VILLA GROVE — Initially trained by the Air Force to be a Chinese linguist, Major Bert Rund served most of his 20-year career as navigator in aerial refueling.
He grew up on a farm east of Pesotum and attended Villa Grove High School, where he played football, track and a bit of gymnastics.
Rund, 64, enrolled at the University of Illinois Institute of Aviation out of high school, but he decided instead to enlist in the Air Force due to the draft lottery and financial concerns.
Two weeks after high school graduation in 1972, he arrived at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas for basic training. His career assignment: avionics technician.
While in basic, the Air Force "asked" if he'd like to be a linguist instead.
"They offered me Vietnamese or Russian," Rund said. "I chose Russian, and they assigned me Chinese. I learned a valuable lesson that day in how the military sometimes works."
He headed for the Defense Language Institute in California, where he learned to listen to Chinese and translate it into English.
After the eight months in Monterey, he was transferred to the 21-week "crypto" school at Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas, to become an Asiatic analyst.
Halfway through crypto school, there was another change in plans. In early 1973, the Air Force selected him as one of 15 enlisted members joining 1,446 civilian cadet candidates entering the Air Force Academy. The academics and discipline were tough but rewarding, he said, and he was able to secure a spot on the gymnastics team as a walk-on his sophomore through senior years.
He graduated in June 1977 as a second lieutenant in the Air Force with a degree in physical geography. "My eyesight had declined enough that I was no longer eligible for pilot training and therefore was sent to navigator training," he said.
He married his high school classmate, Chloanne Cler of Villa Grove, whom he had reconnected with while a cadet.
The new couple moved to California's Mather Air Force Base, where he spent a year in navigator training, then to Castle Air Force Base, near Merced, Calif., where he trained to navigate the KC-135A tanker aircraft.
"Aerial refueling is an inherently dangerous operation — in-flight transfer of up to 1,000 gallons of jet fuel per minute from the tanker to the receiver aircraft a few feet away, while traveling at about 500 mph," he said.
To navigate, he used radio, radar and celestial navigation, all pre-GPS.
His first operational assignment was with the 70th Air Refueling Squadron at Grissom Air Force Base, Ind. Bert was assigned to a crew trained for special operations. One of his missions was in support of the attempt to rescue the hostages in Iran in April 1980.
When he was upgraded to instructor navigator, he was re-assigned back to Castle Air Force Base to train new navigators in the KC-135.
"The most danger I was ever in while flying was when I was an instructor at Castle," he said.
In 1985, Rund was re-assigned to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton as chief of the Air Operations Branch. He also flew as a research navigator on NKC-135s — aircraft with a 7-foot steerable antenna in the nose to capture telemetry data from the Apollo spacecraft and, later, space shuttle payloads.
"The missions were a lot of flying for a few very intense moments of data recovery, sometimes only a few seconds' worth," Lund said. "Navigation position and timing had to be near perfect."
His final six years in the Air Force were at Wright-Patterson in Aircraft Systems Acquisition and were the most challenging in terms of leadership and management, he said. He was a flight test manager and then program manager for the military sale of F-16 simulators to Taiwan's Air Force.
For retirement, he came home in 1997. He was a job planner/coordinator for Paul's Machine & Welding Corp. in Villa Grove, founded by his father-in-law. He retired from Paul's in 2016.
"I really enjoyed being in the Air Force," the officer said. "There was a lot of time apart, but not nearly what military families have faced during the past 20 years. They continue to need and deserve our support."
Do you know a veteran who could share a story about military service? Contact Paul Wood at email@example.com.