Ten years as a writer

From A to Zowie

Ten years as a writer

By Richard Zowie

Ten years ago, as I drove down to Prime Time Military Newspapers near Lackland Air Force Base on San Antonio’s southwest side, I was nervous. For months, as I prepared to leave the Army, I’d occasionally e-mail the publisher ask if any journalism positions were open. Each time she’d tell me they didn’t have any but that my writing samples looked very good. As my discharge drew closer without a job lined up, I worried what the future held. A few days before the publisher had called, and I interviewed with her.

Now it was time for the second interview with her and the publisher and editor of the Kelly Observer. That interview went very well, and just a few days after my Army enlistment officially ended on February 21, 2000, I began my writing career as a staff writer for the Observer. And then, a year later, as a columnist for the Beeville Bee-Picayune.

That was then: today I work at the Genesee County Herald in Clio, Michigan (a small town about 20 miles north of Flint). It’s actually two newspapers: one edition covers the northern Genesee County areas of Mt. Morris and Clio and the other edition covers the southern Saginaw County areas of Birch Run and Bridgeport.

When not doing that, I also work on freelance assignments and try to refine my fiction. Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of being published in a few places: Air Force News, the San Antonio Express-News, and Recreation Management magazine.

Over the years as a writer, I’ve had a chance to work with many wonderful people, along with some who have taught me a lot by teaching me how not to do something. Along the way I’ve stepped on my share of land mines.

Over these 10 years, here are what I consider the Three P’s of Journalism: Be Professional. When talking to someone, stay with the topic at hand unless perhaps a side comment can somehow lead to the person revealing great information for your article or information that could lead to a future article.

Be Polite. Treat those you deal with in a respectful, friendly manner. It goes a long way, especially if the person has had bad experiences with the media in the past.

Be to the Point. Assume the people you deal with are very busy. Once you introduce yourself, get down to business. When done talking to them, thank them for your time and leave it up to them to leave the door open for further comments.

Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of writing some memorable stories. Among them…

…During Air Force Day at Dallas Cowboys training camp in San Antonio’s Alamodome in 2002, I got to briefly interview Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. Was I nervous? Does it get hot in Texas summers? …

Earlier in 2000, I wrote an Express-News Memorial Day feature article of an Army buddy whose father posthumously received the Medal of Honor in Vietnam by throwing himself onto a grenade.

I’ve also in my ventures met a kidney transplant recipient who, after 15 years, needed another kidney and learned his medical insurance wouldn’t cover the cost. Then there was the 102-year-old lady, whose secret to longevity was dipping snuff (I kid you not).

Sometimes I’ve even met a few famous people. For one unpublished feature article about his minister-at-large position at San Antonio’s Oakwood Church, I interviewed San Antonio Spurs star and NBA Hall of Famer David Robinson. (Being 5’8”, I barely came up to his waist). About a year ago, I interviewed and took pictures of Marlon Young, the lead guitarist for Kid Rock’s Twisted Brown Trucker band. Young was very friendly.

Years ago in the Bee-Picayune, I wrote about writing and said this: writing is an art, not a science. As I’ve continued to grow as a writer, I feel that’s a comment that must be modified. Writing is a science in that you must learn the fundamentals, grammar rules and spelling. But it’s also an art in that you must develop your own individual style. It’s difficult to practice your art if you don’t have a grasp of grammar or if you can’t spell words.

Where would I like to see my writing career go in the future? In a few directions: journalism, blogging (which I suspect is where journalism’s slowly going) and fiction writing. Perhaps I’ll have those things to report on in 2020 when I write about 20 years.

In closing, here’s my favorite story in the past 10 years: While working at a newspaper in Comal County, we had a weekly question we’d ask of local residents for our Word on the Street segment. One week it was asking if people voted, the other week whether they planned to buy former President Bill Clinton’s then-recently-published autobiography, and so on. Some residents would decline to pose for a head shot while others would give their first name only.

One lady gave a great answer to one of the questions but then declined a photo or to even give her first name.

“Are you just shy?” I asked her.

She laughed. “Not really, but I do have a few outstanding warrants for my arrest, and the authorities don’t know I’m here in Canyon Lake.”

Richard Zowie grew up in Beeville and now works in Michigan as a writer. Post comments here or e-mail richardzowie@gmail.com.

From my journalism archives: Colonel Dick Mischke and his service in the Korean War

If there was ever an officer and a gentleman, it would be Air Force Colonel Dick Mischke. I had the privilege of interviewing him in 2000 while working for Prime Time Newspaper’s Kelly Observer. I remember it was a very hot day as we sat and talked in a house that he designed himself.

His comparison of enemy aircraft to mosquitoes still makes me chuckle…

 Col. Dick Mischke reflects on 182nd Fighter Squadron’s role in the Korean War

BY RICHARD ZOWIE

Observer staff writer

AUGUST 17, 2000

As veterans of the Korean War pause to reflect on the war they fought in 50 years ago, they evoke many memories of battles fought, wounds received, friends left behind and friends still unaccounted for.

One of those veterans of the Korean War was Dick Mischke, a retired Air Force colonel who served as a flight commander during the war. Mischke served in the 182nd Fighter Squadron, which today is part of the 149th Fighter Wing at Kelly Air Force Base.

But when the Korean War broke out, there was no 149th FW, and the 182nd FS was stationed at Brooks AFB, where it was organized in 1947. A pioneer among ANG units, the squadron was the first ANG squadron to see combat in Korea, the first to shoot down a MiG-15 jet and the first to successfully demonstrate the applicability of aerial refueling during combat.

Until the Korean War, Mischke and his fellow pilots normally flew in the propeller-driven F-51 aircraft. After the war started, beginning in October 1950, they trained in Lockheed jet-engine T-33 aircraft at Langley AFB, Va., to prepare for their missions in Republic F-84-E “Thunder Jet” aircraft, which they used for combat missions against the Soviet-made MiG aircraft.

“The 182nd FS really helped to usher in the jet age in aviation,” said Mischke, a flight commander during the war. “We were among the first human beings in the whole world to fly around the sky in jet aircraft then. At the time, there were very few jet fighters and no jet bombers, jet cargo aircraft, jet refueling or jet airline planes at all.”

Mischke, who also flew combat missions in P-38 aircraft during World War II, was flying in a F-51 Mustang fighter from Palm Beach, Fla., to Brooks Field on June 25, 1950, when he first heard an announcement on the radio of North Korea invading South Korea. Though America would soon find itself embroiled in a war on the other side of the world, Mischke notes with irony that many in America had never heard of Korea.

“When I landed my plane at Brooks, I asked the aircraft mechanic that met me if he had heard any news about the invasion of South Korea,” Mischke recalled. “The mechanic replied to me, ‘South Where?’”

Subsequently, Mischke and the 182nd FS became an element of the 136th Wing (nicknamed the “Texas Wing” because most of its members were Texans) and “shipped out” in the spring of 1951. They originally were stationed at Itazuke Air Base in Fukuoka, Japan, on the island of Kyushu. This was done because, at the time, North Korean troops occupied all of Korea except for the Pusan Perimeter in the southeastern corner of South Korea.

“Because of this, we would have to fly over 100 miles across the Sea of Japan and then another 200 miles to the bomb line,” explained Mischke, who was promoted to captain early in his tour. “The fighting itself was up way farther from the bomb line. It made for a very long mission and gave us little time to complete our mission and dog fight the MiGs with the necessary high power settings.”

After four months, the 182nd FS relocated to Taegu, Korea. From there, they continued their mission. “Our wing’s assignment was interdiction,” said Mischke. “We provided air-to-ground combat support to Army ground troops. We dive-bombed, strafed and dropped both aerial and napalm rockets. Most of our work dealt with dive-bombing the railroad tracks to cut off supply lines to enemy troops. We would also bomb warehouses, trucks and tanks that we knew were supplying the North Koreans.”

Mischke said his most memorable moment in the Korean War was in 1951 when he and his crew were bombing the main airport in North Korea, located in the capitol of Pyongyang.

“It would be like bombing the national airport in Washington, D.C.,” he explained. “The entire wing — what was left of it since we’d been losing pilots and aircraft all along — consisted of about 24 planes that went up and encountered a lot of MiGs. We dive-bombed the runways so that the enemy aircraft couldn’t use them. The anti-aircraft fire was extremely intense, and the MiGs were all over us like mosquitoes.”

Because the extreme danger of the overall mission, each pilot was to fly no more than 100 combat missions; there was also very little chance of returning to combat duty once pilots completed their missions and were rotated back to the states. One of Mischke’s friends in his squadron was killed on his 96th mission; sadly, another friend was killed while flying on his 99th mission.

During his time in Korea, Mischke had the opportunity to be around a man whom many consider to be the greatest hitter ever to play in Major League Baseball.

“I got to see Ted Williams on base a few times,” Mischke recalled of the Boston Red Sox star, who had a .344 lifetime batting average, 521 career home runs and was the last player to hit over .400 in a single season. “I was stationed in World War II with Joe DiMaggio, who played baseball for special services. As for Williams, he was a Marine pilot. He didn’t talk much and he wasn’t exactly a warm person, but he was well thought of. Ted was a very honorable man who kept his word in whatever he did. He was a great aviator.”

When Mischke finished his 100 combat missions in November 1951, he was transferred to the Air Force’s 5th Fighter Headquarters in Seoul to serve as a mission planning and briefing officer in the fighter division in the command operation center.

Four months later, Mischke returned back home and was stationed at Bergstrom Field in Austin, Texas, and that is where he was when the cease fire was signed. In total during the Korean War, the 182nd FS had flown 5,700 sorties, dropped 6,820 tons of bombs, fired 2,200 rockets and 1.5 million rounds of machine gun ammunition.

Although the Korean War ended in 1953 with a cease fire and no official winner, Mischke says that the 182nd FS played an important role. “Besides helping to pioneer the jet age, the 182nd FS proved itself in the Korean War as a unit that could immediately step up to fulfill the mission given to it,” said Mischke. “We were part of the team that helped keep South Korea out of communist hands.”

After the war, the 182nd FS switched back to flying F-51 and A-26 aircraft before permanently returning to jet aircraft in 1956 — the same year the 182nd FS transferred from Brooks to Kelly. Once Kelly realigns next year, both the 182nd FS and the 149th FW will become tenant organizations of Lackland AFB.