Mike Schad, 91, of Grove City is a U.S. Air Force veteran who served during the Berlin Airlift, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
The oldest of 11 children, he grew up and graduated from high school in Plainview, Minnesota, and attended the University of Minnesota for a year. Motivated by a love of airplanes, he said, he joined the Air Force in 1948.
He had wanted to become an Air Force pilot but was told, “We’ve got pilots sitting around here with nothing to do from World War II, and we need other people doing other jobs,” he said.
Trained as an air-traffic and radar controller, he worked at towers, mobile radar facilities and air-traffic centers during 22 years in the Air Force, typically serving at a base from one to three years before being assigned to a new location.
His assignments included Newfoundland and Bermuda, which were refueling stops for aircraft flying to Germany during the Berlin Blockade and Berlin Airlift. The airlift began in June 1948, when the Soviet Union blocked all ground and water traffic to the people of West Berlin and prevented food shipments from reaching them. The United States and Britain had to transport food and fuel to them by air until May 1949, when the Soviet Union ended the blockade.
Schad met his wife, Marge, in Nova Scotia. They married there and traveled by car from Canada to his new assignment in California, he said.
He served as a tower chief at an air base in Korea during the Korean War, working alongside U.S. and South Korean controllers. U.S. Air Force, Marine and Navy aircraft used the base, as did South Koreans.
Marine and Navy planes landed at the base if they were carrying bombs they were unable to drop or had a maintenance problem. In those cases, Schad said, they weren’t allowed to land on their aircraft carriers.
That resulted in “some tragic landings” at the airfield, he said.
Schad worked in the control tower with six American and six South Korean controllers, he said. South Korean pilots flew North American Aviation P-51 Mustangs (later designated F-51, referencing the change from pursuit plane to fighter) and often returned to the base low on fuel.
When that occurred, the pilots would be “ranting and raving on the radio. ... They did a good job, but we saw a few mid-air collisions while I was there.”
If the South Korean pilots didn’t like the controllers’ instructions, the pilots would land their planes and climb up the tower for an angry confrontation with their countrymen – a practice that came to a stop when Schad started locking the tower doors, he said.
With landing wheels on only the wings and tail, the Mustangs’ noses were pointed upward as they taxied onto the runway, limiting the Korean pilots’ vision. If a landing plane stopped too soon on the runway, Schad said, the propeller of a following Mustang sometimes clipped its tail.
Kimchi, a dish made with fermented vegetables and especially Napa cabbage, was a favorite of the Korean controllers, but the Americans found the odor too much to bear in the cramped tower, Schad said. Kimchi was kept out of the tower after the Koreans were allowed to eat in the U.S. mess hall.
Schad later served in Germany from 1955 to 1958 and began working as a radar controller.
During the Vietnam War, he was assigned to Japan’s Okinawa Island, working as a chief of a mobile radar-control approach. Both military and civilian aircraft used the base there, he said.
“I had never forgot I wanted to be a pilot,” he said, so he earned a private pilot’s license in Okinawa, flying out of a former Japanese fighter base.
In addition to adjusting to the geography and weather patterns at each new assignment, Schad helped train recently graduated controllers arriving from the U.S., he said.
In Okinawa, his base was in a typhoon’s 120-mph winds for two days, and it was “so noisy you couldn’t hear each other’s talk in the building.”
In the U.S., he served at bases in California, Florida, New Mexico and Virginia.
After leaving the Air Force in 1970 as a senior master sergeant, he managed the control tower at the new Bolton Field airport in southwest Columbus.
He also attended flight school at Bolton, mostly financed by the GI Bill.
“I was very fortunate to be able to use that money,” he said, to earn a commercial pilot’s license with multi-engine, instrument, flight-instructor and air-transport ratings. In 50 years of flying, he said, he has spent 17,000 hours in the air. That’s an equivalent of almost two years.
“I walked away from three accidents without getting hurt. I was very fortunate there,” he said. “One of them was my fault; the other two weren’t.”
In one mishap caused by weather conditions, his aircraft rolled off the end of a runway, “through a fence, through a ditch, across a road and into a guy’s backyard.”
“It didn’t help the airplane any,” he said.
Schad said he still enjoys flying locally.
He and his wife have four children, six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
His decorations include the United Nations Service Medal for Korea, the Distinguished Service Medal with oak-leaf cluster, the Air Force Commendation Medal with oak-leaf cluster and the Good Conduct Medal.
His advice to veterans is, “Take care of the family and be a good patriot, a good citizen and take care of your health.”
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