OKEECHOBEE — Veteran Gary Miles was born in Pahokee but has lived in Okeechobee all his life. He graduated from Okeechobee High School in 1966 and, at that time, the guys had a choice. Either they went to college, or they went into the military, he said. “Everybody I knew didn’t have money to go to college, so we wound up going to the service.”
In the 11th grade, in Okeechobee, an Air Force recruiter came to visit the high school and gave the test to all the juniors who were interested in joining, so he took the test. When he graduated in 1966, he decided to go in the Air Force, and at that time, he had to go into what they called a delayed enlistment program. He stayed in that for six to eight months until finally, in December 1967, he was called up and went to Coral Gables to start his enlistment in the Air Force.
When he left Coral Gables, it was probably 80 degrees, and he flew to Amarillo, Texas, for basic training where he jumped into about 2 feet of snow, he said. He wasn’t really equipped for the change in weather. A drill instructor informed him his mother didn’t teach him how to dress himself properly and other things of that nature. They got their field jackets about three days later, so he was in a predicament!
After basic training, he was shipped to Wichita Falls, Texas, to Sheppard Air Force Base where he was trained as an aircraft mechanic on reciprocating aircraft, which are prop planes, he explained.
Right after he finished this training, he and his high school sweetheart, Cathy, got married, in June 1968.
When he was getting ready to leave Sheppard, he was allowed to choose three bases where he would like to be sent. Being a Florida boy, he chose Eglin, in Tampa, and Tyndall, in Panama City, and then he saw a little base he had never heard of in Florida. It was in Orlando and was called McCoy Air Force Base. That’s where the international airport is now, he said. “As luck would have it, I wound up at McCoy in Orlando.”
He worked on an EC-121D aircraft, which is a Super Constellation. It has radar on the top and bottom of the aircraft and they flew the Florida Straits monitoring Cuba to see if there was any action. It was the same unit that sounded the whistles on Cuba several years before that, he said. They also had a U-2 stationed there, and it would take off, and they would monitor its flights. He was there for about a year and a half.
In November 1969, Mrs. Miles gave birth to their son, and in December, Mr. Miles got his orders to go to Thailand for a year. His son was two months old when he left.
When he got to Thailand, he was part of a combat support group. He was with the 553rd OMS, and he served as a crew chief on an EC-121R aircraft, a Super Constellation, but it had a different role. It flew missions along the Ho Chi Minh Trail spotting troop movements and things of that nature, and then they would call in air strikes on the main troop movements.
Because they were a combat support group, he was awarded the Vietnamese Service Medal, the Vietnamese Campaign Medal and the Vietnamese Gallantry Medal.
After his year in Thailand, he was sent back to McCoy Air Force Base, but this time, they cross-trained him into jet aircrafts, and he was assigned to a KC-135, which is a tanker aircraft. They also put him in SAC (Strategic Air Command).
He spent his remaining year flying TDY (temporary duties) all over the world. He went to Torrejon Air Base outside Madrid, Spain. He went to Mildenhall in England, to Alaska, outside Fairbanks, twice — during summer and winter, so he was able to experience both. He went to Guam. He went to Japan. His wife did not like him being gone so often, and if not for that, he might have made a career of it, he said, so he got out after four years.
“Every place I visited had some interesting point,” he said. “I enjoyed Spain. I enjoyed the time I had off, and I went to several of the museums and things of that nature, and the country and the people were very friendly. I always enjoyed food and different cuisines.”
“Thailand was a totally different experience. I told my wife one time: I wish everybody in the United States had a chance to go to some of these places and see how people there actually live. They would be more grateful for what they have,” he said. “I saw people living in cardboard boxes, you know. We are very fortunate with what we have.”
After he left the service in 1971, he went to work for Pratt & Whitney. At that time, they were developing the engine for the F-15 fighter, so he got involved in that and other maintenance work out there. He stayed there for about five years.
He had taken the test for the post office, and they called him around 1976, and he went to work for them. He started out as a carrier and later became assistant postmaster. After 32 years, he retired from the post office, but his wife was still working, and she would come home and have “Honey dos” for him, so he eventually decided he would be better off going back to work.
He went to work for Paul May at the sheriff’s office, and when his friend Jerry Bryant became a judge, he asked Sheriff May if Mr. Miles could be his bailiff. He served as the bailiff for almost seven years before retiring again, this time for good, he said. He really enjoyed that job.
Mr. and Mrs. Miles will celebrate their 52nd anniversary in June. Mr. Miles is active in the Lions Club and has been president of the club for four nonconsecutive years. He also received the Melvin Jones award, which is one of their higher awards. He was the Master of the Okeechobee Masonic Lodge in 1993. He is a member of the Sons of the American Revolution and has been their president for almost three years now. The men used to attend a group in Port St. Lucie but decided it was too far to drive and started a group in Okeechobee. It has doubled in size in the last two years.
If you would like to nominate a veteran to be interviewed (by phone) for this feature, please send the contact information to firstname.lastname@example.org.