Charles ‘Charlie' B Haralson: A legacy of service and commitment

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Alexander Cook
  • 6th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

From humble beginnings as the youngest of 15 children in Southern Georgia, to a life of service and adventure, U.S. Air Force retired Charles “Charlie” B Haralson has lived a life that’s nothing short of inspiring. A decorated veteran and dedicated educator, Haralson’s journey is a testament to committed service and hard work.

In 1951, at the age of 18, Haralson enlisted in the U.S. Air Force with dreams of becoming an aircraft mechanic. As he awaited an opening in mechanic school, Charlie met a recruiter seeking Airmen interested in refueling. He decided to give it a shot.

“The Air Force uses you where they need you most,” Haralson said. “I qualified as an aircraft mechanic. Being at the mechanic’s school, which was in Wichita Falls, Texas, my ASVAB score was a 94. Anyone with a 90 could apply to be a flight engineer or boom operator. Naturally, I wanted to fly, and I was happy with the flight pay, so I volunteered.”

Haralson’s career led him to fly missions in seven countries, including the United States, England, Iceland, Thailand, Greenland, Morocco, and Spain. As a senior boom operator, he flew on multiple tankers, including the B-29, C-97, KC-97, and KC-135, and refueled aircraft ranging from the F-4 to the B-52.

“The refueling of the F-84 fighters taking them overseas without them having to stop for gas. To get to England, we had to refuel them over the Atlantic Ocean. I had never seen one before, and it really was a small hole to hit.”

Haralson reflected on the general public’s perception of his job as a boom operator during that time.

“I think they accepted it, but they didn’t know how we did it,” Haralson said. They couldn’t believe two planes could get that close together in the air and transfer fuel in minutes without hitting each other. People couldn’t believe it really.”

One of the Georgia native’s notable missions involved refueling planes from Greenland in radio silence. The only communication came from a single light used to signal between the planes. The F-84, with a receptacle the size of a hand, was the most exciting aircraft to refuel, requiring incredible precision and skill.

“I just hope I wasn’t going to goof up,” recalled Haralson. We had to descend slightly to keep up ahead of the receiving aircraft, otherwise he’d stall out. That’s how the jet tanker came about to get something to keep up with the heavy receivers,” Haralson explained. 

Despite the pressures of aerial refueling, Haralson was a dedicated and skilled Airman known for his ability to keep calm under pressure. He was chosen to become an instructor and train other Airmen on how to perform in-flight refueling.

“I was an Airman and had a technical sergeant as an assistant,” Haralson said. “He was a gunner and had been through the war. He had more time in the airplane than I did. I had to teach him how to refuel which was no problem.”

After his time as a boom operator, Haralson continued his service in the Air Force as an Officer Training School recruiter in the Kansas City area. His dedication and achievements were rewarded with two air medals, the National Defense Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal, Senior Combat Air Crew Wings, and more.

Throughout his military career, Charlie’s life was enriched by his loving family. He married his wife, Hazel, and raised five daughters together. One of their daughters would go on to serve 28 years with distinction in the U.S. Army, and several grandchildren have also proudly served in the military.

Today, at the age of 90, he looks back on his service with pride, remembering the friendships he made along the way, and the sense of camaraderie that is shared among service members.

 “I had three officers who looked after me,” recalled Haralson. “If we landed at a foreign base, they made sure I had orders and food before they went home and that impressed me. They used to say boom operators had the best job in the Air Force. You have three college graduates who drive you to work, you only work 15 minutes and you lay down to do that,” he said with a reminiscent smile.

With two careers behind him, Haralson has enjoyed traveling the globe on Space Available flights. They have visited over 30 countries on four continents, using the military flights spending time with their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren scattered across the world.

Haralson’s story serves as an inspiration to all those who desire to make a difference in their own lives and in the lives of others. His legacy as a dedicated Airman will continue to impact future generations.