At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of the year — Armistice Day as it was once known — a model aircraft of a 1916 Albatros will be mounted into place at the entrance to the San Diego Air & Space Museum, a gift from Coronado’s R.G. Head, who spent the last two years painstakingly constructing the one-quarter scale model replica in his garage at Trinidad Village in the Coronado Cays.
It’s not the first gift that retired Brig. Gen. Richard G. Head has made to an institution, nor is it likely to be his last. Head earlier built a replica of the Red Baron’s plane, which now flies over the children’s section of the Coronado Public Library.
Handcrafted over hundreds of hours, the model airplanes were labors of love by Head and examples of how he consistently gives back to his community. It’s also one of the many reasons that Coronado Private Bank, encouraged by many, selected Head to be its 2014 Citizen of the Year.
“I spent most of my life in public service and that really motivated a lot of my civic activities,” Head said. “I believe everybody should give back.”
Head was raised in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, “which was a long way from the ocean,” he said. “So young boys growing up there wanted to fly rather than go to sea.” Head started flying when he was 16 and worked in an airport in Cedar Rapids. The airport manager helped Head secure interviews and an appointment to the Air Force Academy, and it didn’t hurt that Head was high school valedictorian. Young R.G. entered the academy in 1956 and graduated in 1960. He then went on to flight school, where he graduated first in his class.
He became a fighter pilot and won the Top Gun award at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas. On deployments in Japan and Turkey, he flew F-100s.
He deployed in 1965 to Vietnam, where he flew A-1 Skyraiders, or “SPADs” as they were commonly known. “A SPAD was a heavy WWI airplane, definitely not a jet,” Head related. “We flew high and protected the helicopters that would go in to retrieve our troops.”
In a single year, Head flew 325 combat missions (100 in the first 90 days), including rescue missions over North Vietnam. “As a young pilot, you like to fly every day,” he said. “It’s like sailing or car racing; it’s adventure, it gets in your blood. It’s what young men — and today young women — do!”
While Head escaped injury, his plane got hit 20 times. He was awarded a Silver Star for his part in saving a Special Forces camp in the middle of the night, and he also received the Distinguished Flying Cross.
At Bien Hoa Air Base in Vietnam, Head survived a belly landing when his landing gear wouldn’t release. “They foamed the runway and it just so happened that they filmed it as I landed.”
That film footage landed Head on the Ed Sullivan Show, the following year, 1966. “I stood up in the audience and they showed that movie clip at the end of the show, the same show that featured Nancy Sinatra.”
Years later, when Head met Carole Hoover, now his wife, she remembered seeing the handsome aviator on the show.
After Vietnam, Head earned a master’s and doctorate in public administration at Syracuse University and then taught political science at the Air Force Academy for three years. He next flew F-4s in Thailand and then was a squadron commander at Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines.
In 1975, he was selected to attend the National War College in Washington, D.C., and wrote a book while he was there: “Crisis Resolution: Presidential Decision Making in the Mayaguez and Korean Confrontations.”
After graduating with distinction, Head was selected to be a Military Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. The American nonprofit, nonpartisan membership organization is considered to be the nation’s most influential foreign-policy think tank; its membership has included more than a dozen secretaries of state, CIA directors, senior politicians, lawyers, bankers, professors and senior media figures. “You get to sit in on discussions of major international issues,” said Head, who wrote an article entitled “Technology and the Military Balance in 1976” for the council’s highly respected Foreign Affairs magazine.
After working at the Pentagon through 1983, Head was promoted to brigadier general and assigned to work with NATO in Italy. “I worked for an Italian 3-star general and with the Sixth Fleet for two years.”
He retired from the Air Force after 27 years of service, and then spent a second career of 20 years with an engineering firm, SRS Technologies. While working on several of the firm’s contracts with the Navy at North Island, Head became familiar with Coronado. He bought a home in the Coronado Cays in 1997, but didn’t move there until 2007, the same year he joined the Coronado Cays Yacht Club. Head became a fleet captain at the yacht club in 2008 and served as commodore in 2012.
Head met Carole Hoover in 1990 and the couple married in 2007.
Head races his Benetau 36.7 racer sailboat once or twice a week, and its six-person, all-volunteer and ever-changing crew has captured a number of trophies. The sailboat, named “Carole’s Fandango,” is docked on one side of a newly built dock at Trinidad Village. But the Heads are equally at home on their “wine and cheese” boat, which they launch from the opposite side of their dock almost every week.
Those new concrete docks are another example of Head’s civic involvement. As a board member of the Trinidad Village Homeowners Association, Head managed a million-dollar project to rebuild all the docks and pilings, which were constructed over 30 years ago when Trinidad Village was developed. “Now they’re set to last another 30 years,” Head comfortably predicted. “They’re solid.”
The Heads are active supporters of the San Diego Symphony and San Diego Opera, where they were selected as Volunteers of the Year a few years ago after sponsoring fundraising events at the yacht club and in their home. “And this past spring, we were in an opera, The Masked Ball by Verdi, as supernumeraries,” Head shared. “You don’t sing but you are on stage in full costume and you make motions. We had always wanted to do that.”
Head is a lector and usher at Christ Episcopal Church. He and Carole are active members of the Coronado Hospital Foundation and supporters of the new Coronado Island Film Festival.
He is the father of four children who are spread out across the United States.
Travel, adventure and continuous education are constantly on the horizon for the Heads. Last summer, they took a course at Oxford University on “The English Country House in Film and Literature.” “We stayed in the dormitory and ate in the Harry Potter Dining Room,” Head said. Next summer, he is signed up for another course at Oxford, “The Battle of Britain Revisited,” while Carole will brush up on Jane Austen.
But for all their travels, the Heads love Coronado and their neighbors in the Cays. “One of the best things about Coronado is that everybody here has a story and they are fascinating to listen to,” he said.
Head’s own story of philanthropy and involvement in the Coronado community makes him a most worthy recipient of Coronado Private Bank’s Citizen of the Year 2014 award. Congratulations!