Tommy Williams

Tommy Williams shows off his cross-stitch artwork of the Air Force Thunderbirds.

SHREVEPORT, La. -- Tommy Williams was a youngster growing up in Highland, playing some basketball outside, when a sight and a sound gave him another goal to shoot for.

"All of a sudden this silver F-100 flew over my backyard and I looked up and that was my first introduction to the Thunderbirds." Tommy remembers. "And I decided right then that was what I was going to do."

But when he was old enough to enlist in the Air Force, a bad eye test washed him out of his dream of becoming a Thunderbird pilot -- or any kind of pilot.

Forced to find another field, he chose security forces.

During the Vietnam War, that made him part of an intelligence team that tried to keep his base safe from enemy rockets. But the enemy would do sneak attacks in the middle of the night.

Tommy remembers the booming voice on a loudspeaker.

"'Incoming! Incoming! Incoming!' Tommy recalls of the alert. "And you were usually awake by the second 'incoming' and rolling out of bed."

He counted a dozen rocket attacks during his year-long tour in 1970.

"Even though we weren't actual combat -- we were -- because there were people out there trying to harm people on the base," Tommy says.

And his dream of flying? Well, one day, he got to climb aboard a Cessna on a surveillance mission to mark enemy targets. And the pilot even letter Tommy at the controls.

"Through reading and various things I knew how to fly," Tommy explained. "I knew how to manipulate the controls to do what I wanted the airplane to do.

"And that was probably the most exciting and fun opportunity that I had while I was in Vietnam. Because I got to live my dream and flying an airplane for the U.S. Air Force. Not that that knew it at the time," Tommy added with a laugh.

Flying at low level, Tommy ventured over a mountainous area he wanted to see -- but also where North Vietnamese Army were known to be.

"We could've literally gotten shot down. Evidently I did a pretty good job because we made it back," Tommy said with another laugh.

Tommy always held on to his love of the Thunderbirds -- cross-stitching artwork of four Thunderbird F-16's in a diamond formation that hangs in his home. But he holds on to his own memories of his war service.

"Proud to be a veteran. Proud to have given what I could in support of our country," he says.

After eight years in the Air Force, Tommy spent 30 years in human resource management. But he says he still feels more connected to his security forces days.

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