Most people don’t have a helipad on their front lawn, a helicopter in their garage, or served in three branches of the military.

Jerry Douglass, 72, is not everyone.

He knew at a very young age he wanted to be a pilot.

“When I was a kid, I would see the P-40s with sharks teeth painted on them, and I thought, ‘Wow. That’s cool. I want to fly something like that,'” remembers Douglass, a Lisbon Realtor.

So, he quit high school his junior year and joined the United States Marine Corps.

“I came home one day and said, ‘That’s it. I’m going into the Marine Corps.’ I thought my folks would say no, but they said OK.”

He was 17.

But since he didn’t graduate from high school, Douglass couldn’t be a pilot. He had to settle with going into Aviation Electronics.

But he still dreamed of flying, and found ways to get up in the air while in the Marines.

He had his first plane ride at 18 years old in a Beech 18.

“I remember looking down at people in cars and thinking that’s so outmoded. This is the way to go,” Douglass remembers.

He started working toward getting qualified to become a pilot and earned his high school General Education Development certificate. Douglass also attended two years of college while in the Marine Corps and was finally ready to go to flight school. 

He transferred to the Navy, and started working toward his wings.

There, he had his first solo flight in a Beechcraft T-34 Mentor aircraft.

“Anybody who solos will, for the rest of their lives, remember that,” says Douglass. “The instructor had me land on a grass strip, and he got out. He said take it around three times, but don’t forget to come back and get me. I guess some of the guys got so excited, they forgot to pick up the instructor and flew back to Pensacola! But I couldn’t believe it. I thought he was crazy; I wasn’t ready. But then I figured if the Navy was going to give this expensive aircraft, I wasn’t going to say no. It was really great. A lot of fun.”

After a year and a half in the Navy, Douglass had his time in. He decided to leave the service, but it was before getting his wings.

For five years, he was a civilian, living primarily in Maine.

Then, in early 1966, during the height of the Vietnam War, he met an Army recruiter and decided to enlist.

He went back to flight school, but this time in the Army. In 1967, he finally had his wings.

Leaving behind a new bride, he flew two tours in Vietnam and earned a couple of Bronze Stars and a multitude of air medals, including one for valor.

After nine years in the Army, Douglass was done.

“It’s very unusual,” said Douglass of his years in three different branches of the military. “Most people don’t believe it. My poor mother couldn’t figure it out, so she just told people I was in the Air Force!”

And even though his years of service are behind him, he still stays active in the community.

When he’s not involved with the Androscoggin Valley Board of Realtors, at Auburn Exchange meetings, or sitting on the board of the Good Shepard Food-Bank, he’s out flying.

“If it’s bright and sunny out, and we can’t find my father, soon it’ll click. He’s out flying,” joked Douglass’ son, Dennis.

Which is why Douglass keeps his helicopter at home.

“This is so convenient. It’s right here.”

Douglass loves his plane. He keeps that at the Auburn-Lewiston Municipal Airport. But when the mood strikes him, he wants to be able to be in the air.

“There is a lot of freedom in flying.”


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