BEALE AIR FORCE BASE — One of the world’s most prominent aviators, and a Penn Valley resident, Gen. Chuck Yeager officiated a Monday ceremony at Beale Air Force Base.
Twelve U.S. Air Force reservists were treated to an appearance by Yeager during a sunny and windy morning at the Yuba County air base in front of the static display of the SR-71 Blackbird, which just received a fresh coat of paint.
Trakeila Holt, 27, a native of Mississippi, said she stood in awe of the great pilot as she officially became a member of the Air Force Reserves.
“It was amazing,” Holt said. “I mean, he was the first person to go faster than the speed of sound.”
Indeed, Yeager, a celebrated test pilot, was the first human to break the sound barrier in 1947.
Yeager, who will turn 90 in February, has had a decorated career, fighting in four wars, including World War II, Vietnam and the Korean War. His fame is largely due to his establishment of multiple speed and altitude records and because of Tom Wolfe’s 1979 book, “The Right Stuff,” in which Yeager is featured heavily.
Yeager shared highlights from his colorful career with the new recruits Monday morning.
“It’s a pleasure to come out this morning and enlist all of you,” he told the cadets at the beginning of the ceremony. “Seventy years ago, in September, I enlisted as an 18-year-old kid fresh out of high school.”
Yeager recalled the feverish rush to enlist in 1941 due to the U.S. mobilizing to fight a lengthy war on two fronts.
“Out of the 12 people in my senior class, all 12 enlisted in the military,” Yeager said.
Yeager’s story is true rags to riches. Born in a small community in West Virginia, he enlisted as a private. At the time, the Air Force required a college degree to qualify for pilot school, but they relaxed qualifications due to the demand for pilots.
Working as a mechanic, Yeager said he would watch the pilots walk by with their hands unsullied by grease and oil and decided it was for him. He earned his wings in 1942 and was stationed in the United Kingdom.
“I shot down 13 German airplanes,” Yeager said Monday.
After a brief recapitulation of his career, Yeager gave the reservists some advice.
“When you go into the Air Force, you can make it what you want to,” he said. “Just don’t forget who your boss is. Good luck and be careful and keep your head down.”
When asked why he took time out of his schedule to preside over the oath ceremony, Yeager said he feels loyalty to the Air Force.
“I am what I am because of the Air Force,” he said.
Yeager said he spends most of his time in Penn Valley, although he continues to travel for various public engagements. This upcoming Sunday, the 89-year-old will fly an F-15.
“I like to stay current,” he said.
The Air Force Reserve is a critical component of the military branch’s operations, said Master Sgt. Karl Perron, who was also at the ceremony.
“Depending on the mission, reserve members can serve on maintenance, transportation, and some of them even fly,” Perron said.
While much of the general public believes most members of the Air Force are pilots, only 4 to 5 percent of the military branch actually flies, Perron said.
“It takes a lot of support for the pilots to get the job done,” he said. “Everybody does their part.”
Beale Air Force Base, one of the largest bases in the country in terms of square mileage, is home to the 9th Reconnaissance Wing, an intelligence wing critical to national defense.
To contact Staff Writer Matthew Renda, email email@example.com or call (530) 477-4239.
“When you go into the Air Force, you can make it what you want to.”
— Chuck Yeager, Penn Valley retired airman