Richard Myers is a man of many hats, and at 88, he has found not one, but four different callings.
As an Air Force veteran with a journalism degree, who then spent his 30-year career as an elementary school teacher, Myers didn’t simply stop there.
Retirement brought with it a writing career, and soon Myers had written two children’s books, and he had visited more than 100 schools to read them.
Many would think that was the end of the story, but not for Myers. At 86, Myers became a stand-up comedian — a pastime he had yet to pursue. When asked why, he replied, “It’s the smiles, the laughter and the happy times.”
Myers was born on Feb. 1, 1931, in Chicago. His parents were in sales, though his mother was primarily a homemaker. His older brother always seemed to appear much older than he was, but the two still got along just fine.
As a kid, Myers was into baseball and football. “I was too young for football, but I played anyway.”
That all shifted when he caught bulbar polio, which affected his breathing and kept him out of school for a year.
“I couldn’t laugh, cough or sneeze,” he said. “Someone would tell a funny joke and you’d see me laughing, but no noise. When I sneeze now, very often I scare whoever is in the vicinity.”
Not long after Myers graduated high school and took a job as an order clerk, communist North Korea invaded South Korea.
At 19, he knew he was likely to get drafted, so he decided he’d much rather join and choose the branch he wanted.
On March 19, 1951, Myers joined the Air Force, headed to Sheppard Air Force Base, just north of Wichita Falls, Texas, for basic training.
When it came time to choose a specialty, he volunteered for flight school to do aerial reconnaissance, but was promptly rejected when they discovered he was color blind.
Instead, he was sent to Tarleton State College in Stephenville, Texas, to attend clerical school for four months.
“It was wonderful,” he said. “I learned more in those four months than I think I did through high school.”
After working as a clerk for a while, Myers learned that those in job classifications that were full could be granted an early discharge.
“They didn’t have too many clerks, so I volunteered for the military police,” he said. “But that didn’t work, because they didn’t have enough people, either.”
He then volunteered to go overseas, hoping that he would go to Europe, like many of his friends, but he was chosen to go to Guam.
“I chose the Air Force because the idea of flying seemed glamorous,” Myers said. “The Army seemed dull, the Marines too tough and just the thought of life aboard a ship made me nauseous.”
Ironically enough, Myers traveled to Guam aboard a ship, and sailing across the Pacific was hard on his stomach.
At the end of the 12-day voyage, his meal ticket with 36 meal slots had just nine punched.
“I was able to survive those trips only because I’m a pretty good poker player,” he said, adding that the sailors supplied milk and ham sandwiches during games.
Once at Andersen Air Force Base, he realized that while Guam was beautiful, there was little to do.
“You go to the beach or you watch movies,” he said. “I never saw a woman for a year. I think all the Guamanian women were gone from the island or they were in hiding.”
Myers returned to the U.S. after his one-year tour, but once again volunteered to go overseas and soon left for Korea — again by ship. “I was always a bit miffed because being in the Air Force I went … by ship, while my buddies in the Army were being flown all over Europe.”
He was assigned to the 4th Fighter-Interceptor Wing at Kimpo Air Force Base in Korea, which became one of the most famous squadrons in the war.
“I’m from Chicago, so I’m used to cold weather,” he said. “When I arrived in Korea early in January, it was the coldest I’ve ever been in my life.”
He was the last to arrive in his six-man tent, which meant he was the furthest away from the only heat source — a pot-bellied stove.
On his first night, he put on almost all of his gear and piled the rest on top of himself. “I got into a sleeping bag, I zipped it up and I was still cold.”
Once he was finally asleep, he was awakened to a loud beeping and commotion.
“It’s called ‘Bedcheck Charlie’ — a guy in a small plane is throwing grenades to try and blow up the runway,” he said. “We were supposed to get up, get dressed and get in the foxholes, but I couldn’t unzip my sleeping bag.”
He never got out of the bag, so when his bunkmates returned, they freed him after a bit of good-natured ribbing.
There was less to do in Korea than there was in Guam, and Myers remembers occupying a lot of his time by writing, especially to his mother, whom he had promised to write to every other day.
“I sometimes think that my tour of duty in Korea was harder on my mother than it was on me because she was such a worrier,” he said, adding that there was a time she sent a care package that included salami wrapped in foil. “I soon got a letter telling me to be careful of how I disposed of the foil because if I dropped it on the ground, the reflection might be seen by enemy bombers.”
As Myers was walking the perimeter during an early-morning guard duty shift one day, he turned a corner and saw some men.
“It’s still very dark, and I see what you’ve probably seen in movies — these guys are on their bellies and they’ve got helmets covered in vegetation,” he said. “I’m not a brave person, and I was a little bit frightened.”
He ducked behind a tent, contemplating what to do.
“When I turned back, it had gotten lighter, and there wasn’t anybody there — there was just some vegetation,” he said, beginning to chuckle. “It was all in my imagination.”
“That’s the closest I came to combat,” he added, laughing.
Everywhere Myers went, he was able to make good friends.
“Looking back on all that time, it now seems clear that all of us newly military men had a need,” he said. “We were all in the same boat, away from home in new surroundings and making friends was a need — a need that seemed easily fulfilled. I know I will never forget them.”
Upon returning to the U.S., he was finally able to be discharged early to take advantage of a college program.
Myers was honorably discharged on Dec. 30, 1954, with various medals, including a Korean Service Medal, U.N. Service Medal, Good Conduct Medal and National Defense Service Medal.
He left with an unforgettable experience, which he said broadened his outlook on a great many things, and a G.I. Bill ready to pursue a college education.
Myers headed back home to attend University of Illinois and earned a degree in journalism. He came to California in 1959, and struggled to find a job. It didn’t take long for Myers to return to school to pursue his teaching credential. He went on to become an elementary school teacher, which he really enjoyed. “If you do things right, you really make a difference in a kid’s life.”
But his favorite was teaching physical education.
“When you’re teaching kindergarten kids, they’ll do whatever you tell them to do — they can’t do much, but they’ll do it,” he said. “First-graders can’t do much, either, but they think they can do everything, and they’re all over the place.”
Myers retired after nearly three decades of teaching at the Los Angeles Unified School District, and began to put more time into his writing and another love in his life: golf.
“I’ve been playing for about 68 years, and I still come up short,” he said.
He became an ambassador for Vista Valencia Golf Course, which he still continues to do today.
It was only when he started to share his writing with others that he decided to really pursue it. Myers went on to publish his first children’s book, “Let’s Go — ‘Somewhere Else,’” and after receiving positive responses, quickly got to work on book No. 2, “Snapping Schneds and Blosits.”
He then traveled to schools across the nation to share his book, which became his favorite role yet.
“I probably influenced kids to read more reading my books than I ever did teaching,” he said. “My books are very funny, and it’s a whole production when I read them.”
In 2011, he tired of traveling and, though he continued to write, in 2017, he not only had open-heart surgery, but also decided to try his hand at something new once again — comedy.
His first set as a comic was at The MAIN’s 10 by 10 variety night, a 10-minute performance, which, the sound man told him, “Brought the house down.”
Since then, Myers has performed at numerous clubs, his favorites being the Ventura Harbor Comedy Club and JR’s Comedy Club at Mimi’s Cafe in Valencia, both of which are owned by Randy Lubas, who Myers considers a fabulous comic, and MCed by Paul Moomjean, who is also a top comic, according to Myers.
“I ask them to introduce me as the most senior comic,” he said, chuckling. “I don’t expect to be a headliner, but I would like to get to the point where I am well-known and respected.”
Myers has been doing pretty well, and said he hopes to follow in fellow comic George Burns’ footsteps, who said he can’t die because he’s booked.