March 19, 2022

Rick Mantei flies to Tuscon for 91st birthday of Col. Storey
to present picture of his life in person

  On Saturday, March 19th, retired Air Force Lt. Col. Rick Mantei took a very special trip from South Carolina to Tuscon, Arizona, to visit a mentor he hadn’t seen in 46 years. That man is Lt. Colonel Thomas Gordon Storey, who not only instructed Mantei at the U.S. Air Force Academy, but who is also one of the longest-held American prisoners of war in U.S. history. 

On January 16th of 1967, Lt. Col. Storey, then a Major in the US Air Force, was shot down in his F4-C Phantom II over Hanoi in North Vietnam. After evading capture for five days, he was eventually tracked down by dogs and shot in the ensuing chase before being taken prisoner. During his imprisonment he endured ungodly torture and overall maltreatment, as well as brutal punishments for his two escape attempts. He was held for a total of 2,239 days, before finally being released on March 4, 1973 during Operation Homecoming.

Lt. Col. Storey was featured in the book We Came Home by Barbara Powers Wyatt, copywrite 1977, along with some of his personal reflections: 

“During my imprisonment, I pondered the then and now, those foundations upon which this great nation was founded, the telling points in history that clearly defined to all the necessity for such sacrifices as mine, and foremost, the present and future responsibilities of all freedom loving people. I thought of the strange and changing circumstances and trials of our America and the comforting knowledge that throughout all previous national crises an undaunted spirit of the American man, the American ideal, and the American thought had been sustained within the hearts [of] most Americans and rang as a clarion for future generations. I thought of America not as a place, but a process.”

 After his return home, Lt. Col. Storey went on to serve as the Director of Operations for the T-41 Mescalero flying program at the U.S. Air Force Academy. There, in 1975, he instructed Rick Mantei in piloting the aircraft, and soloed him in it, as well. When asked who Lt. Col. Storey is to him, Mantei answered, “He’s my hero.” Thus, for Lt. Col. Storey’s 91st birthday, Mantei designed and created a plaque for him featuring photos of his life and career. As an added touch, he included a framed 1931 dime for the year of his birth, as there were no silver dollars minted in that year. Lt. Col. Storey was thrilled by the gift, and the two spent three jovial hours at Storey’s home in Tuscon reminiscing and catching up, 46 years after Mantei’s solo flight with him. 

“One thing I’ve learned,” Mantei said after his visit with Lt. Col. Storey, “Is that you never take these people in your life for granted. If you can see them, talk to them, listen to them, spend time with them, do it.”