When Valley Mills resident Jack Filler was growing up, he had “50 sets of parents” to care for him. A Fort Worth native, Filler, now 80, grew up in Penwell, Texas in an oil boom town with parents who adopted him when he was 1 month old. It was all part of the Humble Oil Camp, where workers lived and raised their families until the late 1950s, when oil camps died out.
“I had 50 sets of parents. I really did,” Filler said. “I didn’t realize how protected we were.”
Filler graduated from Odessa High School in 1957 and went on to college at New Mexico A&M in Las Cruces, New Mexico. He transferred to TCU in Fort Worth and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in biology in 1963.
By this time, Uncle Sam was breathing down his neck, so he decided to join the Air Force rather than go into the Army as an enlisted drafted man. It was a good move, and he graduated from Officer Training School as a 2nd lieutenant and maintenance officer working on armament and electronics on the B-52.
“I went in for four years and got out 21 years later,” Filler said.
His first assignment was to Blytheville, Arkansas, where he spent three years. He described it as bland. Things begin to heat up some when he was sent in 1967 to Jacksonville, Arkansas, to work on the Titan II missile. He was a combat crew commander, but he transferred into Explosive Ordnance Disposal or EOD, as it is known. It was their job to render all conventional, biological, nuclear or chemical weapons safe, or “anything that could blow up and hurt somebody,” he said. “When we’re finished with it, it doesn’t work.” He led a team of 20 to 25.
In 1970, things really got hot when Filler was deployed to Vietnam. His first eight months were spent in Bien Hoa, where the men pulled alert duty in teams of two, for a total of about five teams, working on damaged aircraft or one that has ordnance that didn’t fully deploy.
With the Army out in the field, they stayed put, but occasionally were tasked with helping the Army with bomb and ordnance disposal. Most were booby traps, he said, which were carefully blown up and rendered useless. It was dangerous work, but not to Filler, who said, “to us there was no danger – because we were careful.” No one worked alone.
He once attended the scene of a crashed A-1 Sky Raider, which went down in Cambodia. Unfortunately, the pilot didn’t survive. “I don’t like to remember,” he added. “We did that every day.”
Another time, it was “all hands and the cooks” working a crash that involved three airplanes. It was the only time he ever saw anything like that.
Filler spent his last few months in Phù Cát, right off the coast in the middle of south Vietnam. There, it was different. “We received heavy rocket attack there and it blew our building to pieces,” he said. Thankfully, no one was hurt, as they were all in sleeping quarters. It also destroyed two trucks.
By the time he returned from Vietnam, he was a captain and was stationed at Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson, Arizona. He spent a year there before he was deployed to Incirlik Air Base (common defense installation) in Turkey, which ended up being a honeymoon when he married Pamela Alsup right before leaving.
Filler’s next station was Dyess AFB in Abilene. Here he moved in the EOD on B-52s. He was then deployed to Spangdahlem Air Base, a NATO base in Germany, which was a wonderful time in his life. He and his wife traveled frequently and visited Holland, Belgium, Italy, Austria and other locations. “It was lovely,” he said. “I never got a bad beer or a bad meal over there,” he said. Filler was there three years before he was assigned to Holloman AFB in New Mexico. That was his last assignment. Not happy with the military adding months to his time in the service, he decided to use his last two months of accrued leave to discharge honorably as a captain in 1983.
Filler came to live in Valley Mills, as his wife’s relatives were there. He enrolled in TSTI, earning a degree in food science technology. He worked for Denny’s but later worked for Allergan before retiring after 10 years.
After 40 years of marriage, his wife passed away in 2012, and just last year, Filler married Alice Lumpkin. They marked their first anniversary Thursday.
“The last year of my life I have never been happier,” Filler said.
He feels the same way about his military career.
“It was a happy time in my life,” he said. “I didn’t have a bad assignment.”