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Edwards' last B-52 flight in 1987

Edwards flew B-52s

By Michael Butler

Many Tallassee folks know Mike Edwards. He was a third grade teacher at Tallassee Elementary School for 13 years, but it is quite interesting to learn how he landed here.

Edwards, 81, is a retired Air Force colonel who flew B-52s in Vietnam. He hails from Kansas City, Mo., but his travels while in the service have taken him all over the United States and beyond.

"I've been to every state - touched the ground in every state except Alaska. I've flown north of Alaska," Edwards said. "Navigation is an amazing thing. You're on top of the world. You look around this country and get the opportunity to see it. It really gives you an appreciation of who we are."

After graduating from the ROTC program at the University of Missouri and doing extensive pilot training with the Air Force at numerous U.S. bases, Edwards was ready for his overseas assignment during the Vietnam Conflict.

"The B-52s were Strategic Air Command (SAC)," he said. "We flew out of Guam, Japan and Thailand."

Edwards did three stints and logged 846 combat hours in the U.S. effort.

"In December of '72, the B-52s were all going to Hanoi and Haiphong. They were getting shot out by North Vietnamese and God knows who else. It becomes very personal for somebody down on the ground when you've got a B-52 strike coming. Those B-52s carried 108 bombs. We always flew in threes. That's 324 bombs raining down. It took care of a lot of problems for a lot of guys.

"We were at 30,000 feet. We'd get Anti-Aircraft Artillery (AAA) that would shoot at us. That was not a threat. The real threat was the Service Air Missiles (SAMs) when they locked on to you."

That latter occured a few times.

"You jam them so they can't see you. You've got chaff you can put out if you need to confuse their radar signal. We were able to do it. That's why when the B-52s went north, they always had support packages and why it was so successful. That's why the Vietnamese came back to the table and we got our prisoners released. There was a lot of satisfaction having been a part of that. It's just too bad we didn't do it a lot sooner."

B-52 dropping bombs in Vietnam
(U.S. Air Force)

In all, Edwards flew approximately 4,800 hours from 1966-87.

"My last flight was aircraft 61-0040. It was the last B-52 made. I got to fly my last flight in the last B-52 that came down the assembly line. It was an incredible thing. If you had planned that, it wouldn't have happened."

Edwards was stationed at Maxwell Air Force Base on a couple of occasions including his last with the military. He retired in 1991 after 27 years of service.

Edwards

The most common route for retired military pilots is to fly commercially. It was an option Edwards considered.

"A friend of mine was at Delta. He set me up to talk to guy in Atlanta at their headquarters. He said, 'The only problem we have are your eyes aren't 20/20. Once you get hired you can get glasses.' I gave it some serious thought. I didn't know if I wanted to be going into O'Hare in the weather, so I didn't pursue it."

Instead, Edwards went back to college at Auburn University in Montgomery. He added a Master's degree in Early Childhood Education to his Master's he received earlier in Public Administration.

"I graduated one night and came to work in Tallassee the next day. Mr. (James) Bush and Mr. (Glen) Baggett hired this old guy. I started in 1995 and retired in 2008. The way kids are in third grade is how they're going to be in life. It's amazing to watch that."

Edwards has since battled through prostate cancer. He and his wife Claire now raise their eight dogs on Blackjack Road.

"Claire used to show dogs. We don't do that anymore. We just take care of everybody, enjoy ourselves and enjoy life."