Almost two dozen homeless men and women died last year in Hillsborough. Who were they? How did they fall so far?
March 7, 2018By SUE CARLTON, JOHN MARTIN and JAMES BORCHUCK
Photos and videos by JAMES BORCHUCK
A white van comes for the homeless who die in Hillsborough County. It is unmarked and unremarkable, a dignity for those whose lives ended with little of it.
The van carries each body to the Medical Examiner's Office, a brick complex not far from the thrill-screams of tourists riding roller coasters at Busch Gardens. By law, the medical examiner investigates any death that is violent, unexpected, suspicious or unattended. The ones who die with nothing or no one end up here.
Inside, the smell is antiseptic with something heavier underneath. The body is wheeled across clean terrazzo floors. An autopsy tech in blue scrubs pecks at a laptop, filling in blanks.
Homicide. Suicide. Fall, the final forms will say. Alcohol. Overdose. Hit and run.
The tech works methodically, soft ’80s rock playing in the background. Each body is weighed and a toe tag attached. He lifts lifeless hands to be inked for fingerprints that will say who they were.
The bodies are wheeled into a walk-in cooler to await an autopsy and then cremation at taxpayer expense — $345 for an adult, $120 for a child. If no one comes to claim them, there will be a lonely burial at sea.
— part of an entrenched population of homeless who sleep in cars, panhandle street corners, stay in shelters, eat at soup kitchens and get arrested for minor crimes over and over. It is a death toll that rarely makes headlines.
But who were they, the people whose eyes caught yours for a few seconds over a cardboard sign that said “homeless, hungry, please help?” Who had they once been? How did they fall so far?
The Tampa Bay Times spent a year chronicling the lives of Hillsborough’s homeless dead, tracing their paths backward to when they were someone’s child, lived in a house, slept in a bed.
But even more was revealed through dozens of interviews and hundreds of records:
- A majority of the dead were white men. Five were women, two were black, one was American Indian and four were Hispanic. Four were military veterans. Their average age: 51.
- Some burned family bridges long ago. But at least half had relatives living in Hillsborough, often within a few miles. Nearly half spoke to relatives regularly and even visited them while living on the streets.
- Two who died homeless left behind a twin. Each of the surviving siblings has a stable life — a home, a job, a family.
- Alcohol abuse was a common thread for a dozen who died. Drugs were another. Opioid painkillers, methamphetamine, cocaine and spice — a cheap, synthetic marijuana — were part of the lives of nearly half the dead.
- Lack of health care — including mental health care — was a major factor. So was the brutality of life on the street. Half succumbed to liver disease, heart disease, blood clots or cancer. Two were hit by cars, one by a train and one drowned. Two were dead so long before anyone noticed it was impossible to say what killed them.
- Half were homeless by choice, so-called “chronics’’ who resist help. Non-profits fed them and they got spending money from government checks and strangers who handed them crumpled bills — acts of generosity some say only makes it easier for diehards to stay on the streets.
- Among the dead: a security guard, steelworker and professional saxophonist, even a successful doctor.
Consider the rise and fall of Dr. James P. Oakes.
Oakes served in the U.S. Air Force, got his biology degree from California State University at San Bernardino and became a doctor of osteopathy in Tampa and Pinellas. Friends say he was fiercely bright, intense, even manic — big voice, big smile, big opinions. Tattooed on his backside was a heart with a halo. He did not lack confidence.
He worked out religiously and weighed 200 pounds of “brick, not butter,” said his former wife Sarah Gordon. Home was four-bedrooms, four-baths on the water in Apollo Beach.
He had another side, accused of domestic violence by three of his four wives. Gordon said he had used steroids but gave them up.
Around 2009, he decided he didn’t want to be a doctor any more. He got hooked on the stock market and spent up to 20 hours a day trading on his computer. He lost friends, weight, and finally, the family fortune.
In 2011, Dr. Oakes tried to sell three suitcases of oxycodone — 10,000 pills — for $67,500 to an undercover cop.
In jail, he fasted himself nearly comatose and called his public defender Satan. He pleaded guilty, was sentenced to 51 months in federal prison and ordered to get mental health and drug treatment when he got out.
When he did, he was no longer a doctor. He didn’t even have a car. While he was living at a housing program for the homeless in 2015, he was charged with hitting a nurse, found incompetent and sent to a state hospital.
Back in jail in 2017, he fell out of his bunk and soon after died from a blood clot. He was 55.
“That’s a long fall,” said Jack Gordon, a local attorney who had been his friend. “A long fall.”
Robin Swoveland and Richard Wiseman were living proof that a strong desire to work is no guarantee you won’t fall off the grid.
They met in small-town Indiana where both got jobs with the railroad driving to pick up engineers after a run to Cleveland or Kokomo. He had served 23 years in prison for bank robbery. She was his U-turn.
She told him she’d been kicked around since she was little and left behind a divorce and two kids. She said he didn’t have to be like he’d always been. “I guess that’s maybe one of the greatest things Robin ever did,” Wiseman told the Times. “Teaching me to be happy.”
In Las Vegas he opened a carpentry shop and she worked as a security guard. She loved the uniform, the responsibility. They had an apartment, car, bills paid on time. Once, she made enough on the nickel slots to pay a month’s rent. “We were so happy there,” he said.
It all fell apart in 2007 when they became statistics in the Great Recession that would kill nearly 9 million jobs, including theirs.
With their last $5,000, they bought a used motor home and headed to Tampa, where Wiseman had worked at the Borden dairy as a teenager. Their little white dog, Ruff, rode on the cooler that was their refrigerator.
They arrived in a city so changed they got lost, the dairy long gone. They stopped in a parking lot behind a Sweet Tomatoes to figure out what to do next. It was home for three years.
Some days, Swoveland stood by the road outside a Best Buy holding a sign that listed her years as maid, landscaper, child care worker. Help me please. I need some gas money, find a job. No beer or drugs. God Bless You, her sign said.
She tried to ignore the ugly things men said. On a good day she could make $85, enough for a motel and a hot shower.
‘Homeless can happen to anybody...’
Wiseman got work as a motel maintenance man and Swoveland found a security guard job. With paychecks and a combined $270 in monthly welfare benefits for groceries, they moved into a $660 a month mobile home. At Goodwill, she bought a tiny Christmas tree and a wedding dress that fit her perfectly. They were doing okay. Then she started to limp.
A clinic sent her to Moffitt Cancer Center. While they were trying to figure out what was wrong, an eviction notice went up on the trailer. Their belongings were strewn outside, and by the time they got to them, her wedding dress was gone. Now their Ford Taurus was home, him sleeping in front, her in back. They parked near a Wawa for bathrooms and under a sprawling oak by a Walmart for shade.
The next doctor put her in the hospital. Cervical cancer, they said — often preventable and treatable. But like many homeless people, Swoveland had no insurance and not much contact with doctors. Her case was advanced.
She had missed a deadline applying for Medicare. He asked if she could use his Medicare, but they said it didn’t work that way. He found an insurance policy, $30 a month, but she had a pre-existing condition, a term he grew to hate. Swoveland, 59, moved from hospital to hospital to a Salvation Army medical bed. He traded the car for a van with the back seats removed so she could lie down.
After Christmas they explained hospice care to him, how it would be better if she died peacefully instead of being rushed to the next hospital. She told him she loved him. She said she was scared. Just before 10 a.m. on Jan. 18, she died under crisp, clean sheets with a morphine drip in her arm and the love of her life holding her hand.
Daniel McDonald, a homeless liaison officer with the Tampa Police, doesn’t believe anyone wants to be out there. But some people get used to it.
“I think resilience is one of our greatest assets,” he said. “And our greatest weaknesses.”
Richard Stubbs chose a life without walls. He was a pretty good guy growing up, his sister Lisa Winkelpleck said, but he started getting in trouble, stealing and using drugs. He was a talented artist but didn’t do much with it. He dropped out in 11th grade and got his GED.
Their father was a jail deputy. When his son got arrested, he knew it. “That broke my dad’s heart,” she said.
Over the years, Stubbs did stints in state prison for burglary and grand theft. In recent years, he mostly got arrested for panhandling and trespassing, crimes of the homeless.
Winkelpleck and her husband gave him money but he didn’t want help coming in from the streets. At one point, she said, her brother was hit over the head and knocked unconscious. After that he wasn’t the same.
One day he showed up at Trinity Cafe, where anyone hungry is served a hot meal. He’d been a favorite volunteer there for years, riding his bike miles from his camp near MacDill Air Force Base to tie on a white apron and bus tables. Now people at Trinity saw he was shakier, weaker, not as clean, not as articulate. Now he didn’t offer to work — just came for a meal like anyone else.
Just after 1 a.m. on a Friday in February, a man named David Franklin and his wife were headed home on Gandy Boulevard after watching the Tampa Bay Lightning lose and then a stop at the I Don’t Care Bar.
A figure in dark clothing limped out into traffic. Franklin’s pickup sent the man flying. Scattered around him were his dirty ball cap, flashlight and left Nike sneaker.
A 21-year-old veterinary student got out of a car to help. She felt the man’s faint pulse, tilted his head to clear blood from his mouth. She held his hand as paramedics arrived and started working on him. He squeezed her hand again and again until the ambulance took him away.
Franklin was arrested and charged with misdemeanor DUI. Fingerprints taken at the medical examiner’s office identified the dead man as Stubbs, who had been living under a Crosstown Expressway overpass nearby.
Nine months later, Franklin stood before a county judge and pleaded no contest to a reduced charge of reckless driving. He got 12 months’ probation. There was no mention of Stubbs. The judge was not told anyone died.
Franklin later left a voicemail after a reporter contacted him: All I can say is, you know, I feel horrible about what happened to the gentleman. I still even have nightmares about it.
Stubbs’ sister brought his cremated remains home. “He’s not suffering anymore,” she said.
Jan Clausen knew if his son had a prayer of beating his drug addiction, he would first need nowhere to go but up.
“Sometimes, you have to hit your bottom,” said Clausen, a self-employed metal scrapper who lives in rural Seffner. “But his bottom was death.”
Wade Lemar Clausen, 27, became the youngest person to die homeless in 2017 when he hanged himself on Christmas Day.
Handy with engines, his son had wanted to be a mechanic. When Wade was at Armwood High, his father made him a promise: Graduate and you get your grandfather’s Jeep, gray with precious few miles on it. In 2008, after Wade was handed his diploma, his father handed him the title.
Wade was working on the Jeep’s suspension, torquing hard on a wrench, when he hurt his back. Later, he would tell his dad how a girl at the restaurant where he worked as a cook gave him a little blue pill, how she showed him to crush it in a straw and then snort it so it didn’t hurt to be on your feet all day. Back then, his father had wondered about all those mangled straws he kept finding around the house.
“And that was how his addiction started,” he said.
When Wade got a job doing duct work at Tampa International Airport, his father encouraged him to stick with it, turn it into something steady. Instead, Wade and his longtime girlfriend bought a Chevy truck with tax refund money and started a hauling and moving business, his father said. They had two children together.
“Sometimes he was happy, way out there,” his father said. “That’s probably when he was higher than hell.”
The drugs got worse. Their small children lived with her family. They were losing everything, his father said.
Wade admitted he was taking three pills a day, $20 a pill. His father could not fathom how he afforded this. He was “banging” — crushing and dissolving them in water and shooting up. He was trying methamphetamine to get off the opioid painkillers at the center of a deadly nationwide drug crisis. He was sinking.
On an August evening, a sheriff’s deputy knocked on the window of a green Ford Ranger parked at the Thonotosassa public library. According to the report, Wade opened the door and the deputy saw a plastic container sticking out of his shorts pocket. It held a small red straw and a little blue pill the deputy recognized as oxycodone. Clausen was charged with possession of a controlled substance without a prescription, a felony.
In court, he was deemed eligible for an intervention program that would mean drug treatment instead of a trial. His father thought it might save him. He almost had him talked into it.
‘His bottom was death’
But Wade said the lawyer told him he could fight the charge by arguing illegal detention and search. “Denies drug problem,” said a note on the docket.
Before Christmas, Wade and his girlfriend came by his father’s house. His dad, sober 18 years, tried to talk about what he’d learned in Alcoholics Anonymous. “I was trying the tough love thing,” he said. It was the last time they saw each other.
On Christmas Day, he and his girlfriend argued, she later told investigators. The last thing he said was he wasn’t coming back. For two days she tried calling him, then went looking for him in the woods behind the Seffner Walmart where they had camped together when they were homeless. Over a carpet of brown leaves, he had used a dog leash to hang himself from an oak. Amongst his belongings detectives found a needle-less syringe.
His father raced to the scene to see him, but a deputy stopped him. It was a kindness. “I didn’t want that to be my last memory — no,” his father said. “I could handle a total stranger. But not my own son.”
Afterward, he talked about how big drug companies making big profits should pay for the recovery of people struggling like his son. He went back to the woods behind the Walmart. Deep in the oak’s trunk, he carved his son’s name, along with a cross.
Death investigators from the medical examiner’s office are usually able to locate next of kin, even for the homeless. Sometimes relatives pay for burial or cremation. But sometimes, even when family is found, no one comes for them.
When the weather is right, urns are loaded onto a fishing boat behind the home of John McQueen of Anderson-McQueen funeral homes in St. Petersburg. The unclaimed sit next to the ones whose families paid to have them scattered at sea, treated no differently. They speed past the downtown skyline and curve out to the Gulf of Mexico. Some days dolphins lead the boat.
Bailee McQueen, a University of Tampa student, makes the trip with her father when she can. By law, they must go out at least three nautical miles. They travel five, positioning the boat due west of the pink Don CeSar resort hotel so it can be a landmark if friends or family ever show up and ask.
McQueen cuts the engine, and it’s suddenly quiet except for waves lapping at the hull. They bring the urns out one by one, each containing a plastic bag that weighs five pounds or so. Bailee McQueen says something to each of them: “I’m sure your family would want you to know you would have been missed.”
And then to another: “I’m sure you graced this world with a lot of beautiful things.”
The remains are poured over the side of the boat, each forming its own distinct cloud in the water. They drift away, following each other out to sea.
“Goodbye,” says a young woman who never knew them.
By the numbers
2017 Hillsborough County homeless deaths
- Five women, 17 men
- Four were military veterans
- Nineteen were white, two were black, one was Native American
- Four were Hispanic
- Six immigrants (from Cuba, El Salvador, Honduras, Jamaica, Morocco) Their legal status could not be determined.
- Two had twin siblings (both have jobs, families and homes)
- More than half had family members living in Hillsborough County
- Half received shelter or mental health/substance abuse services through local agencies
- Half fit the HUD definition of “chronically homeless”— continually homeless for a year or more, or experienced homelessness four or more times in the last three years with the four episodes totalling 12 months or more.
Breaking the cycle of homelessness
- Oldest — 65
- Youngest — 27
- Average age — 51
Causes of death
- Alcohol-related (liver cirrhosis, chronic alcoholism) — 5
- Blood clot — 2
- Body too decomposed to determine cause — 2
- Cancer — 2
- Drowned — 1
- Heart Disease — 5
- Overdose — 1
- Struck by car — 2
- Struck by train —1
- Suicide — 1
About the reporters
was born in Miami, attended the University of South Florida and joined the then-St. Petersburg Times in 1988. She has covered general assignment news, police and politics. She spent nearly a decade writing about the criminal court system, authored a narrative series on a trooper who killed his wife and co-authored a series on a suburban mother murdered by her teenage daughter and her friends. She has been deputy features editor and Tampa city editor. Carlton, 54, currently writes a thrice-weekly metro column for the Times. She lives in Tampa. Contact Sue Carlton at [email protected]. Follow @suecarltontimes.
is senior news researcher at the Tampa Bay Times. He joined the paper in 1995. A Tampa native who grew up in Seminole Heights, he is a graduate of Hillsborough High and an honors program graduate of the University of Tampa. He studied journalism and psychology at the University of Florida, and later received a master's degree in library and information science from the University of South Florida. He served as Times research editor from 2003 to 2006. Beginning in 2010, Martin was part of the Times reporting team that exposed the sham charity known as the U.S. Navy Veterans Association. In 2012, he was researcher on "In God's Name," a Times series on unlicensed Christian group homes that was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. Martin, 53, resides in Temple Terrace. Contact John Martin at [email protected]. Follow @JMartinTimes.
came to the Tampa Bay Times in 2000 after working as a staff photographer at the Detroit News and Macon (Ga.) Telegraph. He has covered mostly sports assignments, including the Summer and Winter Olympic Games, three Super Bowls, the World Series, college Bowl Championship Series and NCAA Final Four. In 2012, Borchuck, 51, went back to daily news coverage. Last year, his video on the Epiphany Cross Dive earned him a regional Emmy nomination. He lives in St. Petersburg. Contact James Borchuck at [email protected]. Follow @jborchuck.
- EditorBarry Klein
- Photo editorBoyzell Hosey
- Video productionDanese Kenon and James Borchuck
- Story designLyra Solochek and Lauren Flannery
- Contributing writersLibby Baldwin and Howard Altman
Charles Elwood "Chuck" Yeager (; born February 13, 1923) is a retired United States Air Force general officer, flying ace and record-setting test pilot. In 1947, he became the first pilot confirmed to have exceeded the speed of sound in level flight.
Yeager's career began in World War II as a private in the United States Army Air Forces. After serving as an aircraft mechanic, in September 1942 he entered enlisted pilot training and upon graduation was promoted to the rank of flight officer (the World War II USAAF equivalent to warrant officer) and became a P-51fighter pilot.
After the war, Yeager became a test pilot of many types of aircraft, including experimental rocket-powered aircraft. As the first human to officially break the sound barrier, on October 14, 1947, he flew the experimental Bell X-1 at Mach 1 at an altitude of 45,000 ft (13,700 m). Scott Crossfield was the first to fly faster than Mach 2 in 1953, and Yeager shortly thereafter set a new record of Mach 2.44.
Yeager later commanded fighter squadrons and wings in Germany, and in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War, and in recognition of the outstanding performance ratings of those units he was promoted to brigadier general. Yeager's flying career spans more than 60 years and has taken him to every corner of the globe, including the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War.
Early life and education
Yeager was born February 13, 1923, to farming parents Susie Mae and Albert Hal Yeager in Myra, West Virginia, and graduated from high school in Hamlin, West Virginia, in June 1941. He had two brothers, Roy and Hal Jr., and two sisters, Doris Ann (accidentally killed at age 2 by 6-year-old Roy playing with a shotgun) and Pansy Lee. His first experience with the military was as a teen at the Citizens Military Training Camp at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indianapolis, Indiana, during the summers of 1939 and 1940. On February 26, 1945, Yeager married Glennis Dickhouse, and the couple had four children. Glennis died in 1990.
The name "Yeager" () is an Anglicized form of the German name Jäger or Jaeger (German: "hunter"). He is the cousin of former baseball catcher Steve Yeager.[Note 1]
World War II
Yeager enlisted as a private in the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF) on September 12, 1941, and became an aircraft mechanic at George Air Force Base, Victorville, California. At enlistment, Yeager was not eligible for flight training because of his age and educational background, but the entry of the U.S. into World War II less than three months later prompted the USAAF to alter its recruiting standards. Having unusually sharp vision (a visual acuity rated 20/10), which once enabled him to shoot a deer at 600 yards (550 m), Yeager displayed natural talent as a pilot and was accepted for flight training.
He received his wings and a promotion to flight officer at Luke Field, Arizona, where he graduated from class 43C on March 10, 1943. Assigned to the 357th Fighter Group at Tonopah, Nevada, he initially trained as a fighter pilot, flying Bell P-39 Airacobras (earning a seven-day grounding order for pruning a tree belonging to a local farmer during a training flight), and shipped overseas with the group on November 23, 1943.
Stationed in the United Kingdom at RAF Leiston, Yeager flew P-51 Mustangs in combat with the 363d Fighter Squadron. He named his aircraft Glamorous Glen after his girlfriend, Glennis Faye Dickhouse, who became his wife in February 1945. Yeager had gained one victory before he was shot down over France in his first aircraft (P-51B-5-NA s/n 43-6763) on March 5, 1944 during his eighth mission. He escaped to Spain on March 30 with the help of the Maquis (French Resistance) and returned to England on May 15, 1944. During his stay with the Maquis, Yeager assisted the guerrillas in duties that did not involve direct combat; he helped to construct bombs for the group, a skill that he had learned from his father. He was awarded the Bronze Star for helping a B-24 Navigator "Pat" Patterson, who was shot in the knee during the escape attempt, to cross the Pyrenees. Yeager cut off the tendon by which the leg was hanging below the knee. Then he proceeded to tie off the leg with a spare shirt made of Parachute silk.
Despite a regulation prohibiting "evaders" (escaped pilots) from flying over enemy territory again, the purpose of which was to prevent a second capture from compromising resistance groups, Yeager was reinstated to flying combat. He had joined another evader, fellow P-51 pilot 1st Lt Fred Glover, in speaking directly to the Supreme Allied Commander, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, on June 12, 1944. With Glover pleading their case, they argued that because the Allies had invaded France and the Maquis were by then openly fighting the Nazis alongside Allied troops, if Yeager or Glover were shot down again, there was little about those who had previously helped them evade capture that could be revealed to the enemy.
Eisenhower, after gaining permission from the War Department to decide the requests, concurred with Yeager and Glover. Yeager later credited his postwar success in the Air Force to this decision, saying that his test pilot career followed naturally from his having been a decorated combat pilot, along with having been an aircraft mechanic before attending pilot school. In part, because of his maintenance background, he also frequently served as a maintenance officer in his flying units.
Yeager demonstrated outstanding flying skills and combat leadership. On October 12, 1944, he became the first pilot in his group to make "ace in a day," downing five enemy aircraft in a single mission. Two of these kills were scored without firing a single shot: when he flew into firing position against a Messerschmitt Bf 109, the pilot of the aircraft panicked, breaking to starboard and colliding with his wingman. Yeager later reported both pilots bailed out. He finished the war with 11.5 official victories, including one of the first air-to-air victories over a jet fighter (a German Messerschmitt Me 262).
In his 1986 memoirs, Yeager recalled with disgust that "atrocities were committed by both sides" and went on to recount going on a mission with orders from the Eighth Air Force to "strafe anything that moved." During the mission briefing, he whispered to Major Donald H. Bochkay, "If we are going to do things like this, we sure as hell better make sure we are on the winning side." Yeager further noted, "I’m certainly not proud of that particular strafing mission against civilians. But it is there, on the record and in my memory."
Yeager was commissioned a second lieutenant while at Leiston, and was promoted to captain before the end of his tour. He flew his 61st and final mission on January 15, 1945, and returned to the United States in early February. As an evader, he received his choice of assignments and, because his new wife was pregnant, chose Wright Field to be near his home in West Virginia. His high number of flight hours and maintenance experience qualified him to become a functional test pilot of repaired aircraft, which brought him under the command of Colonel Albert Boyd, head of the Aeronautical Systems Flight Test Division.
Post-World War II
Test pilot – breaking the sound barrier
Yeager remained in the Air Force after the war, becoming a test pilot at Muroc Army Air Field (now Edwards Air Force Base), following graduation from Air Materiel Command Flight Performance School (Class 46C). After Bell Aircraft test pilot Chalmers "Slick" Goodlin demanded $150,000 ($1.6 million in 2015 dollars) to break the sound "barrier," the USAAF selected Yeager to fly the rocket-powered Bell XS-1 in a NACA program to research high-speed flight.
Such was the difficulty in this task that the answer to many of the inherent challenges were along the lines of "Yeager better have paid-up insurance." Two nights before the scheduled date for the flight, Yeager broke two ribs when he fell from a horse. He was worried that the injury would remove him from the mission and reported that he went to a civilian doctor in nearby Rosamond, who taped his ribs.[Note 2] Yeager told only his wife, as well as friend and fellow project pilot Jack Ridley, about the accident. On the day of the flight, Yeager was in such pain that he could not seal the X-1's hatch by himself. Ridley rigged up a device, using the end of a broom handle as an extra lever, to allow Yeager to seal the hatch.
Yeager broke the sound barrier on October 14, 1947, flying the X-1 at Mach 1.07 at an altitude of 45,000 ft (13,700 m).[Note 3] over the Rogers Dry Lake in the Mojave Desert. Yeager was awarded the MacKay and Collier Trophies in 1948 for his mach-transcending flight, and the Harmon International Trophy in 1954. The X-1 he flew that day was later put on permanent display at the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum.
Yeager went on to break many other speed and altitude records. He was also one of the first American pilots to fly a MiG-15, after its pilot, No Kum-sok, defected to South Korea. Returning to Muroc, during the latter half of 1953, Yeager was involved with the USAF team that was working on the X-1A, an aircraft designed to surpass Mach 2 in level flight. That year, he flew a chase aircraft for the civilian pilot Jackie Cochran as she became the first woman to fly faster than sound.
On November 20, 1953, the U.S. Navy program involving the D-558-II Skyrocket and its pilot, Scott Crossfield, became the first team to reach twice the speed of sound. After they were bested, Ridley and Yeager decided to beat rival Crossfield's speed record in a series of test flights that they dubbed "Operation NACA Weep." Not only did they beat Crossfield, but they did it in time to spoil a celebration planned for the 50th anniversary of flight in which Crossfield was to be called "the fastest man alive."
The Ridley/Yeager USAF team achieved Mach 2.44 on December 12, 1953. Shortly after reaching Mach 2.44, Yeager lost aerodynamic control of the X-1A due to inertia coupling at about 80,000 ft (24,000 m). With the aircraft simultaneously rolling, pitching, and yawing out of the sky, Yeager dropped 51,000 feet (16,000 m) in 51 seconds before regaining control of the aircraft around 29,000 feet (8,800 m). He was able to land the aircraft without further incident. Yeager was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal (DSM) in 1954 for this achievement. Yeager received the DSM in the Army design as the Air Force Distinguished Service Medal was not awarded until 1965.
Yeager was foremost a fighter pilot and held several squadron and wing commands. From May 1955 to July 1957 he commanded the F-86H Sabre-equipped 417th Fighter-Bomber Squadron (50th Fighter-Bomber Wing) at Hahn AB, Germany, and Toul-Rosieres Air Base, France; and from 1957 to 1960 the F-100D Super Sabre-equipped 1st Fighter Day Squadron (later, while still under Yeager's command, re-designated the 306th Tactical Fighter Squadron) at George Air Force Base, California, and Morón Air Base, Spain.
Now a full colonel in 1962, after completion of a year's studies at the Air War College, Yeager became the first commandant of the USAF Aerospace Research Pilot School, which produced astronauts for NASA and the USAF, after its redesignation from the USAF Flight Test Pilot School. (Yeager himself had only a high school education, so he was not eligible to become an astronaut like those he trained.) Between December 1963 and January 1964, Yeager completed five flights in the NASA M2-F1lifting body. An accident during a December 1963 test flight in one of the school's NF-104s eventually put an end to his record attempts.
In 1966 Yeager took command of the 405th Tactical Fighter Wing at Clark Air Base, the Philippines, whose squadrons were deployed on rotational temporary duty (TDY) in South Vietnam and elsewhere in Southeast Asia. There he accrued another 414 hours of combat time in 127 missions, mostly in a Martin B-57 Canberra light bomber. In February 1968, Yeager was assigned command of the 4th Tactical Fighter Wing at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina, and led the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II wing in South Korea during the Pueblo crisis.
On June 22, 1969, Yeager was promoted to brigadier general and was assigned in July as the vice-commander of the Seventeenth Air Force.
From 1971 to 1973, at the behest of Ambassador Joe Farland, Yeager was assigned to Pakistan to advise the Pakistan Air Force. In one of the numerous raids carried out by Indian pilots against Pakistani airfields, Yeager's plane was destroyed while it was parked at Islamabad airport. Edward C. Ingraham, a U.S diplomat who had served as political counselor to Ambassador Farland in Islamabad recalled this incident in the Washington Monthly of October, 1985: "After Yeager’s Beechcraft was destroyed during an Indian air raid, he raged to his cowering colleagues that the Indian pilot had been specifically instructed by Indira Gandhi to blast his plane. 'It was,' he later wrote, 'the Indian way of giving Uncle Sam the finger.'" 
On March 1, 1975, following assignments in Germany and Pakistan, Yeager retired from the Air Force at Norton Air Force Base after serving over 33 years on active duty, although he continued to occasionally fly for the USAF and NASA as a consulting test pilot at Edwards AFB.[Note 4]
Yeager made a cameo appearance in the movie The Right Stuff (1983). He played "Fred," a bartender at "Pancho's Place", which was most appropriate, as Yeager said, "if all the hours were ever totaled, I reckon I spent more time at her place than in a cockpit over those years." His own role in the movie was played by Sam Shepard.
For several years in the 1980s, Yeager was connected to General Motors, publicizing AC Delco, the company's automotive parts division. In 1986 he was invited to drive the Chevrolet Corvettepace car for the 70th running of the Indianapolis 500. In 1988, Yeager was again invited to drive the pace car, this time at the wheel of an Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme. In 1986, President Reagan appointed Yeager to the Rogers Commission that investigated the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Yeager set several light general aircraft performance records for speed, range, and endurance. Most notable were flights conducted on behalf of Piper Aircraft. On one such flight, Yeager performed an emergency landing as a result of fuel exhaustion. On another, he piloted Piper's turbopropCheyenne 400LS to a time-to-height record: FL350 (35,000 feet) in 16 minutes, exceeding the climb performance of a Boeing 737 at gross weight.
During this time Yeager also served as a technical adviser for three Electronic Arts flight simulator video games. The games include Chuck Yeager's Advanced Flight Trainer, Chuck Yeager's Advanced Flight Trainer 2.0, and Chuck Yeager's Air Combat. The game manuals featured quotes and anecdotes from Yeager, and were well received by players. Missions featured several of Yeager's accomplishments and let players attempt to top his records. Chuck Yeager's Advanced Flight Trainer was Electronic Art's top selling game for 1987.
In 2009, Yeager participated in the documentary The Legend of Pancho Barnes and the Happy Bottom Riding Club, a profile of his friend Pancho Barnes. The documentary was screened at film festivals, aired on public television in the United States and won an Emmy Award.
Yeager is fully retired from military test flying, after having maintained that status for three decades after his official retirement from the Air Force. On October 14, 1997, on the 50th anniversary of his historic flight past Mach 1, he flew a new Glamorous Glennis III, an F-15D Eagle, past Mach 1. The chase plane for the flight was an F-16 Fighting Falcon piloted by Bob Hoover, a longtime test and air show pilot who had been Yeager's wingman for the first supersonic flight. This was Yeager's last official flight with the U.S. Air Force. At the end of his speech to the crowd, Yeager concluded, "All that I am ... I owe to the Air Force." Later that month, he was the recipient of the Tony Jannus Award for his achievements.
On October 14, 2012, on the 65th anniversary of breaking the sound barrier, Yeager did it again at the age of 89, riding in a McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle piloted by Captain David Vincent out of Nellis Air Force Base.
Awards and decorations
In 1973, Yeager was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame, arguably aviation's highest honor. In December 1975, the U.S. Congress awarded Yeager a silver medal "equivalent to a noncombat Medal of Honor ... for contributing immeasurably to aerospace science by risking his life in piloting the XS-1 research airplane faster than the speed of sound on October 14, 1947." President Gerald Ford presented the medal to Yeager in a ceremony at the White House on December 8, 1976.[Note 5]
Yeager, who never attended college and was often modest about his background, is considered by many, including Flying Magazine, the California Hall of Fame, the State of West Virginia, National Aviation Hall of Fame, a few U.S. presidents, and the United States Army Air Force, to be one of the greatest pilots of all time. Despite his lack of higher education, he has been honored in his home state. Marshall University has named its highest academic scholarship, the Society of Yeager Scholars, in his honor. Yeager was also the chairman of Experimental Aircraft Association's Young Eagle Program from 1994–2004, and has been named the program's chairman emeritus.
Yeager Airport in Charleston, West Virginia, is named in his honor. The Interstate 64/Interstate 77 bridge over the Kanawha River in Charleston is named in his honor. On October 19, 2006, the state of West Virginia also honored Yeager with a marker along Corridor G (part of U.S. 119) in his home Lincoln County, and also renamed part of the highway the Yeager Highway.
Yeager is an honorary board member of the humanitarian organization Wings of Hope. On August 25, 2009, Governor Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver announced that Yeager would be one of 13 California Hall of Fame inductees in The California Museum's yearlong exhibit. The induction ceremony was on December 1, 2009, in Sacramento, California. Flying Magazine ranked Yeager number 5 on its 2013 list of The 51 Heroes of Aviation; he is the highest-ranked living person on the list.
The Civil Air Patrol, the volunteer auxiliary of the USAF, awards the Charles E. "Chuck" Yeager Award to its Senior Members as part of its Aerospace Education program. The General Chuck Yeager Cadet Squadron (SER-FL-237), associated with the Florida Wing, Civil Air Patrol, and based in Brandon, Florida, is also named in his honor.
Yeager named his plane after his wife Glennis as a good-luck charm; "You're my good-luck charm, hon. Any airplane I name after you always brings me home". Yeager and Glennis moved to Grass Valley, California, after his retirement from the Air Force in 1975. The couple prospered because of Yeager's best-selling autobiography, speaking engagements and commercial ventures. Glennis Yeager died of ovarian cancer in 1990. They had four children (Susan, Don, Mickey and Sharon).
In 2000, Yeager met actress Victoria Scott D'Angelo on a hiking trail in Nevada County. The pair started dating shortly thereafter, and married in August 2003. Subsequent to the commencement of their relationship, a bitter dispute arose between Yeager, his children and D'Angelo. The children contended that D'Angelo, 41 years Yeager's junior, had married him for his fortune. Yeager and D'Angelo both denied the charge. Litigation ensued, in which his children accused D'Angelo of "undue influence" on Yeager, and Yeager accused his children of diverting hundreds of thousands of dollars from his pension fund. In August 2008, the California Court of Appeal ruled for Yeager, finding that his daughter Susan had breached her duty as trustee.
Yeager and Victoria reside in Penn Valley, California, the location of the General Chuck Yeager Foundation, which supports programs that "teach the ideals by which General Yeager has lived." He is noted for his outspoken criticism of the UK, for example on Twitter.
- ^Chuck Yeager is not related to Jeana Yeager, one of the two pilots of the Rutan Voyager aircraft, which circled the world without landing or refueling.
- ^In some versions of the story, the doctor was a veterinarian; however, local residents have noted that Rosamond was so small that it had neither a medical doctor nor a veterinarian.
- ^There is anecdotal evidence that American pilot George Welch may have broken the sound barrier two weeks before Yeager, while diving an XP-86 Sabre on October 1, 1947, and again on October 14, just 30 minutes before Yeager's X-1 flight. However, the precision instruments used to carefully document the speed of Yeager's flight were not used during Welch's flights. There was also a disputed claim by German pilot Hans Guido Mutke that he was the first person to break the sound barrier, on April 9, 1945, in a Me 262.