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Honoring Our Heroes

Thomas Miller Derickson Jr.: Age 95

Thomas Miller Derickson, Jr. served two years in the U.S. Navy during WWII as a diesel mechanic at the rank of Motor Machinists’ Mate Third Class. He received the following ribbons: Victory Ribbon and Asiatic Pacific Campaign Ribbon.

Derickson was born July 4, 1925, in Meridian, MS, to his parents, Thomas M. Derickson, Sr. and Myrtis Derickson. He was reared in Montgomery, AL, where he played trombone in the band and graduated from Lanier High School in 1943. He volunteered to serve in the Navy, entering military service February 22, 1944, and he completed his Boot Camp Training at the US Naval Training Station at Sampson, New York. Following this training, Derickson was trained at the Naval Training Center at Gulfport, MS, in basic engineering and diesel mechanics. From there, he was sent to serve at Pearl Harbor at the Advanced Base Reshipment Depot where he worked repairing automobiles and trucks at the base until WWII ended. His work was an important part of the support effort for the victory of American military in the Pacific Theater. Derickson was discharged April 19, 1946.

Derickson’s reflections on his military service are, “It meant that I was patriotic. All my friends were in the service. I went in right after high school at age 18. I was more mature when I left the service. My brother served at Guadalcanal.”

When Derickson returned to Alabama, he used the G.I. Bill and received a B.S. Degree in Accounting from Alabama Polytechnic Institute (Auburn University) in 1949. Then he began his long, successful career as an accountant. He returned to Montgomery and worked for Gulf Area Building Supplies for one year, Foshee Lumber Company for one year, Arctic Traveler for three years, Kershaw Manufacturing Company for five years, and W.S. Newell Construction Company for 57 years. He continued working until January 2021 and retired at age 95.

Derickson and his wife, Martha, were married for 53 years before she passed away, and they had three children and four grandchildren. He has one stepchild and two step-grandchildren with his wife, Judy, with whom he has been married for 20 years. He and Judy enjoy attending concerts by the Montgomery Symphony Orchestra and attending plays by the Alabama Shakespeare Festival. They often travel to the mountainous areas of Mentone, AL, on the crest of Look Out Mountain or to the Gulf Coast area at Orange Beach, AL. They have enjoyed visiting all of the Alabama State Parks and going on cruises. They have been part of a supper group with other couples for 35 years in Montgomery, and they are active members of Christ Church Anglican where they were founding members. Prior to the founding of the Christ Church Anglican, he was actively involved in his former church, the Church of the Ascension, serving as Senior Warden on the Outreach Committee, teaching Sunday school and serving as the church’s treasurer. Derickson also spearheaded three different campaigns to build houses for Habitat for Humanity. Derickson has served as the President of the Montgomery Civitan Club. He has been active in the Sons of Confederate Veterans serving as the Adjutant, and he enjoys visiting Civil War battlefields.

After 18 years, he retired from delivering Meals on Wheels for Montgomery Area Council on Aging (MACOA). An avid Auburn football fan, Thomas and Judy attended many Auburn football games until just a few years ago. “War Eagle!”


Lawrence Edward Morrow, Sr.

Lawrence Edward Morrow was a U.S. Air Force fighter pilot who lost his life at age 25 while serving his country on a TDY deployment to Okinawa. His F4 jet fighter exploded when it crash-landed in the Pacific Ocean following a touch and go landing. Morrow served three years doing exactly what he had always wanted to do.

Morrow was born September 7, 1939, to his mother, Jessie Woodman, and he was adopted by MSG L. M. Morrow, his stepfather. He was reared predominantly in Montgomery, AL, and he graduated from Lanier High School in January 1958. Morrow enlisted in the AL Air National Guard and attended the University of AL for three years majoring in aeronautical engineering. In 1961, because he had scored so high on tests when he joined the Air National Guard (ANG) and because of the shortage of pilots with the ANG, he was offered the opportunity to leave college and receive pilot training. Morrow reported for duty at the ANG in Montgomery entering as a 2nd Lt. and completed13 months of pilot training at Craig AFB in Selma, AL, receiving his wings in May, 1962. He was sent to McDill AFB, FL, and then to Okinawa for TDY for three and one-half months where he lost his life May 24, 1965, during night flying. Morrow’s name is listed on a Wall of Remembrance in Colorado Springs, CO.

Morrow was respected and admired by NCO personnel. In 2001, a veteran NCO who had been stationed in Okinawa in 1965, called one of Morrow’s sons to tell him a story about his dad. The veteran stated that Morrow was the only pilot officer who would take time to chat informally with the NCO’S on the flight line. Morrow’s service as a fighter pilot involved hazardous missions. While in Okinawa, Morrow was sent on a mission to photograph a Russian MiG aircraft over Japan. Guns were removed from Morrow’s F-4 plane and replaced with cameras. Morrow was successful in getting vital pictures of the MiG’s where other pilots had failed. He was awarded a medal and commendation posthumously.

Morrow was married to his wife, Patsy, for seven years, and they had two sons who were ages 18 months and two months old when he left for TDY at Okinawa. They had three grandchildren. His wife remembers Morrow saying, “There is one thing that I want to do. I want to fly jets.” Morrow was an active member of a Baptist Church, and he enjoyed playing golf as well as playing his guitar and singing.

Lawrence Edward, Jr. at age 35 wrote this poem in honor of his father:

The Lead

The night was black when you disappeared,

the weather not particularly bad.

I know this was something we all feared

and the darkness took away my Dad.

I’ve been told about the man you were,

The way your smile could lift everyone.

Although your passion was flying, I’m sure

Your love was your wife and two sons.

My mother gave me the strength and hope,

The courage to hold my head high.

She held me close as I try to cope

and stare into the night sky.

Black as pitch, no light above,

you fall into the sea.

You disappeared from the things you loved,

and one of them was me.

I’ve traveled the road of memories,

I can’t help but believe,

my life would be much different

If you had been the lead.

You were on final, the next to land,

Then a radio call said I need a helping hand.

You refuse the strip of safety and make another pass.

You always put others first and always yourself last.

Black as pitch, no light above,

You fall into the sea.

You disappeared from the things you loved,

and one of them was me.

I’ve traveled the road of memories,

I can’t help but believe,

my life would be much different

If you had been the lead.


Col John M. Vickery: Age 77

Col John M. Vickery personified true patriotism and heroism throughout his 24 years and nine months of distinguished service in the United States Air Force.

As a combat pilot in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War, he repeatedly risked his life for a way of life, for those who fought at his side and for containment of the scourge of communism. His service included tours as an F-4 aircraft commander in the USA, Asia, and Europe, a fighter weapons instructor in Europe, a tactical operations staff officer in the Pentagon, commander of multiple Tactical Fighter Squadrons, Commander NATO’s Warrior Preparation Center in Europe and instructor at USAF’s Air War College.

Col Vickery's accomplishment over his career earned him recognition for superior aviation achievements, superior leadership, and serving his country around the globe. Notable among his awards are the Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Bronze Star Medal, five Meritorious Service Medals, 11 Air Medals, a Presidential Unit Citation, three Air Force Outstanding Unit Award and an Air Force Organizational Excellence Award.

Col Vickery was born June 24, 1943, at West Boylston, MA, to his parents, Harold K. Vickery and Mary M Vickery. He graduated from West Boylston High School in 1961, graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant June 9, 1965.

Pilot training followed at Williams AFB, AZ; followed by survival school training; F4 tactical fighter training at George AFB, CA. Further F-4 training was at Eglin AFB, FL and MacDill AFB, FL. Then in 1968, he went to Udorn RTAFB, Thailand, to begin flying as an F-4 aircraft commander in combat. He flew 195 combat missions with the 555 “Triple Nickel” Tactical Fighter Squadron (TFS). Combat missions were day or night, bad weather or good weather, engaging ‘up North’ North Vietnamese ground and air forces, Pathet Lao forces in Laos, and Viet Cong forces in South Vietnam. A lot of people died, and a lot of things were destroyed during his combat time in Southeast Asia.

Reassigned to Europe in 1969, Col Vickery joined the 78th TFS at RAF Woodbridge, England. Here as part of NATO, he trained and sat ‘nuclear alert’ deterring the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact from attacking NATO, an alliance of free and democratic nations of western Europe and North America. This deterrence took him to sites from England to Italy to Turkey to sit nuclear alert and to many other locations to conduct or participate in national or combined alliance combat training exercises and activities. It was during this period that he helped found USAFE’s Tactical Employment School and taught as an F-4 combat aviator trainer for NATO’s tactical air forces crew members.

The Air Staff at the Pentagon in Washington, DC has a Directorate of Operation and within that is a Tactical Division which deals with training and employing USAF tactical combat aircraft around the world to support our nation’s national goals – ‘peace, freedom, security’. In 1974, Col Vickery was assigned to the Tactics Branch of the Tactical Division where he labored in the basement of the Pentagon. His assigned task with several other officers was to determine why air power had not been decisive in Vietnam and to determine how to fix it. There was no simple answer, but one common thread ran through the problem – tactical weapons systems did not “train the way they were expected to fight.” Nowhere were all the air oriented combat elements, fighters, tankers, tactically employed bombers, electronic warfare aircraft, air and space reconnaissance assets, signals intelligence assets and ground air defense assets brought together to train by doing against a realistic air and antiaircraft enemy threat array that closely mirrored the existing threat we expected to fight. All the required elements existed and were controlled by different groups with different agendas. What do you do to bring them all together: (1) Talk to each group and explain the need and how to fix it. (2) Tell them that they already have the tools they need so it will not cost them any money. (3) Tell them they can take the credit when the large-scale realistic force employment exercises are a grand success. (4) Do all the coordination and legwork for them. (5) Facilitate the initial exercises and compare the results to the desired outcome measures. The process took two years along with doing routine staff work and resulted in ‘Red Flag’ air combat training exercises. The ‘Red Flag’ exercise program won the Collier Trophy in 1977 for Tactical Air Command as the most significant military air achievement in the year. No mention of the Air Staff was made. The ‘Red Flag’ exercise program has produced the air training that combat and combat support aviators have needed to reduce their combat losses to almost zero and to dominate in the battle spaces of the Middle East where they have been flying combat missions for over thirty continuous years. A person can achieve great works when one focuses on the problem, the team and teamwork. That is not a new lesson, but it is a lesson one can easily lose sight of if he is working in government in Washington, DC.

Following staff duties in Washington D.C., Col Vickery’s flying returned with duty as Operations Officer 36TFS at Osan AB, Korea. The mission was air defense to deter surprise air attack initiated by North Korea. Being close to the North Korean border, it was a case of too little warning time to stop an attack but long enough to initiate the actions required to respond before a surprise event became a renewal of the 1950 Korean War which now is just “on hold” as an official armistice. Incidents occurred and 36TFS F-4 alert fighters responded, but no weapons were used. Korea remains tensely stable today with one major change. In 2006, North Korea obtained nuclear weapons status and has several dozen nuclear weapons that it can deploy today. This assures that a despotic regime can continue to subjugate its people and terrorize its neighbors and the world.

After service in Korea, Col Vickery’s duties were in command and flying in 1980 through 1984. As commander 435TFTS at Holloman AFB, NM, he trained the instructors who would train new pilot-training graduates in the art of tactical fighter flying. As commander of the 425TFTS at Williams AFB, AZ, his unit’s mission was to train the F-5 fighter international pilots and maintenance personnel from allied nations and friendly nations. These F-5 pilots and maintenance personnel in-turn would return to their countries and train their national forces at home. The courses typically lasted over a period of three months to a full year. The training was intense and very interpersonal. Pilots and maintenance personnel who graduated from the 425TFTS returned to their countries and provided points of contact and testimony of the United States commitment to its allies and their security. Today, one graduate of this training is the king of his country, and others are senior leaders in their military or defense forces. Building trust and understanding over training in the United States and maintaining contact and support over the years build stable nations and more avenues to maintain peace in our dangerous world.

In 1985, Col Vickery returned to Europe, and he was tasked to create a computer-based war-gaming operation where senior NATO commanders could test their war plans against Warsaw Pact capabilities. He was involved with setting up in Einseidlerhof, Germany, and getting assistance from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, an integrated computer network, which emulated both NATO and the Warsaw military capabilities. This allowed complete free-play of all forces and systems available to the commanders.A dedicated ‘Red Team’ played the Warsaw Pact forces, and the NATO commander and his staff employed their forces. Each wargame began with the existing NATO war plan. During each night, the senior commanders and key staff would face the computer outputs and adjust their plans and orders as necessary. The Red Team would do the same. While no definitive conclusion was ever reached in any wargame, the results illuminated vast areas of insights and worries for NATO’s commanders that led to changes which ultimately led to needs for new and different weapon systems, different training and applications of forces, systems, and information. This improved war fighting training and force readiness.

Some of the perspectives of Col Vickery’s military experiences area are:

(1) Vietnam was sad but turned out well. Why? France as a colonial power was forced out of Vietnam. After the Paris Peace Accords and the 1975 fall of Saigon the US, China and the Soviet Union left Vietnam to self-determination. Today, the Vietnamese people are united, capitalistic and troubling no neighbors.

(2) Nuclear alert deterrence worked. Why? It was because it kept the Soviet Union at bay until Western Europe recovered from WW II and became an economic powerhouse. Eastern Europe remained in poverty. When the Soviet Union could not pay to keep all Eastern Europe in subjugation, the Warsaw Pact dissolved and freedom, capitalism and democracy came to most of Eastern Europe.

(3) In Washington, D.C, a person can achieve great things when he has a better idea and he lets everyone take credit for it. Work for the nation’s good.

(4) Hosting and training military personnel from smaller nations around the world and selling these nations weapons systems for security and sovereignty are critically important to having contact, access and communication in times of stress or conflict.

Col Vickery’s conclusions about his military service are, “The military was my home. It was a place where I got married, had and reared my children and had people with whom and for whom I worked. They helped me to grow. My growth helped my nation to be more secure. I always felt that we were a team and that the team would move heaven and earth to have the outcomes be positive for the people for whom we were fighting and for our nation as a united whole. My military career was ‘just right for me’.”

Col Vickery completed his service in the U.S. Air Force at Air War College, Maxwell AFB, AL, as a seminar leader, curriculum and computerized war game developer, and instructor in the Department of Joint Combined Operations. He retired March 31, 1990.

After his military retirement, Col Vickery worked for six years as a pilot flying the A300 Airbus with Continental Airlines. He then joined Headquarters Civil Air Patrol (CAP) where he worked for five years as the first Chief of Aerospace Education. He nationally directed training of youth and adults CAP members and supported teachers across the nation with educational products that promoted knowledge and understanding the of the science, history, and future potential of air and space activities. His last work was at Alabama State University in the College of Business in the Department of Management teaching courses in management, economics, scheduling and basic survey courses for 10 years retiring in 2009.

Col Vickery and his wife, Sarah, have been married 54 years, and they have two children and four grandchildren. They enjoy traveling and visiting with friends. He is an active golfer, racquetball player and yard maintainer. Col Vickery is a Life Member of Military Officers Association of America, the Air Force Association and the Daedalians, all military professional organizations. He annually volunteers locally doing free tax returns for elders and others under the IRS/AARP VITA TaxAide Program. He also serves as a soccer referee for local YMCA youth soccer development and U.S. Soccer Federation youth soccer competitions for age groups from eight to eighteen.


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