My grandson Daniel, and grandnephew Nigel are 18 years old and have both been in JROTC at their high school for the last three to four years. Nigel was Corp Commander (the highest student position of their program) this last year, and graduated Thursday night. Last week, my daughter (Daniel’s mother) gave the following tribute to the great grandfather of these two amazing young men – my father – Albert (Holguin) Ford – through tears, and to a standing ovation by the audience of over 500 people including 100 Cadets their proud families and friends. I share her talk with you (with minor editing for clarity) in memory of my daddy, and in the memory of all who have proudly served our wonderful country …
“In 1916, as a very young woman pregnant with her first child made her way across the Rio Grande, leaving Mexico behind so she could have her child born in the US in hopes of a better life. Maria Ojeda Holguin gave birth to a son on April 23rd, 1917 in El Paso Texas where they lived till the child was about 3. He was unofficially adopted by the inventor of a tortilla and taco shell making machine, the young family moved to Watts, California where he spent the rest of his early life growing up.
As a teen he was a competitive swimmer, and through hard work, perseverance and commitment he earned a full swimming scholarship to UCLA, something unheard of for a poor Hispanic boy from East LA.
At the beginning of WWII in 1939; wanting to serve his country, he made the decision to join the Army Air Corp. Being college educated, he had a small advantage. He not only earned his pilot’s license but through determination and strength of mind he also earned the rank of Lieutenant. He served his country proudly somewhere in Europe, never really giving anyone a specific location or what his exact duties were. Upon returning home, he continued his pilot career with the military as a flight instructor until approximately 1948. He loved flying and he realized that he loved teaching just as much.
He met the love of his life at the end of 1949 and they were married a few months later. He stayed on reserve status until 1952 when he returned to active duty and was deployed to Korea as a Pilot, this time being promoted to Captain. His duties were to refuel other aircrafts while airborne. He again was very tight lipped about his exact duties, as I have learned that many military personnel were at this time.
In 1955, he was transferred to Hickam AFB in Hawaii and served with a squadron that performed air rescue missions for distressed and missing aircraft in the middle of the Pacific. In his spare time, he took up a new and exciting challenge … surfing. He soon was competing at Makaha and on the infamous North Shore of Oahu.
As 1957 rolled around, he was transferred to Vandenberg AFB, California, a Strategic Air Command base. Though he was still a pilot, he was assigned to the Pacific Test Range Missile Program in its earliest developing stages. As a Missile Safety Officer, he was responsible for investigating accidents surrounding missile launches and missiles that had to be destroyed due to faulty launches. In his spare time he formed the Vandenberg Air Force Base Surf Club where he taught surfing to youth and military personnel.
In the early 60’s, despite his experience and expertise, he discovered that because he was a minority he had been twice passed up for a promotion to Major. There were many other non-minority officers that had continued to be promoted. It is a little known fact that minorities at that time were rarely promoted to anything above Captain. The rule was, if you were passed up twice for a promotion, you were out. This caused him to lose his Pilots status and he became a casualty of being “RIFed” (a Reduction in Force). It was a hard defeat to take, especially since he was only 4 years short of retirement and had a family to care for.
In order to save his retirement status he set aside his pride, and had the fortitude to re-enlist as an Airman but was quickly promoted to a Staff Sgt. In 1966 this time off to Saigon, Vietnam, he was assigned to the Staff Judge Advocate’s Office. Again, like many military personnel in combat situations, he remained reluctant to share about his actual duties overseas. It was upon his return from Saigon, his family learned that his duties were not sitting in an office, but rather flying in helicopters to the demilitarized zone to assist with POW exchanges.
Ending his third war tour, his final place to be stationed was back at Hickam AFB serving out his last two years of service doing “office work”. In 1971, he retired, moving ranks from Captain to Major. No sooner did he return to Hawaii, he was right back in the water, this time as a Licensed Outrigger Canoe Captain, a lifeguard trainer for the beach lifeguards, and a highly recognized & acknowledged surf instructor at his beloved Waikiki Beach where he taught literally thousands of people from all over the world to surf. He continued to be an active part of the world renowned Waikiki Beach Boys Canoe Club.
Upon moving back to California in 1984 (now 67 years old) he taught himself and his grandchildren to snow ski, and competed in the Boreal Ridge Coca-Cola senior slalom racing events until trees became too much of an obstacle (trees don’t move, even for the Major). This only redirected his focus to teaching skiing to children with special needs and fellow seniors. His mission in life continued to be apparent: to learn, to teach and to encourage others to do the same. He insisted that one should keep pushing forward no matter what the challenges or obstacles you face are and to move past the disappointments, always saying: “Let’s go baby!”
He lived by the Air Force Core Values: Integrity first, Service Before Self, Excellence In All We Do
As the sun rose on December, 23, 1999, surrounded by his loved ones, Retired Major Albert Ford passed away. Big Al, Dad, Grandpa (or GP on the beach because of all the ladies in bikinis….) would have been 96 on April 24. Big Al’s wishes were to be cremated and, despite the fact that he was “The Major”, his wishes were honored and his ashes were scattered just off the shore of Sheraton Beach in Waikiki. His beach boy cronies gave him a traditional Beach Boy’s farewell – leis scattered in the water, the Honu (sea turtles) coming to take him back to the sea, a mist of rain from the mountains … one last ride on the canoe, one last wave to catch…….
Lt. Col. Brannon, could you please join me on stage? (Daniel was already standing by her side holding my Dad’s folded and encased flag from the USAF from when he passed away)
Though a modest man, Retired Major Albert Ford was a very proud man. He could not have been any more proud of the legacy he left behind ~ his most important and cherished of them all, his grandbabies and great grandbabies. Big Al has 3 generations sitting in this room this evening, including his daughter, son, 2 granddaughters, a grandson and 4 of his 15 great grandchildren.
It is with great honor that I stand here this evening with these two astounding young men, sharing the story of their great grandfather. I know he would have been most proud of these two gentlemen. On behalf of the entire family, Tech Sgt. Daniel Chabino would like to present Lt. Col Nigel Brannon with the ceremonial flag that was presented to the family by the United States Air Force he so proudly served for more than 28 years.
It is your dedication to learning, determination to achieve everything you can possibly achieve, your ability to lead, guide and teach others to do the same and to be your very best was everything grandpa sought to instill in all of us. And last but not least, Nigel, you love surfing!
Thank you Casa Robles JROTC for giving me the opportunity to share with you the memoirs of a Pilot, the teacher, a surfer, our grandfather, The Major.”
In the spirit of Memorial Day ….. Namaste …
I honor you – and all that have served ….