George Terry’s service was “secret”

George Terry in uniform as he progressed through basic training and was later sent to Okinawa, Japan.

In 1965, among those who graduated from Lawrence County High School, many were expecting a letter no one really wanted to get. It always started out the same way, “Greetings!”

According to official records, 382,010 men and boys were drafted in 1966. One of them was a farm boy from Wren, Alabama, who also worked at Fruhauf in Decatur. His name was George Terry. 

He didn’t really think the army would accept him because he had suffered a bout with Rheumatic Fever. In fact, he was still taking two doses of penicillin per day for the disease which results from a complication of strep throat. If left untreated, it can cause permanent damage to the heart.

Dr. Robert Rhyne, a local physician, wrote a letter for George outlining his condition and stating that he was still undergoing treatment and was currently on medication.  George took the letter with him when he went to Montgomery for his physical. 

Sitting in a large room with other men and boys from all over the state, George and the others were asked to produce any letters they had from doctors. George dutifully handed his over to the sergeant. The seasoned officer made his way up to the front after walking around collecting the letters. He shuffled them into order then unceremoniously dumped them all in the trash can. 

Unlike some of the others who were inducted when he was, George, who had worked on a farm from the age of nine, wasn’t intimidated by the early hours, hard work and grumpy drill sergeants. One of them ground the heel of his boot into George’s neatly spit shinned boot one morning. He ordered George to repolish his boots. George did so without complaining, he was used to grumpy men ordering him around. The next morning the sergeant again got in George’s face. “Why didn’t you get mad when I stepped on your boot yesterday?” he asked. “You remind me of my daddy,” George answered. “I never could do anything to please him, either.” 

The drill sergeant never bothered to single George out again. 

All that hard work paid off for George Terry in the long run. He was the product of three generations of farmers, tough men who wrangled a living from the hard clay soil of North Alabama. They grew cotton, corn, and animals: beef, chicken and pork. But all of these things take hands on, sometimes 24/7 hours of work, mostly manual labor and all of it necessary for large crop yields and good, healthy, marketable animal production. Farming might look easy to someone who had never done it, but it’s not, it’s backbreaking, stressful and at times unforgiving. It’s all this and awe, in good times it’s growing things bursting out of the earth, in bad times your best hired hands have to find work elsewhere to feed their kids. 

George grew up working, it was all he’d ever known, the rigors of basic training were, he says, just like what you see on television, “They were trying to break us,” he explained. Sometimes those drill sergeants were merciless. They had to be. But for George, it was almost like being home with his dad, “He was pretty hard on me,” he said. “I’d been breaking ground and taking orders all of my life.” 

Carlyle Terry, George’s dad, didn’t have it easy, either. He too was a farm boy. He lost his father at the age of nine and had to quit school and take care of his family. His father, Albert Terry, was also a farmer. After his early death, his widow lost everything they had in the Great Depression. This made such an impact on Carlyle that he became a strict disciplinarian. Both men also went to war, learning, like George, to follow orders and toughen up to face what lay ahead.  

This did help in war time, but as so often is the case with Carlyle Terry, it was hard to put the harshness away when they came home. His son bore the brunt of what war did to him. 

George spent six long weeks at Lackland AFB in Texas. He’d never been further from Wren, Alabama than one trip to Pensacola, Florida as a kid. He admits to being homesick. One of the things he missed most was his car. The payments were only $50 a month, but as a recruit in the Air Force, he only made $90 per month.      

George had bought himself a new red ’63 1/2 Fastback Ford just before getting his draft notice. “The first night I had it, I slept in it,” he confessed. “I hadn’t ever had anything and now I’m the owner of a car like this,” George laughed. It broke his heart when he had to sell it. After he was drafted his daddy told him to get rid of it, and that’s exactly what he did, but for the rest of his life he would try to recreate that car.

After basic, George was given his first stripe and was officially an Airman, Third Class. He was stationed at Chanute Air Force Base in Illinois, for training on airplane components and how to repair and maintain them. His training was the inner workings of planes; the trainees learned literally everything about every function of every part that was housed in the engine of the planes they studied. George had always tinkered with engines and loved working on cars, so it was a natural thing for him to become an expert in repairing, troubleshooting and maintaining the entire aircraft.  

From there George was sent for more in-depth training to Rozewell AFB in New Mexico. Long known as the place where aliens had landed, the rumors were still going strong when George arrived there in the late ‘60s. He says he never saw the place where they were supposedly kept and certainly never saw any little green men on the base. What he did there was to train to work on the B-52 Bomber. He loved the planes, they were different. “There are still some of them flying even today,” he said. 

At Rozwell, George worked the B-52. The only people allowed to fly these planes were the pilot, co-pilot, navigator and gunner, that’s all they had room for. These were  the planes that would eventually fill the sky over Vietnam.”   George went on to explain. “They carried big bombs,” he described. “They had eight jet engines, a 200’ wing span and although they weren’t built for speed, they were deadly.” 

After training there, George received his second stripe, he was now an Airman, Second Class. 

He cross-trained on the KC 135, a plane whose sole purpose was to refuel the fighter jets in mid-air. “They had special modifications, carried special fuel for the SR-71 and we still didn’t know what we were working on.” 

Finally, he received Top Secret clearance, and could fly with the refueling plane, but now when it was refueling he was allowed to watch.

Eventually these planes would fly over Southeast Asia in squadrons, at 80,000 feet and were able to take photos that were unprecedented before then. “I could read the tag numbers off of the cars on the ground in those pictures!” exclaimed George. “It was way ahead of what any other countries had at the time.” 

“That plane flew Mach 3, “That’s three times the speed of sound,” he explained. “They had to use a special fuel, the only plane the Air Force had that used that fuel at the time.”

According to George, it was made from titanium including the wheels to keep them from burning up on impact. “Because of its high speed this material was used to keep the plane from disintegrating.” 

He still couldn’t tell anyone, not even this girl he’d met in Arkansas. “I couldn’t talk about it to anyone except the others who were training to do the same job.”  

It wasn’t until he landed at Beale AFB in California that he caught a glimpse of this secret weapon. “I saw it taxi down the runway as we landed,” he recalled. “It was just unreal. These planes took off and literally disappeared from view so fast, in maybe five seconds they were out of sight. Some people might have thought they were seeing flying saucers because they went straight up instead of straight ahead, like a normal plane,” he described. 

George says that nowadays there are planes that will travel six times the speed of sound, but that in those days, it was just incredible to see them disappear like that. 

Now an Airman First Class, George Terry knew that Vietnam was in his future. He was eventually going to Okinawa, but first there was this girl.

He saw her for the first time on a blind date. It was actually a church service at the Church of Christ on 44th and Potter in Little Rock, Arkansas. He took one look at her and said to himself, “I’m going to marry this girl,” and two years later, he did just that. 

As for Linda Loyd, who was only 15 at the time, the realization came a little slower. “I liked him, I thought he was so genuine and he was such a gentleman! But I wasn’t thinking anything like marriage!” Linda laughed. 

It wasn’t until after they were married that George even told her that he’d predicted correctly that they would marry. “I asked him why in the world he’d never mentioned that to me and he said that he was afraid it would make me run,” she said. 

“I can’t explain how I knew or why she immediately captured my heart,” he says today. “She was just different.” 

They were always chaperoned by either another couple or by her younger sisters. He proposed the week before leaving for Okinawa, Japan. He was there for three months, then two years after meeting they got married on January 4, 1969, and have endured the war, a near death situation when Shawn wrecked his four-wheeler, George’s bout with large V-cell non-Hoskins lymphoma, the untimely deaths of several family members and here they are, 53 years later, with two grown sons, Shawn and Brandon and two grown grandchildren, Destinee and Bryson. 

Linda was never told where he was, exactly, or what he was working on. He continued to travel and work on the refueling apparatus in the planes that kept the SR-71s in the air. It was those big planes that were so secret, in fact, the titanium that was used to build these super jets that was bought through dummy companies all over the world to hide the fact that it was the Americans who were purchasing all of the titanium used on this project from Russia. It was the titanium content that made this plane cost over $34 million dollars each, there were 32 planes of this type built.

According to George, the fuel cost over $18,000 per hour for each plane every time it went up. “This is probably why it was discontinued.” 

George never knew much of this, only after the Freedom of Information Act kicked in that he learned much of what he worked on and why. 

You might be wondering at this point just what unit George was with. Well, if you guessed the Strategic Air Command (SAC) you would have been right! According to official information, Strategic Air Command (SAC) was both a United States Department of Defense (DoD) Specified Command and a United States Air Force (USAF) Major Command (MAJCOM), responsible for Cold War command and control of two of the three components of the U.S. military’s strategic nuclear strike forces, the so-called “nuclear triad”, with SAC having control of land-based strategic bomber aircraft and intercontinental ballistic missiles or ICBMs (the third leg of the triad being submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM) of the U.S. Navy). 

SAC also operated all strategic reconnaissance aircraft, all strategic airborne command post aircraft, and all USAF aerial refueling aircraft, to include those in the Air Force Reserve (AFRES) and Air National Guard (ANG). 

SAC commander was General Curtis LeMay. 

George spent another year in the military for a total of four years.  He worked for short periods in many places, such as Alaska and California and in other countries. Linda didn’t ever know what his actual job was until long after he was honorably discharged in 1970, as a Buck Sergeant. 

After leaving SAC he went to school in Little Rock for another four years, learning the sheet metal trade. When he graduated he went to work for a company called, Gabco Sheet Metal, but what he really longed for was to move home and start his own business. 

His father was still alive at the time and strongly discouraged George from going out on his own. He was afraid that George would lose everything he had saved and told him so. “He always told George what he couldn’t do and when our boys grew up and wanted to work for their dad, George always told them that they could do anything,” recalls Linda. “He’s always been such a great dad, always encouraging our boys to be their best.” 

The boys were the name sake of the business George and Linda started, BranShaw Mechanical. The company was started in George’s shop and later officially opened at its present location on the Courtland Air Base. It now has a branch called UFT which is also located on the Courtland Air Base. At its most fluent stage, the company employed over 60 people. 

Linda kept books and did payroll up until Brandon and his wife had their first child. Linda quit work in order to take care of Destinee, who is now a Nurse Practitioner and a Hospitalist, at Helen Keller Memorial Hospital in the Shoals, while their grandson, Bryson has been studying at Calhoun and is entering the family business. 

It wasn’t until they were driving past the Space and Rocket Center that Linda saw this big secret in real life. George was surprised to see the thing that was so secretive throughout his entire time in the service, the SR-71, the big black plane on display outside where anyone could see it, at the Huntsville Space and Rocket Center. “I’ve been back over several times to see it, it was such a shock after not being able to talk about it for so long, then there it was for the world to see,” he chuckled. 

“When he showed me that plane, I was shocked, sick, scared and proud, mortified, all at once, thinking how he was up there taking care of things in the air,” said Linda. “I had no clue before, but now it made me so proud to be his wife.” 

Brandon was always amazed by his father’s military experience. Shawn was proud, but wasn’t as interested in that kind of thing. Both boys being products of the Star Wars generation, it wasn’t anything new. Shawn is now running the company George started, along with his brother. Brandon is part owner of the family business, his current goal is to train for his pilot’s license. 

George is still undergoing infusions at home and goes back to MD Anderson for testing every six months. He also sees doctors in Birmingham. The clinical trials George is involved in will help people in the future to combat this disease. 

Linda is the glue which holds it all together. 

General information on the planes that taxpayer dollars have been spent on: 

The most expensive military plane manufactured in America is the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber costing $737 million. Designed to carry nuclear arsenal deep in enemy territory, the plane is virtually undetected by radar, infrared and electromagnetic equipment. The KC-135, which George worked on, refueled the predecessor to this plane, the SR-71.

 

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