OKEECHOBEE — Known to friends and family as Jimmy and Bobby or Bob, identical twins James and Robert Dean were born in Kentucky but moved to Okeechobee in the 1950s with their family. Their father was a veterinarian from Alabama, and their mother was from Connecticut. The boys were about 7 years old when they moved here along with one younger sister, Patsy, and an older sister, Betty. (Patsy married last week’s featured veteran Larry Mobley when she grew up.)
They graduated from high school in 1968 and were out of high school for about one year before joining the service. They heard the draft board said they did not care what classification you got, you would be drafted anyway; so, they decided if they were going in the military one way or the other, they were going where they wanted to go instead of where the government wanted to ship them.
“I had heard that the Marines get first shot at all the real big guys when you’re standing in the induction center,” said Jimmy. “That’s what I was told. I had some very good friends that went into the Marines, Larry Williams, Jerry Bryant. They got tagged for the Marine Corps. Both of them are over 6-foot, and they were looking for the big guys.”
On May 19, 1969, they found themselves at the induction center in Coral Gables and were shipped off to Lackland Air Force Base (AFB) for basic training. At that time, there was a regulation permitting twins to go to the same base, so they traveled together, except when they went to technical school. Bob went into base supply, and Jimmy went into aircraft maintenance. For technical school, Bob was in Colorado and Jimmy was in Texas.
After training, they were reunited at McCoy AFB in Orlando, which today is the Orlando International Airport. They were there for one year, and then Jimmy was assigned to go to the Royal Thai Airbase in U-Tapao, Thailand. “Well, Bob went down to personnel and volunteered to go to the same place and followed me there,” said Jimmy. It was the largest B-52 base in Southeast Asia. Between this base and two others, they provided all the bombing runs for Vietnam, he explained.
Jimmy’s training made him an aircraft corrosion control specialist. They had a lot of problems with corrosion on most of the airplanes, he said, because of the dissimilar metals and for other reasons. His job was to treat, repair and repaint the airplanes as necessary. He and Bob spent a year in Thailand. Jimmy felt that the most interesting thing about the country was the friendliness of the people who lived there. Many of the locals worked on the airplanes under contract, and Jimmy got to know some of them. They taught him a little of the language, but he said he doesn’t really remember much of it anymore. The locals they worked with looked after them when they went to town and helped keep them out of trouble with any locals who might be out to cause problems. They were in Thailand for about a year before they were sent back to the States, and the closest they could get to Florida was North Dakota.
When they came back to the U.S., Bob got an assignment to Otis AFB in Massachusetts, and Jimmy decided he would like to go with him rather than go to Minot, N.D., where he was scheduled to go. Unfortunately, his request was turned down, so Bob volunteered to go with him instead. When they arrived in Minot, it was January 1971. Minot was where Jimmy met his wife, Pam, where she worked in base personnel.
In 1973, they reenlisted, and at that time, there was a provision that if you had been on a base for a certain length of time, you could request a base of preference. Bobby was assigned to go to Greece. Jimmy could not follow him to his base because there were no planes for him to work on there. Instead, he requested Patrick AFB in Cocoa Beach.
At Patrick AFB, he worked on the Orion DC-135 airplanes. These planes were unique in that they scattered to the four corners of the world following the launch of space shuttles from Cape Canaveral, and tracked the space launch to collect data. They would go to Johannesburg, South Africa, and Perth, Australia. “They were everywhere,” Jimmy said. He remembers one launch when they had one of the aircraft on Ascension Island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, and they lost an engine. The plane could not take off, but they positioned it on the runway to catch the spacecraft as it came across the top of it, so they could still catch the data they needed. Jimmy found his time at Patrick AFB very interesting.
After leaving Patrick AFB, Jimmy and Pam went to England for what was supposed to be one year, but because the twins’ dad was sick, he was allowed to return on a humanitarian assignment to MacDill AFB, Tampa. After they left MacDill, they were sent to Hurlburt Field in Okaloosa for six years, where he worked on special operations airplanes, AC-130s and helicopters. After this, Jimmy was offered the opportunity to work on corrosion control issues for the entire Air Force and went to Warner Robins, Ga., to do . When Air Force Special Operations Command opened up at Hurlburt, he was contacted by them to see if he would go back and set up their corrosion program. He returned to Hurlburt in 1991 and retired in 1997 as a chief master sergeant after serving 28 1/2 years in the Air Force.
Jimmy and Pam got married while she was still stationed at Minot and he was at Patrick, and then she joined him at Patrick until her four years was up. Then, she got out of the service. They have two children: a son, who is now in the Air Force and stationed at Hurlburt, and a daughter who did at least 10 years in the service as well, he said.
Check back next week for Bobby’s side of the story.
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