When Tyronne Allen was preparing to graduate from an Alabama high school in 1966, there were two future directions he considered - that of attending college or pursuing a military career.
The coming years, however, would provide the aspiring graduate with the opportunity to accomplish both.
"I came to Lincoln University on a football scholarship and played for a year before deciding to join the Air Force," said Allen, 66, Jefferson City.
Ready for a change, Allen chose to take a break from his schooling and embark upon a path similar to that of his father, a 30-year Air Force veteran.
Enlisting in October 1967, the young recruit traveled to Lackland Air Force Base in Texas for his basic training and from there to Amarillo for several weeks of school to become an administrative specialist.
Upon completion of his initial training, Allen notes he was given the opportunity to select two countries in which he would like to serve; and he responded by listing France and Japan.
"I had taken French as a freshman in (high) school and really enjoyed the language," Allen said. "But instead of my choices, they sent me to Okinawa ... which was alright because it is as close to Japan as you can get," he smiled.
The airman was assigned to the 18th Tactical Fighter Wing where he provided administrative support for his squadron, and soon experienced firsthand the instability of international relations in the region.
In January 1968, North Korean forces captured the USS Pueblo, a U.S. Navy intelligence-gathering vessel. The event resulted in the death of a crewmember and 82 hostages taken; and in response, President Lyndon Johnson ordered the deployment of naval and air assets to the region as part of Operation Combat Fox.
The air wing to which Allen was assigned spent nearly a year in South Korea as part of the operation, living in tents and remaining available with aircraft to support any strikes ordered against the North Koreans.
The operation wound down the following year when the Pueblo crew was released. Allen returned to Okinawa and finished out the remainder of his overseas assignment.
In the summer of 1969, he received orders to report to the 456th Strategic Aerospace Wing at Beale AFB, Calif., working in the quality control section inspecting administrative procedures used within the wing.
While stationed at Beale, he made the decision to request another overseas assignment and in the summer of 1970, came home on 30 days of leave during which he married his fiancÃ©e, Saundra.
"I volunteered for Vietnam," Allen said. "I had been overseas before and just felt like it was my duty."
But the Air Force again chose to send him to a location adjacent to his initial request when they deployed him to U-Tapao Air Base, Thailand, with the 307th Strategic Aerospace Wing.
From the base, the Air Force conducted bombing missions against targets in Vietnam. As Allen explains, he worked on one of the flight planning crews assisting with the production of the flight route plans, participated in the flight briefings, and performed other administrative tasks in support of the pilots.
"They flew bombing missions 24 hours a day, seven days a week," Allen said. "We all worked 12-hour days, nine days on and three days off."
After 13 months in Thailand, he received orders to report to the United States and was discharged from the service July 1, 1971, having earned the Vietnam Service Ribbon and reaching the rank of sergeant.
"It was time to move on with my life," Allen said. "I wanted to go back to school and finish my education."
He returned to Lincoln University to continue his education and play football, and over the course of the next several years worked full time, started a family and, in 1977, graduated with his bachelor's in sociology.
In 1974, he was hired to work in the library of the Missouri Supreme Court. Returning to school and earning his master's degree in library science from MU in 1994, Allen was able to move up the employment ladder and retired in 2009 as the court's library director.
Still actively involved with the veteran community, Allen has served as the commander of American Legion Post 231 for the past 10 years and asserts his life after the military has benefitted from his Air Force experiences.
"When you go to school full time, have a full-time job and are trying to raise a family all at the same time ... you have to establish priorities," Allen said. "The service taught me how to organize and accomplish all of these responsibilities through determination."
He added, "It helped show me that I could accomplish things, regardless of how difficult, by not being afraid of a little hard work."
Jeremy P. Amick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.