Veterans Voice: Joe Kalenowsky
Cameron resident Joe Kalenowsky enlisted in the United States Air Force in December of 1951. He took basic training in San Antonio, Texas. Following basic, Joe was sent to Jet Mechanic School at Amarillo, Texas, (now deactivated) for six months. Amarillo was the first “all jet” mechanic training center. Joe reported that they were taught all aspects of what makes an airplane fly. A fascinating demonstration by an instructor involved the “flying screwdriver”. The instructor applied an airstream at the proper angle and then walking around the room with the “flying” screwdriver. It was an effective demonstration of aerodynamics.
Following mechanic school, Joe was sent to MacDill AFB in Tampa, Florida. where he served as a jet mechanic. At one point the entire base was sent to England for 90 days temporary assignment. The planes were deployed on different missions. Eventually all 45 aircraft (B-47’s) landed back at Lakenheath, Royal Air Force Base prior to returning to MacDill. On the return flight from England, Joe’s plane was running very low on fuel and could not locate a refuel tanker. They were considering landing options before they finally ended up finding a tanker and refueling.
After returning to MacDill, Joe was transferred to what was then called Sedalia Air Force Base but is now known as Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri. Joe became the “crew chief” for a B-47 Jet bomber. Joe said it was a big responsibility for a young man, being in charge of a multi-million-dollar aircraft. Joe and his crew were responsible for making certain that the aircraft was constantly in excellent flying condition. Immediately after their plane landed, they conducted an inspection, repairing any problems, and performing needed maintenance.
On one occasion, returning to deployment in Africa, the plane encountered a huge thunderstorm when the plane’s antenna was struck by lightning. Joe was in a crawl space beneath the cockpit when the lightning struck, and says the cockpit lit up very bright. Joe had his toolbox in the crawl space and wondered “What do I need to fix?”, but no maintenance was necessary, and the plane landed safely back at Sedalia AFB.
Once, when the plane returned from a test flight, it needed a new “drag shoot” (parachutes for slowing down the plane after landing). With the pilot and co-pilot still in the plane with the engines still running at idle speed, on a hot day with a lot of engine noise, Joe hit his head during the inspection. He ignored the pain. A little later Joe noticed the pilots staring down at him as they taxied back to the runway. Joe felt his head and realized he had been hurt badly and was bleeding profusely. It took many stitches to close the wound.
Near the end of Joe’s service time the squadron was sent to England. With only three and a half months left before discharge, Joe felt he wouldn’t be asked to go. But the Line Chief told him, “if your plane goes, you go”. He ended up with 90 days in England.
Joe received his honorable discharge on December 4, 1955. The very next day, as had been planned, Joe married Dorothy Smith of Polo at a church in Kansas City. The scars from the stitches were still visible.
Joe had dropped out of high school, and therefore had no diploma. He earned his GED while in the Air Force, which became invaluable after military service. Joe and Dorothy moved back to Chicago, Joe’s hometown, where his GED allowed him to secure a job at Commonwealth Edison Electric, from which he retired in 1989. While living in Chicago, Joe and Dorothy often vacationed at the family farm near Polo, Missouri. They would fish, visit with relatives, and simply relax. This was a big change-of-pace for a city boy from Chicago!
Joe and Dorothy raised two sons who also served in the military. Phil served 8 years as a Marine, and Eddie was in the Air Force for 14 years and was a “crew chief” like his dad. Unfortunately, both are now deceased. But they have a daughter-in-law and 26-year-old grandson (Karl) living in Maryland.
Joe and Dorothy moved to Cameron in 1995. Joe was an avid golfer and played both in Chicago and Cameron as long as he was physically able. He and Dorothy have been active citizens of Cameron. Joe is very adept with the computer and audio-visual work and has videoed many church events and setting them to music.
Joe experienced many difficulties in life, especially as a youngster. but has developed a solid life philosophy, has many stories to share, and is always willing to offer good advice. He has “made good” in life following a difficult childhood and is very proud of his military career.