Deceased September 15, 2015

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50th Reunion Book

In Memory

Our class lost its most distinguished military member when Mike died at his home in Putney, Vt., on Sept. 15. After the outbreak of the Korean War, the College instituted an Air Force ROTC—ready for our arrival in September 1951. Mike took to the program enthusiastically. With his commanding voice and presence, he quickly rose to leadership, serving as cadet commander our senior year.

At college, Mike was a lineman in freshman football, sang in the Glee Club, pledged Theta Delt, majored in physics and pulled a strong oar on the varsity crew. Dick Buel ’55 remembers that Mike had a motorcycle before any of the rest of us had “wheels.” Dick hitched rides on the back of the motorcycle to ’Hamp. After Amherst, Mike earned an M.B.A. and a master’s in international affairs from George Washington University.

Mike spent 30 years in the Air Force, beginning with flight training that led to his proficiency on F-100 and F-105 fighter planes. During the Vietnam War, Mike was a “Wild Weasel” pilot, seeking out surface-to-air missile sites in North Vietnam. He was shot down—and rescued by a “Jolly Green Giant” helicopter (the first nighttime rescue by the air force’s para-rescue service). His remaining years in the Air Force were in top-line and staff assignments in the states and overseas. Mike received a Silver Star and Purple Heart for his service. He retired in 1985 as a bird colonel.

Following our graduation, Mike married Beth Rosegrant (Smith ’56) in Putney. Classmates who were present remember a swim in an icy creek—and Mike shouting for joy. In retirement Mike redesigned and largely constructed their generational home in Putney. Mike and Beth also traveled and hiked the world. Beth survives Mike—as do his three sons, including Peter ’79, and six grandchildren.

Rob Sowersby ’55

50th Reunion


Life since Amherst has been full of flying, traveling, parenting, office work, volunteering, and enjoyment. Beth (Smith '56) and I married in June 1996, and I went into the Air Force in July. A year and a half of pilot training through the F-100 was followed by three years as an instructor at Luke AFB, Arizona. A four-year cold war tour at Spangdahlem AB, Germany on nuclear alert in the F-100 and F-105, led to an assignment at the Flight Weapons School, Nellis AFB, Nevada followed in 1966 by a year at Air Command and Staff College in Alabama. Then came a tour in Thailand as a "Wild Weasel" pilot going after surface to air missile sites in North Vietnam (shot down once, but recovered by a "Jolly Green Giant"). Then three years in the Pentagon (Air Force Directorate of Programs), a tour at Mountain Home AFB, Idaho after National War College I1972), as Deputy Commander for Operations of an F-111 Wing. Then two years at MacDill AFB, Florida as head of a joint test project on close air support, a two-year tour at Wright Patterson AFB, Ohio as number two in programs, two years in Korea as Chief of Staff and Deputy for Operations, two years at Carswell AFB, Texas as Base Commander, and a final three years at Air University, Maxwell AFB, Alabama as Chief of Staff, retiring in 1985.

Beth and three boys survived all of this and we are happy in Vermont, while sons and families are scattered from Texas to California: Peter (Amherst '79) as a Colonel and surgeon at Wilford Hall, Lackland AFB, Texas; David a partner with Accenture in North Carolina; and Bobby a corporate aviation pilot in California.

Reflecting on life from 70 years bring back fond memories throughout. Amherst involved a lot of work, as impecunious students know well. Professors were great, and Dr. Larry Packard stands out as does "Dean Gene" Wilson, all for a tuition, room and board of $1,200 which sounds great today.

Our college was "the best" - small, academic, and in beautiful surroundings. Unusual to visualize today Amherst as a military school, but the exigencies of Korea and the Cold War dictated that development and many of the classes of '54 and '55 joined Air Force ROTC at Amherst. My memories of school were good - challenge, satisfaction, meeting good people and an optimism of the age that we were going to advance and contribute.

As for a number of our generation, Vietnam played a large role. I still view it as worthwhile cause, after reading of the 7,000 plus killed by the Viet Cong - teachers, policemen, leaders, but a bridge too far, given the typical U.S. war duration mindset of four years conditioned by the Civil War, WWI and WWII. If we get involved in these things, we must be prepared for the long haul.


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