NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – He signed up for adventure and education and got a whole lot more, courtesy of the United States Air Force.

Joe Murray, 78, remembers the day he joined the Air Force as though it was yesterday.

“It was hard to get into the Air Force in those days. You had to have something that they wanted.”

And Joe Murray had it. High test scores put him where the Air Force needed him and where Joe wanted to be.

“The field I was in was electro-mechanical aircraft and missile maintenance.”

His technical training took him to Hahn Air Force Base in Germany. He knew getting into the Air Force was hard and he discovered earning rank in a segregated military was even harder.

“Not just do your job but do your job plus, you had to show that you were better, you were smarter, better your production was better, inspections were better. You had to be top dog.”

In order to survive, black airmen turned to each other for support.

“They became your friends, your brothers, your protectors, okay. If there was a fight, we were all fighting.”

Life-long friendships emerged for the airmen who called themselves The Square Runners. Back then, cigarettes were known as squares.

“Seems like every person that came there learned the trade of bootlegging cigarettes, or gas cards or alcohol.”

Every year for 53 years now, The Square Runners reunite to remember their Air Force experiences. Each airman earned a nickname that sticks to this day.

Today, Joe is still tinkering with electronics, but he didn’t count on luck to get the life he wanted. He gives credit to the Air Force.

“It gave me my future, my life.”

And something Joe values most, his family.

Joe and his wife Connie have four adult sons. Two of them, like their father, are military men.