Flying high: Dean Bristow of Payson reflects on years of military service

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When Dean Bristow was just three years old, he would often look up to the sky to see the airplanes flying high, and wanted to be among the pilots.

Born in 1938, just a couple of years before World War II started, Bristow knew what it was like to live during wartime. Unlike many during his day, his dad wasn’t numbered among the soldiers fighting, but he worked in the orange industry in Orange County, California. Even so, seeing those planes and growing up with an awareness of the need for willing soldiers, after graduating high school, Bristow decided he wanted to attend the U.S. Air Force Academy.

The year was 1955, and it was the first year that the academy was open. Being that there were very few open spots, and the appointment process rigorous, Bristow would need to wait one more year before entering the academy. 

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“I missed being appointed by one place.” Bristow said. “There were 23 men appointed, and I was number 24.”

While at the academy, Bristow managed the fencing team, was awarded the aeronautical rating of Navigator, and was commissioned as a second lieutenant upon graduation in June 1960. Immediately after, he began training for what he had wanted to become since he was a child: A pilot. 

There was one thing that Bristow didn’t know about flying a plane, however, and that is how loud it is. 

He described flying a solo twin engine named the T-37 – also known as a “Tweet” for its loud scream. He also flew what is called the Douglas C-124 Globemaster II, nicknamed “Old Shaky,” which was primarily a heavy-lift transport airplane. 

Transporting equipment is what Bristow said he mostly did as a pilot, and he said he flew many missions to Vietnam doing just that.

Finding love

It wouldn’t be a war story without a love segue, and this one is no different.

In 1960, Bristow met an airline stuartist who introduced him to the LDS religion, which he soon was baptized a member of. While the stewardess introduced him to a belief system, this wasn’t a story of pilot meets stewardess and falls in love; he would need to go searching for love. 

“I went looking for a Mormon girl,” he said. “I had a friend who told me of a girl named Sandy who was serving a mission in Georgia. I started writing her letters, and then I went to Georgia to meet her! I didn’t know all the mission rules and such; I just wanted to meet her.

“I remember reading a talk given by David O’ McKay where he said that if you found a girl that excited all the things in you that are good, then it’s a feeling of true love,” Bristow said. “I decided that she was the girl.”

Bristow described being out on a picnic with a group of people including Sandy, and for a brief moment, they were left alone. It was during that moment when he handed her the talk by McKay along with his army ring, and he asked her to marry him. 

“She took the ring and said yes, but I had to leave that afternoon,” Bristow said. “I got her some roses before I left, but it would be nine more months until she got off her mission.”

When Sandy returned, Bristow said that he got her an engagement ring in the shape of a rose with a small diamond, and they were married in the Mani LDS Temple on May 10, 1963.

Taking a break from the military to raise a family

Bristow and his wife wasted no time in starting a family, and soon had four children, including three daughters and one son. He said that being in the military was challenging while raising a family, and in 1967, he decided to go to medical school to become a urologist. He graduated from University of California Irvine in 1972. After his residency, he opened up a practice in Payson. 

As the years went on, however, Bristow never lost his love of flying. In 1983, when his children were good and grown, he joined the Air National Guard as a flight surgeon, and in 1992 was called back into active duty during the Gulf War. Bristow was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, and was assigned to Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, then to Tucson, Arizona, North Carolina and then Anchorage, Alaska.

Bristow maintained his home in Payson, and said that he and his wife would often fly together to the different Army bases, which he said was something the two of them enjoyed doing. During that time, he even managed to get his MBA from Duke University.

He retired from the military in 2000, and from the medical profession in 2014.

Bristow got choked up when talking about his wife Sandy, who passed away in 2008 after 45 years of marriage. 

He now resides at the Central Utah Veterans Home in Payson, and says he really enjoys it there. 

“I try to meet everyone who lives here,” he said. “This is an excellent place. By far the best.”

Arianne Brown
Arianne Brown
Arianne Brown is a mom of nine who writes columns for many local and national publications. She currently resides in Payson, and enjoys looking for good happenings in her area and sharing them for others to read about. For more of her stories, search "A Mother's Write" on Facebook.
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