Voices of Veterans: Curt Burns

By: Andy Conner Email
By: Andy Conner Email

"I was born in 1931 and I was a child during the depression and it left an impression on me and also I was an adolescent during WWII and I had pictures of mostly fighter airplanes, but airplanes all over my room. And I had the idea that it would be nice, be neat, to be a fighter pilot, but I did not think I would ever be able to reach that goal."

Curt Burns graduated from Texas A&M in 1952 and joined the Air Force, where he was put on active duty during the Korean War.

"I had to wait about a year to get a slot in a flying school. Because just as soon as I reported to my duty station - by the way I had a real tough, hard luck duty station. I was stationed in Palm Beach International Airport for a year. That was easy to take, but anyway, I applied for flying school and it took a long time."

But, Burns finally was able to realize his dream of becoming a fighter pilot. He graduated from flying school in 1954, and was sent to Ramstein, Air Base in Germany.

"The first half of my tour, we were just pure dayfighter. If the Russians came over, we were supposed to go over and shoot down MIGs and the 2nd half of it, we re-trained in the nuclear war and about a third of the time, we sat alert on nuclear weapons targeted in east Germany, the Soviet Union, Poland and Czechoslovakia."

From there, he was stationed in Cam Ranh Bay Vietnam, during the Vietnam War, where he began to fly on night missions.

"I flew about 2 weeks before with a squadron - day missions only. Then I got scheduled for night alert and scrambled off at night. And I had the illusion that nobody was shooting at me, because I didn't see anybody shooting at me. Nobody hit me, and it was relatively benign. It was pretty much like flying training missions in the States. On that night mission, there were all these little winking guns shooting at us. Nobody used tracers. Well, we did sometimes, but they didn't. They'd have been foolish to use tracers."

Although Curt Burns didn't have many close calls in combat, that doesn't mean that he wasn't in harms way.

"Fortunately, the F-4's, we'd only have 2 aircraft in each flight, instead of 4. But with the forward air controller up there, we had to keep track of where the other air...F-4 was and also where the forward air controller was and it's kind of spooky to see this big shape there almost...with a mist almost hit you at night and you think, 'well, I got to keep better spacing than that,' but that was probably as hazardous as the guys on the ground shooting at us all the time. And they were shooting at us all the time - because they couldn't hit us!"

Burns' no-fear attitude in the cockpit, he claims, came from his high level of confidence behind the controls of his fighter jets. And that might be what helped him enjoy a 21-year career in the United States Air Force.

"I loved to fly and I had the self confidence to think that I was good enough that they weren't going to be able to hit me. And I thought, 'well, I'm good enough to handle this airplane ok. I don't think I'm going to have a pilot error accident and kill myself and I think I'll given the luck, God given luck, I'll survive. And I did."

For Voices of Veterans, I'm Tom Turbiville.


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