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ST. GEORGE — Amidst laughter and war stories, six men from around the United States met April 12 in what is likely to be their last time to relive their days of service during the Cuban Missile Crisis in the 1960s.

California resident Bob Stock, 70; St. George resident Burton Phillips, 69; New York resident Arthur Wetterhahan, 68; Massachusetts resident Phillip Andrews, 68; Florida resident Ken Ruegger, 68; and Nevada resident Jack Buchold, 69, met at Phillips’ home, where they spent five days together. The men met 51 years ago in Biloxi, Miss., and later moved to Cape Cod, Mass., where they served at the Otis Air National Guard Base as radar technicians.

Despite faulty equipment, the men survived their 21-month term at Otis. During their term, 50 men died as the result of three downed planes.

Stock said the worst mission he had been on was when lightning struck the nose of the aircraft in which he was flying.

“We had a rolling ball of fire essentially roll down the aisle before being dissipated by the aircraft,” Stock said.

Phillips said one of the worst memories he has from his term is when the aircraft he had been flying on for two months blew up.

“The 262 that went down the day I got discharged killed everybody,” Phillips said. “They never even got an SOS off of that. It just blew up in the sky.”

Andrews said he remembers Phillips’ reaction when he received the news.

“You want to talk about somebody turning white — it’s not just a saying,” Andrews said. “When he got the word, I remember he turned absolutely white.”

No matter how many bad memories the men have of their service term, they continue to stay in touch and continue to be lifelong friends.

“This is just part of life and these are lifetimes of experiences shared —most of them fun and the bad ones we laughed off,” Phillips said. “You could have turned the clock back 40 years as soon as they walked into the house. The stories just started flowing. So what is it like? Special.”

Cathy Phillips, Burton’s wife, said this visit has more importance because not all of the men are in good health.

“It’s amazing that all of them are alive,” Cathy said. “It’s amazing they’re still friends and doing well. I’m really happy to have them here, and I hope they have a good time, which I’m sure they will.”

The men meet every few years at a reunion or one of their homes, as they are all retired.

“Now that we’re older, we get together more than we did when we got out,” Buchold said.

In 2006, the men traveled back to Cape Cod for an Air Force reunion and visited memorials for the men who died in the downed planes during their term.

“We find out what’s going on since the last time we met, and there’s usually something going on,” Andrews said.

Nowadays, they reminisce on how close they came to not making it out alive.

“In war, you’re indestructible,” Wetterhahan said.

The men didn’t think anything of the risks involving the aircraft at the time, but now they think back on how dangerous the incidents really were.

“We were so young and stupid we didn’t think anything of it,” Buchold said. “We’d just go back up in three more days.”

Elsie Stock, Bob’s wife, said her husband doesn’t talk much of his time in the Air Force, but when one of the men call, he can talk to them for hours because of their shared past.

“These guys stick together; they’re like brothers,” Elsie said.

After 51 years of friendship, the men all agree on what their biggest accomplishment is: their friendships.

“That was probably our biggest accomplishment, was to meet each other and become friends,” Bob said. “That’s lasted. The other stuff was over quickly and gone.”

“It’s amazing that all of them are alive,” Cathy said. “It’s amazing they’re still friends and doing well. I’m really happy to have them here, and I hope they have a good time, which I’m sure they will.”

The men meet every few years at a reunion or one of their homes, as they are all retired.

“Now that we’re older, we get together more than we did when we got out,” Buchold said.

In 2006, the men traveled back to Cape Cod for an Air Force reunion and visited memorials for the men who died in the downed planes during their term.

“We find out what’s going on since the last time we met, and there’s usually something going on,” Andrews said.

Nowadays, they reminisce on how close they came to not making it out alive.

“In war, you’re indestructible,” Wetterhahan said.

The men didn’t think anything of the risks involving the aircraft at the time, but now they think back on how dangerous the incidents really were.

“We were so young and stupid we didn’t think anything of it,” Buchold said. “We’d just go back up in three more days.”

Elsie Stock, Bob’s wife, said her husband doesn’t talk much of his time in the Air Force, but when one of the men call, he can talk to them for hours because of their shared past.

“These guys stick together; they’re like brothers,” Elsie said.

After 51 years of friendship, the men all agree on what their biggest accomplishment is: their friendships.

“That was probably our biggest accomplishment, was to meet each other and become friends,” Bob said. “That’s lasted. The other stuff was over quickly and gone.”

 Reprinted from the Spectrum Newpaper by Southern Utah Vets Aid/Saint George, Utah

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