The Liberty Gazette
November 18, 2008
November 18, 2008
The View From Up Here
By Mike Ely and Linda Street Ely
Mike: In his seven years as a U.S. Air Force Air Traffic Controller at Austin’s Bergstrom Air Force Base, Lawrence worked as both a local controller in the Control Tower, and an approach controller qualified to perform Precision Approach Radar (PAR) approaches, where the controller literally talks the aircraft right down to the ground.
Recalling the Northrop T-38 supersonic trainer jets that would come over from San Antonio to do touch-n-go’s and PAR approaches, he says fighter pilots know how to keep a tight formation – working with the T-38s wing-tip to wing-tip was “a lot of fun.” But the Boeing B-52 Bombers were a different story. “Those pilots thought if they were twelve miles apart they were in formation,” he grins.
Serving on the Presidential Support Team during President Lyndon B. Johnson’s term in office, he recalls fondly LBJ arriving on Air Force One and being picked up by helicopter and taken to his ranch west of the city. The Secret Service insisted on keeping the same controllers in place, so Airmen on the Presidential Support Team did not go to Vietnam. Serving on that team also meant being promoted in rank more quickly than other Airmen. Recipient of an Air Force Commendation Medal and honorably discharged as a Technical Sergeant, making that rank in fewer than ten years – an incredible accomplishment in itself – Lawrence’s “can-do” attitude was instilled by his commanding officers and clearly contributes to his success.
During his service in the capitol city, he met a man who ran a funeral home. It was tough finding people to work funerals so Lawrence offered to help. For six dollars he’d direct traffic or drive a hearse or limousine part-time.
When he left the Air Force, he figured he’d work as an FAA Air Traffic Controller but due to heart trouble he was offered a position in the Air Route Traffic Control Center or in Flight Service Stations. Lawrence had enjoyed working in the airport control towers, and now that those doors were closed to him, he opted to go another direction: mortuary services school in Dallas.
With about 12 hours at the controls of a Cessna 172 and other airplanes, “Mostly,” he says, “from the six years spent transporting bodies,” Larry Wagnon of Allison Funeral Service in Liberty enjoys his work; it is his passion. He believes that everyone who calls his number there at Allison becomes a part of his family and wants them to come away with a sense that someone really cared enough to do the very best they could for them.
Linda: Larry came to Liberty about five years ago, and with his background and enthusiasm for this community, he sees the potential for a bright future for Liberty Municipal Airport. He’s convinced that, “Sensible economic development can occur,” as a result of the airport. “This area is going to boom,” he insists, “and we can either be part of it or watch it swallow us up. I want to see us prosper, and I know the health of our airport can play a vital role in smart economic development for Liberty County.”
Whether at work serving families in a time of need, serving in the Lions Club, Rotary, or the Chamber of Commerce, there’s no doubt Larry Wagnon is dedicated to our community.
Mike and Linda can be reached at Texasaviator@aol.com.