Schooley's love of flying launched his 20-plus year USAF career


October 28, 2020

A Vietnam veteran, Max Schooley flew F-4 planes and others, amassing 3,200 hours of fighter time as a pilot in the USAF. A 1959 graduate of Kiowa High School, Schooley said he "enjoyed every second of it."

Most who know Max Schooley now see a retired man who frequents the golf course, loves to fish, hunt, snow ski and enjoy a good steak with a glass of wine. Residing at the lake near Medicine Lodge, Kansas, Schooley is a proud Vietnam veteran who amassed 3,200 hours of fighter time in the F-4, F-15 and F-16 planes, flew 173 combat missions, 62 of which were over north Vietnam, and 551 combat hours.

"What a ride," Schooley said.

Schooley graduated from Kiowa High School in 1959, the son of Bob and Maxine Schooley who were farmers. When asked about his interest in serving in the military, Schooley said it was because of flying with his dad who had Kiowa's Flying Service from 1946 until the early1950s with four planes.

After graduating high school, he was accepted to the University of Kansas where he was a Kappa Sigma, majored in business and attended the Air Force ROTC. As a graduate Schooley was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Air Force and accepted to pilot training at Vance Air Force Base in Enid. While in pilot training Schooley married his his college sweetheart Cheryl.

Schooley's military career took the couple many places. It was at the Davis Monthan (DM) Air Force Base in Arizona he learned about the F-4, sitting in the back seat. A part of the 366th Tactical Fighter Wing, in October of 1965 his squadron was deployed to DaNang AB, South Vietnam. After finishing his tour in 1966, back at DM he upgraded to the front seat of the F-4.

He headed to Hahn AB Germany for a three year tour. Cheryl lived on base in Germany where their oldest son Monte was born. Their younger son Chad was born later when they were back at DM. "I was so lucky to have a good wife. She took care of raising the kids because I was gone so much." Schooley said. Sadly, his wife Cheryl passed away in 2014.

The F-4 flew at speeds of 2.2 Mach (about 1600 mph). Schooley said the objective of their missions varied – sometimes protecting other planes, stopping enemy planes, offering close air support or protecting troops on the ground. A typical mission ranged from two to nine hours. They sometimes escorted "spook planes" as they refueled, etc.

When asked about his most harrowing experience, he recalled that once during combat there was a mid-air collision among two American planes. The plane he was flying and one other helped get those damaged planes out of the combat zone and to safety.

Schooley said he has landed planes without hydraulics (brakes), landing with only a tail-hook. "You just did what you were taught to do," he said.

Returning to the States in 1969, Schooley was assigned as an F-4 Instructor Pilot and was also an academic instructor and eventually a Flight Commander. For a while in 1973 he was stationed in Thailand as a flight commander and squadron weapons officer. From 1978 until January 1981 he was in Virginia and part of that time was Chief of the F-16 Systems Management Office.

In 1971, he attended the USAF Fighter Weapons School at Nellis AFB Nevada – graduated and received the Outstanding Flying Trophy. He fulfilled numerous leadership rolls in his service such as Chief of the Operational Test and Evaluation Section for the A-7, A-10, F-111, F-4, F-15 and F-16.

Working with all those planes, Schooley said, "The F-4 was a big ugly airplane. The F-16 fit you like a glove." He added, "a checkout in the F-16 at Hill AFB Utah was fun. As an aging lieutenant colonel, I managed to win the Top Gun Award (for excellence in bombing and shooting) in my check-out class. Not bad after not flying for three years."

Schooley retired at Nellis in July 1985. Throughout his service he received numerous awards:

• the Meritorious Service Medal with Cluster – awarded to any member of the armed forces of the United States who distinguishes themselves by either outstanding achievement or meritorious service;

• Distinguished Flying Cross – for flying over north Vietnam on a mission;

• Air Medal with 10 Oak Leaf Clusters – for every 20 missions flown.

Referring to his military career, Schooley said, "I enjoyed every second of it and loved the flying."

Schooley's Thoughts

One time in 1973 he landed at an AFB is California. Schooley and his military friends were told to take off their uniforms and put on civilian clothes before leaving to fly down to LA with friends. "Of course we all had our short military haircuts. We got yelled at and lots of finger pointing."

After all his years of service to the U.S., when asked how he feels when professional athletes take a knee instead of saluting the flag, Schooley said, "I'm not too proud of that."

When asked his opinion of the state of the nation today, Schooley replied, "It's pretty sad, unfortunately. Our military is too politically correct." He added about pilot instruction, "There's too much high-tech with simulators – they are interesting but they don't teach you how to fly, really. You've got to be there and experience it."

Patriotism ran in the Schooley's family. Schooley's brother Larry became an electrical engineer and was in the U.S. Navy. He was involved in the nuclear reactor program while in the service. Schooley thanks Kiowa veteran Don Kuenzi for reassuring his parents, especially his nervous mother, when he was in DaNang.

Looking back on his military career, Schooley said, "I made lots of lifelong friends. Half of my Facebook friends are aviators." He added, "I lost some really good friends there" in Vietnam.

Schooley said he always looks forward to the River Rats conventions for lots of stories and laughs. He explained the term River Rats is used by the Red River Fighter Pilots Association and named for pilots who flew over the Red River in North Vietnam.

Schooley's son Monte is chief of lift maintenance at Grand Targhee Ski Resort in Alta, Wyoming. He and his wife Colleen have twin girls, Kinsie and Tess. His son Chad is a cardiologist in Colorado Springs. He and his wife Heather have three children: Jackson, Connor and Gillian.


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