Air Force veteran: ‘They are our support’

 
Larry Crocker enlisted in the Air Force in 1969. He asserts that the military was a career that would not have been possible without the support of his wife, Judy. Courtesy/Larry Crocker
 
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Air Force veteran praises the support of the military spouse

By Jeremy P. Amick

Russellville, Mo., resident Larry Crocker obtained a twofold appreciation for the support that comes from military spouses while one is serving in the armed forces, often far from home.

Air Force veteran
A 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force, Larry Crocker of Russellville, Mo., was medically retired from the military after he was treated for a rare form of cancer. Courtesy of Jeremy P. Ämick

Not only was he a “military brat”—the son of a father who served nearly three decades in the Marine Corps—but he went on to experience firsthand the anxieties of family separation during his own frequent moves as a member of the Air Force.

“I really have a strong passion for the military families,” said Crocker, 63. “They are a tight-knit group of people that are there for you when you are serving hundreds of miles away from your own family.”

A 1969 graduate of Russellville High School, the influence of his father led Crocker to contemplate his own military career following graduation.

“My dad told me avoid joining the Marines or the Army because I could possibly be away from my family a lot,” Crocker said.

Enlisting in the Air Force the summer after high school, the recruit completed his basic training at Lackland Air Force Base (AFB), Texas, before traveling to Sheppard AFB for advanced training in communications.

As Crocker recalls, the six weeks of instruction prepared him for working with the military equipment that would allow him to encrypt and decrypt classified communications.

In January 1970, with his initial training concluded, he returned to Russellville while on leave to marry his fiancée Judy, before reporting to a six-month duty assignment at an airfield in Florida.

He soon realized the value of support provided by military spouses when he received orders for Zaragosa, Spain, spending the next 4-1/2 years often working long days with a communications squadron.

Air Force veteran
Larry Crocker enlisted in the Air Force in 1969. He asserts that the military was a career that would not have been possible without the support of his wife, Judy. Courtesy/Larry Crocker

“Judy joined me shortly after I arrived (in Spain) and really kept things together at home while I was on duty,” Crocker said. “Our daughter, Renee, was born in a Spanish hospital while I was serving there,” he added.

Crocker went on to serve a two-year tour at an air base in Blytheville, Ark., where his son, Shawn, was born. While there, the young airman also received additional training in cryptology.

Yet his overseas duty was not behind him as he received orders to report to San Vito, Italy, in 1978—an assignment during which he was accompanied by his wife and two small children.

“While I was in Italy,” Crocker explained, “I worked in an underground structure and was in charge of a small cryptology section. In general terms, I helped manage the coding used for daily communications and made sure the equipment was properly synced for this task.”

Three-and-a-half years into the tour, he received orders to return to the states and moved his family to Silver Creek, Neb., to work at an isolated Air Force bunker that served as a communications outpost.

Soon he began experiencing what he believed to be back problems, but in 1981, after he was sent to Fitsimmons Veterans Hopstial in Colorado, the 31-year old airman discovered it was something much more serious.

“It turned out to be plasmacytoma,” he said, “a very rare form of cancer that usually affects people in their 70s and 80s. It had formed into a tumor around my spine, which was causing the back pain.”

He moved his family back to Russellville after he was placed on a temporary disability by the Air Force and, for the next three years, continued to travel to Colorado for treatment.

Crocker’s doctors found him to be cancer free in 1984, at which point the Air Force veteran—with 13 years of service to his credit—was medically retired.

Since leaving the military, Crocker has embraced his unexpected retirement as an opportunity to continue his service by volunteering for several local causes and was instrumental in the establishment of a memorial to veterans located in the main square in Russellville.

After serving as an alderman, Crocker continues in his public service following his recent election as Russellville’s mayor.

Pondering his years in uniform, which conveyed him to several interesting (and other times “remote”) duty locations, the retired airman asserts that his military career would never have been a reality without the support he received from a source outside the Air Force.

“One thing about the military is that you always have to be prepared … you never know when you might get that call and be gone for six months at a time,” he said. “And a lifestyle like that can be difficult on your family.”

While pausing to reflect on his own past experiences, he added: “I believe that I served my country well, but I must stress that I wouldn’t have been able to do it without Judy—she was always there for me; she was my support.”

Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America. 

Jeremy P. Amick
Public Affairs Officer
Silver Star Families of America
www.silverstarfamilies.org
Cell: (573) 230-7456