Three generations of naval aviators closed the loop recently as the third grandchild earned his “wings of gold” in a ceremony at NAS Kingsville.
When Lt. j.g. Peter Thayer’s wife Julia pinned his wings on him in the Training Air Wing Two (TW-2) winging ceremony, they carried on the family tradition — the ceremonial wings originally belonged to his maternal grandfather.
Those are the same wings pinned on his sister, Lt. Charlotte Thayer, during her TW-2 winging ceremony in January 2018.
They also were used six years earlier to wing the oldest Thayer sibling, Marine Corps Capt. Nate Thayer, who also earned his wings at NAS Kingsville.
“Well, our grandfather didn’t wing here, but our parents did,” Peter Thayer said.
Navy Capt. Harlan Purdy was winged as a naval aviator in 1947, when the Kingsville air station was inactive following World War II.
During his career, he flew PBYs, P-5 Marlins, P-2V Neptunes and P-3 Orions. He commanded the Blue Dragons of Patrol Squadron 50 (VP-50).
He retired in 1974 after a tour at the Pentagon.
His daughter, Joan, went to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she met another student, Corpus Christi native Doug Thayer. When he decided to become an aviator, she did too.
As newlyweds, they headed for Navy pilot training, ultimately arriving at NAS Kingsville and earning their own wings — Joan as a Navy pilot and Doug as a Marine Corps pilot.
A few years later, they returned to Kingsville as instructor pilots, with 4-year-old Nate in tow.
After their military careers, they became airline pilots — Doug for American and Joan for Delta.
And although mom and dad are immensely proud of their children, they both deny ever pushing their children toward aviation or even military service — and their children agree.
“It’s just kind of what we do. It just happened that all of us went into aviation,” Joan Thayer said. “It just happened that we all got our wings here and we’re all naval aviators. But it could easily have been something else — we didn’t have this big legacy we were trying to keep up.
“How could you ever plan this?” Doug Thayer asked. “It’s something it the way you live and the way you look at life.”
“We’re really the best definition of a statistical anomaly,” Peter said. “You have to have exposure.
“It’s just something that I was fascinated with, just seeing the big, fast, loud aircraft and having an interest to serve you country, go do important things and make a difference in the world. I’d say that, more than anything, is why I’m doing it.”
Charlotte said Peter summed it up nicely.
“Peter hit the nail on the head — you do it for yourself, not for anyone else,” she said. “If you’re not motivated to do this job, you won’t get very far. Everybody who gets their wings is doing it for themselves.”
She admits she would have been that last one people would have expected to become a naval aviator.
“Everyone would say that,” Nate interjected.
“Yeah, I kind of surprised myself. But having a family all be aviation nerds, I definitely was exposed, greatly, to the flying world,” Charlotte said. “Once I tried it out, I saw why.
“I have a job that I love that I might not have found myself in if not for them.”
Parental pride goes hand-in-hand with concern, Doug admitted.
“Sometimes I wish I could be as good as our kids,” he said. “But as parents you worry about them, too. Flying is not always an easy thing to do, it’s not always a safe thing to do.
“When they go off to deployment, you think about that as a parent — where are they, what are they doing?”
Peter Thayer graduated from the University of Texas and was commissioned in 2016. He took primary flight training at NAS Corpus Christi before reporting to VT-21 for jet training at NAS Kingsville.
Besides his wings, he received the Top Hook Award and was named to the Commodore’s List.
He was selected to remain at NASK as a “selectively retained graduate” instructor for nine to 10 months before reporting to a fleet replacement squadron.
“We enjoy Kingsville, we have great neighbors, we have a great community that supports us,” he said.
“We’re very happy to stay. Especially since my parents can come back to visit.”
Nate, who is an AV-8B Harrier test pilot, said it’s been fun watching Peter go through flight training and beyond.
“Remembering back to when I was doing those flights, and seeing how that transition is going to happen — from where you’re flying for yourself, you’re flying for your grades, you’re flying for you to do well,” Nate said.
“And over the next year, that’s going to transition to, ‘Hey, I’m flying to support someone else, to train someone else. It’s going to be a little bit of a different mindset to how you approach your job.
“But it’s incredibly fulfilling. I’m looking forward to seeing him go into that role and get as much out of it as I have.”
Peter Thayer wasn’t the only wingee to use “legacy wings” in the April ceremony.
Marine Corps Capt. Kyle Johnson received wings worn by his grandmother, Lt. j.g. Kyle Briggs received wings worn by his grandfather and 1st Lt. Ryan Fronczek received wings worn by his father.
So is there a fourth generation of Thayer aviators in the future?
No one is making predictions, but Nate brought his son with him to the ceremony, Charlotte married a fellow aviator in the last year, and Peter had his wife, Julia, pin on his wings.
“We don’t know if we’ll be back in 18 years or not,” Jean said with a laugh.