Josef Krankel was a man who pursued, and attained, his dreams. He literally soared to the heavens, having flown a starfighter jet into the stratosphere, then returned to the earth, becoming a farmer later in life. His family was fortunate to come along for much of the ride.
Josef Conrad Krankel was born on November 9, 1935, in Almont, Michigan, the third of nine children to Conrad and Katherina (Bischof) Krankel, who had immigrated from Germany and Austria, respectively. Growing up on his family’s dairy farm, he would watch military planes fly overhead and vowed to become a pilot himself. He won a congressional appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, graduating in 1958 with the highest grades in mathematics, then received a commission into the nascent U.S. Air Force.
He flew high, low, fast, and slow in all manner of planes, from the fastest fighter jets to engineless gliders. After earning his wings, he received a choice assignment for advanced fighter interceptor training, then as a USAF test pilot. He became an early member of the “Mach Busters” club when he managed to break the sound barrier in an F-86. He was posted to Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, California, where he flew B-52 bombers, including a deployment during the Cuban missile crisis. While at Travis he met Jo Beth Dumas, a petite Texan with a bright smile who worked at the base. Joe and Jody were married in 1961 in San Francisco. Together they celebrated 61 years of marriage and raised three children.
Joe returned to his studies at the University of California at Berkeley, receiving his master’s degree in mathematics in 1963. He taught advanced mathematics at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs from 1964 to 1968, then flew the RF-4C Phantom II jet as a reconnaissance pilot, deploying to Vietnam and Korea from 1969 to 1970. He spent the remainder of his military career with the 38th Reconnaissance Squadron of the Strategic Air Command, with postings in Europe and Texas, doing what he most wanted to be doing—flying jet fighters. A career highlight was leading a team that won “Big Click,” a NATO-sponsored competition held among international reconnaissance squadrons in 1972.
Joe retired in 1980 to a farm in Lund, Texas, east of Austin, where he raised cattle. He loved tinkering and making things, constructing devilish puzzles, even teaching himself to knit at one point. People still talk about the working clock he built entirely out of toothpicks. Christmas ornaments made from paper folded into complex geometric shapes have become treasured family heirlooms.
Joe passed away peacefully at home on December 20, 2022. He faced a long illness with good humor and with Jody always by his side. Joe is survived by his wife and children, Kit McCullough (Malcolm), Alan Wagner-Krankel (Mary) and Nan Krankel, grandsons Robert and Callum, and siblings Herman Krankel, Rosalie Habkirk, Lucy Miller and Mary Krankel. The family is grateful for the loving care provided by Maribel Martinez, Tina Canales, Aretha Carter and the other angels that came into our lives in Joe’s last years.
When his children were young, Joe would often take them star gazing in the backyard. He would point out the Milky Way and explain that that was our universe, that Earth appeared as a star, one of the millions of stars we can see around us. We know Joe has returned to the skies that he loved so much. He is up among the stars in the galaxy, looking down at us here, on this star.
Family and Friends will gather for Visitation at the Bethlehem Lutheran Church Fellowship Hall, Tuesday, December 27th from 10:00 AM until 11:00 AM. A Graveside Service will follow at the Lund Cemetery with Full Military Honors, with Dale Kessel presiding.