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.

US Navy photo

Growing Up Texan

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.

Always Looking Up

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.

US Navy photo

“That’s Just What Men Did”

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.”

In the Pipeline

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 Beechcraft T-34 Mentors. Jack then transitioned to the North American T-28 Trojan at NAS Saufley Field for his basic flight training. At NAS Beeville, Jack did his advanced training syllabus in F9F Panthers, TF-9J Cougars, and Grumman 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.

For More of the Youthly Puresome Interview bang NEXT PAGE below.

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?

Image via USAF

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.

Three-quarter left front view of Piper J-3 Cub (r/n NC-35773, A19771128000) hanging on display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum (NASM) Udvar-Hazy Center (UHC), Chantilly, Virginia, September 7, 2006. Photo by Dane Penland. [NASM 2006-27396]

More YP on the NEXT PAGE below

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…

US Navy photo

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.

VF-201 F-4N in 1976. Image via US Navy

BW: Which was your favorite military aircraft to fly and why?

YP: That is a hard question. I got a lot of time in a very concentrated fashion In the A-4. You literally wore the airplane. It was hugely maneuverable and forgiving. I got a huge dose of arrogance from the experience. It took almost ten years to get an equivalent amount of time in the Crusader, which at first I got in a sporadic manner in some very old, worn out airplanes- some of which were flat-out dangerous. I also needed to learn how to fight with the Crusader, which was different than the tight-turning A-4. After the Pueblo Crisis fiasco in January 1968, the Navy pumped lots of money and new airplanes into the Reserves. As a result, most of my Crusader time ended up being in the F-8H, which was a great airplane. My squadron (VF-201) deployed a great deal as an aggressor outfit, and that was huge fun. The Crusader absolutely came alive when flown fast as it should be flown, and that was a joy. So really a toss-up between the A-4 and the F-8.

US Navy photo

BW: What was your call sign?

YP: RALPH. No, I chose it, not tagged on me for some inopportune upchucking. It was my dog’s name and I thought it sounded good. See, there once was an Indian warrior named “young man afraid of his horses,” It wasn’t because HE was afraid of his horses, but because his enemies would be afraid of them when they saw them. All of which meant that if you were going flying with me you were likely destined to ralph!

BW: What were your favorite call signs of other aviators?

YP: In VF-201, we had a series of “Tanks.” Tank, Small Tank, Gross Tank, and Piss Tank. My favorite was a Crusader call sign awarded to a “frabbing” new guy in an all pilot’s meeting in the ready room. The incautious young man stood up and announced that he was tired of being called “FNG.” The Operations Officer, who was running the meeting, immediately said “All right, from now on, you will be known as “The Bald-Headed Chicken Frabber.” Naval Aviators eat their young.

The Wrap Up on the NEXT PAGE below

BW: I’ve seen pictures of jets being catapulted off the decks of carriers at anchor. Were you ever catapulted off the deck while the ship was not underway?

YP: NO.

BW: How many carrier traps did you log in the service?

YP: 450

BW: Did you ever have to take the barricade?

YP: Thankfully, no.

BW: What was your favorite aspect of shipboard life when deployed on a carrier?

A deeply philosophical stateroom discussion. Photo courtesy Jack Woodul.

YP: Ready Room camaraderie with my fellow aviators. Sharing “adult beverages” in our staterooms. Remember- this was the Olden Days. I really miss both the flying and the people.

BW: What was your least favorite aspect of shipboard life?

YP: Separation from my wife and son.

BW: Where was your favorite CONUS (Continental United States) cross-country stop?

YP: Both Kirtland AFB in Albuquerque and Buckley AFB in Denver had great line service. If I was going to remain overnight, I tried to do so at Cannon AFB at Clovis, New Mexico, because my folks would come get me.

BW: Where did you have your favorite cross-country lunch or dinner?

YP: Bully’s outside of NAS Miramar.

BW: Of all of the Officer’s Clubs you have visited, which was your favorite?

YP: Without any peers: The WOXOFF ROOM at NAS Miramar in the Miramar Officers Club. Now entirely unrecognizable!

BW: Who was the greatest leader with whom you flew and/or served?

YP: Commander (later Captain) Bill Bowers, call sign “Buffalo Bill.” He was my first Executive Officer and second Commanding Officer. Viet Nam was his third war. Bill flew Helldivers in the Pacific, for which he got a gong for bombing a Jap ship. Then he bombed more things from F9F Panthers in Korea. He was bombing things again in Viet Nam from A-4s. I think his calm leadership and common sense had our skipper listen to and follow his advice, which saved many of us from getting stupidly bagged. He is a wonderful man too.

BW: If you could own any one of the various aircraft you flew during your naval service, which one would it be and why?

YP: That would be the A-4 for reasons of simplicity of maintenance.

Youthly Puresome, Yankee Air Pirate in his mighty Skyhawk, circa mid-60s. Photo courtesy Jack Woodul.

BW: If you could be a naval aviator during a different time, what time might that be and what would you choose to fly?

YP: I’d probably be a F6F Hellcat driver during the Marianas Turkey Shoot. It was a target-rich environment.

BW: If you were able to pass along a single lesson learned to every current or future naval aviator, what would it be?

YP: You have to want it badly. The system is designed to weed out those who don’t. Never quit or give up.

BW: What is your favorite aviation-related movie?

YP: I like Twelve O’Clock High quite a bit. The older I got, the more I appreciated it.

BW: What is your favorite aviation-related book?

VP: “Winged Victory” by V.M. Yeats. It’s a book about WWI Sopwith Camel drivers. The real thing.

BW: Who is your favorite aviation author?

YP: Barrett Tillman

BW: What reading material is on your nightstand right now?

YP: Killing the Bismarck by Ian Ballentyne. Waterloo- The History of Four Days, Three Armies, and Three Battles by Bernard Cornwell. I re-read a number of books about the Israel Air Force prior to a revisit this past summer as part of the Skyhawk Association.

BW: Tell us about the eBook The Breaks of Naval Air.

Cover of Jack Woodul’s ebook The Breaks of Naval Air

YP: If it wasn’t for Steve Millikin, editor of The Hook Magazine and subsequent good friend, initially publishing the stories, and his able assistant, Jan Jacobs, eventually using his computer and organizational skills to assemble the story copies, the eBook would not have come to pass. Between the eBook, the YP website, and A4Ever, every Youthly Puresome story is available to YP fans. I told many of these stories over many years to fellow aviators and anyone else who would listen before I started trying to write them down. I listened to stories as well, and I give thanks and acknowledgement to all those aviators who passed them on. Many stories are common to Naval Aviation, and I just tried to write them down before they disappeared, as I feared they might. I have always encouraged folks to write their stories, but most don’t. I hope those that originally passed them on in cockpits or over cold beers accept my gratitude and thanks.

BW: Do you ever have a tough time getting past all the inaccuracies and errors in historical TV shows, movies, and books?

YP: Absolutely. I normally watch movies with the sound off, unless I know the movie or the source.

BW: In what part of the country or the world do you most enjoy flying today?

YP: Locally in New Mexico in my low-and-slow open-cockpit Air Cam. The southwest part of the country, generally.

Senior Citizen Puresome over the New Mexico landscape in his AirCam. Photo courtesy Jack Woodul.
Jack Woodul (aka Youthly Puresome) at the early September 2013 Tailhook Reunion in Reno. Photo by Rick Morgan.

BW: Would you encourage your children or grandchildren to volunteer for military service?

YP: Absolutely. It’s what men do.

BW: And now…the obvious question: Will you continue to entertain us with stories of your aerial (and earthly) exploits as Youthly Puresome?

YP: There will be more YP stories from time to time. A new one will show up in the next issue of A4Ever, the excellent journal of the Skyhawk Association. There are several stories on the Youthly Puresome website that were too long and not PC enough for The Hook Magazine. I add short pieces to the website from time to time, mostly about life at the Rancho.

BW: Any parting wisdom or message for the readers?

YP: Keep the faith of what you think is right.