Whether flying high to protect American skies or saving fellow soldiers in the line of duty, United States Air Force Pilot Roger Youngblood has lived a life of bravery in the face of danger and has lived to tell the tale.
A military career for Youngblood has seen several acclamations and recognitions. He’s received mention in Smithsonian’s Air and Space Magazine, as well as a total of 48 awards.
But what preluded his 24 year-long military career was an active Taylor upbringing.
He participated in multiple sports and credited his coaches for being his influences after his father passed away when he was a child. He also loved being a team player.
“I liked being a team player and I did well in all sports,” he said. “I did football, basketball, track and baseball. I lost my father when I was young, so a lot of my coaches and teachers were my mentors. When I got into college football, those coaches were mentors too. My biggest mentor was Coach Short, who was a Taylor High School teacher and track coach. He was really great.”
He was also a Boy Scout member, which he said taught him discipline and guidance.
Those traits are what Youngblood mentioned in his speech at the Veteran’s Day program at Taylor Middle School Monday, Nov. 11.
“There are parallels between veterans and being in the school system,” he said. “You concentrate and it pays off in the long run.”
His grade-school concentration guided him through college at Abilene Christian College, where he studied marketing and business after receiving a four-year scholarship.
Following college graduation, Youngblood was drafted into the military and decided to join the Air Force after visiting all sections of the military and passing a test that qualified him to be a pilot.
He trained at the Medina Base in San Antonio and the Reese Air Force Base in Lubbock before serving in the Vietnam War.
His most notable work in Vietnam was his work in U Taphao, where he seized American-owned aircrafts with fellow serviceman Jack Drummond in 1975.
The war in Vietnam ended with North Vietnam in 1973, but South Vietnam was still at war, according to Youngblood.
With the fall of South Vietnam’s government on April 29, 1975, Youngblood said General Harry Aderholt sent him on the mission, resulting in him successfully obtaining the aircrafts and keeping them from being taken by North Vietnam.
“We gave [South Vietnam] a lot of airplanes,” he said. “There were a lot of A-1 (aircrafts) there and he told me to get as many A-1s as I could before North Vietnam takes them. Once South Vietnam fell, North Vietnam’s [job] was to take [the planes]. We got into those planes without a checklist, and if there were one, it would’ve been in [another language]. I also hadn’t been in a plane in a while.”
A full-length, in-depth telling of the mission is featured the January 1997 issue of Smithsonian Air and Space Magazine.
Flying planes out of Vietnam, as well as guiding them out against those odds, stands as one of Youngblood greatest accomplishments. Another is getting a Distinguished Flying Cross, which he earned four times by rescuing other members while exposing himself to opposing militia.
Concluding his service was a four-year assignment in Thailand, where he worked as a developer and advisor for the Air Force. He was also awarded the Top Gun award for his high score in a military competition.
After his military career, he moved back to Taylor to open a mortgage loan business and take care of his mother and he was inducted into Taylor High School’s Duck Hall of Fame in 2017.
While he gives speeches about his service to several museums across the nation, the ones at home are what hit home for Youngblood, as he felt a great duty to pass his wisdom on to the audience at Taylor Middle School.
“The most important thing is to be loyal to your country, pilots and to your mission,” he said. “Loyalty was a big thing I learned in Taylor Sports and in college sports too. Teachers spend a lot of [helping students], so students should respect their teachers like we would our commander.”