Thatcher, Frederick S.

Frederick S. Thatcher
EHS Class of 1942
Our uncle, Frederick S. Thatcher, moved with his family to Escanaba in 1929. Throughout his childhood, he engaged in a variety of community and school activities (hiking, scouting, sailing, and lettering in track as a pole vaulter). During his years as a young student in Escanaba, Uncle Fred did so well that he was skipped a grade in elementary school and was one of the youngest graduates from Escanaba High School in 1942. He worked briefly for the Forest Service and, following graduation, spent most of the summer of 1942 as a seaman on an ore boat making runs from Duluth, MN to Lakawanna, NY. He left Escanaba in the fall of 1942 to become a student at the University of Michigan, where he took pre-engineering courses and enlisted in the Army ROTC. This was the beginning of a lifetime of service, to his country in all three branches of the armed forces, to his community, to the public school system, and to his church.

Following his freshman year in Ann Arbor, Fred enlisted in the Navy in 1943. Based upon his Army ROTC experience he became the Cadet Company Commander of his unit. Upon graduation, he was sent to Rangefinder School in San Diego, CA, and six weeks later was a Fire Controlman, 3rd Class, on the USS Hornet, CV12. Three months later he accepted an offer to enroll in V12, the Navy officer schooling program, and he was sent to Lawrence College in Appleton, WI. After four semesters he transferred into V5, the Navy flight program. He was in Norman, OK following the end of World War II, and by September 1945, he was released to Inactive Reserves. He returned to Lawrence College (Class of ’47, BS in Physics and Math) and used his remaining GI Bill benefits to attend the American Institute of Foreign Trade in Glendale, AZ. When the oil seismograph company he was working for wanted to send him to Canada, he decided to reenlist in the Air Force Flight program, thereby entering the first of the professional careers he pursued in his life.

In his own words, Uncle Fred writes:

I received my commission and 'wings' at Williams AFB, Arizona, in May 1950. My assignment was to a fighter wing at Bergstrom AFB, Austin, Texas. My time with this Wing included high flights (plane delivery) to units in Germany before a tour in Korea where I had 101 combat missions. We later had a high flight delivering F84's to Northern Japan, where my tour of duty entailed island defense. I was twice chosen on a five-man team representing the Wing/Air Division in fighter nuclear delivery and fighter tactical competitions at Nellis AFB. When the Wing received the F101 twin engine fighter bomber in 1967, we were reassigned, planes and all, to Bentwaters RAF Base in England. There I was the Wing Weapons Delivery Officer. I then had an interesting tour of duty at Wheelus AFB, in Libya, where we refined the delivery techniques for the F101.

Assignments followed at Command and Staff College, and I was then assigned back to duty at Eglin AFB, Florida, first in munitions testing and soon thereafter into the Tactical Air Warfare Center as a requirements officer. With a short tour of duty to Vietnam, I addressed multiple Air Force needs to improve safety and weapons delivery systems for the conflict. When an opening for an officer with my qualifications to go to Brazil unexpectedly arose, I applied for the position and was selected. The mission was to work with the Joint Brazilian/US Commission in Rio on Fighter research and development. A funny thing happened on the way to the Forum: The Southern Command and Brazilian Air Force had not been coordinated on this mission, and when I reported for duty, their response was not enthusiastic. I ended up flying the C47 and C54, serving outposts all over Brazil. Upon rotation back to the States I requested retirement due to my wife's bout with Hodgkins late in the tour. HQ said I would first have to do a year in Vietnam, so I requested direct assignment there. HQ then said they had failed to make an assignment for the posting in Rio and asked that I extend my tour there for a year instead of going to Vietnam. I was happy to oblige. Then due to failure to meet congressionally-imposed ceilings in my pay grade that year (1969), HQ reconsidered my original request and approved my retirement on return to the US. I retired as a Lt. Col. at Luke AFB, Arizona.

Upon becoming a civilian, Fred began his second professional career as a middle school teacher in Arizona. After putting fifteen years into that rewarding career, he and his wife, Lillian (a former Air Force nurse) moved to Prescott, AZ for their final retirement. They were the first of three generations to serve in the United States armed forces, as their sons Tom (Marine helicopter pilot) and Craig (Army helicopter pilot), as well as Fred and Lil’s grandsons (both Navy), followed in their footsteps. Fred currently plays golf whenever he can. He is active in his Episcopal church. In the past ten years, Fred has served as President for “Project Aware,” which provides shelter for men and an affordable housing complex for veterans. During his tenure as President, the Project Aware facility has grown from a six-bed rented shelter to its present condition as a million dollar property consisting of fourteen low-income veteran rental units and a renovated fourteen-bed shelter and transitional program. Project Aware anticipates receiving a grant to subsidize eleven more low income apartments on the property.

In summary, the Escanaba Public School System has no finer representative of a life well lived than Frederick S. Thatcher, and we are proud to share the story of his impressive accomplishments.

Submitted by Carol Thatcher and Char Thatcher