Flying was in His Blood

Written by Teresa Dennard.

Life was far from boring

On August 17, 1953, Charles W. “Jack” Reeves earned his wings as a United States Air Force pilot at the age of 23. Later that evening he married his high school sweetheart, Patsy Jean Adams. They both grew up in Carthage and were headed for a life that would be far from boring. In 28 years of Air Force life, they moved 23 times.

While living in Bryan, Texas, Jack and Pat owned two cars and two airplanes and were making $424 a month. A farmer who lived out of town had an airport and a hanger he wasn’t using, so Jack rented it to house his planes. They called it “Reeves International.” The Air Force sent Jack to St. Louis for two weeks and Pat decided to visit in Carthage while he was gone.

Jack had left one of his planes in Marshall and Pat thought she would surprise Jack and take some flying lessons of her own. “I realized we were going to be flying as a family and I thought I needed to know how to get a plane down,” recalls Pat. "I soloed with 8 hours and 20 minutes and flew the plane back to Carthage.

When Jack returned from St. Louis I didn’t know what bothered him the most—what could have happened to me or what could have happened to his airplane!” Back in Bryan, Pat decided to take the plane up for a little spin. Jack told her if she had any trouble finding the landing strip to look for the little pond at the end of it. “After I finished flying, I started looking for the strip and there were little ponds everywhere! By the time I located the right pond, Jack was in our little blue Plymouth in the middle of the runway driving circles round and round trying to get my attention.”

With three kids in the family, Randy, Jackie and Scott, the Reeves moved to Grand Forks AFB in North Dakota. They had never lived in that kind of cold before. Jack would have to bring the car battery inside the house at night to keep it from freezing. The housing was built as a 4-plex and to make some fun for the kids, the dads flooded the area behind the houses to make an ice rink. They loved it. The kids grew up in a very protected environment with lots of freedom on the base. Pat added, “They could ride their bikes everywhere, but if they did anything wrong, it would also get their dad in trouble. And if he was in trouble, they were REALLY in trouble!” One thing the kids living on base learned was patriotism. When going to the movies, everyone stood at attention as the Star Spangled Banner played before the movie started. Every afternoon when the flag was lowered, no matter where they were, they stopped what they were doing. “Our kids don’t grow up in that any more, so I’m blessed that they had that training.”

Even though there was a lot of moving, the Air Force provided movers to do the packing. When families left base housing, the house had to pass a white glove inspection. Every nail hole had to be filled in and the grass had to be cut by certain standards. "They'd check and if it wasn't right, they'd tell Jack. It was bad when you moved out, but really nice when you moved in." According to daughter Jackie, "I liked it. I thought it was a nice way to grow up really, other than the fact that we moved a lot more than they do now. The good thing about moving is if you ever got an assignment you didn't like, you knew you weren't going to be there very long." Oldest son Randy graduated from high school never having attended the same school two years in a row.

The men in the Air Force were gone a lot and the women learned to be very flexible. They had to be both mother and father to the children. The Reeves were in Grand Forks during the Cuban Missile Crisis. “A lot of civilians were not aware of how close we came to going to war. On base we were told to fix a fall-out shelter in our basement with enough supplies for 20 days and to put a mattress on our stairwell if anything happened. Our men stood alert during that time, and Jack told me if I call you and say go to the Vasicheks (friends who lived outside the base), no questions asked. Just get in the car and go.” Jack was stationed in Korea for a year and Vietnam for a year. During those tours he flew 219 combat missions and was awarded two Distinguished Flying Cross medals, one for rescuing a group of Marines off the top of a mountain in Vietnam.

Early in his career Jack built and designed his own plane. He named it the Reeves TLAR1 (That looks About Right) and nicknamed it “Chigger.” He began working on the plane while stationed in Altus, Oklahoma, and finished it at Carlswell AFB in Ft. Worth. It went with him to every base he was stationed. After 28 years, Jack decided it was time to go home and he retired as a Colonel. He told Pat they would travel and see the world, but instead became a corporate pilot for R. Lacy, Inc. Pat says, “My husband had aviation fluid instead of blood in his body. Taking that job ended our traveling plans, but we were home and he was happy. He loved to fly."

When Jack died in August, 2012, Pat made the difficult decision to get rid of the plane. “That plane moved all around the country with us for 40 years. I donated it to Wings of Hope, an organization that performs humanitarian flights all over the world. I didn’t know if they could use the plane for anything other than parts, but I think it’s still flying today. Giving the plane up was as hard a day as Jack’s funeral because it was his baby. I think he would be pleased with what we did with Chigger."