11 August 1926 - 13 January 1969
Died on Ho Chi Minh Trail, Viet Nam (Laos); Presumed Killed In Action.
Aged 42 years.

The photograph in the Class of '49 Howitzer shows a good-looking, resolute cadet, clearly intelligent and proud in bearing, looking us straight in the eye. But there is something more. One sees the hint of a smile and a twinkle in those eyes, as if some amusing thought had just come to mind. All his life he would keep that twinkle in his eyes.

That life for Norman Dale Eaton began in southern Colorado, in the little town of La Veta, as the son of Frank Dale and Clara Irene Eaton. The family later moved to Weatherford, OK, where he grew up.

His father was a college instructor and businessman, and his mother also was a teacher, so the value of learning and education were instilled traits that would always re-main with him. He attended public schools and South-western State College and entered the Army Air Corps near the end of WWII. Norman, or Dale, as his classmates knew him, entered West Point in August 1945, missing most of the essential character training of Beast Barracks enjoyed by the rest of his classmates. He atoned for that lack by graduating 36th in the class and balancing his studies with cadet activities. He sang with the Glee Club, skied, and, being a true Oklahoman, wrestled for his company intramural team. Along the way, he managed to catch the eye of a beautiful young lady, Joan "Jean" Donoghue, who became his wife on Graduation Day.

Flight training in the recently created Air Force was Dale's first assignment. He attended basic training in the T-6 at Randolph Air Force Base, TX, and advanced training in the F-51 at Nellis AFB, NV, where his son Paul was born in 1950. Dale then attended basic instructor pilot training at Perrin AFB and, eventually, instructed at the Jet All Weather Instrument School in Valdosta, GA, an assignment for the most skilled and adept of fliers.

In 1955-57, he earned a master's degree at the University of Wisconsin and then spent four years as a member of the History Department at the fledgling Air Force Academy. During those years, sons Dwight and Frank rounded out the family.

Before leaving the Air Force Academy, Dale was offered a full professorship in the history department; however, he turned it down for an assignment at SHAPE in Paris and a broader career in command and operations. Assignment to the Air Staff at the Pentagon in the Directorate of Plans followed. Dale continued his excellent performance as an action officer and developed a ferocious game of squash, taking on all comers at the Pentagon Officers Athletic Club.

Along the way, he also attended the usual professional schools: Squadron Officers School (1952); CGSC (1962); and the Air War College (1967-68). As graduation from the Air War College neared, he volunteered for fighter pilot duty in Viet Nam. He expected training in the F-4 Phantom but was assigned at the last minute to Hill AFB, UT, for training in the B-57 Canberra. Upon completion, Dale was assigned to the 8th Tactical Bombardment Squadron at Phan Rang, Viet Nam, with a stopover at Clark AFB, Philippines, for gunnery and bombing brush up. A fellow classmate remembers him getting off the airplane with a big smile on his face and a tennis racquet in his hand.

The B-57 mission conducted night interdiction against supply and personnel movements along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, leading from North Viet Nam through Laos into South Viet Nam. They worked with Airborne forward controllers using night-vision equipment to locate targets. With eight bombs aboard, the usual procedure allotted eight separate passes; as tactical fighters, only one pass was made and all their ordnance was dropped simultaneously in order to reduce exposure over the target. The vice wing commander, an F-100 pilot, rode on one night mission. He said, "You guys have the most dangerous mission on the base!" Not much disagreement there.

During that tour, Dale's skills as a staff officer became known to the headquarters in Saigon, and he was offered a staff position in the Directorate of Operations. The offer was a tactful way for headquarters to obtain fresh officers with operational experience. Dale wanted to take the job, but he also felt the need to complete his duty and his combat flying assignment. He finally decided to take the job after completing 100 missions. He never reached that goal.

On 13 Jan 1969, Dale became missing in action and eventually was declared killed in action. His name holds an honored place on the wall at the Viet Nam Memorial, along with five other members of the Class of '49.

While we wish that Dale had taken the staff position without setting that extra requirement for himself, we realize that just was not his way. He answered the call of duty as he saw it, regardless of hardship or cost. "Duty, Honor, Country" was a way of life to him. In this case, it turned out to be more important than life itself.

When such a fulfilled and promising life is cut short, there are regrets. There is regret that he was not here to witness his son Paul graduate as a member of the Class of '72. Paul now serves as a major general in the Army. There is regret that he was not here to follow the careers of his sons Dwight and Frank, one in finance and the other in law. And there is regret that he did not live to see the fine families of his sons and his seven grandchildren, one of whom graduated in the West Point Bicentennial Class of '02. Yet, somewhere, we have to believe that he is looking down at us with that hint of a smile and certainly that twinkle in his eyes.

Well done, Norman Dale Eaton.

His family and classmates

Personal Eulogy
Class Website
1949 TAPS
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