- Associated Press - Saturday, February 22, 2014

DECATUR, Ill. (AP) - The Hood has landed in retirement, however reluctantly.

James B. Hood Jr. actually said goodbye to the world of paid work in 1987 when, after a 34-year-career, he retired as supervisory hydrologist, data section chief, with the U.S. Geological Survey in New York. He had then moved to Decatur with his wife, Helen, to be near family.

But the retirement that really bumped the landing gear of Lt. Col. Hood was leaving the Civil Air Patrol in December at the tender age of 84. Hood likes being around the world of aviation and serving his fellow Americans, and he says the CAP has been getting the job done since it was formed one week before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

These days, the CAP is all about cadet aerospace education as the auxiliary of the Air Force, and its duties include search-and-rescue missions and helping with disaster relief.

But back when Hood signed up as a 14-year-old Chicago kid in 1944, CAP guys were climbing into civilian aircraft and zipping off to fly submarine spotting missions to counteract the German U-boat threat to U.S. shipping.

Later, their aircraft got fitted with weapons, and CAP patrols were credited with sinking two submarines.

“And some of the Civil Air Patrol people got killed flying those missions,” says Hood. “But, there it was, there was a war on.”

He got his pilot’s license by the age of 16 - he didn’t get his driver’s license until 18 - but, happily, World War II’s blood and tears had run its course before Hood might have had to use his wings in anger. The draft was still on, though, and he said goodbye to the CAP and joined the newly independent Air Force in 1949, rather than waiting for his number to come up.

“I applied for officer candidate school and was accepted, but there were no slots available and I couldn’t go,” he recalls with a smile. “And that was the first time I heard the word ‘SNAFU.’” The acronym has a meaning too indelicate to be fully explained here but refers to military life’s persistent tendency to screw up.

He was sent instead to technical school, where he learned the intricacies of radio mechanics and bounced around postings that took him from the Gulf of Mexico to Goose Bay in the Canadian province of Newfoundland & Labrador.

The frozen north held one treasure, however, because he met Helen, who came from Nova Scotia; they were married in 1952 and would raise four children together.

Back on Civvy Street, he went to work for the U.S. Geological Survey in 1953 and percolated up to his final job, which involved monitoring and surveying the water system.

All of which drifts us back to retirement No. 1, when he moved to Decatur and, in between traveling the world with his wife (they ranged as far as Australia and New Zealand, and every state except Alaska) he jumped at the chance to get hooked back up with CAP and joined the Decatur flight in 1988.

“There was a guy recruiting for them during an air show at Decatur Airport, and I’d always enjoyed it and thought ‘Why not?’” he recalls. An organizational snafu had lost all his old records, however, and he had to rejoin as a raw recruit and regain his seniority, which he dutifully did, earning his lieutenant colonel rank and becoming communications officer.

Even as an octogenarian, he still looks snappy in his blue uniform, and he loved being part of it all again. But he was also discovering that his personal flight path had reached that altitude where life suddenly stops handing you treasures and starts taking them away.

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