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A Veteran's Voice: 91-year-old Air Force veteran recalls history coaching at East Bakersfield High School

Hollis Shannon would go on to serve as the Athletic Director at East High for more than 20 years retiring in 1994.
Hollis Shannon, former East High School Athletic Director
Posted at 8:59 AM, Sep 07, 2023
and last updated 2023-09-07 18:34:12-04

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — Hollis Shannon is an Air Force veteran who spent time with tactical command in the years following the Korean War but later used his "veteran's voice" to coach Bakersfield student-athletes.

A standout athlete before he joined the military, Shannon would spend his life after the service coaching and teaching young people lessons in life that he carries with him to this day.

Shannon's name is a familiar one on the East Bakersfield High School campus, considering he graduated from the school In 1949. He played football and basketball but excelled in the pool, setting records at Bakersfield College before he headed to Fresno State on a basketball scholarship out of high school.

As part of the Air Force ROTC program, he thought he would be cut from the service following graduation.

"He said 'Well, you know you can't go into the Air Force and be color blind?' I said 'What?' So I went back to the headquarters on campus and they said 'No, you just can't be a pilot'," he explained.

Shannon was sent to George Air Force Base in Victorville in 1954 following the Korean War. He was part of tactical command and his assignment in personal affairs included casualty reporting. However, Shannon only went to one crash site during his two years.

"I did go out for one of the fellas that was an Air Force Ace, Joe McConnell," said Shannon.

McConnell was the top Flying Ace in the Korean War, credited with shooting down 16 enemy MiGs. He was killed on a training flight over Edwards Air Force Base in August 1954.

"They said he was a daredevil," said Shannon about McConnell. "He could do more with a plane, they said, than you wanted the pilots to do. That's the way he was."

When he left the service, Shannon came back to Bakersfield and was offered a job at East High School.

"I got into East High as a swimming coach," said Shannon. "That was the luckiest break in my life because I had really great kids."

Shannon was soon recruited to coach football, making his way up the ranks and taking over as varsity head coach in 1967.

"We pulled up about four sophomores, good sophomores, and all of them made all-league," he explained.

During this time, however, many of his players were drafted and fought in the Vietnam War.

"I bet there had to have been sex, eight kids off the '62 team or '63 team that went into the service," he claimed.

Shannon would go on to serve as the Athletic Director at East High for more than 20 years, retiring in 1994. He credits his success to the quality kids he coached.

"You don't have winning seasons if you don't have the good kids," said Shannon.

Shannon recently lost his wife Joan in 2021 after 70 years of marriage. He now lives by himself at the age of 91 but keeps very busy. In fact, he's headed to an annual reunion of swimmers and football players from the 1963 squad. It's a friendship that took off 60 years ago.

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