Former mayor shares memories of war, blizzard


ANDALUSIA, Ala. — At 91 years old, Herb Carlisle has been around to see America’s transformations.

In fact, having served as mayor of Fairborn from 1977 to 1979, Carlisle had a hand in shaping some of them.

A Korean War veteran, minister, and retired public servant, Carlisle has breadth and depth of life experience, which he shares in his recently published memoir, “From Poverty to Lower Middle Class.”

Carlisle served in a MASH unit during the Korean War, and moved to Fairborn in the 1960s. As a civilian requirements specialist at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, his primary task was to obtain quality parts for aircraft construction.

At the time, Fairborn was just over 10 years old. It had only one restaurant, and a two-lane main road used by more than 20,000 people. In 1970, Carlisle ran for city council, and won his seat in 1971. Neither city council members nor the mayor had term limits. Carlisle worked to pass a referendum that set term limits to eight years.

After six years serving on city council while working full-time at Wright-Patt, Carlisle decided to run for mayor. With the outgoing mayor approaching the newly imposed term limit, Carlisle was determined to throw his hat in the ring.

“I must have knocked on 3,500 doors,” he said of his mayoral campaign. “I had two ladies approach me who offered to be campaign managers. They were wonderful. They made several wooden signs for people to put in their yards.”

The night of election, Carlisle threw a party, and spent the evening going around greeting people, smiling and shaking hands.

“Someone asked me, ‘Why are you not concerned about the election returns?’” Carlisle recalled. “I said, ‘I’m going to have a party whether we won or lost.’”

Carlisle was sworn in as mayor on Dec. 7, 1977.

“Those two years as mayor were the hardest I’ve ever worked in my life,” he said.

Within a month and a half, he would face one of his largest challenges in the position. At 3:45 a.m. on Jan. 25, 1978, Carlisle was woken by a phone call from the city manager. A blizzard had descended upon the town, trapping Fairborn citizens under feet of snow. The city council had set up a command center, and a snow plow would be at his home to pick him up in 15 minutes.

For five days he and city council members ate, slept, and worked in the command center.

“We called people who had four-wheel drive vehicles, and civilian snow plows to run errands for people who needed meals,” Carlisle recalled.

The council also enlisted the aid of military vehicles to supply people with food, water, and other basic needs while the blizzard settled on the city.

Later that year, Dayton Mayor James McGee put forth a proposal to annex Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. In exchange, Dayton would support the completion of I-675, which had sat incomplete for years. This was troubling, as Air Force leaders wished for the base to remain independent.

The completion of I-675 would greatly benefit the surrounding communities, including Fairborn, but national and local leaders agreed that such an economic boon should not be tied to a military installation, and the potential tax dollars therein. Combining the efforts of 17 mayors from surrounding towns, Mayor Carlisle was appointed the head of a task force that would both block the annexation of the base, and ensure the completion of the highway.

“I wrote letters to Dayton but they never answered,” Carlisle said. “So we decided the matter needed to go to Washington.”

Interfacing directly with senators and the Department of Defense, Carlisle and his fellows lobbied their case at the Pentagon. Their efforts were successful, and Dayton’s request to annex the base was denied.

Carlisle retired in 1983, returning to his childhood home of Andalusia, Ala. Five years later, he returned to Fairborn to see the fruits of his labor. To this day, Wright-Patterson remains un-annexed. I-675 has been constructed, and he and his family drove down the finished highway during their visit.

“It was interesting to see it all completed,” he said.

Now approaching his 92nd birthday, Carlisle lives in Andalusia with his wife. His memoir is available from Amazon in both paperback and Kindle format.

Submitted photos The 1978 blizzard command center worked around the clock to support people locked in by snow. photos The 1978 blizzard command center worked around the clock to support people locked in by snow.

Herb Carlisle served in a MASH unit during the Korean War. Carlisle served in a MASH unit during the Korean War.

By London Bishop

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Reach London Bishop at (937) 502-4532

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