JOINT BASE LANGLEY- EUSTIS, Va --
“His inspiration is what helps me stay in the Air Force,” Lt. Col. Melissa Burton, Commander of the 310th Force Support Squadron, Schriever Space Force Base, Colorado, said of her grandfather. “His legacy that he provided me, and the legacy I hope to leave other people, is where I am. I stay to support the world’s greatest Air Force; to help others achieve their goals.”
Bert “Tex” Carleton, retired Colonel of the Army Air Corp, was a C-47 pilot during World War II and the Korean War. He served during many pivotal moments in U.S. history and was a leader to his troops; but to Burton, he was “grandpa.”
“As a military brat, most of my younger years were spent overseas,” Burton said. “So, my relationship with him was a lot of letters and cards, and the occasional visit. When we moved back to El Paso, Texas, we were able to travel to my grandparent’s house every year. So that’s where our relationship developed as best as it could.”
Burton described her grandfather with a child-like awe. He was a tall, proud Texan; always in overalls, cowboy boots, and hat. It was also rumored that during Carleton’s time in service, he would always fly wearing black cowboy boots — earning him the call sign “Tex”.
“He loved Texas,” Burton said. “So when he retired, he became a rancher. When we would go visit [them], he would take me out and show me the cows. I’m sure during that time, he shared some Air Force stories, but most of my memories are looking at all his memorabilia around the house.”
Towards the end of Carleton’s life, his memory began to fade and how he communicated to his family changed. One of Burton’s final interactions with her grandfather will forever live on in her memory.
“I went to visit him and the only way to communicate was I saluted him,” Burton said. “He saluted me back with this grin on his face. And you could tell this light bulb clicked, and I’ll never forget that moment.”
After the passing of her grandfather, Burton went on to learn from stories and documents about Carleton’s time in service. One piece that stuck out most to her, was discovering the role her grandfather had during World War II in aiding the Doolittle Raiders. The Doolittle Raiders, courageously comprised of 80 Airmen, was an air operation strike against the Japanese as a retaliation for the attack on Pearl Harbor.
“Bert “Tex” Carleton was part of the 322nd Troop Carrier Squadron based out of Indochina,” Burton said. “About April or May of 1942, he received a message to immediately fly to headquarters in China. He was pulled into the Commander’s office, and was described by a letter from another pilot as “glassy eyed” coming out of that meeting. He said, “We got to go practice.”
So, they went out and practiced landing on grass, on sand, and on various areas. The next day, they took off on the secret mission to rescue the Doolittle Raiders. It was his crew that rescued Ted Lawson, who later wrote the book 30 Seconds Over Tokyo.”
Burton’s lasting advice to current service members is to spend as much time as you can with your grandparents. Ask them questions and learn from them, embrace and love them, because they won’t be here forever. Burt Carleton’s memory and legacy is kept alive by his granddaughter’s service to her country and her love for her family.