The Cold War.
"The Cuban Missile Crisis was the high point of the Cold War," said the colonel, who entered the Air Force in 1942 and retired in 1974. "The threats and counter threats culminated into a very dangerous crisis where missiles were aimed at our country that could've reached as far as Chicago and New England. It brought everything to a head," he said.
The Cold War era encompassed the mid-1940s to the early 1990s. The rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union included military might, a race to space, espionage, technological development and a nuclear arms race.
July 26, 1947:
President Harry S. Truman signed the National Defense Act of 1947 to establish the U. S. Air Force as a separate service. Additionally, an Air National Guard is established as a reserve component of the Air Force.
Sept. 18, 1947
W. Stuart Symington was sworn in as the first Secretary of the Air Force. His appointment effectively transferred all air activities from the Army to the new Air Force, and thus Sept. 18 is officially recognized as the Air Force's birthday.
Oct. 14, 1947
Air Force test pilot Capt. Charles "Chuck" Yeager became the first pilot to exceed the speed of sound, attaining Mach 1.06, 700 mph.
June 26, 1948
The Berlin Airlift began.
Sept. 30, 1949
The Berlin Airlift ended.
March 15, 1950
The Joint Chiefs of Staff gave the Air Force responsibility for all strategic-guided missiles.
June 30, 1950
President Truman authorized Army Gen. Douglas MacArthur, commander of United Nations forces in South Korea, to dispatch air forces against targets in North Korea.
April 18, 1951
An Aerobee research rocket flew a monkey into space, the first primate in space, from Holloman Air Force Base, N.M. It didn't survive the return to earth.
June 8, 1953
The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, officially designated the 3600th Air Demonstration Flight, performed at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., for their inaugural flight.
March 1, 1954
In the Marshall Islands, the United States successfully exploded its first hydrogen bomb.
April 1, 1954
President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed into law a bill creating the U.S. Air Force Academy.
Jan. 16-18, 1957
Three B-52 Stratofortresses from the 93rd Bombardment Wing made the world's first nonstop, around-the-world, jet flight in history.
May 1, 1960
Central Intelligence Agency pilot Francis Gary Powers was shot down while flying a U-2 during a mission over the Soviet Union. He was exchanged for a Soviet spy in 1961.
Oct. 1, 1960
The first Ballistic Missile Early Warning System station became operational at Thule, Greenland.
Jan. 31, 1961
Ham, a chimpanzee, was launched in a Mercury space capsule atop a Redstone booster rocket. He splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean, successfully testing the Mercury life support system.
Feb. 3, 1961
The Strategic Air Command initiated the Looking Glass program, a 24-hour continuous airborne command post operation. EC-135 Command Post planes and their equipment gave SAC the ability to launch manned bombers and intercontinental ballistic missiles in the event of a nuclear attack.
July 21, 1961
Capt. Virgil "Gus" Grissom became the second American in space, the first U.S. Air Force astronaut in space.
June 29, 1962
The first Minuteman missile launched by a military crew occurs at Cape Canaveral, Fla.
Oct. 15-28, 1962
The Cuban Missile Crisis began and lasted 13 days. Air Force reconnaissance photos revealed Soviet missile sites under construction.
March 2, 1965
Operation Rolling Thunder, a sustained air campaign against the North Vietnamese, began. It lasted three-and-one-half years.
Jan. 2, 1967
Col. Robin Olds, the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing commander, shot down a MiG and became the only Air Force Ace with aerial victories in World War II and the Vietnam War.
April 3, 1967
Paul Airey became the first chief master sergeant of the Air Force.
July 8, 1969
The first troops were withdrawn from Vietnam under President Richard Nixon's policy of "Vietnamization."
July 20, 1969
Man landed on the moon.
March 15, 1970
All U.S. military bases were connected by phone when the overseas part of the automatic voice network, called Autovon, was connected.
July 16, 1971
Jeanne Holm became the first female general officer in the Air Force.
May 10, 1972
Operation Linebacker I began. It ended on Oct. 23, 1972.
April 29-30, 1975
The last Americans, 10 Marines from the embassy, departed Saigon, ending U.S. presence in Vietnam.
Sept. 1, 1975
Daniel "Chappie" James Jr. is elevated to the rank of general, the first African American four-star general in American military history.
Nov. 29, 1975
The first "Red Flag" began at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. Recognizing that combat experience increases the chances of survival in wartime, this realistic training exercise provided an initial margin of "combat" for American aviators. Today, "Red Flag" offers both combined and joint training. Recently, "Cope Thunder," held in Alaska annually, was renamed "Red Flag-Alaska."
Aug. 12, 1977
Two Air Force pilots made the first glide test of the Space Shuttle "Enterprise" at the Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.
Feb. 22, 1978
The first Global Positioning System satellite, NAVSTAR, is launched into orbit atop an Atlas F booster rocket.
Dec. 8-9, 1978
After the collapse of the Shah of Iran's government, Air Force C-5 Galaxies and C-141 Starlifters evacuated some 900 people from Tehran.
May 18-June 5, 1980
Mount Saint Helens, Wash., erupted and the Air Force provided humanitarian assistance.
Oct. 1, 1980
Operation Elf One, the deployment of E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft and KC-135 Stratotankers to Saudi Arabia, began to better monitor Saudi airspace during the Iran-Iraq War. The operation continued for eight years.
Sept. 1, 1982
The Air Force Space Command activated at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo.
The Air Force Demonstration Squadron, Thunderbirds, began performances in their newest aircraft, the F-16 Fighting Falcon, the jet they still fly today.
Oct. 23-Dec. 9, 1983
After terrorists attack a Marine Corps barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, Military Airlift Command and Air Force Reserve forces transported 239 dead and 95 wounded Americans to the United States and European hospitals for care and burial.
Oct. 25-Nov. 3, 1983
Joint American military forces staged Operation Urgent Fury, a raid into Grenada to restore democracy, evacuated medical students and eliminated a hostile Cuban/Soviet base.
Jan. 28, 1986
The Space Shuttle "Challenger" exploded. All seven crew members were killed, including Air Force Lt. Col. Ellison Onizuka and former Air Force officers, Francis "Dick" Scobee and Gregory Jarvis.
April 28-May 7, 1986
Air Weather Service WC-130s gathered details about a nuclear accident at Chernobyl, Soviet Union.