Q&A with Grant Fossum
Residence: Warner Robins
Volunteer: Museum of Aviation
Q: You spend a lot of time at the Museum of Aviation — how many hours now?
A: I guess over 2,200 since 2008. I’ve been a volunteer for 10 years. My normal assignment is four hours a week at the Eagle Building welcome desk, but I do four to 10 more hours a week doing yard work.
Q: You’re 2018 Volunteer of the Year. How does that feel?
A: It’s an honor because there are so many great, dedicated volunteers. There’s a tremendous staff here, but all the volunteers really help make it what it is.
Q: From greeting people to grounds-keeping?
A: It’s a fantastic place with all the displays being top notch. None of us wants to see the grounds looking shabby, especially the front yard — the entry at the Eagle Building. It’s like my home. I want it nice. I’ve done edging all the way around the property. Now that took some time.
Q: What’s your favorite exhibit?
A: Has to be the Vietnam building because I served two years in Vietnam. I love helicopters and was an Army combat helicopter pilot in 1966/67 and ’71.
Q: OK — what’s an Army guy doing at an Air Force museum of aviation?
A: Well, we don’t have an Army museum here, do we? So this is the best I can do! But really, I love this country, I love aviation, I love these planes, and I love the people who come through. And actually, I was in the Air Force a while at first. I left the Air Force Academy because I wasn’t going to get to fly. I joined the Army because I could fly helicopters. I’ve watched the museum grow from three dusty planes when we first moved here in 1985 to become such a national asset right here in Warner Robins. An international asset.
Q: What brought you to Warner Robins if not the Air Force?
A: Family. We came to be near family. Kids, then grandkids and now great grandkids.
Q: How old are you?
A: Just turned 75.
Q: What keeps you volunteering?
A: The place, the planes and really it’s the people you get to meet. I guess I’m a talker, too.
Q: What’s been your most moving experience with a visitor?
A: Two women came in. One was elderly and having a hard time getting around. They wanted to know where the Tuskegee Airmen display was because the older one had been the wife of a Tuskegee Airman. I grabbed a wheelchair and had the honor of taking her through the display. She’d see names, pictures and say things like, “Oh, he was our neighbor.” What a treat for me. And honor.
Q: What was a highlight of your service career? And briefly, outline your career.
A: In 1961 I was in and out of the Air Force as I said, then enlisted in the Army in ’66. I served with the 1st Cavalry Division in Vietnam in ‘67-‘68 flying CH-47 Chinooks and was field commissioned to second lieutenant. I was back in ’71-’72.
Q: Combat hours? Honors?
A: Flew 1,600 combat hours and received the Distinguished Flying Cross, two Bronze Stars and 55 Air Medals. I retired a lieutenant colonel in 1989. A little more history: I lived in South Carolina and taught JROTC a few years then moved to Macon, and I worked at the Mercer University School of Medicine in an administrator/instructor role 10 years.
Q: Service highlight?
A: My service in Vietnam because (helicopter pilots) had an important job to do supplying the guys on the ground and helping them however we could. We were known for our willingness to do anything we could for them. My second most rewarding was commanding my own unit of 120. But that was peacetime in Hawaii, so yeah, that was pleasant. But the thing was I was blessed with outstanding officers and people. I think I would have loved staying a captain and serving in that capacity.
Q: How about most difficult moment?
A: As helicopter pilots, we also had to carry a lot of bodies back.
Q: What other volunteer service do you do?
A: My wife, Thelma, and I were involved in missions in Montenegro with the (Southern Baptist) International Mission Board. Had I not had a medical problem, chances are we’d still be there. I also tutor kids in math now.
Q: What’s your advice to young people today?
A: I hate to see kids wasting too much time on social media and whatnot. Some, OK. But I’d say get out with real people and do real things. Volunteer and get involved with the community. You’ll get so much out of it and learn so much.
Q: And what would you say to those who’ve lived here for years and never visited the museum? Or haven’t in ages?
A: Oh — get out here! Really, it’s such a treasure of historical information and especially for young people. It’s such an opportunity to learn about the past and to learn to appreciate those who went before. To learn about their ingenuity and their sacrifice.
Q: How are you celebrating the Fourth of July?
A: I’ll be in Atlanta for a Vietnam helicopter pilot’s reunion. With it so close, I’ll get to take some family, and they’ll get to learn a little more about what we did.
Answers may have been edited for length and clarity.