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An interview with a Pilot’s Pilot: CDR Jack D. Woodul USNR, AKA Youthly Puresome

Ensign Y. Puresome’s obligatory Saufley Field Basic Flight Training portrait. Photo courtesy Jack Woodul.

He has over 30,000 flying hours in the A-4, A-7, F-4, F-8, a variety of airliners and more.  That’s over 3.4 years of his life in the air!

Commander Jack D. Woodul USNR (Retired), perhaps better if not more widely known as Youthly Puresome, has regaled us with his tales of Naval Aviators and their exploits for many years. “The Further Adventures of Youthly Puresome” series of stories led to an Outstanding Sea Story award by Fighter Squadron 201 in 1988; the 1994 Hook Magazine Contributor of the Year award; and a 1998 Tailhook Association Lifetime Achievement Award. Commander Woodul didn’t write these stories to win awards. He wrote them because they were stories that should not simply pass into memory. They are stories that needed to be told. They are stories that should be enjoyed. And there is no story teller quite like Jack Woodul. He is quite literally a National treasure.

Jack D. Woodul was born in Portales, New Mexico, on October 19th, 1940. His father, Parker A. Woodul, graduated from Texas A&M University with a degree in Farm and Ranch Management in 1934. Parker was a vocational agriculture teacher and a WWII combat veteran, retiring as a Colonel, United States Army Reserve. Jack’s mother, Ima Maye “Bobbye” Daniels Woodul, graduated from North Texas Teacher’s College in 1934. She was a home economics teacher, ran several nursery schools, and later managed the Eastern New Mexico University bookstore in Portales, New Mexico.

Jack’s childhood was in many ways similar to kids who grew up during WWII. He spent time enjoyed hunting and fishing with his father. He played football and ran track. During his early childhood years he spent time in several Army camps before his father shipped out, and lived in Grand Prairie, Texas while his father was overseas. After his father returned from combat in Italy, the family settled in Portales, New Mexico, where his father took up teaching again.

Jack’s transition to military service seemed entirely natural. Says Jack, “All the adult males I knew were in the service. I grew up thinking that’s just what men did.”

YP attended the University of New Mexico in the Navy ROTC program, during which time the Navy bought him his private pilot’s license under the Flight Indoctrination Program. Jack was commissioned as an Ensign in February 1963, and started preflight training at NAS Pensacola in March 1963. Like so many of his contemporaries, during his primary flight training Ensign Woodul flew T-34 Mentors. Jack then transitioned to the T-28 Trojan at NAS Saufley Field for his basic flight training. At NAS Beeville, Jack did his advanced training syllabus in AF-9J Panther, TF-9J Cougar, and F-11F Tiger aircraft. Jack earned his Naval Aviator wings in June 1964.

Ensign Y. Puresome’s obligatory Saufley Field Basic Flight Training portrait. Photo courtesy Jack Woodul

On to the interview!

BW: Commander, thank you so much for taking time to do this interview with me. I think the readers will enjoy it immensely. Having covered your training already, can you tell us about your time as a fleet aviator?

YP: I began with A-4 Skyhawk RAG (Replacement Air Group) training at VA-43, NAS Oceana. I was assigned to VA-86 Sidewinders in February 1965, flying A-4Es. My first deployment was a WESTPAC as part of Air Wing Seven aboard USS Independence, CVA-62, from May 1965 to December 1965. My next deployment was again on Independence, and again with Air Wing Seven, but to the Mediterranean this time, from June 1966 to February 1967. I was then ordered to VA-44, at that time the only East Coast A-4 RAG, as an instructor pilot in February 1967. I got checked out in the A-7A Corsair II, courtesy of VA-86, who had recently transitioned to that airplane. I also went through ground school on the F-8 Crusader. I was separated from active duty in December 1967.

His Saltiness, LT Puresome as a RAG instructor with VA-44. Photo courtesy Jack Woodul.

BW: After your active duty you were a reservist for many years. Tell us about those years.

YP: I had a pilot slot at the Crusader squadron at NAS Atlanta (VF-672). I separated from active duty on a Friday, hand carried my orders to NAS Atlanta, and drilled with VF-672 that weekend. I got checked out in the Crusader while I was going to Delta Air Lines DC-6 Flight Engineer School. I was assigned to the Delta Air Lines Base in Dallas, and we lived in the Dallas-Fort Worth area for 37 years. I had a flying slot at VF-701 (later VF-201) at NAS Dallas, flying Crusaders. I flew various models of the F-8 for about ten years. Then I transitioned to the F-4N Phantom II. I retired from the reserves in 1983.

Delta Airlines pilots in the Navy Reserve. LCDR Puresome, kneeling, second from left. Photo courtesy Jack Woodul.

BW: Retired from the Reserves, yes, but not from flying.

YP: True. I commuted to various Delta bases throughout my career. I was type rated in Lear Jets, Citations, DC-9s, B-727s, B-757s, B-767s, and L-1011s. I flew internationally from JFK and LAX. I retired from airline flying in March 1997. I have flown own light plane(s) since.

BW: You must have piled up a passel of hours over the years. Would you care to throw some numbers out there?

YP: I flew various USN training aircraft for 306 hours. I piled up 1200 hours in A-4s, 1,200 hours in F-8s, and 256 hours in F-4s. My airline flying time totals up to more than 30,000 hours. Plain old civilian flying time adds up 1800 more hours.

VA-86 Sidewinders on board USS Independence (CVA-62) in WestPac, 1965. Photo courtesy Jack Woodul.

BW: How about your family? They have played some memorable roles in the Youthly Puresome stories over the years.

YP: My wife of 55 wonderful years is Carolyn Volpato Woodul (AKA Tunita the Child Bride). My son Douglas lives in Round Rock, Texas with his wife and my granddaughter and grandson. He does something beyond my understanding in the international computer chip business. My other son Chris lives in Fort Worth, Texas with his wife and my other granddaughter and grandson. Chris collects and sells military hardware. Carolyn and I moved to a mountaintop ranch in Northern New Mexico in 2005.

BW: For those who are not familiar with the Youthly Puresome stories, who exactly is Youthly Puresome and how did he come to be?

YP: Youthly Puresome is a character of my invention. He is clearly a manifestation of me, but I loathe using the first person in story-telling. When I started writing my stories, I started using Youthly.

BW: Many of the YP stories are clearly written from experience. Are Youthly’s experiences derived primarily from your own experiences, from the experiences of others, or both?

YP: At least 95% are from my own experience. The rest are sea stories I heard from other people, or common stories around naval aviation that were too good to let get lost.

BW: What developed your interest in flying?

YP: I was a World War II child. We lived in Grand Prairie, Texas, and there were airplanes in the air constantly, from the North American plant that bordered Hensley Field (NAS Dallas) and the big bomber plant at Fort Worth, pumping out B-24s. Our back yard fence was also the perimeter fence for NAS Grand Prairie, where students flew the “Yellow Peril” Stearman, some of which ended up in yards in my neighborhood. My favorite uncle was a B-17 flight engineer / top turret gunner with the 303rd Bomb Group in Molesworth, England. He was killed in action on February 22, 1944. He was later brought home and buried in the family plot in Hubbard, Texas. It was a military funeral, and also the first time I heard “Taps.” That made a huge impression on me. In the third grade, back in Portales, there was a booklet in the library called Wings of Gold which chronicled a lad’s path thru Pensacola and earning his wings. I memorized it and the different iterations of it through time. The real cementer was a movie called Task Force with Gary Cooper, which I sat through twice. That movie convinced me that I was going to be a Naval Aviator.

BW: What was the first airplane you ever flew?

YP: I got rides in various light planes when I was a kid, but the first plane I flew was a Piper PA-18 Super Cub. I was able to finance 22 hours on my own before I completely bankrupted myself. The next airplane I flew was a Varga 2150 Kachina which I flew courtesy of Navy ROTC to get my private license.

BW: So you went through the VA training pipeline and essentially straight to combat in Viet Nam. What was the hairiest combat mission you ever flew?

Youthly in a VA-86 Sidewinders A-4E. Photo courtesy Jack Woodul.

YP: Probably an Alpha Strike in my A-4E against the Cao Nung bridge along the railroad from Hanoi to China. We had lots of missiles lofted into us, down low at 3500 feet as well as at the TARCAP (Target Combat Air Patrol) at altitude. It was a new thing, and it completely disrupted the group as we dodged missiles and each other. Fortunately, this happened around a small lake that was close to the IP (Initial Point), so things started sorting out. I saw two VA-75 Sunday Punchers A-6As start their pop-up maneuver, and I followed them. Unfortunately, the Scooter didn’t have the same performance in the pop-up as the A-6As, and I think I was around 180 knots at the roll-in point- very much like a grape. Then as I made my run on the target and tried to pickle my ordnance I realized the 2000 pound bomb on my centerline station didn’t release. I headed for feet wet as low and fast as I could go, used the emergency T-handle to release the hung bomb on some trucks in a village. It wasn’t going to explode, but…

BW: What was the hairiest non-combat mission you ever flew?

YP: A night recovery, in a thunderstorm no less, in the Med. Big pitching deck, so the LSO used the manual meatball, which is controlled by himself. “The ball’s going off the mirror,” said YP in falsetto. “Roger, pitching deck, keep it coming.” The LSO was “Beaver” Wheat, who sounded like the head Beverly Hillbilly, but you knew when you heard his voice that everything was (probably) going to be all right. My landing grade that night: OK-3, a little fast. I didn’t die, after all. God Bless him!

BW: You flew just about everything in naval use during your service. Did you ever fly the Tomcat?

YP: No sir. My last Navy jet was the F-4N.

Written by Bill Walton

Bill Walton

Bill Walton is a life-long aviation enthusiast and expert in aircraft recognition. As a teenager Bill helped his engineer father build an award-winning T-18 homebuilt airplane in their Wisconsin basement. Bill is a freelance writer, an avid sailor, engineer, announcer, husband, father, uncle, mentor, coach, and Navy veteran. Bill lives north of Houston TX with his wife and son under the approach path to KDWH runway 17R, which means they get to look up at a lot of airplanes. A very good thing.