Former 137th commander turns 100

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Brigette Waltermire
  • 137th Special Operations Wing

On the 137th Special Operations Wing wall of former commanders, top row, third from the left, hangs an official photo and biography for U.S. Air Force Col. (Ret.) Fred C. Seals, Jr. 

His photo is one of sixteen hanging on the conference room wall, spanning seventy years of service with the 137th. Seals became wing commander for the-then 137th Military Airlift Wing (MAW) in November 1971. He held the position for two years and was succeeded by U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Stanley F.H. Newman in 1973.

“Well, it was very easy going because I had a lot of good men working there,” Seals said. “We needed to make a decision, so we'll get together and talk about it. And like I said, there was a lot of good officers and Airmen, so it was an easy job for me really.”

Seals, who turned 100 April 9, 2022,  joined the Oklahoma Air National Guard in 1962, and served as the commander of the 185th Military Airlift Squadron and 137th Military Airlift Group before taking charge of the 137th MAW.

“They had the fighters (F-86D and F-86L Saber Dogs) but when I was commander we started flying the C-124, which they called ‘Old Shaky,’” he recalled. “The airplanes were stationed at Tinker (Air Force Base), and later on we moved them over to Will Rogers.”

The C-124C Globemaster II arrived on the flight line of at Will Rogers Air National Guard Base in February of 1968, and Airmen continued to fly air cargo missions around the world.

“We flew from the base to Tinker and loaded up with something, then we’d go to California and onto Hawaii,” Seals said. “Some trips would then go on to Saipan and back. We worked hard all the time because we had a mission all the time.”

Seals is a veteran of World War II, the Berlin Airlift, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. One of the things he is proudest of in his career is that no man who flew with him ever received a Purple Heart. 

“That was one of the first things Fred told me when I met him,” said Babette Seals, Fred’s daughter-in-law. “None of his guys ever got a Purple Heart because, when they were with him, he always got them back safely — even if he had to crash land, which he did four times in World War II.”

Seals recalled one particular crash where he thought his crew might have to parachute into Germany. 

“One mission we were shot up pretty bad, and I had to pull out of the formation and head back,” said Seals, at the time a B-17 pilot. “I told the crew to put their parachutes on because they were going to have to bail out, and we were still over Germany. One of the engineers called up and asked ‘Well what are you going to do?’ I said ‘I’m sticking with it. I’m going to crash land it somewhere in France.’ They said ‘Lieutenant we’re sticking with you, we’re not getting out of this airplane.’ So I flew it all the way back to France and crash-landed it belly up — you know, with no landing gear down — in a field.”

It seems like four airplane crashes would be the most memorable moments of anyone’s career, but the one that sticks out most starkly for Seals was during his time in the Korean War. Then-Capt. Seals was a senior officer in the Psychological Warfare Squadron and flew on the C-46 Commando. On one flight, he was helping dump supplies from a cargo door when the plane hit an air pocket. He was thrown out, and then somehow fell back in. 

“I don’t know many people who leave an aircraft mid flight and manage to get back on,” he chuckled, “and I don’t want to do it again.”

The year Seals took command of the 137th MAW (1971) saw Operation Haylift, where the 137th airdropped 150 tons of hay to cattle spread across 16 western Oklahoma counties. This was one of the last major operations the C-124C Globemaster II would fly in Oklahoma. 

At that point, C-124s were only used by the Guard because they were being phased out of the Air Force. Seals was commander when one of the C-124s was gifted to the South Korean Air Force Museum in Seoul in 1972 because the wing was slated to receive C-130As starting in 1973.

During the last eight months of Seals’ time as commander, the wing was averaging one C-124 mission every three days. Between July 1972 and April 1973, the Wing flew 92 missions supporting a joint U.S./Canadian research experiment called Polar Cap Three, and another five cargo sorties to Thule, Greenland, which was 480 miles from the North Pole. During this time, the wing also flew 87 other missions between the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand. 

“We seemed to fit right in the Air Force, and to do our mission we had no problems at all,” he said. “In fact, we got several pin-ups. We were recognized as a very efficient outfit, which it was before me, too — and after.”

When Seals retired from the Guard in February of 1973, the Tulsa Air Guard had just received its fighter mission and the 137th was slowly transitioning to be a Tactical Airlift Wing. Seals did not wander too far from the base after his retirement. He went on to work for an architecture firm where he had a hand in the designs for the terminal for Will Rogers World Airport and the FAA Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center. He stayed on and wrote the newsletter for the Gray Eagles, which is the retiree association for Will Rogers Air National Guard Base.

Seals also served in the community, becoming the president of the South Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce as well as serving as governor for the Texas and Oklahoma Kiwanis Foundation. He and his wife, Dottie, founded a leadership training event for the youth of the Kiwanis called the "Weekend of a Lifetime" Program. They would mentor high-schoolers in ways to serve their communities during a convention held once a year in Dallas.

“I have a very lovable family — they supported me in everything I did and worked with me,” Seals said. “And my wife, she was a loving little old redhead.”

“She was a saint is what she was — Saint Dottie!” Babette said (with a laugh).

Seals agreed, “That’s right, I’d say saint. But we are a happy family.” 

And that love of service did not stop with Seals and Dottie, but was passed down to their children and grandchildren — who have served in the military as well as their respective communities. His family’s generational military service includes his father (a WWI veteran), three sons, a grandson, and a great grandson. Two sons went into the Air National Guard, one in air cargo and the other in medical. His third son, and Babette’s husband, was a sergeant major in the Oklahoma Army National Guard and served in Iraq. Seals’ grandson graduated from the United States Military Academy West Point and received a Bronze Star for his service in Afghanistan. His great grandson is currently serving in the Army as a helicopter mechanic.

“Having family in both services, we’ve got one day a year when we watch football where we have to go into separate rooms to either root for the Army or the Air Force,” Babette joked. 

Seals received a State of Oklahoma award on his 100th birthday, named after his successor as wing commander: The Stanley F.H. Newman Award honors civilians who contribute to the Oklahoma Air National Guard mission. Seals was recognized for his lifetime of service in a multitude of roles to the Soldiers, Airmen and families of the Oklahoma National Guard, as well as his impact on the continued success of the Oklahoma Air National Guard. The 137th Special Operations Wing is one of two Guard wings under Air Force Special Operations Command and is currently leading the fight to adapt to a changing operating environment, all while maintaining the standards of excellence set by leaders like Col. Seals, Maj. Gen. Newman, and countless others who served alongside them.