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Veteran remembers flying near nuclear explosions over frozen wasteland

Veteran remembers flying near nuclear explosions over frozen wasteland

Whether it’s at a nuclear bomb test site in the Pacific Ocean or transporting scientists through the harsh conditions of Antarctica, former US Navy pilot Myron “Mike” Meyer of Gatesville has had some great experiences.

“I’m from a much different era,” Meyer said. “I entered (into the military) right after the Korean War ended. I graduated from high school in 1953 and decided to join the Navy. I always watched the Navy for a reason. There were a lot of movies that inspired me.”

One of those films, “The Bridges of Toko Ri,” featured Mickey Rooney as a helicopter pilot, helping motivate Meyer to become a pilot himself.

“Mickey Rooney was one of my heroes because of his small stature, and I wasn’t too old when I was 17.”

Nevertheless, Mayer was a good athlete. He was an All State shortstop and also played American baseball. After graduating from high school, he played basketball at Fort Hays State College in Kansas for two years before enlisting in the military.

Meyer then went to flight school at Naval Air Station Pensacola, where he learned the basics of flying and picked up a new title.

“Flying begins with what they call the ground school, where you learn all about flying, engines, and how to be an officer,” Meyer said. He said that many of the men in his barracks were from New York, and had attended LaGuardia Aeronautics School – a vocational school for training commercial flight mechanics. Completing that school gave men an opportunity to participate in the Naval Aviation Program.







“They were all from New York, and they asked where I came from,” Meyer said. When he told them he was from Salina, Kansas, they told him, “No, you’re not dressed, you’re not wearing overalls and you don’t have straw seeds in your hair.”

When they asked Mayer what his name was, and he said it was Myron, they said, “No one is called Myron,” and decided to invent a new name for it.

“They fought about four or five names and then decided that he should be called Mike,” Meyer said. The surname has been suspended, and many people know him by that name today.

Several years later, when he was flying and asked to land his plane on a ship in the Atlantic Ocean, he introduced himself by the name Mayer. After a pause, the man on the radio on the ship replied: “Nobody named Myron.” It was either one of his classmates from the flight school, or someone who had heard Meyer’s story.

Mayer said that even his ex-wife, Mary Ann Gorman, whom only Myron knew, began calling him Mike.

Meyer and Mary Ann had five children: David the eldest died at the age of forty; Laura Meyer Marks Russell. Lisa LeBlanc and Mary Clarkson.

Meyer began his career flying on a fixed-wing patrol, and had to work as a navigator before advancing into the cockpit.

During the height of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, aircraft were required to enter a narrow area of ​​the West Coast to avoid being intercepted by American aircraft.

“I’ve sailed from Hawaii to San Francisco once–13 and a half hours,” Meyer recalls. The pilot asked Mayer where they were and Mayer told him, “Somewhere between Seattle and San Diego.” However, no joking aside, Meyer managed to sail the chariot to the area it was supposed to enter.

“It was the starting point of my career, and I knew I didn’t want to be a navigator – I joined the Navy to fly,” Meyer said.

“I was 22 and they gave me a plane for millions of dollars and cost me 10 lives. I thought that was pretty cool.”

Meyer, as a pilot, said that he went through several deployments, and among the most memorable was his close proximity to the explosions of nuclear bombs.

“I saw six or eight actual nuclear explosions,” Meyer said. “I saw an atomic bomb explode in all its splendor, if you want to call it that. It was beautiful at times but a reminder that why we had it (in the case of all-out war) wasn’t cool. Let’s hope you never have to use it. These explosions make you feel like not important. “

The tests were at the Bikini Atoll, and one of Meier’s jobs was to locate any ships in the area and keep them away from the fallout area.

“During the explosions, we put our hands over the hollows of our eyes, and I could see the bones in my hands. The heat from the explosion felt like someone had run a torch on my back. It made me feel so unimportant.”

Meyer was serving in the Pacific during the atomic bomb test in 1958.

“After the bomb exploded, we had the duty of radiation safety. We would wash the plane and let it sit for a day or maybe a week until the half-life (radiation) would drop to where we could use it again.”

The soldiers bathed and showered, and carried radiometers with them.

“I don’t think the military knew much about radiation at the time,” Meyer said. “Fortunately, I was able to have four children after that and they are all normal.”

After a patrol squadron assignment, Meyer served as a flight instructor for three years.

“I thought educating young pilots was a huge responsibility,” he said. “I was known for being a tough instructor. I had one student, an Italian Navy pilot who nearly killed both of us on several occasions. I never thought he would. On a note, he said he didn’t like the instructor because he thought I was God.”

Meyer responded by saying that he played God many times by preventing them from falling apart and keeping them alive.

“Being a coach has been another of my passions,” Meyer said. “It has made myself a much better pilot.”

Then Meyer had some interesting times in what many would describe as a frozen wasteland.

“It was one of my most interesting tours of the Antarctic,” he said. “I entered with a helicopter detachment on the icebreaker.”

He said while in the area, there was a tragedy on a mountain in New Zealand. He and his fellow helicopter pilots conducted search-and-rescue missions.

“Being able to help save lives has been one of my most rewarding experiences,” Meyer said.

While in Antarctica, Meyer and his fellow pilots transported scientists on missions. One of the scientists he flew was a Russian, and he remembered they were watching the Cold War-era spy thriller “From Russia with Love” together and joking around during the film.

Meyer remembered flying another world when a storm broke out, and despite adverse conditions – including huge swirling snowflakes – he was able to bring them safely back to base.

“His eyes were the size of saucers when we landed, and after that, he wouldn’t let any other pilots fly,” Meyer said. “I insist that I fly it.”

Some of the equipment used later in lunar exploration was tested for the first time in the harsh conditions of Antarctica.

Although Meyer got his start in fixed-wing aircraft, he was also an accomplished helicopter pilot. There was a supposed click order in which fighter pilots thought they were the best, while helicopter pilots were usually more modest, Meyer said.

“I got into it a few times with fighter pilots,” Meyer said. He would often tell them if they were such hot shots, next time a friend needed help, try to rescue them in a fixed-wing plane instead of a helicopter.

“I had great times and so many wonderful memories,” Meyer said. “Not many have experienced some of the things I have been able to try.”

After his military career, Meyer worked at the Success Motivation Institute, based in Waco, then as a nursing home manager and ombudsman.

He was active for several years in the silver-haired legislature, helping seniors have a voice in government, and remains active in the Gatesville Exchange Club, which promotes patriotism and volunteer service.

“I have spent my retirement life giving back to the community,” Meyer said, adding that the oath he made as a military officer to protect and serve his country is something he has “lived ever since.”


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