By Larry Nelson
For The Sun-Telegraph 

Veteran's History Project: Donald L. Devine


Donald L. Devine

Chief Master Sergeant

U.S. Air Force

1949 – 1979

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story is one of many American Veteran accounts published in The Sidney Sun-Telegraph. The writer, who is from Sidney, is conducting the interviews as part of the Library of Congress' Veterans History Project.

After World War II, one learned to pay attention to what was going on around him or her. In 1949, this was true, and essentially, it marked is now termed "situational awareness."

In the case of this story, four young men from Larned, Kan., were friends and seemed to do everything together. In the closing months of their senior year in high school, one of their fathers gathered the four pals together. The father was aware of the political winds and that American politicians were likely to involve the country and its resources in another conflict. To get down to the brass tacks, that meant if the boys didn't take care of themselves now, the Selective Service System (Draft Board) would be in touch.

The best course of action would probably be the Kansas National Guard. The recruiter signed some of them up. Donald L. Devine (Don) joined the Kansas National Guard. Very soon after graduating high School, Don was in the "Guard." There was no basic training in those days. Guys (and females) just joined and were taught the rudiments of military stuff as they went along...a kind of "On the Job Training" (OJT). Don did go to field artillery training. He became familiar with the BIG guns and their destructive power.

Don found an opportunity to cross over from the Army and join the U.S. Air Force. The war in Korea was hot by 1951. Don and his buddies wanted to get closer to that action and enlisted. On arrival at their basic training station, a benefit from being in the National Guard came along. These men were now deemed "prior service," as the expression goes. To a training cadre, these men were valuable assets because they already knew the "ropes."

However...there was suspicion among the trainers that the Air Force Office of Special Investigation (OSI) had incorporated their own members into the training groups. Don's trainers thought that he and the others were "spies" for the OSI. It resulted in them being treated differently than other recruits. Some treatments were good, some not so good. The problem being, the trainers had suspected the wrong guys! It caused some drama later!

Don made it through basic training with few problems. He had great scores on his aptitude tests. This meant he could work in one of a number of fields. At the time, the Air Force needed clerks. After basic training he was sent to a college in Stephenville, Texas, to learn the skills of being a company clerk. Following that piece of advanced training, Don was sent on to a reserve unit in Oklahoma. In not much time, Don decided that it was time to get on with his career, and not necessarily in the Sooner State.

Don volunteered for duty in Korea. This is a major step in the process of being a new guy! With no one standing in his way, Don was among a large group who assembled at Camp Parks, Calif., that made their way to San Francisco, Calif. There they would board a troop ship headed for Japan and on to Korea.

A good lesson here: do what you can! Once on the troop ship, a request went out from the ship's administration for a sergeant of the guard. They needed someone to organize several others to police the decks of the ship. Don wanted to be a part of that. He was selected, several times. The sergeant didn't have to be below decks hearing men get sea sick; he got warm showers; he had good food; he had the run of the ship. Volunteering is a good thing!

Finally, in Korea, Don and his unit settled in and were assigned to work on the flight line. Here, fighter planes and bombers would land and take off either completing missions or heading out for new ones. One thing the bombers required was some men who knew how to arm the munitions. Don was assigned as one of those guys.

Don said that as he and others worked to arm the bombs, there was stuff called "HE exudate". HE means "High Explosive"... this was highly explosive gel oozing out of the bomb deal, just arm them and move on...

The important thing about this mission was that it was a preparation stage for Don's future. As the fighting slowly and coldly went on, a truce was signed by world leaders. Much of our military remained in place there. Sure enough, there came the soldier who knew the best way for soldiers, airmen and Marines to present themselves was for them to be in uniform. Before, it was OK to mix khaki shirts and fatigue pants...but now it had to be khaki shirts and khaki pants...the bureaucracy was here!

Don served here almost two tours. It was time to head back to the "States," and yes, Don volunteered for sergeant of the guard! The ship the men returned on was set up for U.S. Marines. After 10 days, the ship arrived at Camp Stoneman, Calif. All the mens' luggage was off-loaded. the hours of darkness, there are about 3,000 duffle bags (which look pretty much all the same) on a paved lot. After much consternation, men started looking at the name tags and calling out names so that the bags could be claimed.

Soon, Don was assigned to a human resources position and was doing well in his work. There was a particular female co-worker in this unit named Joan. She had grabbed his attention. Soon, this attention turned into so much more. The result was a 63-year marriage!

After 10 years in the military, Don wanted to change his assignment. He put in for a fairly new specialty...Nuclear Weapon Fusing. He was selected for the school. Although his wife was out of the military, they had had two children. She was in college and he was deployed to Colorado for training...aah the military life.

Once his school was completed, he was positioned for highly sensitive work. He may not have known it at the time, but this work specialty would cause him to move himself and his family over 25 times over 20 years! Not enough time to gather stuff for even a garage sale!

On one occasion, he was deployed to an Air Force Base in Italy. When he and his family arrived, the Air Force re-location personnel informed him that his personal property had been lost in a fire. They were without...anything. Quickly, Don found affordable, furnished housing and had to fill in the rest! Really, this was an opportunity for the airmen around him to rally and help out. It all worked out...or in today's jargon, "it's all good."

Don's work took him to most NATO bases in the world. His work was "classified." He was a manager of nuclear facilities. He knew the qualifications of the personnel, the equipment, the security, and the budget so that he could operate successfully. He developed a reputation. While stationed in the Washington, D.C., area, he was notified to be at a particular airfield within one hour. When there, a plane would pick him up and take him to a base that had failed an organizational readiness inspection.

On arrival at the undisclosed base, he proceeded to get the "ducks in a row." He forced compliance to regulations, fixed the equipment that wasn't so good, and coached, taught, mentored and trained the staff so that they knew their jobs, unfailingly. They had to buy into readiness. It wasn't difficult; they just had to do it.

Over the years of service, he and his family would serve in a NATO facility for 18 months, then rotate back to the U.S. and 18 months later, off to another base. One of their sons was born in Germany in a British hospital. An American child born in Germany in a British would that birth certificate/passport read?

After almost 30 years, the Air Force suggested a final destination for this chief master sergeant. A tour in Hawaii would be next...oh're about to retire? Ummm cancel the tour...dang!

Don Devine was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal, the Air Force Commendation Medal, the Korean Campaign and Korean Service Medals, the Good Conduct Medal and the National Defense Service Medal. He and his wife, Joan, are life members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Great job, Chief Master Sergeant Don Devine. Thank you for your service!

For The Sun-Telegraph

Donald L. Devine


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