. Manned missions require a safe abort and return capability
    7. West coast polar launches don’t provide anywhere to do a safe direct return
    8. A once-around orbit was another option for an abort
    9. After one polar orbit, the west coast rotates with the Earth to move about 2000 miles east from where it started
    10. The shuttle was designed to have 2000 miles of crossrange glide capability
    11. The crossrange glide compromised several other design features and required a much bigger heat shield
    12. The Challenger disaster and subsequent flight hiatus broke the Air Force’s confidence in space shuttle launch assurance
    13. The Air Force executed the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program to develop Atlas and Delta rockets and abandoned the space shuttle
    14. Therefore, the shuttle’s crossrange capability was never used

    Also, the size of the shuttle’s cargo bay was mandated by a (still) classified USAF payload.

     

    • #24
    • October 10, 2018 at 6:19 pm
    • 6 likes
  25. Member

    Mark Wilson (View Comment):

    The recessional song at my grandfather’s funeral was a spirited arrangement of the Air Force Song played on a massive pipe organ. It caught me by surprise and I was momentarily overtaken by emotion. I have loved it ever since.

     

     

    My dad had it played at his funeral too.

     

    • #25
    • October 10, 2018 at 6:20 pm
    • 5 likes
  26. Thatcher
    Instugator Post author

    GLDIII (View Comment):
    To be fair the requirement that made the shuttle a white elephant and have such a hugh cross track capability was from being “in bed” with the Air Force for the launching of the surveillance satellites. The original concepts were mostly for crew delivery while rendezvous with bigger already positioned payload (ie like the Skylab scenario)

    I don’t dispute any of this – or the point by point explanation provided by Mark in comment #22.

    My twin at work spins a different tale, revolving around Nixon’s lamentable cancelling of the Saturn Program. The point he makes is that, had the Saturn program continued as funded, the quantity of launches that were programmed would have produced a much different space presence than we have right now.

    I’ll see if I can find the essay/book he is talking about.

    • #26
    • October 10, 2018 at 6:23 pm
    • 2 likes
  27. Thatcher
    Instugator Post author

    Simon Templar (View Comment):

    Mark Wilson (View Comment):
    Peace Through Superior Firepower and Immediate Retaliation

    Love it.

    Very nice. This is my favorite:

    I have a shirt with this embroidered on it that I took with me on my year in the desert. It met with unanimous approval.

    • #27
    • October 10, 2018 at 6:26 pm
    • 4 likes
  28. Thatcher

    Mark Wilson (View Comment):

    Stad (View Comment):
    Space exploration and military control is going to be a long term endeavor when it come to establishing dominance near and away from Earth. The traditions and practices of naval units are precisely what will enable us to better achieve this goal.

    The Space Force is not really an exploration and manpower delivery organization. It is for deploying, maintaining, and defending unmanned space assets (i.e. satellites and space launch rockets) in near Earth orbit that support operations on the Earth’s surface. There are of course related near-space capabilities such as counter-satellite and counter-counter-satellite (or even counter-space-launch), but it’s not going involve fleets of spaceships with navy-like crews.

    Or perhaps I misunderstood what you wrote.

    No, you didn’t. One long term goal of a Space Force I presume would be manned exploration. Rovers are a good tool for recon, but boots on the ground get things done.

    • #28
    • October 11, 2018 at 6:22 am
    • 3 likes
  29. Member

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):
    (Our son is also fond of the phrase “Peace through superior firepower.”)

    My daughter spouts the phrase: “Warheads on Foreheads” 

    • #29
    • October 11, 2018 at 7:04 am
    • 7 likes
  30. Member

    Notre Dame football players will stand behind the football players of Army, Navy, and Air Force for their respective Alma Mater’s, and their football players will do the same for the Notre Dame Alma Mater at the end of each game.

    Here is a short video of a Notre Dame grad who flew with the Blue Angels:

    • #30
    • October 11, 2018 at 7:11 am
    • 4 likes
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