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Veterans of war, marriage

November 10, 2010

Jack Gantt knew it would take only one date before he wanted to marry Pat Gantt.
The pair waited a little longer than one date before they exchanged vows, but Jack married Pat on April 16, 1961.
Jack, now 81, was 32 years old when he married Pat, and he was already a veteran of the U.S. Air Force. He served as an airman for two years then became a commissioned navigator through the Aviation Cadet program. He flew on a B-26 plane in Korea and Japan before leaving active duty in 1956 to serve in the U.S. Air Force Reserve.
"It got kind of exciting at times," Jack said. "We could tell (enemy soldiers) were tracking us by radar."
Pat was a young widow when she met Jack. Her first husband, also a pilot, was killed in 1959, and she was left with a young son.
Jack and Pat's first husband were acquaintances, so the pair had lots of mutual friends.
"He was just wonderful," Pat said of Jack. "I think he's such a great man."
Jack was called to active duty in 1963 during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He attended special training and became one of the Air Force's first missile maintenance officers. The Gantts and their young family moved to Minot Air Force Base in July 1963 in northern North Dakota.
"We had three or four wells where it would hit 40-below," Jack said. "And with the wind chill, it would feel even colder than that."
Jack started as a targeting officer at Minot Air Force Base and advanced to field supervision branch chief. While at the base, he brought one of the first minuteman missiles to alert during the missile crisis.
"We knew we were a target," Jack said. "But you just didn't think about it. That was our main defense."
Jack worked with a crew of men to help align and guide the missiles to their target locations. While Jack worked on the base, Pat raised the couple's growing family. In addition to Pat's son from her first marriage, she and Jack had two sons together.
"You had to bundle the children up when they went outside," Pat said, adding that the family saw snow in North Dakota every month except July and August.
Pat relied on support from another family on the Air Force base to help her through the tough times when Jack couldn't be at home.
"The service was a good life for us," Pat said. "They are people you'll never forget."
Pat said she and Jack worried that all the moving around during Jack's career was detrimental to their three sons, now grown men.
Their sons, however, reassured them that their experiences on the Air Force bases were beneficial, not harmful.
"They said, 'Mother, that's the best thing you could have ever given us,'" Pat said. "Wherever you live, you have to make it home. That's part of being an Air Force wife."
After leaving North Dakota in 1968, the Gantt family traveled to Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri and March Air Force Base in California. Jack, Pat and their three sons returned to Newton in August 1980 after Jack retired from the U.S. Air Force.
The couple loves Newton, and said they admire the city for its commitment to honoring veterans and their families.
"Newton always has Soldiers Reunion, and that's a great way to remember all the veterans," Pat said. "That's something we've always loved about Newton."
For Jack, it's hard to believe he's been retired for 30 years, which is about the same time he spent serving in the Air Force.
He and Pat enjoy spending time with their three sons and two grandchildren and spoiling their dog, Gertie.
Jack said it's also hard to believe he and Pat have been married 50 years.
"It feels more like 50 days," he said.

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