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5/26/2013 10:00:00 PM
Best-laid plans...
Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier
Colonel Fred Cone, USMC Ret., salutes during a 2012 memorial ceremony for former 
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University students.
Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier
Colonel Fred Cone, USMC Ret., salutes during a 2012 memorial ceremony for former Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University students.

When U.S. Marine Corps (Ret.) Col Fred L. Cone recently spoke with students at Prescott High School's Military Science 102 class, he stressed the importance of goals in life, always having a backup plan, and why discipline is so important.

"It's been said everyone needs a goal, because without a goal you're just milling around," said Cone, veterans coordinator at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

Having a backup plan that is something you enjoy is critical, Cone noted, especially if you don't reach your goal despite all your hard work.

"I know in my heart of hearts that many of you at your age think discipline is a four-letter word. That's bad, but I'm here to convince you it's a great word," Cone said. "It's something that can even save your life."

Thirty-two students gather each Monday at Prescott High School for the two-hour face-to-face leadership laboratory portion of the year-long online-hybrid class taught by Col. Denny Peeples of Prescott High School's Aerospace Science Leadership Academy.

Students learned this year about the history of aviation, branches of the U.S. military services, citizenship, leadership, and government, and many local veterans and veterans organizations spoke to students about their experiences as part of the class, Peeples said.

USMC (Ret.) Sgt. Alfonso Santillan Jr. of Prescott introduced Cone to the class.

"He is a Marine aviator, a Vietnam veteran, a teacher, a Hall of Famer and our hometown hero," Santillan said. "He has been decorated with the second-highest award our country can give for heroism, the Navy Cross. He has also distinguished himself with the Legion of Merit and three distinguished Flying Crosses."

Cone, who grew up on a farm in northwest Missouri, spoke to the students about how he needed a backup plan quickly after his first goal to be a farmer fell through.

When Cone was a high school senior, his father let him grow a tobacco crop for cash.

"In the early 1950s, tobacco was worth about $1,500 an acre and my family had 5 acres," Cone said. "So that was about $7,500. To put it in perspective, a new Chevrolet back then cost about $1,800, fully equipped."

But just before the crop was ready for harvest, a hailstorm hit.

"When I woke up, there were 50,000 tobacco stalks sticking straight up in the air and all the leaves were on the ground, ruined," Cone said.

With no money, no crop, and nothing to do, Cone used his backup plan and went to college at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.

The college didn't teach agriculture, so Cone studied engineering, and graduated right after the Korean War.

Then Cone went into the U.S. Marine Corps as an infantry officer, and learned about tanks, artillery, aviation, computers and did a lot of field work.

One day at Camp Lejeune, Cone was covered in mud, cold and miserable, when a man came to the field, said he needed aviators, and was ready to take them out for a test flight.

"He was dry and pretty clean," Cone said. "I knew he wouldn't let me in his plane all muddy, so I volunteered."

Cone, then 26, had never been in an airplane before.

After Cone cleaned up, the man put him in the back of an airplane, started it up, and guided Cone around, flying for a half-hour.

"When I got down from that thing, I was so jazzed and so excited I said, 'Where's that paper I want to sign now.'"

After completing flight school, Cone flew several different planes and was later stationed in Cherry Point, N.C. with his wife, "the love of my life."

Cone flew transport, learned to become a good instrument pilot, but wanted to be an astronaut so he applied for the program as soon a he got his wings in 1958. Cone was turned down three times, accepted on his fourth try, but soon learned they were looking for younger men.

So when an opportunity to break in the A-6 Intruder came along, Cone took it.

"They said we need someone with your maintenance background," Cone said. "I said throw me into that briar patch."

After that, Cone served 15 months in the Vietnam War, completed other assignments and soon realized the five years he had been given to finish his thesis for his master's degree were over.

But Cone said he loved his backup plan as a maintenance officer, and that discipline was a constant during his 30 years in the Marine Corps.

As part of an A-6 Intruder attack squadron in the Yuma Ranges in Arizona, Cone and the other members sharpened their skills, accuracy in bombing, tested the plane out, and practiced exit drills.

During the exit drill, the junior man in the squadron timed how quickly they could get out of their flying harness and the cockpit.

"When you train someone, you have to give them your best, challenge them to do what they need to do, and make sure they know what they're doing," Cone said. "Especially if it can save their life."

Since Cone was the maintenance officer, he went first. When he didn't make it out in six seconds as the colonel had ordered, that junior man ordered Cone to do it again.

"If he hadn't taught me that, and I hadn't known how to do that perfectly, I would have been a crispy critter," Cone said. "Something like that you don't have time to get out the handbook and study it."

Cone credits that in part with saving his life March 24, 1967 in Danang when his plane was taking off and collided with an F-111 coming in.

"At that time Danang was the largest, busiest base in the world," Cone said. "They had a landing or a takeoff every 30 seconds."

After Cone and his bombardier/navigator were cleared for takeoff by the tower, they rolled down the runway.

"I looked out the side of my aircraft at about 50 knots and saw an airplane coming across," Cone said. "I got to 105 knots and this airplane was still coming across. I could tell he was not going to stop. He was going too fast."

"So my training took over, like Pavlov's dogs," Cone said. "I pulled the throttles off. I dropped the hook to try to catch the wire, before we passed, but I missed it. I got on the brakes, blew both tires. I tried to turn my aircraft sideways so I could miss it.

But Cone didn't miss the plane, his plane rolled over and came to rest under the F-111's engine. Then his training discipline took over as he got out of his flying harness, realized that he was on fire and couldn't walk.

He crawled out of the cockpit.

"My bombadier/navigator came into the fire and picked me up," Cone said. "About the time we get to the edge of the fire either one of our bombs went off or this fireball here was from one of the acetylene bottles on the F-111 that blew up."

Cone said they were both thrown to the ground and the flames on them blew out.

Another Marine took them to a medical tent, where doctors saved Cone's injured leg.

Everyone aboard the other plane was killed.

"You're going to be in situations like that in your lifetime, where you're going to have something people have to know, and I'm telling you to be hardnosed with them," Cone said. "If they've got to know it to save their life, you make them know it or you don't let them go. You don't pass them on to someone else."


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Reader Comments

Posted: Tuesday, May 28, 2013
Article comment by: Bobby Fields

I had the pleasure of meeting Col. Cone about four years ago, and am proud to call him my friend. Not mentioned in this article is the fact that Fred Cone was also a pioneer in integrating the Harrier VTOL aircraft into the USMC fleet. This man has accomplished so much, and is as humble as they come. If you ever had the pleasure of witnessing Fred with his wife, you would get a firsthand look at what true, dedicated love is all about. Those who know Fred would do anything for him, me included.

To the troll @ col. Cone who is trying to provoke a 70-year old man, don't go there. Fred is too much of a gentlemen to take that bait. Fred knows better than to have a battle of wits with an unarmed man.


Posted: Tuesday, May 28, 2013
Article comment by: Genny Ingram

What a wonderful class this must be. The Courier, a while back, published an article regarding the kids in Col. Peeple's class entering a rocketry event in Phoenix and they took first place in the state! Kudos to those kids and their instructor(s)! Life skills at work!

There is an educator, the Agricultural instructor at Chino Valley High School that is teaching discipline, goals, leadership and business skills also.

At the Sat. Farmer's Market on the YC campus, three Chino High School students conduct business under the direction of their Ag teacher.

I was fascinated with their ingenuity, communication skills and professionalism. Of course, the Ag instructor was standing nearby beaming with pride!

I was told that CV high school owns a 52 acre farm across the highway from the school.

The students in the ag program invest their own money in baby chicks, they raise them, process them (no hormones, antibiotics, cage free, etc.) then bring them to the market place. A retired meat processing inspector gives them guidance in addition to their teacher.

If there is a profit, the students can invest in more chickens or keep the profit.

These young men did such a good job promoting and explaining their business to me. Impressive!

And most importantly, the young man subtracted my change in his head and knew how to count back change!!! Without a computer/cell phone/calculator! Impressive.

I'll be purchasing chicken from them again! The chicken was juicy and delicious!




Posted: Monday, May 27, 2013
Article comment by: That is Gunnery Sergeant to you

RE: @ col. Cone

So cupcake, what exactly have YOU done? Or are you just a full-of-hot-air-blow-hard?

Semper Fi, Col. Cone!


Posted: Monday, May 27, 2013
Article comment by: Huh ?!

@@Very Impressive-where did you see in this persons comment that they're bitter?! Come on explain yourself! He/she sounds like a level-headed person. You on the other hand-yikes! Must be a conspiracy nut, reading between the lines, huh?! I came on here to read comments because I thought my daughter was one of the two female ROTC students (she wasn't). Seeing your comment and @ col. Cones comment reminded me of why I no longer read comments. Col. Cones' service to this country is why you can get on here and leave head-shaking comments. Thank You Colonel Cone for your service.

Posted: Monday, May 27, 2013
Article comment by: @ col. Cone

Where was your discipline to uphold the Constitution of the USA during Korea and Vietnam? The U.N. declared military involvement in Korea. Since you participated, you obviously acknowledge the supremacy of the U.N. How does that uphold your oath to protect and defend the USA? Vietnam you again did nothing while the Constitution was violated. Are you doing anything now that drones are killing US citizens? I am I am calling you out col.

Posted: Monday, May 27, 2013
Article comment by: @ Very Impressive

Good Lord man, have you own kids been such a disappointment that you think so lowly of all young people.
Cops have a lot of discipline too and ours are part of a biker gang.
Our town leaders appear to lie and cheat, then there is you a person that tries to put everyone down. Who are there roll models?
Have a great holiday, if you served, thank you for that service. If not maybe that's why you are so bitter.


Posted: Monday, May 27, 2013
Article comment by: ziglveit b schtoonk

Hats off to you Mr. Cone.

On a separate note: I wish I still had my '52 Chevy Deluxe.


Posted: Monday, May 27, 2013
Article comment by: Very Impressive

Great exposure for the high school kids. About time someone talked turkey to them about what it takes to get through a lifetime. Discipline is not a word kids are used to hearing or implementing.

It is time they are taught to get out of the blame game and to take resonsibility for their decisions and actions and for the adults in their lives to stop enabling them through permissiveness.

I had the pleasure of hearing Col. Peeples and two of his female students that were speakers at a luncheon to present information on his program at PHS. I was impressed.

These young women have excellent direction and are on their way...discipline, goal oriented and with leadership skills. And I'll bet they have a back up plan!

Every student in PHS should be enrolled in Col. Peeple's class. Perhaps the 3 young men caught breaking into the computers at PHS would have had benefit from this class and avoided the tragic decision they made.





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