KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — John Grueser rose from the ranks of a basic airman to brigadier general in the United States Air Force. General Grueser knew at the age of 6 that he wanted to fly.

“This is a hat I got when I was in the Air Force. I was on my around-the-world flight,” said Grueser.

The hat is a treasured memento of his storied Air Force career. His military shadow box is filled with medals and awards. Grueser served from 1965 through 2006.

“I wanted to fly airplanes, that’s why I got into it. I was going to try to get into the Air Force anyhow. I was going to wait until I got out of college,” said Grueser.

He enlisted a year out of Parkersburg High School in West Virginia. His Airman and Airman First Class stripes are as proudly displayed as the star he received years later when he became a Brigadier General. He told Dare he chose the Air Force Academy to fly airplanes.

“Yes, you can fly in some of the other services, but I thought I wanted to go to the best,” said Grueser.

When he graduated in 1971, he went on to flight school, became a pilot, and trained new pilots.

“I ended up being the first 1LT aircraft commander in the history of SAC (The Strategic Air Command),” said Grueser.

While on active duty, he piloted a KC-135 refueling the SR-71s, one of the Air Force’s more dangerous jobs. The KC-135 Refuelers are what you see at McGhee Tyson Air Base, flying around East Tennessee.

“I was a T-37 instructor pilot at Reese in Lubbock, Texas. And, I flew C-5s, KC-10s, all the rest of 135s,” said Grueser.

As a senior staff engineer, Grueser, now working for Martin Marietta, was part of the initial shuttle program. He, also, continued serving in the Air Force reserve.

“When the first shuttle went up, yes, I trained two of the people on that,” said Grueser. “I just taught them the systems. That’s all I did. I didn’t teach them how to fly or anything else. I just taught them how the systems worked.”

With all of his experience, United Airlines hired him. He was rated to fly just about every airplane in their fleet. In 2001, a star was pinned on Grueser as he became the Vice-Commander, 4th Air Force, of the Air Force Reserve Command.

2001: Star pinned on Grueser as he became the Vice-Commander, 4th Air Force, of the Air Force Reserve Command. (WATE)

“The young people today you see in the Air Force or any military service. What do you think of these young people today in uniform?” asked Don Dare.

“I love them. They’re doing great,” said Grueser.

Graduating from the Air Force Academy and a life of flying still brings a smile to Grueser.

If you know a veteran who wants to share their story, call 865-633-6923 to share their story with Don Dare.