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68 years of aviation dedication

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Joel Pfiester
  • 509th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
Growing up without a mother or a father and bouncing from one living situation to the next might leave a child yearning for a place to fit in and call home.

But for one young man, these conditions were the beginning of a 68-year career dedicated to aviation.

Amiel J. Guitz, a quality assurance specialist with the 394th Combat Training Squadron, spent his early years living in a Catholic orphanage in Morgantown, West Virginia.

"I never knew my father then, and my mother left me with my grandparents when I was quite young," Guitz said, "so one day I wandered over to the church and they let me stay with them."

At the age of 13, Guitz became interested in the military.

"Of course World War II was going on around this time and we would see news reels and movies at the church informing us of what was going on in the war in Europe, Asia and the Pacific," Guitz said. "I got the idea that I was going to run away from this orphanage and join the Marines."

In pursuit of his idea, Amiel hitchhiked his way to Baltimore and went to the local Marine Corps recruiting station. 

"At the time, the war was really raging and they would basically take anybody that walked in," Guitz said.

During a massive swearing-in ceremony, Guitz found himself standing in line behind a recruit much bigger than he was. Although he tried to remain hidden, the Marine sergeant spotted him.

"He said, 'You over there, stand off to the side.' After it was all over and he swore those guys in, he called me over and said they called my hometown and found out that I was only 13 years old," Guitz said. "After that he told me to come back when I was 18."

A year later, after returning to the orphanage, Amiel was still determined to become a part of the U.S. military. At the age of 14, he developed a plan and obtained his birth certificate.

"At the time everything was done in ink," Guitz said. "I went to the courthouse with 50 cents, got my certificate and took it to school with me. I used an ink eradicator and changed the name and date."

About three weeks before his 15th birthday, he returned to the courthouse and registered for the draft with his altered birth certificate.

"I decided that in the meantime, waiting to receive draft papers, that I was going to go to California to pick oranges," Guitz said. "I had a small bugle case to carry my belongings and off I went."

He began a weeklong hitchhike from Morgantown all the way across the country to California.

"The people that usually picked me up were truck drivers," Guitz said. "They would pull up and say, 'Where are you headed?' I'd say California, and without hesitation they would say 'Get in.' Truck drivers would always help me out by giving me all the change in their pockets. I left with 50 cents and by the end of my journey I had $17. Those were the days when people were helping each other. It probably wouldn't happen the same way today, I'm sure."

Along his journey to California, Guitz said he was just living God's plan.
"There was one experience that really stuck out to me and it was while riding through Arizona and the truck driver I was with said he was heading to Tucson so he had to let me out," Guitz said. "At that time it was beginning to rain, but it just so happened that there was a bridge there. The truck driver told me to get down under it and wait until the rain stopped."

After taking shelter under the bridge, cold and wet, Guitz gathered up some firewood and twigs. Soon realizing he had nothing to get a fire started, he leaned back against the cement foundation of the bridge.

"I reached my arms up ran my hands across the top of a ridge and sure enough, there was a box of matches," Guitz said.

The next day Amiel hitched another ride and continued on his way to California.

"I was picked up by a man who was chasing his wife," Guitz said with a chuckle. "On the way through the Arizona and California border, there was a police stop where they would make sure you weren't smuggling any fruit or anything and this guy just drove right through it and of course, here come the police to stop us."

After taking a trip down to the county jail, Guitz explained to the police that he was just a hitchhiker trying to make his way to California to pick oranges while waiting for his draft papers.

The police brought him back to the state line and he found another truck driver to carry him along his way. After making it San Bernardino, California, at around 3 a.m., Guitz had nowhere to stay so he fell asleep on a bench outside of someone's home.

"Sure enough, here comes the police again," Guitz said. "Once again, I explained my situation and they helped me out. Everyone was so kind back then."

After giving him some fresh clothes and a shower, the police took him to get a job at a local orange grove.

"The owners treated me just like I was one of their own children," Guitz said. "After about two weeks of working there I told them I needed to notify my draft board and asked the owner if he would help me out. He said of course and about four weeks later my draft papers came in. I decided I wanted to be in the Army Air Corps, so I went down to the recruiting station and took a test that said I would make a great mechanic."

Soon after, Guitz was on his way to basic training at Camp Beale outside of Sacramento, California.

He was then shipped off to what is now known as Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, but once they realized he already completed his basic training at Camp Beale, he was sent to Keesler Field, Mississippi to begin airframe and power plant mechanic school.

"I went there and became a P-47 (Thunderbolt) aircraft and hydraulic specialist," Guitz said. "After graduation they put me on a bus to Camp Kilmore, New Jersey, just to have me catch a troop bus back down to New Orleans. Finally, I caught a troop ship to Howard Air Force Base, Panama, assigned as an assistant crew chief on a PBY2Y (flying boat). And that's how it all started."

There he was, a serviceman at the age of 15. Amiel kept a small circle and did whatever he was told to avoid people from figuring out his secret.

"I was just scared to death all through training that they were going to find out I wasn't 18 years old," Guitz said. "I did pretty much what I had to do and that's the way my career started."

Coming up for his re-enlistment, now 22, Amiel decided he was going to come clean about his age.

"I went to my commanding officer to tell him the truth," Guitz said. "After I told him, he got the Judge Advocate General officer. I told him the whole story and the JAG officer said, 'It's real simple. He obtained a set of orders, and changed the name and date. He's obviously not trying to defraud or undermine the government or anything like that, so there it is.' All they did after that was cut a new set of orders and changed the name and date."

At the age of 35, Guitz became one of the youngest Airmen to serve 20 years and retire. His active-duty career was finished, but he didn't stop working there.

Following his Air Force career, Guitz took a job with the Cessna Aircraft Company in June 1966.

After holding positions at Cessna and other various airframe manufacturing companies, he stayed in the aircraft community by becoming a fixed base operations manager and eventually, a G2 pilot with a Middle Eastern airline. After leaving the Middle East and returning to the U.S., he was part of a material review board as an engineer with Boeing, a flight safety officer with General Dynamics, an air safety investigator with Cessna and in March 2004, a quality assurance B-2 Spirit pilot training specialist with the 394th CTS here.

After spending the last 10 years at Whiteman, Guitz has plans of continuing his illustrious career by starting his own business as an international aviation consultant in Wichita, Kansas. 

"That's what I've been all my life," Guitz said. "From age 15 to 83, my life has been everything to do with aircraft. When I stop working, that's when I'll stop living."

Guitz has numerous accomplishments in the aircraft spectrum including certifications for the Federal Aviation Administration and aircraft inspection, along with experience as an airline transport pilot and commercial aircraft dispatcher. He is also the only civilian to complete initial qualification training on the B-2.

After all this time and after working in so many different positions, Guitz credits his success to being a team player.

"I've always been able to get people motivated," Guitz said. "I always say, you're not a boss, you're a team player. I've been successful in my career by being a team player, and following God's plan."