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Finley remembers Army, Air Force career

Octave Finley led the grand entry at the Two Eagle River Elders Week Powwow on May 27. But before Finley became War Dance Chief and before he was chaplain for the Veteran Warrior’s Society, he spent 20 years in the service. Finley was in the army from 1951-1952 serving in Seoul, Korea, and Japan. After he returned home to the Mission Valley, jobs were tough to find. 

Finley said he said to himself, “I know where there’s a bed and meals.” 

So Finley went back into the service, this time the Air Force, to Lackland Air Force Base for basic training and then on to Walker AFB. Finley said he worked with cars before he went in the military so maybe because of that experience he became an aircraft mechanic.

He got tired of working on C-133’s at Travis AFB so he volunteered for worldwide service, which means he could be shipped anywhere in the world since he was a top notch mechanic.

“Guess where they sent me?” Finley said. “Oklahoma City.”  

Finley flew around the globe three times from Tinker AFB in Oklahoma City. And travel wasn’t all he found in the southern state.

“I captured my wife in Oklahoma,” Finley said with a grin. 

Finley and his wife Edna will have been married for 49 years this year. They have four children: Frank, Dusty, Angie and Samantha.  

 After Tinker AFB, Finley and his family moved to Elmensdorf AFB in Anchorage, Alaska. 

One memory that sticks in Finley’s mind about Elmensdorf is a kid coming home from Vietnam with his legs all wrapped up. He talked the corpsmen into letting him out in Anchorage to get his picture taken in the snow. He would be discharged in Florida and probably would never see snow again. The snowbanks were high as a house, Finley said, so they propped the young man up against the snowbanks and then he threw himself over backwards into the snow before they hustled him back into the plane.

Finley didn’t mind the snow in Alaska, but it reminded him of a trip to Portsmouth, N.H. where the snowbanks were at least car high. 

“It was like driving through tunnels,” Finley.

It was a different experience with Indians back there, Finley said, because the city limits was the size of the reservation. 

“All those guys had to do was drink and fight,” Finley said. 

About 10 years later that tribe got a bigger reservation, Finley added.

Finley also was in the honor guard for the 509th Bomb Wing and spent five years escorting caskets home. 

He took discharge from Norton AFB, Calif., and received a good conduct medal with a silver knot in it for 20 years service, and the family came home on April Fool’s Day.  

Before that Finley said, “The most homesick I ever got was flying out of McChord AFB in Tacoma, Wash.”  

It was a nice clear day, and they were flying over Montana. Finley could see Highway 93, all the way from Missoula to Kalispell.

But the places Finley visited during his 20 years in the service that reminded him most of home were Athens, Greece, and Alaska. 

Finley grew up about three miles north of St. Ignatius near where Pinsoneault Road is today. He lived with his grandmother, and they took a horse and buggy to church every Sunday. 

Finley and his family settled in Pablo, and he “monkeyed around for a month and then Edna said get a job.”

Finley worked for the Flathead Irrigation District/Mission Valley Power when they were still connected. When the two businesses split, Finley went with the irrigation district. 

After retiring from the irrigation district, he worked for the tribe until his final retirement.

Finley was a member of the Veteran Warrior Society as chaplain. One year Finley said there were more than 90 deaths on the reservation. He’s mostly retired from his chaplain job.

“Today, my only problem is this,” Finley said. “You know how big a thimble is? Well, what I know about a Volkswagon might halfway fill a thimble. I got one out back I’m trying to make into a trike.”

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