WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Coaches influence our lives in many ways, and a college coach helped show one retired general his way to the Marines.
Art Bloomer’s commitment to service went on to last for more than 30 years, and when Art Bloomer retired, he was the senior, ranking, Brigadier General on active duty.
“He was a little guy, I thought,” retired Brigadier General Art Bloomer said, as he looked at a photo with President Ronald Reagan.
No surprise Bloomer thought that of the commander-in-chief, as he towered over most he met, and he met many famous people while in service.
It’s a path he never thought he would take.
Bloomer was a student at Kansas State Teachers College. In 1977, the college became Emporia State University.
His basketball coach, at the time, gave the young man some life advice.
“He wanted me to stay in school, and he said there is only one way that you can do it, that I know,” Bloomer said. “You gotta join the Marine Corp reserve and he said I’ll take you up to Topeka.”
The coach was trying to keep one of his star players out of the Korean War.
“He got me into the Marine Corps Reserves,” Bloomer said.
Bloomer chose flight training.
“I didn’t know the Marine Corps had airplanes when I joined it,” Bloomer said.
He said his mother was very confused about what branch he was serving.
“My mother got confused, and was always wondering if I was in the Air Force or the Army because she didn’t know there was such a thing as the Marine Corps,” Bloomer said.
Once Bloomer got his wings, he taught student Naval aviators how to fly fighter jets, as a flight instructor.
“The Navy actually teaches every Marine how to fly,” Bloomer said.
Flight instructing wasn’t his only assignment with the Navy, he went on to fly as a test pilot.
“I flew 50 different models of airplanes,” Bloomer said.
He also flew some at great speeds, as in 1,500 miles per hour.
“I didn’t notice it too much, because I couldn’t see the ground,” Bloomer said.
He said he could see below, on reconnaissance missions.
“I was only 2,000 feet above the ground, flying in over the coast, and I didn’t want to be slow,” Bloomer said.
He deployed to Vietnam, twice.
“I flew 330 combat missions in the Vietnam War,” Bloomer said.
On his second tour, he was the Squadron Commander on the U.S.S. Midway.
He was on the aircraft carrier, when the Evacuation of Saigon was underway.
“It was quite an experience to witness that,” Bloomer said.
He said watching people flee for their lives was heart wrenching.
“We didn’t have the facilities to take care of them all,” Bloomer said.
They had to push a few aircraft overboard, to make room for more.
“We took them off to other ships, as soon as we could,” Bloomer said.
He said he’ll never forget a Vietnamese major, flying in.
Bloomer said he was flying a Bird Dog, or L-19, a small, observation aircraft.
“He flew it with his wife and five kids in it, out to the ship, and he made a carrier landing,” Bloomer said.
He wrote all about it, to his wife and kids, in a special letter, and it’s the only letter his wife kept, throughout the years.
“I’m glad she did because it is in the archives at Emporia State,” Bloomer said.
His alma mater also named the Bloomer Veterans Hall of Honor after the Distinguished Flying Cross recipient.
This is the highest, personal decoration that I have, it is the Distinguished Flying cross.
The Air Force recommended the Marine pilot for the high honor, for an electroic jamming mission over North Vietnam.
Bloomer said he flew many other missions, that were more deserving of the honor.
He is very proud of an honor, he received from a foreign government.
“I was one of four Americans, to have ever received this medal,” Bloomer said.
He served 31 years on active duty.
“I only intended to spend about two years, and then get out and be a teacher and a coach, like my coach said I could do,” Bloomer said.
Bloomer said he had no idea his career would span for so many years.
“It’s pretty significant to be called a general, but that has been so long ago,” Bloomer said.
He said his wife, he met at Emporia State, was his biggest influence, in staying in the military.
“I didn’t want to stay, if she wasn’t happy, but she seemed to like it, a lot,” Bloomer said.
He’s now been retired for more years than he served.
“I wouldn’t change anything,” Bloomer said.
He said the military was a big part of his life, but he’s had so many great experiences since, especially those that involved his wife and kids.
“I’m pretty proud of my family,” Bloomer said.
Bloomer is very proud of their three children, seven grandchildren, and eight great grandchildren.
Bloomer also played basketball in the Marines, while going through flight training.
The Retired General continued to fly after his service, for about 10 years.
He flew an aircraft, that he started flying while he was still in the service.
Bloomer said the first supersonic jet he flew, the F-8 Crusader was his favorite aircraft to fly.