Such an Honor

Missouri Director of Revenue Wayne Wallingford, a 25-year Air Force veteran who served in the Vietnam and Persian Gulf wars, headlines Kansas City Flag Day ceremonies at 10 a.m., June 14, 2024, at the Missouri Korean War Veterans Memorial, Washington Square Park, 100 E. Pershing Road.
By Jeremy P. Ämick

As a child growing up in the rural farm community of Geneva, Illinois, Wayne Wallingford was bequeathed a sense of patriotism and love of country. He recalls listening to his father tell stories of his naval service in World War II and attending Memorial Day services, where it was tradition to place small American flags on the graves of World War II veterans in a local cemetery. These experiences helped imbue Wallingford with a respect for the American flag and later inspired his own decision to serve in the U.S. Air Force.

His father was a blue-collar factory worker and while still in school, Wallingford worked for him for several summers. After graduating from Geneva High School in 1964, the aspiring young man chose to pursue his interest in obtaining a business degree and enrolled in classes at the University of Nebraska—Omaha.

“The Omaha campus only had an Air Force ROTC program, and back at that time, students had the choice of taking physical education or ROTC,” he explained. “I enjoyed the ROTC program and since I had grown up listening to my father and other relatives speak about their service, I decided to stick with ROTC the entire four years of college.”

Graduating with his bachelor’s degree in business in June 1968, he also received his commission as a second lieutenant in the Air Force. Two weeks later, believing he would immediately receive orders to report to flight training, Wallingford and his fiancée, Susan, were married.

After graduating high school in 1964, Wayne Wallingford went on to receive his commission through the Air Force ROTC program at the University of Nebraska—Omaha. Completing a 25-year career that included flying more than 300 combat missions in Vietnam, he now serves as the director of the Missouri Department of Revenue. Courtesy of Jeremy P. Ämick
Wallingford, left, received the Silver Star medal from Gen. John Meyer, commander-in-chief of Strategic Air Command, on September 18, 1975. Courtesy of Wayne Wallingford

With a chuckle, he added, “She had wanted a fall wedding, but we moved the wedding forward anticipating my orders … but the orders didn’t come until several months later.”

His active-duty career began in November 1968, when reporting to Mather Air Force Base (AFB) near Sacramento for training as a navigator. During the next few months, he trained on a T-29 “Flying Classroom,” a dual-engine aircraft used to introduce Air Force navigators to flight.

Lt. Wallingford remained at Mather AFB for training as an electronic warfare officer followed by survival training at Fairchild AFB in Washington. From there, he was sent to Castle AFB in Atwater, California, to upgrade to the B-52D Stratofortress. After qualifying on the bomber, he received his first duty assignment in August 1970, when stationed at Carswell AFB in Fort Worth, Texas.

The next 2-1/2 years became a bevy of activity since Wallingford began the first of five combat deployments to Vietnam in December 1970.

“Most of our bombing missions were flown out of U-Tapao, Thailand,” he recalled. “I completed more than 300 bombing missions while I was over there, the most dangerous ones near Hanoi because it was the most heavily defended area in the Vietnam War.”

He continued, “Operation Linebacker II was probably the most significant of the mission assignments. The bombing campaign was from December 18 to 29, 1972, and by the end of the operation, 24 planes were hit by surface to air missiles and 15 went down. Our plane was damaged by shrapnel from a surface to air missile that detonated near us, but none of us were hurt and we were able to make it back.”

Finishing his tours in Vietnam in 1973, Wallingford was stationed at Offutt AFB in Omaha, flying reconnaissance missions on the Boeing RC-135, from several locations worldwide. He was then sent to March AFB in California, serving as the director of reconnaissance air crew training.

“I did a three-year joint tour at Camp H.M. Smith in Hawaii as the chief of electronics intelligence for the Pacific theater,” he said. “That was interesting because during that time, there was a European training exercise planned in coordination with one in the Pacific theater. I had to run that entire exercise, which had never been done before.”

The airman was then given the opportunity to apply to serve as a professor of aerospace science. After being accepted, he taught students the theory of flying and aerodynamics at Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau.

He finished out his career as the chief of intelligence for the RC-135 reconnaissance operations for the Middle East and European theaters while stationed at RAF Mildenhall, England. Wallingford later completed six tours during the Persian Gulf War flying the RC-135, providing ground commanders with intelligence on enemy troop movements.

In 1993, having spent 25 years in the U.S. Air Force, Wallingford retired at the rank of lieutenant colonel. He is the recipient of a Silver Star medal for valor from his service in Vietnam and has been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and 21 Air Medals. In the years after his service, he worked for PepsiCo and as chief people officer for McDonald’s of Southeast Missouri.

“I began my legislative career when I was elected to the Missouri House of Representatives in 2010,” he said.

The veteran went on to serve as a state senator representing the 27th District and was appointed Missouri Director of Revenue by Governor Mike Parson in December 2021.

The father of a son and a daughter, both of whom were born while he was serving the military, Wallingford has experienced moments solidifying his appreciation for the U.S. and those who have served under its flag.

“I can still remember back when I was in grade school and was chosen to be one of the people to raise the flag before classes, and to lower and fold it at the end of the school day,” he said. “That was such an honor.”

 “Years later,” he added, “I served in the military and learned that same flag may represent a country that may not be perfect but is always working to improve itself. ‘Old Glory’ represents a lot of people who have made sacrifices to make our lives much better.”

Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.

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