BELLE GLADE — John F. Kennedy said, “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.” That speech was the inspiration for Veteran Nicholas S. LaRose’s decision to join the Air Force when he was 18 years old. Born in Syracuse, N.Y., Mr. LaRose was no stranger to Air Force life because his father was a civilian personnel analyst on Griffiss Air Force Base for several years before he was transferred to Hancock Field. Mr. LaRose grew up around Air Force personnel, he said.
When he turned 18, he went to university for one year but decided he really didn’t want to go to college at that time, and when he heard the president’s speech, he knew what he wanted to do. He decided he was going to join the Air Force. He talked to his father about it, and his father said he would prefer he finish college first, but if he really wanted to join, he would support him. He joined the Air Force, and three days later, his draft notice came in the mail, but his dad told the Army it was too late. The Air Force already had him.
The first time he ever flew in an airplane was when he went to Lackland Air Force Base for basic training. After he completed eight-weeks training, he got orders to go to Chanute Air Force Base in Illinois for aircraft maintenance training. He was there for another two-months training and then received 30-days leave. His permanent station was at Castle Air Force Base in California. He said he never could figure out why when someone asked for the west coast they got east, and when they asked for east coast they got west. Maybe it was the military’s way of making sure no one was stationed too close to home, he said.
He started out as a recovery crew member for B-52s. That meant when the aircrafts came back from a flight, he serviced them. This was the way he got to know the aircrafts and all their functions. After that, he was an assistant crew chief for about a year and then was made a crew chief on a B-52. He went on flying status as a ground crew member at that point, he said.
In California, the weather is beautiful, but you can get fogged in a lot. They were in the San Joaquin Valley, and it was very warm during the summer, and the condensation made it really hard. A lot of the time, they were required to fly anyway. The main duty at Castle was to train crews on B-52s for Vietnam, and they would switch out every 90 days.
One of his most memorable missions was called Chrome Dome. They loaded a B-52 with thermonuclear weapons and then flew around the Arctic circle for 24 hours. They would be refueled in the air as needed and then continue flying. He was the only member of the ground crew on board, and he believes there were seven men on board the aircraft. They had to remain on alert in case they were needed to provide a rapid first strike or a retaliation in the event of a nuclear war. “We went on a lot of crazy missions,” he said. When the plane landed, the doors had ice on them which was unusual for California.
After he left the military, he wanted to continue with a career in aircraft maintenance, but his wife had not seen her parents in about two years, and they had a 9-month-old daughter, so she was not too thrilled at the idea of moving to Seattle to work for Boeing. He declined their job offer and ended up working in finance while he finished his education. He worked in credit collections and in hotel management for 43 years and recently retired. He moved to Florida in 1983.
He has been a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for the last 19 years and lives in Royal Palm Beach but is assigned as president to the branch in Belle Glade. This is the fourth time he has served in this branch, he said. It is his second home. He and his wife, Shirley, have three children between them and have 14 grandchildren and 3 great-grandchildren.