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Interview with Herbert Behl [1/10/2009]

Jon Lang:

My name is Jon Lang.

Tom Fine:

And I'm Tom Fine and we are recording today at on January 10th 2009 in Neenah, Wisconsin.

Herbert Behl:

My name is Herb Behl and I've been asked to be interviewed by these gentlemen from the Neenah High School. One of the people that has been involved here is a grandson of mine and that is Jacob Feuerstein. The reason I believe I was asked to be interviewed was that I have four years of military service and that service was with the United States Air Force. Now I understand also that you are going to ask me some questions so I will provide anymore information because I may have to repeat myself after the question.

Jon Lang:

Alright so we'll start out with a couple background questions. Could you just tell us about your life before you joined the military, and why did you join the military?

Herbert Behl:

I graduated from high school when I was 17 years old and for a while I worked for a bakery in Milwaukee and because my parents had moved up to northern Wisconsin I went up to stay with them and worked as a mechanic in a garage in northern Wisconsin. There was of course the Korean conflict going on at the time and I had a very good friend who was in the Marines. So I decided I was going to join the Marines. I went down to the recruiting office in Wausau and the Marine recruiter was not there at the time, however there was an Air Force recruiter and he told me "well I'll take your name and I'll provide this information to the marine recruiter". He apparently neglected to do that because the next day when I was at the garage and working repairing one of the automobiles the Air Force recruiter came in and of course I recognized him right away. He was wearing one of the new uniforms that was issued to the Air Force personnel and I thought to myself 'that looks pretty good. I would look pretty sharp in a uniform like that.' And he talked me into joining the Air Force. And of course of the selling points for joining the Air Force at that time was that they would train you to learn a job to learn how to do something. Which they ended up doing for me, but I did end up joining the Air Force and I'm glad I did.

Tom Fine:

And how old when you when you joined?

Herbert Behl:

I was 20 years old when I joined.

Tom Fine:

And then where did you go? Were you stationed in the United States?

Herbert Behl:

Well initially for basic training we were assigned at Lackland, an Air Force base down in Texas. I think that's in San Antonio, Texas. They had too many people there that they were training in the basic training so we were transferred over to Shepperd air force base in witchita, Texas. And I don't recall what the basic training was, it was something like 8 weeks. Initially they didn't even have uniforms for us or fatigues so we had to wear our civilian clothing for the first couple of days while in the air force and we had to live in tents especially in lackland where they didn't have enough room. But I finished the basic training at Shepperd Air Force base and then was assigned to a school at Keesler air force base at Biloxi, Mississippi. I started out in an electronics class, however the air force decided that after we had started and had the initial training to become electronic technicians, the Air Force decided that we they didn't need anymore electronic technicians so everyone in the class was reassigned, some to gunnery school and some to other schools. I was fortunate I was reassigned to be an air-traffic controller. I went through the air-traffic control school for 7 weeks. After the air-traffic control training I was assigned to Harlingen air force base Harlingen, Texas which is on the southern, pretty close to the southern tip of Texas about 20 miles from the gulf of Mexico and about 20 miles from Mexico.

Tom Fine:

Do you think you used the skills you learned in the air force later in life? The training and the...

Herbert Behl:

Oh definitely after I got out of the Air Force the Federal Aviation Administration which was known as the civil aeronautic association at the time they were looking for people to join the air-traffic control field. One of the reasons for that was the mid air over the grand canyon. So I did use it in fact I put in 35 years as an air traffic controller.

Jon Lang:

So while you were in your various bases what were the conditions like, what types of recreational activities were there offered to you?

Herbert Behl:

Well there was just about anything you wanted to do. There were buildings that had pool tables and table tennis tables, basketball courts, fields where you could play football, the conditions were excellent, food was always very good in fact through the latter part of my air force career I usually had six eggs in the morning for breakfast and six eggs at night for midnight chow.

Tom Fine:

Did you ever get to leave the base or did you have everything that you needed? Behl well we had everything we needed at the base you had your bunk for sleeping a room that the bunk was in so you weren't subjected to the outside weather. We did not have air conditioning of course but we had good food like I said before and we could leave the base yes.

Tom Fine:

To visit your family or...

Herbert Behl:

Well providing we weren't called for duty at the time

Tom Fine:

Ok.

Jon Lang:

And then for sort of more general questions... I think the UN was kind of a new institution following WWII, did you support the united states involvement in an international governing body?

Herbert Behl:

Right now I would say I don't really support the UN. I think the UN is caused problems for the United States I cant say whether I was in favor of the UN at the time I was in the service because I just didn't know enough about it and maybe other people didn't know enough about it either.

Tom Fine:

Getting a little more specific about the war, what do you think the American public thought about it? Was it a positive reaction, and yourself too?

Herbert Behl:

Well I never had any problems and I traveled quite a bit. I'd come home on leave and traveled by bus, by trains, and hitchhiked also. When I hitchhiked I'd where a uniform and people would stop and pick me up. In fact one time there was a woman who picked me up hitchhiking and she wanted to give me money to buy gloves because she thought my hands looked cold. No I didn't see any public reactions to the Korean War. I think that started pretty much in the Vietnam War.

Tom Fine:

You felt pretty supported by when you came back home?

Herbert Behl:

Oh yes, yes I did.

Jon Lang:

So you kind of covered the press coverage then...

Tom Fine:

So the war started around 1950 was it, the actual conflict and Truman was president at the time?

Herbert Behl:

I think it was earlier than that.

Tom Fine:

1948?

Herbert Behl:

Well when I joined in 1951 the Korean war was already going on a couple years. I'm not sure I don't remember.

Jon Lang:

so we were just curious did you vote in the presidential election of 1952?

Herbert Behl:

I have always voted in presidential elections.

Tom Fine:

Do you recall if you voted for Eisenhower? He won in '52 succeeding Truman.

Herbert Behl:

I did vote for Eisenhower.

Tom Fine:

Do you know what his policies were in terms of the war?

Herbert Behl:

I don't [think] that concerned me as much as his being a former military man and also I knew he was a Republican and conservative.

Tom Fine:

Ok.

Jon Lang:

Some people think the Korean War was like a way for the United States to, like, Korea was used as a means to fight communism in general. It was a war fought to avoid a larger war between the Soviet Union and the United States. Do you feel that Korea was used that way.

Herbert Behl:

No, aah no I don't it was probably necessary to try to limit the advance of communism that was at a different time you know.

Jon Lang:

So could say, do you think this war helped to avoid a larger war between the Soviet Union and the United States?

Herbert Behl:

may have been I really don't know I can't answer that. if I could go back I don't think that Korea would have become a much larger war than what it was.

Tom Fine:

At the time I think China started to aid Korea, we were sort of going up and down the peninsula. Korea would attack and we'd counterattack and then china brought themselves into the mix and sort of drove our defenses back. General MacArthur advocated a policy of continuing the US offensive up north into china. Do you have any thoughts on that.

Herbert Behl:

Well I guess I at that time felt it was too bad MacArthur wasn't running the war.

Tom Fine:

Ok so you really agreed with...

Herbert Behl:

Yes.

Tom Fine:

We needed to attack the North Koreans and take care of them?

Herbert Behl:

Yes I did [think so].

Jon Lang:

So you were an air traffic controller. What Tom and I read said there was a lot of new airplane technology introduced, jet airplanes and that kind of technology kind of took off. Did you see this on Air Force bases and did you get to work with it?

Herbert Behl:

The air force base that I was located at was a training base and it was used to train navigators, they used conair T-29s for the training platforms and that's pretty much all we had. Of course we'd have visiting dignitaries that would come in and F51s and B25s, C45s didn't see a lot of jets at all.

Tom Fine:

T29s were just propellers?

Herbert Behl:

Twin-engine propellers.

Tom Fine:

So MacArthur then, he was dismissed by Eisenhower was it? Eisenhower disagreed with him on his policies, so you think if we had listened to MacArthur we could have had a better end and do you think an acceptable boundary was reached?

Herbert Behl:

Who knows. Maybe if Macarthur had had his way we would have stopped a lot of the wars and conflicts we've had since then.

Tom Fine:

So that struggle is sort of still going today.

Herbert Behl:

Still going today yes.

Tom Fine:

Ok do you think that could escalate into future wars between North and South Korea and could the difference in development between the two countries cause a more major conflict?

Herbert Behl:

You know looking back I don't know. Maybe it would have been good at the time if we would have pushed North Korea all the way up to China [phone ringing]. Time's up?

Tom Fine:

Ok so the 38th parallel was about halfway in between and now we have Kim Jung Il now and so do you think a better solution could have been worked out back in the 50's?

Herbert Behl:

[nod]

Jon Lang:

You have a picture where you have several medals. What are those how did you earn them?

Herbert Behl:

Well I was awarded a medal for being in the military service during the Korean war. I was also awarded a medal for good behavior and there was another medal also for service during the cold war. [picture of medals shown to camera]

Tom Fine:

And who's in the picture with you?

Herbert Behl:

That's my son-in-law Mark Foster, he was also in the Air Force and is of an age where he cannot retire yet but he is eligible for retirement.

Tom Fine:

We can show more pictures [showing more pictures of air force base Harlingen]

Herbert Behl:

That was the first base I worked at as an air-traffic controller.

Tom Fine:

We have some planes in there too [picture of an F51].

Jon Lang:

What kind of missions did that fly?

Herbert Behl:

The F51? They were a very important weapon in WWII. Once the F51 was developed and they started installing the Merlin engines rather than the Allison that they initially had, the airplane was able to accompany B-17s or B-24s all the way into central Europe.

Tom Fine:

Those bombers, all three of those?

Herbert Behl:

The B-17 was a bomber, four engine bomber. So was the B-24.

Jon Lang:

For kind of more formal questions were there any experiences during the war that you would like to share?

Herbert Behl:

I guess I'm retired now from the FAA and I had the best four years of my life while serving in the military. It was a home and there was good food, a good place, and I never served in a foreign country and I was never shot at that I know of. So in the military it taught me an occupation which carried over until I was able to retire from the FAA.

Tom Fine:

so when you say you were on the bases, were you being trained the whole time or were you training other people. What was your job?

Herbert Behl:

No, once I went down to Harlingen I was an air-traffic controller after I got out of the service and went into the civil aeronautics administration which then became the FAA I was an air-traffic controller. I served in a number of different locations. I served in Madison once and I served in St. Louis air-trafiSc control center at a time when there was an air-trafBc control center in St. Louis. That was before they had radar to separate airplanes. So the airplanes were all separated while they were flying by using time or altitudes. After St. Louis I served at Minneapolis air-traffic control center and then I was at Milwaukee air-trafiSc control tower and at Chicago air-traffic control center in the automation department and at Minneapolis in the automation department. I was a chief at aurora tower and also at crystal in Minneapolis and I ended my career as chief air-traffic controller at Madison airport in Wisconsin.

Tom Fine:

So during the Korean War the new airplanes, the jets, were sort of being developed. When did the new air-traffic control technologies come into place with the radar and all that?

Herbert Behl:

I think it was 1963 or 64 when I went to Milwaukee and I think some of the first radar in a control tower was used at that time to separate airplanes both coming in and leaving the airport. When I worked at St. Louis and up in Minneapolis there was no radar at those facilities at the time.

Jon Lang:

So it was probably a lot more difficult then.

Herbert Behl:

It was yes. When I worked in Milwaukee also I got to use and work on the radar and of course at Madison also.

Tom Fine:

So going to back to when you were still in the military what was your rank or how did you move up the rank?

Herbert Behl:

I was a staff sergeant when I got out of the service.

Jon Lang:

What was the system of promotion how did you advance?

Herbert Behl:

Just keep your nose clean and do your job and wait for your name to come up to the top of the list.

Tom Fine:

So like your good behavior medals stuff like that was recognized?

Herbert Behl:

Yes.

Jon Lang:

Did you have any interesting experiences, specific instances from air-traffic control that you'd like to share.

Herbert Behl:

Well with working in air-traffic control for 35 years of course you have, ah, incidences with aircraft with emergencies and every once in a while you may witness an air craft accident where people are injured.

Tom Fine:

Were you in contact with anyone who was in Korea, so did you hear about the conditions there or anything like that.

Herbert Behl:

I had some very good friends that had come back from Korea in fact I worked with them down at Harlingen. One very good friend of mine was best man at my wedding

Tom Fine:

It was just sort of luck of the draw who got called up.

Herbert Behl:

I think pretty much so once you work at an airport as an air traffic controller there is so much knowledge that you have to gain to learn about the area because if somebody calls in and says I'm over this landmark or water tower or whatever, which way is the airport form where I am, you have to be familiar with the area with the airway system and the runway layouts, the taxi ways so once you've learned that they hesitate to transfer you to another airport

Tom Fine:

Was your fiiend an air traffic controller too?

Herbert Behl:

Yes he was in Korea.

Tom Fine:

So he had to get briefed about the land there and everything. Did you stay in contact with him after he left?

Herbert Behl:

Yes I did in fact he also joined the FAA and he died a few years back.

Jon Lang:

So you've been involved with airplanes your entire life?

Herbert Behl:

Yes I have a private pilot license. Im not current right now but I did fly for a number of years and enjoyed it.

Jon Lang:

Do you go to EAA?

Herbert Behl:

I'm down there quite often yes. For a while when I went when I was down in Illinois I helped a friend of mine pick up new Cessnas from Wichita, Kansas, and we would fly them to Valparaiso, Indiana, to a central point where they distributed the aircraft from Valparaiso.

Jon Lang:

What type of airplane is the Cessna?

Herbert Behl:

Cessna 150, Cessna 172, Cessna 182.

Tom Fine:

Are they similar to the planes that were in the war?

Herbert Behl:

Well I guess some of the observation aircraft were high wing single engine aircraft. Nothing that could have been a fighter aircraft.

Tom Fine:

To wrap things up do you have any other memories or did you hear from any comrades that you would like to talk about?

Herbert Behl:

I guess I'd just like to say if you get out of high school and you don't know what your gonna do with your life... if you don't want to go to a college and you don't know what you want to be try the military for a few years. The discipline is good and you may learn an occupation and learn a lot of experiences in life while you're in the military

Tom Fine:

Have you ever been involved with recruiting?

Herbert Behl:

No.

Tom Fine:

Alright well, thank you sir.

Jon Lang:

Thank you Mr. Behl.

Herbert Behl:

I would like to thank you gentlemen as well. It has been enjoyable talking with you.

Tom Fine:

It was fun hearing the memories and experiences. [showing picture of Behl while in the service]

Herbert Behl:

That's along time ago you know...

 
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