From an early age, Lt. Col. Darryl English ’71 dreamed of flying. Pursuing that dream was his lifelong goal as he watched the Korean and Vietnam wars unfold during his youth. Darryl looked up to his father’s World War II military service and aspired to soar above the clouds in service of his country.
Texas A&M University was Darryl’s first stop in achieving his dream, as he learned military discipline through the Corps of Cadets before embarking on a 28-year stint of military service with the U.S. Air Force, with his loving and equally passionate wife, Donna, by his side.
Now, the couple hopes to inspire others to dedicate their lives to the nation by planning a $3 million estate gift dedicated to Corps of Cadets members and student veterans.
An Aggieland Experience
1965 united Darryl and Donna in their hometown of Houston, where they experienced love at first sight. However, after graduating from high school in 1967, they were pulled in separate directions. While Donna’s family moved to Oklahoma City, Darryl began his Aggie journey as a cadet in Squadron 5.
“The Corps changed my life,” Darryl said. “Not only did it give me military bearing, but it also helped me learn discipline. Texas A&M set that foundation for me, and the values I learned there still live within me today.”
Darryl and Donna carried on a long-distance romance during Darryl’s first two years in Aggieland while Donna attended Hill’s Business College in Oklahoma City until 1969. “She wrote me a letter every single day,” Darryl remembered. “We were very much in love, but we didn't get to see each other. At the end of my freshman year, I needed to make sure that she wouldn’t get away, so I proposed.”
On Sept. 6, 1969, one day after Darryl’s 20th birthday, the couple tied the knot. By the time the semester began, the Englishes had taken up residence in a small, two-bedroom unit at College View Apartments. To make ends meet, Donna worked for Aggieland Dry Cleaning and Laundry Services while Darryl studied marketing. Upon his graduation, Darryl pursued the Air Force Undergraduate Pilot Training program in hopes of becoming a fighter pilot in the Vietnam War.
“My dad was in the Navy in World War II, and his ship participated in many of the major Pacific battles. I was deeply patriotic because of what my father endured to ensure our freedoms,” Darryl remarked. “I told my dad, 'I want to go to Vietnam. You served your country in war. And this is the only war we have.'”
Into the Air Force
Darryl soon learned that Vietnam was not in the cards for him. President Richard Nixon’s Vietnamization program was phasing U.S. troops out of the war-torn country. When he completed his pilot training, fighter jets and their accompanying assignments were hard to find. This led him to a flight instructor position at Reese Air Force Base, where he and Donna started building their first home in the dusty plains of Lubbock, Texas.
After three years in Lubbock, Darryl realized the Air Force had a plethora of pilots but not enough planes. He pursued a position as a procurement officer at Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, Texas, where he could keep his piloting skills sharp by way of proficiency flights when not in the office. In the evenings, Darryl was still hard at work attending night school to obtain master’s degrees in management and human relations. Soon after, newly elected President Jimmy Carter ruled that proficiency flying was unnecessary, and Darryl could see his time in the Air Force coming to an end.
“I got in the Air Force to fly airplanes; I didn’t want to fly a desk,” he emphasized.
The Call of Commercial Flight
Darryl and Donna moved to Houston, officially leaving the Air Force for the Texas Air National Guard’s 111th Fighter Squadron, where a new opportunity arose for Darryl to finally get into the cockpit of a fighter jet.
“Virtually every pilot out there was an airline pilot, flying for the National Guard part time,” Darryl said. “They all said, 'Darryl, why don't you become an airline pilot? They're scooping up pilots like crazy.' When I told my dad an airline pilot’s salary at that time, he said, 'You'd be crazy not to do that.'”
Texas International Airlines became Darryl’s additional employer, where he piloted DC-9s on regional flights until the company purchased Continental Airlines, consequently taking its name and upgrading Darryl to captain.
Following President Bill Clinton’s inauguration, which resulted in military spending cuts, Darryl’s job with the National Guard was downgraded. Once again, he sought a new position, this time with the U.S. Army’s 75th Division as an Air Liaison Officer. In 1999, Darryl hung up his military uniform for good after 28 years of military service and having flown the T-33, T-37, T-38, F-101, F-4 and F-16 aircrafts. He continued his pilot career with Continental Airlines/United Airlines until his retirement in 2014. “In my 35 years as a commercial pilot and as an instructor and check pilot, I flew the DC-9, MD-80, Airbus A-300, B-757, B-767 and the B-787,” Darryl said. Upon exiting the cockpit for the last time, his longtime crew said farewell with a memorable send-off.
“After landing my last commercial flight, I passed through the water-cannon salute from the Intercontinental Airport Houston Fire Department and opened the cockpit door to the sound of Frank Sinatra singing, ‘I Did It My Way,’ over the cabin intercom system, courtesy of the lead flight attendant. One of my cockpit crew members gave me a booklet with pictures from my military and commercial flying careers, which spanned 43 years and more than 27,000 hours of flying time,” Darryl fondly recalled. “The main thing I can say about my career is that I never worked a day in my life. I did exactly what I wanted to do.”
Setting a New Course
Retirement in Aggieland has been a new adventure for the Englishes. Darryl now fuels his passion for classic cars, and the couple often hosts current and former cadets from Squadron 5 at their spacious property. The iconic figure of Old Sarge stands under a guard tower in the backyard, carved directly from a cedar tree stump, welcoming visitors with a unique Aggie flare.
With no children of their own, Donna and Darryl have directed their generosity toward teaching kids in their local church and helping fund their nieces’ and nephews’ educations.
“We’ve helped all of our nieces and nephews when they really needed it. They all feel at home here and know they're welcome,” Donna said. “I’ve told Darryl several times that we couldn’t have afforded kids of our own. If we did, we wouldn’t have been able to take care of the ones we do.”
When it came time to create a will, the Englishes found that divvying up an extensive estate with no direct heirs is easier said than done. Then the idea struck to use their funds to benefit the university that gave Darryl his “wings” to fly.
“We've always helped kids who aren't related to us in any way whatsoever,” Donna shared. “People have told me, ‘You don't need to keep doing that.’ And I've told them a million times I don't ever do anything because somebody told me to.”
Half of the $3 million gift will establish a scholarship for Air Force R.O.T.C. cadets, while the remaining half will be divided equally between a fund for student veterans within the Corps and additional scholarships for non-cadet student veterans.
“I feel very strongly about our veterans,” Darryl said. “The people who save our country can become horribly wounded, both physically and emotionally, only to return home to be forgotten. Our money will ensure that a veteran can feasibly attend Texas A&M. It's nice to know that long after we're gone, many people can pursue their education in Aggieland because of these scholarships.”
To learn more about using a planned gift to support student veterans or the Corps of Cadets, please contact Amy Bacon ’91 by completing the form below.