Wayne Wallingford redefines risk in service at Missouri

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somewhere above Vietnam around Christmas 1972, a surface air missile locked on a B-52 hovering 35,000 feet above the ground. Despite the pilot’s best maneuvering efforts, the missile was firmly locked on its target. The rear gunner shouted and the crew of six waited.

And then the missile exploded.

Early.

Wayne Wallingford, Missouri Department of Revenue Directorcan clearly recall his more than 300 combat missions during the Vietnam War in the 1970s. He can always point out all the functions of the various fighter aircraft, how they have changed and transformed over time, and how they are used.

But he has no idea how that missile exploded early – or why the hundreds of shrapnel that peppered their B-52 missed controls, fuel tank and men. (Wallingford said a crew chief stopped counting the holes in their plane at 680.)

Wallingford’s subtle bravery continued with him throughout his life of service – from his time in the Air Force to his business career to his public service in the legislature and the executive.

Wayne Wallingford stands with a B-52 aircraft he flew in during the Vietnam War. (PROVIDED)

In fact, when Wallingford decided to run for office Senate after serving a single term in the House, the first question a reporter asked him was, “Well, Rep, isn’t that a little risky for you?” »

But Wallingford was not afraid to take risks, in part because of his deep faith, commitment to his home and family, and unmatched tenacity.

And as Wallingford says, “After flying over 300 combat missions in Vietnam, being shot down and hit, you have to redefine the word risk.”

You may know Wallingford, 75, for his work as the new director of the Department of Revenue or for his stints in the Senate and the House (twice). But before representing Southeast Missouri in the Legislature, Wallingford traveled the country — and the world — during his 25 years in the Air Force.

Wallingford joined the Air Force in 1968, in the midst of the Vietnam War, after studying business and English at the University of Nebraska.

Along with his wife, Suzy, Wallingford moved to California where he trained in Sacramento and Merced as well as Spokane, Washington. In 1970, Wallingford was transferred to Fort Worth, Texas, where he was stationed when deployed to Vietnam on his first tour.

Wallingford was part of the historic Operation Linebacker II aerial bombardment mission from December 18–29, 1972 (with a break for Christmas Day) – a mission credited with ending the war in Vietnam.

Prior to Linebacker II, no B-52 aircraft—Wallingford was assigned a Model D—had been lost in action. But during this mission, 15 were lost. And it was during this mission that Wallinford’s plane was hit by shrapnel from the first surface air missile to explode.

“I will never forget to this day when the general came to brief us on the next mission. He said, “Well, we thought we were going to lose a lot more of you than we did,” Wallingford recalled.

Wayne Wallingford stands in his old House office holding a B-52 model airplane. (THE MISSOURI TIMES/KAITLYN SCHALLHORN)

Having always been interested in health care administration and business—he worked for the Methodist Hospital in Nebraska for a short time between graduation and the Air Force—Wallingford believed that he would spend approximately the mandatory six years in the Air Force after flight training before leaving.

But instead, he continued his military service long after Operation Linebacker II, attending the Air War College in Montgomery, Alabama, and signing a joint tour at Camp. HM Smith in Hawaii under future Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral William Crowe. Wallingford spent a few years in England (a dream for the Austin-Healey aficionado and British Invasion fan who named his eldest daughter London).

In all, Wallingford served as head of the intelligence division in England and head of the electronic intelligence analysis division in Hawaii. He received several medals during his service, including the Silver Star.

And it was through his service in the Air Force that Wallingford finally learned of Cape Girardeau, where he has lived for 18 years. In the 1980s, Wallingford had the opportunity to take a four-year sabbatical at Cape Girardeau where he worked as a professor of aerospace science at Southeast Missouri State University.

Eventually, the Geneva, Illinois native retired from the Air Force at age 47. But he wasn’t done traveling the country and serving.

Wayne Wallingford with his wife, Suzy, on their wedding day in June 1968. They met in Nebraska where she was in nursing school and he studied business. (PROVIDED)

He joined the Taco Bell Company as a recruiter in Chicago, overseeing a five-state region. Then he moved to the East Coast, settling in West Chester, Pennsylvania, where he was in charge of 16 states and held various regional leadership positions.

It was there, on the east coast, that Wallingford was forced to slow down – and try to retire again. In 2004, he received a call from his doctor informing him that he had prostate cancer. He underwent surgery, thinking he would be back on the road, hitting the shops, the same day. But the medication he was prescribed left him lethargic and unable to move as fast as he once could.

His sick leave ended in July, but Taco Bell offered to let him take the rest of the year off to rest, maybe work part-time if he felt like it, and keep his full salary and benefits.

Wallingford thought it wouldn’t be fair to the other workers – and he wanted to come out on top. He therefore retired and returned to Cape Girardeau in the fall of 2004.

The retreat didn’t last too long. Back in southeast Missouri, the Wallingford son-in-law had just lost his own father and was left with several McDonald’s franchises to own and operate. He convinced Wallingford to join him, even if it was just to pass on his business acumen, and Wallingford eventually became a human resources manager for employees at nearly 20 restaurants.

Wallingford stressed that he makes sure to look after his employees in this capacity – and his consideration for others has been very evident over the years.

Wayne Wallingford with his green MGB car – a favorite. (PROVIDED)

“If you ever get the chance to sit down with Wayne Wallingford to talk about his life and the experiences that made him who he is, set aside a few days (yes, that long) and do it,” the director said. Senate Majority Leader. Caleb Rowden, who served with Wallingford in the General Assembly, said. “Wayne is an incredible man with an incredible story. The Legislature is a better place because he was there.

“I love people. There are no strangers when I’m around. I love talking to people because I find we have so much in common because I’ve lived all over the world with the Air Force and Taco Bell, and I’ve lived in many states,” Wallingford said. “No matter what they offer, I have a connection to it. .

It was one of his connections in Cape Girardeau that convinced him to run for government in the first place. And in the Legislative Assembly, Wallingford made a single promise that he kept (despite the constant need for highlighters): he read every bill that passed through his committees or made it to the House or in the Senate.

“I would stay up until 2 or 3 a.m. and be at the Capitol by 6 a.m. when it was nice and calm,” Wallingford said. “I guess no one should expect to spend that much time on it, but if you’re really trying to do your job well, that’s what I think you should be doing.”

Wayne Wallingford, Suzy Wallingford and Senator Holly Rehder during her confirmation hearing as head of the Department of Revenue. (PROVIDED)

In the Legislative Assembly, Wallingford is particularly proud of his work on age raising legislationraising the age of an adult in the criminal justice system to 18 for most crimes.

“It saves our youth. It saves taxpayers money because it is extremely expensive to put someone in jail, and those people would come out of the youth program and be productive citizens, pay taxes, live normal lives,” he said. he declares. “And that makes Missouri safer because you don’t have this ongoing recidivism.”

Wayne Wallingford and Kaitlyn Schallhorn, editor of the Missouri Times.

And in December 2021, Governor Mike Parson named Wallingford his new director of the Department of Revenue.

“We look forward to him implementing his vision at DOR to provide the best possible service to the people of Missouri,” Parson said. “I’ve never met a more dedicated public servant than Wayne Wallingford, and I can’t wait to have him on the team.

Wallingford has survived a lot in his 75 years in addition to cancer and fighting in Vietnam. He underwent a successful kidney transplant in 2020 and battled COVID-19, the delta variant, last summer.

“What next? I just leave it to the Lord. I try to get ahead of him and find out he has a different plan for me,” Wallingford said. wasn’t as great as the one he has for me.”

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