In honor of Memorial Day, we are interviewing local veterans every week during May.
This week, we feature Staff Sergeant Charlie Austin.
Austin was in U.S. Air Force for 3 years, and served in the Korean War for 22 months, starting when the war broke out in the summer of 1950. Originally from North Carolina, Austin is 80 years old, retired and lives in Park Ridge with his wife.
Austin volunteers as a teacher’s aid at Franklin Elementary School, was the first ever soccer coach in Park Ridge and participates in the Park Ridge Citizens Patrol and Community Emergency Response Team (CERT). He also gets together with the ROMEO Club on Mondays—ROMEO stands for Retired Old Men Eating Out.
How did you end up participating in the Korean War?
I was 17 when I volunteered. I started training at Scott Air Force Base (in Belleville, Ill.) in plane radio mechanics. I was the only guy out of my class to be kept on as an instructor. I didn’t want to do it, but I did it for a while.
I was at Langley Air Force Base (in Hampton, Va.), which was a teletype receiver site, when the war was declared and they shook us up out of bed. We took a train that Monday morning to San Francisco and a boat to Karakuwa, Japan. It was the worst time of my life—21 days between San Francisco and our destination.
Where were you stationed during the war?
I was never in Korea—I stayed in Japan where the planes would go to refuel and get checked. I was in Tachikawa and at the Yokota Air Base. The temperature is probably similar to St. Louis, you get snow a couple times a year, but generally it was warm.
What were your responsibilities during the war?
I’ve gone to speak at Franklin Elementary School, and when I talk to the kids, they always ask if I flew the planes and shot the guns. I tell them, “No, I didn’t fly the planes or shoot the guns, but I made sure that the ones who did were safe.”
I worked on F-80 jets, the first jet the U.S. military had that went into combat. They made two runs to Korea everyday, one between 1 and 3 p.m. and another between 6 and 8 p.m.
Later on I was assigned to follow a civilian crew around at Yokota Air Base. My job was to inspect the work they did. I met some people who were just fantastic.
Was there ever a time during your service when you were frightened for your life?
No, I was never in harm’s way.
What did you do during your free time?
We weren’t allowed to eat off base but we did any way. We’d go to this noodle house and we taught a couple of guys there how to make French fries, so we’d have French fries and noodles.
What are some of the things you learned in the service that you apply to your life today?
My electronics background, what I learned in military school, has helped me all my life. When I got out of the service, I went to work for the company whose planes I was inspecting in Japan.