When he was a child, he pretended to be a pilot at his home in Syracuse, N.Y. He would even dress as a pilot for Halloween. He attended a flight show at Hancock Air Force Base in Syracuse, where he saw the Thunderbirds. That is when he decided he wanted to be a pilot, confessed the 71-year-old vet, who is now a Glendale resident.
Cronk served in the Vietnam War as an Air Force fighter pilot. With his F-4 Phantoms he completed 480 combat missions and 125 flights over North Vietnam. His scores earned him a place into the Arizona Veterans Hall of Fame this year.
As a kid, Cronk was familiar with life during war time. He looked up at his brothers who served in the Second World War at Pearl Harbor, Guadalcanal and Okinawa. He grew up in a family of 11. Of 9 kids, he was the 7th. His parents had 6 children before the Second World War and 3 children after.
The reason why they wanted to have more children was because they didn’t think Cronk’s brothers will come back home alive, however, all of them returned. One of his brothers was awarded a Purple Heart after being wounded during the attack.
But the dangers and horrors his brothers went through didn’t stop young Cronk from becoming a pilot. He enlisted in the Reserve Officer’s Training Corps and in 1965, he graduated from Southern Illinois University.
He trained at Reese Air Force Base in Texas to become a fighter pilot and went to Thailand during the Vietnam War. In the Vietnam War he served twice – first from October 1967 to July 1968 and the second tour began in December 1971 and ended in December 1972, the Your West Valley.com reports.
Cronk has two kids and five grandchildren. His second tour of duty started just as his son was born which made it difficult for the new father to leave home. He and his wife started sending tape recordings instead of writing. Cronk said he felt better hearing her voice.
Although he flew hundreds of missions, he said he was never afraid for his life. His confidence, he said, came from his training. He knew he was well trained so he didn’t need to worry about it.
During a combat mission at night, his plane got struck by lightning and all the equipment got knocked out by the strike. Luckily for Cronk, one of his comrades came to rescue him and took him back to their base. He retired as a major in 1986, after serving at Luke Air Force Base.
But Cronk has another passion. His all time dream was to be a pilot…and a teacher. He worked for 16 years as an educator at Rio Salado and Glendale colleges, teached economics. He also coached two girls teams for golf and soccer in Phoenix