When looking back on his time in the United States Air Force Michael Cradler of Lake Mills remembers one thing the most, meeting the love of his life.
Cradler didn’t want to be drafted after high school, so he joined the United States Air Force in 1969. He was born and raised in Milwaukee and went to Bayview High School, four blocks away from Lake Michigan.
“It was a really great place to grow up,” Cradler said.
“They still had the draft when I graduated,” he said. “Five of us graduating seniors planned to go out and check out the different recruiting offices.”
Originally Cradler thought he would join the Navy because of growing up near the water but decided to join the Air Force after meeting a recruiter who left a lasting impression on him.
“The recruiter was really sharp, really informative and this many years later I still remember his name.”
He made the four-year commitment to the Air Force. He says he was impressed with the amount of testing involved in joining up.
He joined in September 1969.
“I had never been on a plane and I flew from Milwaukee to Texas for basic training. My first flight seemed like thunderstorms all the way down and I thought, ‘this is flying huh?’”
Cradler ended up being the line leader because of his height at basic training.
“He said first element leader, which was me, march them over to the chow hall for lunch. I didn’t know where the chow hall was. I didn’t know what the marching was. There were about 14 or so in line and I said to them, ‘Follow me.’”
After that they called him ‘Follow me.’
Cradler’s specialty was weather. He was originally interested in studying Russian language, but the school was full. He went to weather school.
“Weather has always been a kind of hobby for me.”
The school was 23 weeks long. They had a half day of weather training and a half day of military training.
“It was very interesting. It was just by the suggestion of the trainers and they really lined me up,” he said.
His first assignment was in Madison. The building was four stories, had no windows and the walls were four feet thick for security.
“You try being a weather person without windows.”
The civilians on the other side of Truax Field took the observations, he said.
“There were no computers at the time. It was all teletype. We would get our information and the main responsibility was to collect that information that came on teletype and each weather station would have a forecaster who was normally college graduate officers or senior Non-commissioned officers who made a career in the Air Force. We would get the codes and translate it how we were taught, and we would plot it on the map and give it to the forecaster.”
He only spent seven months at the posting before he was assigned to Mildenhall in Suffolk, England. He would be assigned to the base for three years, but he would end up extending and staying four.
“There is only one observer on duty. At Mildenhall we were up on the control tower,” he said. “We were doing everything over land line. They trained us well.”
He said it was up to them to decide if the base needed to be closed due to visibility.
“In good weather you had it made really up there. You took an observation and transmitted it on teletype and it would take you about seven minutes to do that and then you would look at the sports section again.”
Cradler said they were treated really well working in the control tower.
“You were given a lot of responsibility,” he said. “It was a very interesting career and I’m very glad I spent four years doing it.”
The best thing that ever happened to him he says was meeting his wife Ann while stationed in England. Ann lived near Cambridge and the couple met at a dance held there.
“The best thing that ever happened in my life is I met the woman who became my wife,” he said with a tear. Cradler lost his wife in 2018. “We were one month short of being married for 55 years when she passed away. It was a pretty nice GI situation.”
The couple has three sons John, Steve and David.
Their time in England allowed them to do extensive traveling. Michael and Ann traveled to the Italian Riviera, Austria, Swiss Alps and took a train along the Rein River.
Ann was a kindergarten teacher, the couple married Aug. 10, 1963.
They lived for a year in a home built in 1775 in the English countryside. Cradler extended his tour for a year to marry Ann, but as tensions heated up in Vietnam he had to choose to reenlist or leave the Air Force.
“I got word I was on the waiting list for Vietnam, but Vietnam wasn’t ripe yet. That was in January and I was due to find out about Vietnam in June,” he said.
The Secretary of Defense Robert MacNamera sent out a notice that Cradler was one of 11 military people in Europe and Africa who had been improperly extended.
“I was one of those eleven.”
The couple moved back to Milwaukee five days after he was given the notice.
“My wife was a very laid back, adventurous person. She took everything with an interest instead of a warning,” Cradler said of his late wife so she didn’t mind the quick move much.
Ann lived through the Blitz in World War II as a child in England, living in a village south of London. She was evacuated to a faraway village in the countryside.
“It was amazing what she could remember as a child,” he said. “People just don’t know what they went through.”
He recalled a time his wife told him her family was in church and they heard a buzz bomb and a short time later an explosion and it was the house across the street from the family that was hit.
She joined a British Wives Club in Milwaukee and remained friends with some of those ladies until her death.
After returning to Milwaukee to live with his parents Cradler worked at a factory before applying to work for the State.
The couple moved to Lake Mills while Cradler was working for the Department of Motor Vehicles. He worked for the state for 30 years and has lived in Lake Mills for about 44 years.
The family made trips back to England to visit Ann’s family and her family visited them here in Wisconsin.
Cradler proudly mentioned he qualified as an expert marksman during his last qualification while he was in the military.
“My dad had fired expert in the Army and my big brother had fired expert in the Army and I thought I have to fire expert before I leave.”
Cradler said his military experience was great.
“You were dealing with really nice people,” he said of the small population of weather people. “We were all trained the same way and were a long way from home and it was a good bunch.”