Al Stafford was born on February 23, 1935, in Cambridge, Maryland. He enlisted in the Aviation Cadet Program of the U.S. Navy on September 28, 1955, and was commissioned an Ensign and designated a Naval Aviator at Beeville, Texas, on March 16, 1957. His first assignment was as an air-to-air gunnery instructor at AAS Barin Field, Alabama, from March 1957 to August 1959, followed by service as an A3D Skywarrior pilot with VAH-4 at NAS Whidbey Island, Washington, from August 1959 until he left active duty on September 1, 1960. LT Stafford next attended Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland, before returning to active duty in the Navy on July 22, 1962. His next assignment was as an S-2 Tracker pilot with VU-7 at NAS North Island, California, from August 1962 to August 1964, followed by service with Tactical Air Control Squadron 12 at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado, California, from August 1964 to August 1966. LCDR Stafford next completed A-4 Skyhawk Replacement Air Group training with VA-125 at NAS Lemoore, California, before serving as an A-4E pilot with VA-163 at NAS Lemoore and deployed aboard the aircraft carrier USS Oriskany from June 1967 until he was shot down over North Vietnam and taken as a Prisoner of War on August 31, 1967. After spending 2,023 days in captivity, CDR Stafford was released during Operation Homecoming on March 14, 1973. He was briefly hospitalized to recover from his injuries at the Naval Hospital in San Diego, California, and then served with the Naval Air Facility in Washington, D.C. His final assignment was with Naval Aviation Schools Command at NAS Pensacola, Florida, until his retirement from the Navy on July 1, 1979. Al Stafford died on December 28, 2003.
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds - and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of - wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long delirious, burning blue,
I've topped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew -
And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod
The high untresspassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.