By Senior Airman Jesenia Landaverde, 92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
/ Published August 16, 2019
FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. -- Smoke billowed into the air as emergency responders lined the roads. News media and onlookers swarmed the front gate, trying to get the first look at what would be considered one of the most devastating incidents in Fairchild’s history.
Lt. Col. Kenneth Huston, along with Col. Robert Wolff, Lt. Col. Arthur Holland and Lt. Col. Mark McGeehan, lost their lives in a B-52 Stratofortress crash while practicing for an airshow on June 24, 1994.
“My friend called me saying a B-52 had crashed, but [didn’t say] if Ken was on it,” said Elisabeth Silver, Lt. Col. Kenneth Huston’s widow. “I knew the chaplain or a blue car would pick me up if Ken was dead, but I got a call from another friend saying he’d pick me up. I thought, ‘Well this is strange.’ When I arrived at the entrance of the base, I saw so many news cameras.”
“At this point, I still had no idea what was going on,” Silver added. “I was approached by a security forces Airman who insisted on escorting us to the base command post. When I arrived, another spouse wrapped her arms around me and said ‘I’m so sorry for your loss.’ At that moment everything was clear.”
On that day, four dedicated Air Force families, like the Hustons, lost their husbands, fathers, brothers and friends.
Lt. Col. Huston grew up in a blue-collar American family in Avenal, California, with two brothers who teased him for being the only red-haired child and for his academic success. With a natural aptitude for math and education, Huston graduated with his Master of Science in Mathematics from the University of California in 1975.
“His dream job was to become a mathematics professor, but he had a hard time finding a job after graduating college due to the job recession after the Vietnam War,” Silver said. “Ken then turned to the Air Force despite the hostile culture surrounding war and the military in the 1970s.”
Huston left for Officer Training School at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, in April 1978, and was selected to be a B-52 navigator.
“He had a natural sense of direction which made him a perfect fit for navigation,” Silver said. “Ken loved the Air Force, flying and the routine and culture that came with it.”
During Huston’s Air Force career, he served at Andersen AFB, Guam; Grand Forks AFB, North Dakota and the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Huston served as an assistant professor, course director and assistant division chief in the Department of Mathematics while stationed at the Academy.
“Colorado was his favorite assignment,” Silver said. “He was born to be a teacher and was always looking for the opportunity to pass knowledge onto others. He valued mentoring the cadets, and having them over for dinner or bible study.”
The Huston family’s time in Colorado came to an end in the late summer of 1989, before relocating to Fairchild, where he served as the 325th Bombardment Squadron operations officer.
Fairchild was going through many changes in the late 80s and early 90s as the base was preparing to be re-designated from Air Combat Command to Air Mobility Command. The B-52s were being transferred to another base, which meant the Huston family would soon follow.
“We knew we wouldn’t be staying at Fairchild for long,” Silver said. “Ken took such good care of his people, ensuring all of his Airmen had orders to leave before he even began to worry about himself.”
As the B-52s began to relocate, Huston took time off work to prepare his house for sale and prepare his family for their move. On June 22, 1994, while spending time with his family, Huston received a phone call from his commander requesting him to perform an aerial demonstration during Fairchild’s airshow on June 25.
“If the commander asked him to jump, he would ask ‘How high, sir?,’” Silver said. “I was not very happy with him accepting this offer because it was taking away from family time. He loved the Air Force so I accepted it; I thought this is one last flight he has to do before we leave.”
Huston’s dedication was no secret to his friends and family; they were all aware of his passion for the Air Force.
“Anyone who knew Ken absolutely loved him,” said retired Lt. Col. Buck Overbey, Huston’s friend. “He emulated the Air Force core values before the Air Force even came up with the core values. He was a phenomenal officer, mentor, husband, father and friend.”
On Friday, June 24, 1994, Huston reported to the base to perform the practice aerial demonstration not knowing he would never return.
When service members give the ultimate sacrifice to maintain the nation’s freedom, their families also sacrifice every day while bearing their loss.
After the fog of sorrow cleared, the Huston family did what military families do in tough times; they chose to build a life Lt. Col. Hutson would be proud of.
“You can only imagine how difficult it is to transition from having a wonderful life to being a single mother,” Overbey said. “Elisabeth is a strong woman and did the best she could. Ken would be so proud of her and the kids.”
Lt. Col. Huston was a master navigator with over 3,400 flying hours who dedicated 16 years of his life to serving his country and the Air Force. He is survived by his wife, Elisabeth, daughters, Carrie, Jana, and Nicole, and son, Jeffrey.