Like tens-of-thousands of airmen before him and thousand more who served after him, it wasn’t the time Ralph Fitzner of Alameda Isles Mobile Home Park in Englewood served in the Air Force that made a big difference in his life. It was the G.I. Bill he signed up for when he got out of the service that made all the difference.
He was a teenager working on a farm when he graduated from high school in 1950. It was the start of the Korean War that year.
“When I realized the draft was breathing down my neck I joined the Air Force in 1952,” he explained. “I took basic at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. Then I was stationed at Craig Air Force Base near Selma, Ala. in supply. I handled everything from sheets and pillow cases to ammunition.
“I stayed state-side for 2½ years and eventually became a supply sergeant. Then I volunteered to go to Newfoundland. My orders were changed and I ended up in Thule, Greenland, inside the Arctic Circle. I arrived there in February 1954.
“It was a big RADAR installation with 4,000 men on the ground. We were also an anti-aircraft installation with a fighter intercepter squadron,“ Fitzner said. “Our job was to watch what the Russians were doing.
“My job was to help maintain the base. We had to keep the base running all through the winter,” he said.
Entertainment at Thule boiled down to the base movie and the PX.
“After 364 days of service in Greenland I flew home to the States. I got a 30-day leave then I was stationed at the Air Force Base near Detroit,” he said. “When I went in the Air Force at 20 in 1952 I was a kid. When I got out four years later in ’56 I had grown up.
“I immediately signed up for the G.I. Bill upon discharge. I went to Michigan Tech and graduated four years later with a degree in accounting. I began with the idea of becoming an engineer, but switched to accounting early on. I would have been a lousy engineer.”
“I joined the Internal Revenue Service shortly after graduation from Tech and for the next 31 years served as an auditor for the IRS. I began as a field agent checking the tax returns of small businesses and ended up auditing the accounts of GM, Ford and Chrysler.
“My whole life was courtesy of the G.I. Bill. The best thing that ever happened to me was going into the Air Force. I grew up and got an education through the G.I. Bill. Then I got a job with the IRS. I have no complaints.
“I love my country and I wouldn’t live any other place but Englewood.”
Fitzner and his wife, Angela, moved to this area from Michigan last year. He has a daughter, Martha, from his first marriage.
Name: Ralph Fitzner
D.O.B: 4 April 1932
Hometown: Sparta, Mich.
Currently: Englewood, Fla.
Entered Service: 20 Feb 1952
Discharged: 15 Feb 1956
Rank: Airman 1st Class
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, Aug. 20, 2018 and is republished with permission.
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