Something Bigger: A Career of Service
Tom Hemingway ’62, JD’65 has seen things not many Americans have seen. The retired U.S. Air Force brigadier general hunkered near the busiest runway in Southeast Asia when sideburned news anchors talked about the region every day and his stateside comrades ran the risk of being spit on in public. He ran 17 Air Force legal offices from a post in 1980s West Germany. He squeezed onto the other side of some very tall fences during his deployments — literally and figuratively — because his role as a judge advocate required him to do so.
And he can’t seem to stay retired. After his first try, Hemingway was recalled to active duty because the Department of Defense’s Office of Military Commission — the office with the knotty job of trying enemy combatants — wanted his know-how. Later, he returned as senior advisor to the deputy secretary of commerce for several years, as if one retirement was not enough. Hemingway’s path to the present makes for quite a story, even though he’s still writing it.
When Hemingway was making his way through the sociology department at Willamette in 1962, every male student was co-enrolled in the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) for at least the first two years. Some opted out as juniors to pursue other things, but others, like Hemingway, continued into advanced training. The Air Force was the lone branch represented on Willamette’s campus and it put pilots through initial training out at Salem’s McNary Field, where today only a few olive drab helicopters remind us of the place’s military history.
Hemingway spent some time in the cockpits of ROTC Cessnas — small, single-engine propeller trainers — but piloting didn’t call out to him. He wanted to be a lawyer. The trouble was that his ROTC supervisors objected to the idea. Hemingway, who only became energized about law as a senior, was crossing to the other side of a very linear road to the Air Force.
“When the folks at ROTC found out I was thinking about military law, they didn’t like it a bit,” he says. “They viewed their mission as pumping out pilots. One of the instructors finally told me if I wanted to go to law school, I had to turn in my admission paperwork the very next day.”
So Hemingway walked over to the College of Law to see the dean. “It was a huge advantage to be the student body president because I knew who all the administrators were,” he says. The dean was out of town, but Hemingway talked with the secretary, who set him up to take the law entrance exam right there. In the 1960s, the law test — the equivalent of the current LSAT — was graded on-site instead of at a central location. Because of this, the secretary was able to return 45 minutes after Hemingway was finished taking the test and report that he had scored in the 92nd percentile. She wrote a letter of acceptance for him and he turned that in to ROTC. “They were all scratching their heads wondering how I did it,” he says.
Work on his JD kept Hemingway at Willamette for an extra three years. He was granted an academic extension from the Air Force along with his acceptance into the College of Law, meaning that he would not deploy until 1965. He never changed his mind about where he was headed, so despite a fondness for the greens and grays of the landscape at home, he made his way to the desert and a new tone altogether.
ROTC at Willamette. Doney Hall in the background
Built on sandy acreage in Tucson, Ariz., Davis-Monthan Air Force Base is a group of utilitarian buildings stacked next to each other at the center of a ring of ruddy mountains. Aircraft approach out of the southwest through the blueness and onto a runway bleached by the Arizona sun. To say that Davis- Monthan was a departure from the temperate Willamette campus is a little bit like calling the Grand Canyon deep.
The base was connected to a large hospital complex, so Hemingway’s initial responsibilities all involved medical law. “The first four years in service I tried over 400 cases,” he says. “I did a lot of work with medical claims — I was responsible for medical malpractice cases. I even had to take a course at the University of Arizona medical school in anatomy for lawyers.”
The combination of practicing law and integrating into a new military system foreshadowed jobs to come. “Practicing law in the military is always challenging because you never know who you’re going to be dealing with,” he says. “Civilians sometimes say that it’s a secure environment, but I never knew from one day to the next who my boss was going to be.”
Nor did he know where the next assignment would take him.
By the time he was ordered to Southeast Asia in 1969, to be stationed at Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base, he had a combination of experience and skills that made him an important asset to the Air Force. “Udorn was up in northeast Thailand,” he says. “Interesting base. We had the busiest single runway in Southeast Asia. We had a big F-4 Phantom [fighterbomber] wing there and two rescue helicopter squadrons. But what really piqued my interest was that Air America worked out of there.” Air America, the CIA’s airline, occupied the side of the base that was off-limits to most of the people there who weren’t directly associated with the organization.
But Hemingway’s job as chief of military justice and provincial liaison with the Thai government meant that he provided legal support to everybody — and it allowed him a degree of mobility he shared only with the doctors on base. It also required him to make periodic visits up north to Laos, which, because the U.S. was not supposed to have any troops in the country, meant changing into civilian clothes, ditching his military ID and moving around the region under the radar.
Davis-Monthan Air Force base, Tucson, Ariz.
Returning to Academia
The Air Force sent Hemingway out of Southeast Asia according to schedule in 1970. His next lengthy assignment had him working within the relative normalcy of the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, where he taught law to undergraduates. The environment was similar in some ways to what he had enjoyed at Willamette — the 20-year-olds and the subject matter were familiar — but some elements were brand new.
“The military service academies were the first to have law departments in their undergraduate programs,” he says. In a sense, Hemingway was among a few innovators teaching undergraduates things normally kept for law school. “We taught required courses in law and we wrote our own textbooks. In the summertime, the law faculty was there rewriting our books for the next year to stay current.” The experience fed an existing academic drive in Hemingway to consume written material, process ideas and talk about them (always a prolific reader, his interview for The Scene included a couple book recommendations). “Back when I came to Willamette as a student, I thought that I’d spend the first two years there and then transfer out,” he recalls. “But I liked the place so much, I never left. It was because of the classes — rarely did I have a class in excess of 20 people.”
“There was a professor of history at Willamette, Charles Ruud, whom I will never forget,” he says. “He gave me an interest in history. He expected us to understand causes. It wasn’t just the events and people we were talking about — what we had to understand was why.”
With four years of teaching under his belt, Hemingway, by this time a major, moved to McChord Air Force Base near Tacoma, Wash. He served as the base’s staff judge advocate — essentially the senior lawyer on a commander’s staff. It was the position that he would build upon for the rest of his career.
At McChord the position was something akin to a city attorney, where the “real-world” issues of a large population applied despite being on a military air base with a presumed degree of isolation. “Any time you’ve got 10 to 20 thousand people on a base, you’ve got the criminal law, labor law, environmental law and contract law issues of any metropolitan area,” Hemingway says.
The McChord assignment widened Hemingway’s window of responsibility, and he didn’t want to leave the base when the time came. Aside from a fondness for the job, he felt a tug toward the Northwest. “I called the personnel branch to see if I could stay a fifth year and I had to hold the phone away from my ear because of the laughter on the other end,” he says. Assignments, apparently, weren’t made because they were scenic.
In July 1979, the Air Force transferred Hemingway a few thousand miles from Washington State to West Germany, where he lucked out, as he puts it, and got another assignment as a staff judge advocate. This time it was at Rhein-Main Air Base in Frankfurt. Service in West Germany meant that he would be part of the U.S. Air Forces in Europe (USAFE) network, which, as the name implies, covers the Europe-based system of U.S. air assets.
At the same time familiar and new, Hemingway’s position gave him more experience navigating special legal territory. He was on the debriefing team, for example, when U.S. embassy hostages came out of Tehran after 444 days of captivity at the hands of a radical group of Iranian militants.
It was a sign that Hemingway was on the move within the Air Force. By late 1983 he was a colonel and had been put in charge of criminal law for the whole branch in Washington, D.C. This meant getting involved to a new degree with the U.S. legislature, which provided an interesting lesson in the value of flexibility.
“Nowadays, less than one percent of the population serves in the military,” he says. “If you’re going to work together with Congress, you’ve also got an education mission.” In other words, part of Hemingway’s job — aside from running the criminal law system of the Air Force and chairing the Joint Service Committee on Military Justice — was to help those around him understand the decisions he was facing. The teaching experience in Colorado Springs came in handy with the regulators.
Shortly, after a stint as director of the judiciary (which was the first time he served in “a brigadier general’s spot”), Hemingway moved east once again to West Germany, where he became even more fundamentally involved with USAFE.
“The Air Force called me and said, ‘How would you like to be reassigned?’” Not one to shrug off the duty (“When the Air Force calls and asks, there’s really only one answer”), he accepted a new tour to Sembach Air Base in West Germany’s southern half. The base was the headquarters of the 17th Air Force, and Hemingway’s staff judge advocate job was a big one. At the time, the 17th Air Force — one of many geographically organized groups just below the major command level — was the largest numbered air force in the world. “We had more planes and bases than all of the Pacific air forces combined,” Hemingway says.
Within three years, a short move to Ramstein Air Base made Hemingway staff judge advocate for all of USAFE, which put him in charge of 38 legal offices in 17 countries. He was given the job when the command was at its largest size ever. By the time of his departure from USAFE in 1990, the absence of Cold War rumblings and the dismantling of cruise missile bases had signaled a retraction of Air Force assets abroad.
Hemingway’s return to Washington, D.C., in May 1990 marked the end of his service abroad. However, while he would remain on American soil for the duration of his Air Force career, it was during this period of time that he stepped up from the rank of colonel to brigadier general.
He was initially assigned to the Pentagon as director of the judiciary. Again, the role demanded that he cooperate with lawyers and officials from disparate organizations and multiple branches of the military. All told, he had around 650 lawyers around the world under his supervision. “I thought I was going to retire out of that position,” he says. “But that’s when lightning struck and I got promoted to brigadier general.”
Subsequently, yet another move took him to Scott Air Force Base in Illinois and a new kind of multitasking.
“I wore two hats,” he says. “I was staff judge advocate for Air Mobility Command, and chief counsel at the U.S. Transportation Command — which was a unified command, meaning that it included all military branches.”
There were a lot of gears to keep moving at the same time. Hemingway worked with contract officers at the same time that he supervised lawyers. He also helped manage the civil reserve air fleet, which facilitates business between private airlines and the Department of Defense to provide airliners for transportation in case of military mobilization. He also oversaw contracting for civilian trucking firms and sealift companies. “If the Department of Defense needed something moved,” he says, “we did it organically with military transportation or contracted for it.”
Retirement and Reactivation
The first retirement for Hemingway came in 1996, but he stayed busy afterward consulting for groups in Washington, D.C. He never referred to this period of work as practicing law, he points out, because he typically worked with corporations who would call with questions having to do with policy decisions and how to do business with the government. “I got paid good money for giving them simple answers,” he says.
In 2002, the Air Force called Hemingway and advised him that the Department of Defense had asked them to nominate people for the position of legal advisor for military commissions. It was Guantanamo Bay business — addressing the issues of trying enemy combatants at a time when they were surrounded by the fog of the impending war in Iraq and the confusion of changing policy. Hemingway was activated in the summer of 2003.
He served the Department of Defense for another three years but family brought him into his second retirement when his oldest daughter was diagnosed with cancer. He spent several years traveling to and from her home in Yorktown, Va., offering his time and whatever else he could, until she passed away in May 2008.
“Five days after that happened, the deputy secretary of commerce called me. He said, ‘I want you to do everything I don’t have time to do,’ so I went to work as his senior advisor.” It was back to the heavy lifting: Hemingway worked on technology, information security and interagency issues, among other things. Air, sea and land transportation had given way by this time to satellite acquisition and tracking, and he cooperated with the National Institute of Standards and Technology as well as the Department of Homeland Security, which was in charge at the top level.
The final assignment lasted until Jan. 20, 2009. For the third time, Hemingway decided to retire, and so far it has stuck.
But he still isn’t content with idleness. For the last few years, he has worked closely with the Vanguard Foundation, the largest non-profit substance abuse treatment organization in the national capital region. He has done everything from fundraising to helping run the board of directors. He also holds a seat in the American Bar Association House of Delegates, where he represents the Judge Advocates Association. In April 2009, Hemingway, now 70, was elected secretary for the Army and Navy Club in Washington, D.C.
During a career so filled with movement, Hemingway’s focus has remained on an idea he doesn’t consider mutable.
“Some people don’t understand the concept of service and working for something that’s bigger,” he says. “In the military I’ve always been working for something bigger.” The many jobs around the world are Hemingway’s expressions of duty, he would say, as well as — fittingly enough — Willamette’s motto.
Tom Hemingway ’62, JD’65 (back row, fourth from left) was one of our alumni citation award winners back in 2002, when the university recognized him for his steady service and continual application of the university’s motto, “Not unto ourselves alone are we born.”
The alumni citation program is still a crucial part of what we do, and this year it is getting a bit of a makeover.
Citation awards have historically been connected to Reunion Weekend, but they will exist as separate events beginning in February 2011. This is our way of recognizing our award winners in a forum that is more tailored to them and more flexible for everyone else.
We are seeking nominations for the February citation awards. If you know of an alumnus who deserves recognition for exemplary service, success or innovation, please let us know. Your nominations make this important program possible year after year.
Read about the different types of awards and make your nomination at willamette.edu/alumni/recognition.