Air Force veteran Frank Humelbaugh at his home in Santa Clarita. Dan Watson/The Signal

Frank Humelbaugh — Air National Guard — Korean War Era — Newhall Resident

His house is filled with pictures and memories. From top to bottom, wall to wall, there are images of family vacations, stills of the family hanging onto one another, a compilation of pictures sitting side by side with various children and grandchildren in them.

It’s a house full of love. It’s also a showcasing of a family business.

Frank Humelbaugh marks the first link in a chain of three generations of members of the Air Force. It’s a dynasty that has put his child and grandchild in the cockpit of an Air Force jet, shooting across the sky and defending sovereign air.

But when you ask him what he takes pride in, outside of the stump he took out by himself a few days ago at the age of 88, it’s what he passed on to his children and grandchildren.

“I’ve always told my children, you are the choices you make,” he said, “I think if you can treat people kindly… you can get along with people.”

Early Life

Humelbaugh was born Nov. 10, 1931, in San Gabriel, to Albert Eugene and Thelma Matteson, a dentist and dental hygienist, respectively.

Growing up in San Gabriel with his younger brother Homer, Humelbaugh said he got himself involved in a handful of activities, from playing golf to basketball to marching band.

Although they’re friends now, the four-year age gap between Frank and Homer Humelbaugh did cause some problems.

“He always wanted to hang out with the older kids,” Humelbaugh said a little regretfully, a little humorously. “So, we kind of discouraged him by throwing rocks at him, telling him he couldn’t hang out with us.”

Growing up in Southern California had its perks, though, Humelbaugh said. It was sunny every day, Hollywood was right around the corner and Humelbaugh enjoyed his job as a patron of The Palladium.

“It was the place to go,” he said, remembering a date he had where they went out dancing during a time when there was a mixture of music on the rise in the United States.

After graduating from high school in 1949, Humelbaugh attended Pasadena City College.

During that time, a mandatory military draft led to a lot of Humelbaugh’s friends being called into service.

“They were starting to call guys up into the Army,” said Humelbaugh. “And I didn’t want to be a ‘ground-pounder.’”

In order to avoid being sent off far away from his family, during the uncertainty of the Cold War era, Humelbaugh made the decision to join the California Air National Guard in October 1950.

Uncle Sam had different plans for Humelbaugh, though, and on Jan. 1, 1951, he was called up to active service and ordered to Moody Air Force Base on April 1, 1951.

Air Force veteran Frank Humelbaugh looks at photos of family members that are serving in the Air Force. Dan Watson/The Signal

Air Force

For many who look at the military from outside looking in, few realize that there are a number of bureaucratic jobs and logistical support roles behind ensuring soldiers make it to the front lines properly prepared and equipped.

Soldiers are given specialties once they finish their basic training, and Humelbaugh was no different. Before reaching Georgia, he was trained in being a fire and crash rescuer on air force bases.

“We had training exercises where we had to retrieve dummies from (burning crashes),” said Humelbaugh. “We were also responsible for the structural fires on the base.”

For his time in the service, if he wasn’t fighting fires or running drills with the other firefighters on the base, Humelbaugh said he gained a special skill for horseshoes.

A total of nine months were spent on Moody Air Force Base, where the California kid, who at that time had not lived or experienced much outside of Southern California, learned what life was like in other parts of the country.

Frank Humelbaugh’s grandson, Chad and his son Jay. Courtesy

The South

His time at Moody Air Force base, a few dozen miles north of the Florida border, was spent filling his time with Southern activities.

Whether it was swamp fishing or exploring the areas around the Air Force base, Humelbaugh said there were ways to find enjoyment.

At one point, he said he and a few of the other airmen on the base were hired by a tobacco farmer to harvest his crop. He had never farmed before, but the desire to earn some cash was too much to pass up.
“I learned how to pick tobacco,” said Humelbaugh, “and it turned out to be an unexpected disaster.”

He explained the process of picking tobacco was easy enough, but messy work. From sunup to sunset, Humelbaugh would pick the long tobacco leaves under the Georgia sun, taking the leaves coated in a milky wax, rubbing the coating off between his shirt and arm and then dropping the leaves off.

“The insects would become so adhesive you could hardly get your arm off your side,” he said, explaining that a strong coating of wax and bugs covered his sides as he walked up and down the quarter-mile rows of tobacco plant. “(The farmer) kept saying, ‘One more row, one more row.’”

A part of the gig was the promise of a free shower, a meal from the farmer’s wife, and a paycheck from the farmer. However, there was no meal, he said, there was no soap and the pay was $15 … split among a group of four guys.

“We had to buy our dinner on our way out,” said Humelbaugh. “They wouldn’t let us in the restaurant because we were so grubby, looking more like convicts than soldiers in uniform.”

That memory, he said, stuck out to him as an example on how to not treat people. But a cheap tobacco farmer would not be the only lesson the Jim Crow-era South offered.

“When we would go into the city, we would pass a beautifully designed brick school house … for the white kids,” said Humelbaugh, taking time now to reflect on what he said 60 years later was still shocking to him. “Down the road further there was a kind of four-winged building, dilapidated, almost like a barn. That was for the black children.”

The drinking fountains were segregated, the bathrooms were segregated and, although he never saw any direct acts of violence, the experience and contrast between California and the South was something that had stuck with him all his life.

Air Force veteran Frank Humelbaugh at his home in Santa Clarita. Dan Watson/The Signal

Life After the Service

In December 1952, Humelbaugh was honorably discharged from the military after a little over two years of service.

He returned to Pasadena City College, eventually graduating to UCLA, where he learned how to illustrate the human anatomy for the purposes of medical students.

He married and had four children, which is still a major source of pride for Humelbaugh. In the 1980s, he moved to the Newhall home where he currently lives. He continued on with a career in illustration, befriending Dr. Gunther von Hagens, the founder of Body Worlds. Von Hagens is credited with inventing plastination, the process behind “BODY WORLDS: The Original Exhibition,” which informs visitors about anatomy, physiology and health by viewing real human bodies.

At one point working for Disney as an Imagineer, Humelbaugh said he was able to raise his kids and come home at night and spend time with them. After a divorce from his first wife, Connie, Humelbaugh began to date and eventually fall in love with his current partner, also named Connie.

Through it all, Humelbaugh, a man who has created great designs that saved lives, helped serve his country during the beginning stages of the Cold War and became a person who is admired by his friends and neighbors alike. He remains a man committed to his life.

When you ask him questions about his life, he downplays the events and wants to speak about his children, one of whom was a major in the Air Force, serving as a navigator in a variety of aircraft. Or his grandchildren, including one who recently passed his pilot test in the U.S. Air Force.

Or, he wants to talk about other great stories that happened with other people, or how he wanted to pass on decency and human kindness to his kids and grandkids.

“I’ve always told my children: ‘You are the choices you make.’”

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