Tuesday, 27 December 2011 by Chuck Kelly
From a young country boy to a distinguished 30 year military career around the world and back home to the family farm — that's the life story so far of former Bell County Commissioner, Precinct Four, John "Jack" W. Oliver, Jr.
The retired U.S. Air Force Colonel has now added "published author" to his lengthy list of accomplishments and calls his autobiography "Full Circle".
"I never thought about writing a book," Oliver told me, "but my wife, Miriam, and our minister son, Robert, bugged me for about five years to put down what I'd done ... and finally, I surprised them. I didn't tell them but I thought, 'well, I'm going to be around here (the old Oliver family farm at Three Forks where he was born) keeping an eye on my calves so I might as well start writing about things. I began writing on April first and finished the last chapter on my birthday in September. It all went pretty easily because I had a good idea about what I wanted to cover."
Colonel Oliver had a lengthy list of memories to choose from — World War II erupted with the deadly December 7, 1941 Japanese sneak attack on America's naval base at Pearl Harbor and young Jack enlisted on Thanksgiving Day 1942 . In the ensuing thirty years, Oliver was a Regular Army Officer and triple-rated Flying Officer (Pilot, Celestial Navigator and Bombardier) a Command Pilot who flew first as a crewmember on a B-24 bomber, then piloted P-51 fighters, P-80 jets, DC-3 transports and B-29 bombers; one of the first Satellite Master Controllers, Satellite Test Directors and Satellite Operations Officers at Vandenberg Air Force Base; Commander of the Kaena Point Satellite Tracking Station in Hawaii; spent many years with the first successful Cornoa Satellite Program; was Plans and Operations Officer for the Atlas, Titan and Minute Man Missile programs in Florida and California; several highly-classified space programs; and his last major assignment was as a full Colonel, Chief of Staff of SAMSCO, the only U.S. Armed Forces and Air Force Space and Missiles Command, located in Los Angeles, California.
Despite that lengthy, impressive service record, Oliver recalled an incident that occurred about two years after he had flown 53 combat missions and was awarded two Purple Hearts for wartime injuries. "I had come home on leave and although in those days you were supposed to always wear your uniform, I just threw on some old clothes to come into Belton. The president of the local draft board stopped me on the street and asked me when I was going to register for the draft? I was flabbergasted! I thought everyone in Belton knew that I'd gone off to war and the head of the draft board didn't even know I'd been overseas."
During six months in Italy, his unit lost 100% of its personnel ... a complete turnover ... There were 500 men in the outfit and every one was lost in six months. He mused that the thought crosses his mind occasionally. "I just thank the Good Lord that I'm here and able to talk to you," he said.
Oliver enrolled at Texas A&M University in May of 1942, was sworn into the Army' Infantry reserve, was later transferred into the Army Air Corps, assigned to an Aviation Cadet Class and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant upon graduation. He finished the last Army pilot class and received his wings and a regular Army commission before it became the new U.S. Air Force. He was proud of the fact that he was one of only two out of a class of 800 that received a regular Army Commission.
"I had always wanted to be a pilot, always wanted to fly," Oliver commented "I wrote in this book that when I was a kid, I put a 16 inch, eight feet plank across my coaster wagon and tried to fly off the calf shed ... I almost killed myself!"
During his years flying in the military, Oliver said he never had to use his parachute. "I didn't see a bit of sense in bailing out of an airplane that was perfectly able to take me to the ground," he commented. "You end up on the ground one way or another."
After retiring from the Air Force in1972, Jack and Miriam, his lovely wife, whom he wed January 30, 1944 after a whirlwind courtship, came home to the place he was born at the foot of a rainbow, according to "two old maid aunts and a doctor".
The two set up housekeeping on the old family farm and built a beautiful new home on the 270 acres. Flying was still in Oliver's blood, so the couple bought a MC-20C Mooney four-seater and flew together all over the United States.
Oliver was Bell County Commissioner for a dozen years (1979-91) "and I'd do that all over again," he said. "I would have loved to stay in office but both my mother and dad were in rest homes and I decided I just couldn't and let it go."
He still attends the regular weekly meetings every Monday morning.
To say Jack Oliver is retired is a bit of a ".stretch". The octogenarian and his wife have 50-60 head of cattle out at their place. He buys Heifers in the Spring and sells them in the Fall.
He also is involved in everything from the Masonic Lodge to the VFW and American Legion. Colonel Oliver was recently honored by III Corps and Fort Hood as a distinguished U.S. Army Retiree of the Year at a special celebration. The Olivers attend the Salado Methodist Church.
The cover of "Full Circle" de[picts the couple's home (at the foot of a rainbow), the Mooney aircraft they owned for 25 years, sitting on the farm's runway and the famous P-51 that Jack flew and loved so much ... his favorite plane ... flying overhead.
"I didn't really write the book for sale. I wrote it for the family and some friends. I never dreamed that I would be selling it," said Oliver. For the time being, "Full Circle" may be ordered at www.createspace.com/36875692.
Take it from this writer, the Colonel's book is a really good and enjoyable "read" and will be flying off the shelves soon.