Angelo State University selected retired U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Thomas G. Nurre Sr. as its 2023 Veteran of the Year.
Nurre made his decision to enlist after graduating from the IBM Punched Card Data Processing course at Gale Institute Commercial College in Minneapolis, Minnesota. After graduating from St. John High School in Bancroft, Iowa, in 1960, Nurre worked as a hired farmworker for his dad and neighbors during the summer and winter. Nurre, among others, then enlisted to complete their service obligations. In May 1961, Nurre enlisted in the Air Force and went on to serve 33 years on active duty before retiring in San Angelo in 1994.
Nurre decided to serve in the Air Force based on childhood experiences and family background. Six of his father’s brothers served during World War II, and Nurre thought the three who served in the Army or Air Force told the most interesting stories. “I enjoyed hearing about their adventures … and always liked the Steve Canyon comic book character too,” Nurre said. “The AF recruiting office was close to the commercial college, so it was a matter of childhood stories and convenient enlistment with great job choices.”
The stories that Nurre heard during his childhood formed visions of military life before he joined. “I imagined flying like my Uncle Richard Nurre,” Nurre said. “He told stories of the fine men he met while flying … pilots, navigators, radio operators and maintenance guys. They were educated and professional. I liked that a lot … plus their exploits during the war and their assignments overseas. It all seemed pretty exciting.” During his service, the routines, discipline and organization of the Air Force became his lifestyle. He adapted well, so after serving, his perceptions changed little.
After basic training in San Antonio, Nurre went to Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi, to complete technical training as a Morse code systems operator. “Some of us guys went to a dance at the USO Club and I met the love of my life, Carletta May Brown. She was at the dance with a high school friend,” Nurre said. “It was a unique courting ritual … we met just three or four times before I graduated and was transferred to Elmendorf Air Force Base, Anchorage, Alaska. Our relationship was strong and we got married two years later on the day after Christmas, 1963 … sixty years ago next month. We have three wonderful kids and three grandkids. Our son, Tom Jr. and our granddaughter, Victoria VanTuil are both ASU graduates.”
In San Antonio, Nurre completed basic training, and from May through June, the days were hot. Having lived on a farm, Nurre was physically fit and came prepared to rise early and clean well. The physical demands of basic training – the running and obstacle course – were also easy for Nurre to adapt to. “The marching was fun. I was a fair shot at squirrel and pheasant hunting, so the shooting range was also quite fun,” Nurre said. “I was a typical somewhat smart-aleck teenager, so I did get some reprimands for talking under my breath or for perceived disrespectful behavior.” Afterward, he graduated and received his first promotion.
As a Morse code radio operator, he was assigned to Air Force bases in Alaska, Pakistan, Texas, the Philippines, England and Vietnam. Later, he was assigned to Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo as a Non-Commissioned Officer Academy Commandant with follow-on assignments to the Pentagon and Military Personnel Center at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas, Nurre said.
Nurre best remembers his only deployment to a war zone. During the Vietnam War, he was assigned to the airborne radio direction-finding program for 12 months, flying as an enlisted aircrew Morse code radio operator aboard an EC-47 aircraft. Discussing 141 missions from Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base in Thailand, he described his excitement when flying over the battlefields of Laos while getting radio directions for finding fixes on enemy radio transmitters. “Our fixes were used to pinpoint U.S. and allied forces’ artillery and bombing campaigns,” Nurre said. “Enemy locations were also provided to our ground and sea forces to forewarn them of potential hot spots of activity. Quite important work for junior-grade enlisted airmen and NCOs.”
While preparing for retirement, Nurre’s good friend told him about a job opening for an aerospace science instructor at a junior ROTC program in San Angelo that would start in 1994. Nurre then began instructing the ROTC program, as the opportunity matched his expertise as a professional military education commandant and suited his new schedule as he had retired from active duty. San Angelo Independent School District hired him for the 1994-95 school year and opened the AFJROTC Detachment 948 program at Lake View High School. “The cadets were wonderful and garnered the Best First Year JROTC Program in Texas for their first year,” Nurre said.
Nurre’s support of the ASU ROTC program was also a journey in itself. In 1985, he met World War II Army Corporal Rocky F. Durso in a Catholic mass at Goodfellow Air Force Base. “We became fast friends as did our wives Bly and Kitty,” Nurre said. “Rocky and I were both members of the Air Force Association, he being much more active as president of the local chapter. We would attend military balls and other patriotic events … Rocky in his tux and me in my mess dress uniform. It was great fun.”
After Corporal Durso’s death in 2005, Nurre and his wife endowed $50,000 for a scholarship fund at ASU that generates $2,500 in annual scholarships for ASU’s ROTC students. Since 2005, more than $45,000 from these scholarships have been awarded to ASU’s ROTC cadets. “My wife and I enjoy meeting the award recipients and sharing dinner at the annual scholarship dinner,” Nurre said. “We more recently helped the Leftwich family reach their endowment goal of $25,000 for the Raymond F. Leftwich Scholarship Endowment Fund. Tech. Sgt. Raymond F. Leftwich was a fellow aircrew member shot down and killed during the Vietnam War. This new scholarship is the brainchild of Raymond J. Leftwich, the only son of R. F. Leftwich. A fitting tribute to one of ours.”
Since 2014, Nurre has volunteered as a co-website manager for his Vietnam flying fleet. The EC-47 history site has two websites – www.ec47.com covering the operational aspects of the wartime mission and www.vietnam50thcpp.com covering the Vietnam War Commemorative Partner Program (CPP) administered by the Pentagon. Each site provides information regarding EC-47, commemorates veterans and their families and provides visual media for further study.
The Director of Affiliated Military & Veteran Services, Phillip Nichelson Jr., explained the process and criteria for choosing ASU’s Veteran of the Year. External affairs, student affairs in different departments and sometimes academic affairs or the president’s office discuss the different veterans and their contributions to the community. Their goal is to honor those veterans for what they have done for the community, Angelo State and for their service. “Over the years, we’ve picked some people who have had a tremendous impact on Angelo State University,” Nichelson said. “There was discussion between student affairs and external affairs and we all know Tom Nurre as a veteran who served during the Vietnam War. He worked and he’s had tremendous impact in the local community and weighed his support for the veteran causes and for the university.”
The Veterans Educational and Transitional Services Center contributes to Angelo State University’s recurring status as a “Military Friendly School” and a “Best for Vets College.” The VETS Center’s goals are to assist veterans, active duty service members and their dependents in pursuing higher education and connecting them to other resources in the San Angelo community. “We were doing Veteran’s Day, and we wanted to honor some of the veterans, not necessarily graduates of Angelo State University, but who had helped or supported Angelo State University,” Nichelson said. “We wanted to honor them on Veteran’s Day, so we had started having a luncheon and we had given the Ram Veteran of the Year Award out and hopefully get that veteran to tell some stories because it’s always interesting to hear stories about the veterans and their service and the things that they did. It provides an interesting bit of common ground for people in the veteran community. And it lets people who are not from the veteran community have a better understanding of how things are for veterans and what those veterans do for the community,” Nichelson said.
ASU’s VETS Center and Division of External Affairs sponsor the ASU Veteran of the Year program.
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