Flenard L. Autrey, Sr.
Technical Sergeant
U. S. A. F.
Service and Air Freight Specialist , 401 Transportation Squadron
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Flenard was born in Shreveport at Confederate Memorial Hospital to Alex Henry Autrey, a contractor, and Lessie Bea Autrey. Flenard was the youngest of nine children, including five sisters and three brothers. At one year of age he was given away to his mother's sister and her husband, Eli and Rosie Conway, whom he considered his parents. Until he entered the military, he went by the name Conway. "I had to take a birth certificate in Missouri and that's when I had to change my name to Autrey. All my life I had gone as Conway," he recalls. The Conways lived on Sprague Street in an area called "The Bottoms". "I guess you'd say it was the worst part of town but I had a lot of friends and the people in the neighborhood, the other people who were always good to me," he says. He lived in a mixed neighborhood, where the 1300 block of Sprague was integrated with Italians and Jews who ran the stores in his neighborhood. "You're poor but you don't realize you're poor," he remarks. Although his stepfather worked for Hodges Storage in downtown Shreveport, Flenard recalls not having enough to eat and going to school with no lunch money. He started at Lee's Private School, in a house where a Ms. Lee taught. He then went to Stony Hill Elementary School. Soon Flenard was working to supplement the family income. He mowed yards, raked leaves and pedaled a paper route at age 11. At school he competed in football, basketball and baseball and played trumpet under the band. He studied under Dr. Isaac Greggs of Southern University. Another part of his education was in learning how to defend himself from gangs in his school. "Guys would jump on us paper route guys." He recalls Sprague Street as a place with rowdy clubs, prostitutes and drugs. He almost quit school, but Dr. Greggs gave him a scholarship to Notre Dame High School, the new private school built for African-American students. Flenard played sports, washed the cars of the sisters, and achieved scholastic honors. "If it hadn't been for Notre Dame I would never have finished school because I would have had to go to Booker T. Washington," he remarks of the all-black high school, where there were also gangs and "a lot of problems". He recalls that he "loved going to school. I didn't like staying home," he says. With his family he enjoyed attending Hopewell Baptist Church. Meanwhile, his football team excelled, winning the state championship three times. Flenard graduated with honors in May of 1964, aiming to enter the military. Proud of his four uncles who fought in World War II and an older brother who fought in Korea, Flenard joined the National Guard and was sent to Fort Polk for basic training, then to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri for six months of active duty before he finished high school. There he worked as a supply clerk at a gas depot before returning to Shreveport. Flenard attended Grambling University for a semester, then joined the U.S. Air Force on December 31, 1964. "They were calling people up for Vietnam and I didn't want to go to Vietnam," he recalls. He was sent to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio for six weeks of basic training, a "cakewalk" compared to army basic training, he says. At Amarillo Air Force Base he completed a school for clerk-typists, then at Otis Air Force Base in Massachusetts he cross-trained as a recreation specialist, a job in which he would plan recreation clubs for airmen. At Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska in January of 1966, he served as a recreation specialist. After two years he was transferred to Pope Air Force Base in North Carolina in 1967, where he was airman in charge of the recreation center. Flenard was transferred to Barksdale Air Force Base in December of 1969. There he cross-trained in servicing air freight, hoping that adding another skill would improve his job choices after his military career. Ordered to Utapao, Thailand he worked at a deep-water port at Sattahip. At Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines, he worked with the aero port squadron. Flenard was sent to South Vietnam, arriving on February 6, 1971. His brother-in-law, a member of 101st Airborne Division, was on the same plane, he believes. They landed at Cam Ranh Bay where Flenard worked on the flight line as a warehouse supervisor, responsible for approximately 70 men. On duty all night he found the work draining. "It was like a non-stop operation. We just didn't have enough people. If you didn't have enough people you still had to meet a quota." Flenard served an 18-month tour, which counted as two tours. Meanwhile, his unit adopted an orphanage near the base. He "adopted" a girl about "nine or ten" and his wife in the states sent him things for her. He was sent with others to Phan Rang "up the highway" to retrieve 100,000 feet of aluminum matting for landing zones. Elements of the 173rd Airborne Division guarded them during the work, but the unit was pulled out. With the enemy closing in, a cargo plane rescued the workers, who hopped aboard as the aircraft taxied down the runway. Once airborne, he looked down to see "five or six hundred men coming down toward the base where we had just left". When he left Cam Ranh Bay the base had been shut down and only some 13 personnel were there. The compound was hit at night and the men extracted by two helicopters. Flenard, suffering from hepatitis, was medevaced out on August 22, 1972. He served at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama, then was transferred to England Air Force Base in Alexandria, Louisiana. After a year, in 1975, he returned to Southeast Asia, this time to Thailand at Utapao, where he worked for an aero port squadron. After a year he returned to Barksdale where he ran the Airman's Club until 1978. In Turkey, he worked in transportation until returning in 1981, and reporting for duty at Dover, Delaware, then was sent to jet mechanics school at Chanute Air Force Base in Illinois. At Cannon Air Force Base in New Mexico, he worked on F-111s as test cell operations supervisor. When Flenard retired he returned to Shreveport. He worked temporarily in the sheriff's office until Boeing Aircraft in Lake Charles hired him as a mechanic. Flenard struggled with PTSD and anxiety, but his health is much improved. In Shreveport he mentors young men in the Reach for the Stars program, and does other volunteer work through his church, Hopewell Baptist. He also works at Juvenile Detention Center through another church program, mentoring boys without fathers. Flenard is married to Lois Wright. They have three children (two of their daughters served in the military), four grandchildren and one great-grandchild.