Academy History club cadets visit retirement community, meet veterans, former Academy officials

Academy History Club Cadet and Army Lt. Col. Nathan Watanabe (right), a History Department assistant professor and president of the History Club, pose for a photo with the Academy's 10th superintendent, retired Lt. Gen. Winfield Skip Scott, at the Liberty Heights retirement community in Colorado Springs, Sept. 6. The History Club cadets had lunch with Scott and a wealth of World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War veterans living at the home, including retired Brig. Gen. Jesse Gatlin, a former Academy English Department head and professor. (U.S. Air Force Academy History Department photo)

Academy History Club Cadet and Army Lt. Col. Nathan Watanabe (right), a History Department assistant professor and president of the History Club, pose for a photo with the Academy's 10th superintendent, retired Lt. Gen. Winfield Skip Scott, at the Liberty Heights retirement community in Colorado Springs, Sept. 6. The History Club cadets had lunch with Scott and a wealth of World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War veterans living at the home, including retired Brig. Gen. Jesse Gatlin, a former Academy English Department head and professor. (U.S. Air Force Academy History Department photo)

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- Academy History Club cadets met nearly 40 World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War veterans at a local retirement community Sept. 6.

The 12 cadets had lunch with a group that included retired Brig. Gen. Jesse Gatlin, prior English Department head and permanent professor, and retired Lt. Gen. Winfield Scott, the Academy's 10th superintendent, at the Liberty Heights retirement community in Colorado Springs.

Gatlin graduated from the U.S. Military Academy with his pilot wings in 1945 and flew a variety of aircraft for the Army Air Corps and the Air Force. After earning a master's degree at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1956, he became an English professor here, teaching until his retirement from active duty in 1976.

"Though I was a West Pointer like most of the original Academy staff, we very much chose the Army Air Corps as our branch," Gatlin said in a Sept. 10 telephone interview. "We felt that as cadets even way back in the 40s, and we hoped to have an academy of our own. I'm still very happy to have been a part (of the Air Force Academy) and still happy to consider it as my home."

Academy cadets face challenges far more complex than service members of Gatlin's generation, Gatlin said.

"Cadets should prepare for challenges by retaining the qualities of leadership, attitude and integrity they're instilled with at the Academy," he said. "I still remember and revere the honor code. It kept us in a (cadets and Academy staff) in a state of mind to always to tell the truth."

Along with Gatlin, Cadet 3th Class Philip Sweet said he also met a former Marine who was assigned to the 1st Marine Division during the Chosin Reservoir Campaign Nov. 27 - Dec. 13, 1950, in North Korea. During the campaign, 30,000 United Nations troops battled for their lives in frigid temperatures while surrounded by nearly 70,000 Chinese soldiers.

Army Lt. Col. Nathan Watanabe, a History Department assistant professor and officer in charge of the History Club, said he's already mulling over a return trip to the retirement community.

"Cadets and faculty might study history but the real benefits of their curriculum come from the time it allows them to share with those who made history," he said. "One of the veterans at this event flew in three wars, supported the Berlin Airlift and was one of the first AC-47 'Spooky' pilots in Vietnam."

Gatlin said he hopes the cadets' next visit is a bit less formal.

"The cadets didn't get a chance to share their experiences, and I want to know what they think," he said. "We should discuss more of their attitude: I'd like them to tell us how they see the world as cadets, I'd like to hear from them about their challenges, and I'd like to know what they think about the Academy."