Wally Brant grew up in Indianapolis with his two sisters. His father ran the family business, Indiana Oxygen, started by Wally’s grandfather and great-uncle in 1915. Wally’s father had his pilot’s license, and family trips in dad’s plane inspired a desire to become a pilot himself. Wally attended Purdue and played baseball for three years, although he admits much of his time was spent riding the pine. He majored in history and planned to pursue business or law later in life. With a low draft number, and graduating from college, he enlisted in the Air Force to become a pilot, but reductions in the number of pilots needed resulted in his being assigned to navigator school and officer training school at Lackland Air Force Base. After struggling a bit with celestial navigation, he mastered his craft and was assigned to B-52s. He deployed to Southeast Asia, based out of U-Tapao Air Base in Thailand, and flew missions over South Vietnam and the Cambodian border. After a brief period in Guam, he returned to U-Tapao, but progress in the peace talks meant that he no longer flew bombing missions, and he had a chance to experience the Thai culture. Leaving Thailand, he was reassigned to Beal Air Force Base from 1974 to 1976, with a follow-on assignment to Guam. At this point in his life, he chose to leave the Air Force to take over the family business, and was on the verge of flying home when wanderlust struck, and he flew west instead of east, beginning a four-month backpacking tour of Southeast and Southwest Asia. He wired money to several locations he planned to visit, and journeyed through Manila, Singapore, Burma, Calcutta, Nepal, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Jordan, Israel, Egypt, Tunis, and Madrid before returning home. Once he arrived home, he began working in the family business, eventually rejoining the Air Force as a reservist and retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel.
In this interview, he talks about his childhood, the family business, college, his experiences in the Air Force, and trekking around Asia. He describes his role as navigator on bombing missions, including a flight when one of the bombs failed to drop. He recalls adventures backpacking around the world, and the “angel” who helped him find his destination in Nepal. He discusses his role in the Air Force Reserve, and concludes by explaining what his service means to him.