General Chuck Yeager’s 90th Birthday w/ Oak Ridge Boys’ 40th

February 16th, 2013

We had just been on a river cruise private birthday party,

Two ol' pals

Before I die I wanna sing with William Lee in a boat where the water meets the sky

hiked to the hotel and then to the celebrity room. Darrick Kinslow, who takes such good care of us, then brought us back to the green room.

The band members each in turn greeted us with hugs, honored to have been invited to the birthday lunch. Unfortunately the boat was not returning to dock until too late for the band to make the afternoon so they ultimately had to decline. Dedicated professionals. I was a little sad about that. I have had the chance over the years to get to know Donny Carr, Rex Wiseman, Jeff Douglas, Chris Golden, and Ron Fairchild a little bit better and sure enjoy talking with them.

I’m looking forward to getting to know the new kid on the block, too. He said : Lotta work learning all the songs. I must admit I’m always impressed the Oaks know so many words to so many songs. Wow.

Backstage, we saw Duane Allen, always a wonderful sight and greeted each other warmly.

Joe Bonsall came around the corner: Did you hear what I just said?

Me: No.

Joe: Got the list and we’re playing most of them – what Victoria wants….but “You’ll Never Walk Alone”? I mean we have not sung that for decades.

Me: I was just checking to see if you read to the bottom of the list. Ha ha. Richard sings “Why Me, Lord” beautifully on the video. And I was trying to be equitable re leads.

Joe: You did a good job!

That’s one of the many reasons I like Joe: so kind and positive. And smart. I think he was checking the pulse of how important some of the songs were to us. I was grateful they sang any, let alone almost all, of our list. Shh! Please don’t tell Joe that :-)

General Yeager was onstage with the Oak Ridge Boys when the curtains opened.

The audience cheered and stood up clapping.

General Chuck Yeager, 90th bday Opens for Oak Ridge Boys, 40th anni tour

Photo by Robert Tarn

General Yeager told a few stories such as when he returned from evading the Germans after being shot down. His fellow pilots wanted to know how he escaped.

Gen Y said: The Germans weren’t allowed in the cathouses so that’s where the French Underground hid me.

The guys all wanted to go on a mission and bail out the next day.

I evaded over the Pyrenees, was interned in Spain at a spa – had to sit around the pool watching the girls in bikinis. Helluva way to fight a war!

The Oak Ridge Boys are my heroes in the music world…..and my friends.

The Boys all thanked him.

He and I found our seats to enjoy the concert.

Some of our favorites: Love Song. I love watching the band moving in sync with their instruments. Love the beat. Love the harmony.

In fact, I had emailed the Colonel asking where she was (since she was not at the concert). I got an email she was on her way. So in a break between songs, I skipped out to wait for her with her tickets. I could hear the Boys and they started in with “Love Song” so I was dancing just outside the doors.

I couldn’t stand it so I slipped just inside to see the action on stage. THAT is worth every penny of the ticket – the Oak Ridge Boys are great, great showmen.

The band was dancing with their instruments in harmony, like synchronized swimming. But without the water, of course.

The music is wonderful but greatly enhanced in the show and then after the show; listening to an Oak Ridge Boys CD brings flooding back vivid memories of the wonderful shows.

I slipped out again at the end of that song just as the Colonel was arriving. We slipped inside again and waited for the break between songs.

Joe Bonsall talked about General Yeager – what an honor to celebrate his 90th birthday with him. Then he said, “General Yeager isn’t here now, but will be tonight so we’re switching our play list. He gave us a play list and when the General asks you to sing a song….you DO it.

Great laughter from the audience. General Yeager called out: That’s right!

I called out: He’s still here!

Joe heard and said: Oh! Well. Turn that paper over; we’re going back to the original list.

Joe: "When the General tells you to do DO it!"

Photo by Tom Caltabiano

William Lee strode to the mike and said: “And we have an Air Force Colonel here, too. “

The audience cheered. General Yeager teased: “My how things have changed!”  (The Colonel is female).

Ol' friends

Photo by Tom Caltabiano

Encouraged by Gen Yeager, William Lee, and me to stand up to be recognized (she’s like General Yeager – she’s just doing her job): The Colonel stood up. Stood up in many ways actually, including saying: And that’s a good thing that things have changed!

Exhibit A. This Colonel.

Of course we all agreed. Notice Gen Yeager’s statement did not have additional commentary that was bad. He admires Col very much.

They met when she was getting him re-current in the F-15E in 2000. I had just known Gen Yeager for 5 months. I came down to Edwards AFB about a week after he did and the day before the air show. When he came to pick me up, he was telling me how great this female pilot was with whom he had spent the week getting current.

I was looking forward to meeting this talented gal. When I did, I wasn’t so sure. Talented, impressive, and very attractive too. And my new best friend had been spending the week with her getting him current in the F-15?

He asked Col to put me in the cockpit and explain it to me. She was very clear, thorough, and knowledgeable, of course.

I asked a question and she replied: That’s a really intelligent question. I haven’t had that one before. Very good.

And then she answered it clearly.

I thought: Yikes. Talented. Smart, Intelligent. Beautiful. Witty. AND diplomatic. I’m in trouble.


Col is one of my favorite people. The Air Force knows it has one talented officer in Col and if we’re lucky they’ll keep promoting her and utilizing her wisely.

Back to the Oak Ridge Boys concert & Gen Yeager’s 90th birthday:

The audience and we were loving the interaction. As our friend Bob said later, that’s what makes live shows great – the organic impromptu events. Delightful!

The audience was loving this extra treat.

I had emailed Joe that Gen Yeager wondered aloud if Joe would sing “G.I. Joe and Lillie”. Joe’s immediate response: It would be my honor.

That always brings tears to my eyes even now when someone like Joe honors General Yeager and so says.

And Joe was true to his word of course. He sang it from the tips of his toes to beyond the top of his head. I don’t think the audience moved; they were so moved and enthralled.

Another great song they sang was “Closer to Home” honoring heroes. My hero is very close to home.

The last picture on the accompanying video is of General Yeager saluting at his retirement in 1975.

"But lately I’ve been findin’ All my heroes...Closer to Home"

Photo by Tom Caltabiano

I noticed some of our guests were watching the Oaks singing so I directed them to look up at the video. One long- time friend, 38 years, (son of good friend no longer with us) looked up and…well, saw him wiping the tears too.

Of course, we all love William Lee singing “Thank God for Kids” with the harmony of Joe, Duane, and Richard. The Oaks haven’t been singing this a lot lately but made an exception for their friend General Yeager.

Being a sailor, but not having done much lately, I love “Sail Away”. Duane Allen has such a perfectly melodic voice to sing it and do it justice. It’s the next best thing to actually sailing.

Gonna Take a Lotta River – what a great song to help wash these blues away. Really rousing.

I love “Before I die”. Everyone has a list of things they’d like to do. I have the big list and the small list. And the list in the song is full of very simple, lovely things that show the right priorities. Can’t envision anyone else singing that song other than William Lee Golden.

William Lee Golden singing

William Lee sings: "B4 I die" - Gen Yeager's 90th birthday

Photo by Tom Caltabiano

I kept looking at General Yeager – a guy who’s done so much and whose attitude to life is just right – might as well enjoy life. Gen Yeager was smiling enjoying William Lee’s singing.

Great birthday listening to the Oak Ridge Boys

Oak Ridge Boys bring joy on Gen Yeager's 90th birthday

Photo by Tom Caltabiano

The Shade Comes Free with the Tree has such a cool beat. People wondered how I had such a good time when I was volunteering a lot and not making a lot of money but traveling around the world having amazing adventures. This song, with such harmony led by Duane Allen, encapsulates why and how.

I think Richard sings even better sitting down. He’s still animated and involved in the song. And he was great singing Lucky Moon. One more chance to make things right. Frankly, when Richard is singing, no one notices much else.

Richard Sterban singing on Gen Yeager's 90th birthday

Photo by Tom Caltabiano

Of course we have the audience participation song: Elvira. Many of our friends were new to an Oak Ridge Boys concert. And Elvira is such an easy enough song to sing parts of the chorus – Oom pah pah maw maw.

I have finally gotten down: Lips like cherry wine” which I sing loudly when it’s our turn. The woman next to me first looked at me stunned and then…..joined in.

I still can’t seem to get the Yes, I am. I seem to keep saying, Yes I can. Ha ha.

Fortunately, Joe has the words down :-)

Elvira. "Lips like Cherry Wine"!

Photo by Tom Caltabiano

As kids, when we were in the car, Mom driving, I’d sing to the radio. My brother would always complain that I was singing the wrong words. He was right. I could never understand a lot of the words. I’d tell him I preferred my words and later I’d say, the singers on the radio didn’t know the words.

I would also ask him what the real ones were. He wouldn’t tell me – then he’d have no excuse to try to get me to stop singing. Or he probably didn’t know the real words either.

(I did become pretty good at writing parodies of songs, though :-)

Heaven Bound is such a great song with which to finish the set. A truly inspiring, motivating song. Even better watching the boys sing it. William Lee was dancing – they all were dancing and frankly are good dancers. It sure makes you want to come back for more.

Which, in fact, we did.

We went to dinner nearby, had a good dinner with our friends. William Lee, Ron Golden, Darrick Kinslow, and some of the band – Rex Wiseman, Ron Fairchild – joined us. The cake was about the heaviest we have all carried (from our friend Jim at home) – a carrot cake full of goodies made with maple syrup.

And then we went straight back to the second show.

We brought many goodie bags – remember those little bags of candy you used to get at kids’ birthday parties? Well we have those too. So we brought one for each of the band and crew and the Boys.

The rest of the very heavy cake was brought over to the green room too. It was deeeelicious.

General Yeager introduced the Oaks again. This time he added the story of the first time he saw a jet.

“The first time I saw a jet….I shot it down.

Actually the first three, at 100 mph faster than the P-51 left me in the dust. But I saw one on final with its gear down so I swept down on his tail and shot him down.

It was un-sportsman-like but what the hell?

My only viable direction was to get low and fly down the runway.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the anti-aircraft guns shooting at me from my right. I was low enough (Gen Yeager mimes ducking as he tells the story :-) that they went 10’ over my canopy………

and into the hangars on the other side, hitting more Me 262s. (Thus, General Yeager should get credit for many more than one Me 262!)

I got the hell, I mean heck, outta there.

I’m lucky to know the Oak Ridge Boys, my heroes in the music world.”

The Oak Ridge Boys stopped Gen Yeager from leaving the stage. Duane Allen presented him with a beautiful plaque. This was the first they were handing out to special people on the Oak Ridge Boys 40th Anniversary Tour to General Chuck Yeager on his 90th birthday.

Chuck Yeager & Oak Ridge Boys celebrate. His 90th, their 40th.

Hugs, handshakes, thanks all around.

William Lee walked over with Gen Yeager to Richard Sterban, in his chair, with his foot on a raised stool from his accident. General Yeager thanked Richard, too. Then he grabbed the mike and said: “I told Richard to quit chasing girls!” indicating that’s how Richard hurt his foot. And a much better story.

The audience loved it all.

Gen Yeager and I went backstage, out and around to our seats to watch the show.

It had very few duplicates from the afternoon – maybe two.

One was Richard’s Lucky Moon – even better than the matinee.

And then the glorious moment of Gen Yeager’s favorite: “It Takes A Little Rain”.

Duane Allen. Divine. Impassioned. Truth.

The harmony was magnificent.

The audience was so very moved. Very. General Yeager was so grateful, so appreciative that Duane Allen and the Oaks never seem to tire of singing this very special song for him.

No Matter How High I Get (I’ll Always Look up to You). You’ll always be number one, I’ll settle for number two.

What a great song, no? Duane leading the Oaks in such a loving, faithful, honorable song. I’m sure you ‘all can understand why this is one of my faves. General Yeager’s too.

I think Duane introduced this as a great Valentine’s Day song: Make My Life With You. Talk about great harmony.


The Oaks sang a Gospel song – many thought it was really their best – suited their voices and harmony.

I realized General Yeager’s favorite songs generally have the best harmony – where you can hear each voice, and each blends well with the others. I love listening for Richard’s, who isn’t leading a lot, not always obvious.


General Yeager said: I think the Oak Ridge Boys enjoyed the concerts as much as we did. I think so too.

I was watching Joe Bonsall dancing, tapping his heel to the beat. And William Lee doing some high kicks – okay, high for me.

Again, Elvira. I still missed Yes I can. Slow learner. Fortunately Joe who was singing it, didn’t :-)

And of course, the Oaks finished with Bubba buh bubba buh Bobbie Sue. I love watching the video trying to figure out the moves so I can do them later. I used to look that cute :-)

Great dancing song.

We vamoosed at the end before too many people could crowd General Yeager. Wish we could say hello to all individually – but it was a BIG audience.

I gathered our group and we all went backstage.

The Oaks were very gracious to each of our group – many of whom were newbies to the Oaks concerts, and now great fans.

I finally met Donna, Richard Sterban’s wife. We had been missing each other at concerts.

She is one terrific gal. Wow! My esteem of Richard went way up (if it could) after I met her. That he picked her, and frankly, that she picked him.

She wanted a photo of her with Gen Y and Richard. So her taste is truly good :-)

Gen Yeager and I headed to bed dancing and singing. It took me hours to fall asleep after all the fun and excitement.

As Gen Y said: You won’t believe it. In fact, I don’t believe it myself, but I’m turning 90.

If one is turning 90, (or any age) I can’t imagine a better way to do it then to take a riverboat cruise with friends and cake, then go to not one, but two Oak Ridge Boys concerts with some more birthday cake imbetween.


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