Tuesday, May 16, 2017

42

(Source)
On Friday the last, which would have been May the 12th in the year 20 and 17, I was sitting with Madame Mère at the old homestead when it struck me that 42 years before that very day, did she remember that it was then, back in 19 and 75, that she and dad had taken me over to Manchester, in the state of New Hampshire, for to drop me off for the start of my Air Force career?

It was at a hotel they dropped me, where I would spend my last night as a civilian. It wasn't a very nice hotel, but it wasn't a bad hotel either. It was just a hotel in a middling small New England city. In those days many Air Force enlistees from New England were processed through Manchester. It was so long ago I don't recall what they called it (the processing center, not the city), don't know if it still exists, don't really care. It's not a key element of the story.

Now Mom was rather taken aback that it had been 42 years since her oldest child had gone off into the world to make his mark. (My one year of college in upper Vermont doesn't really count, I was at home most weekends.) Now my mom and I both marvel at just how old we've become. Perhaps marvel isn't exactly the right word. "Holy crap, how did I get this freaking old?" would be how I might put it. Mom would no doubt invoke "Jesum Crow" and drop the "freaking."

But I digress. (Of course.)

'Tis odd that Juvat was commissioned into the Air Force 40 years ago at about this time of year. I joined up a couple of years before him but in reality we were near contemporaries throughout our careers and our paths actually crossed once upon a time in the Republic of Korea, when we were both still young and handsome with full heads of hair. Well, Juvat anyway. My hair started falling out when I was 18, I was 27 about the time he and I were in Korea. So Juvat had hair. As to the handsome part? I leave that for you to judge.

At any rate, back there in 19 and 75, we were processed (there were six of us) and put on a plane to Texas. Which is where all Air Force enlisted recruits go, to Lackland AFB to be precise, in the fair city of San Antonio where, as I recall, much Spanish is spoken.

At the start of this adventure I was handed six thick, sealed, manila envelopes and was told that it was my mission to get those envelopes to San Antonio. There to hand them over to the nice fella who would welcome us to Uncle Sam's Aerial Follies.  Seems these envelopes held our "official records" and were essential to national security, mom, and apple pie.

Along the way we had to put down in Houston as the weather in San Antonio was not conducive to landing a commercial airliner in such a way as to reuse it later. Blustery, stormy, lots of lightning (and thunder no doubt) in the area and we'd just have to cool our heels until the weather cleared.

(Source)
 (Like you didn't see that coming...)

While in Houston, two of our number decided to go exploring. I suggested, rather abruptly, that that was perhaps not such a great idea. We should stick together, all for one, one for all, dontcha know? But these two knew better (couple of frigging squirrels as I recall) and wandered off. Why yes, they did miss the plane to San Antonio. Where we arrived in the dark of night. After some perfunctory yelling and pointing, the four survivors of our merry band were herded in to be greeted by the aforementioned nice fella who was to welcome us to the Air Force.

"There are six envelopes here, I only see four bodies. Where are the other two?" asked the nice fella.

"They didn't make it." I answered.

"What do you mean, they didn't make it?" the nice fella mentioned in a tone which was perhaps less than nice.

"Didn't make it as in they are not here, they missed the flight in Houston." I answered, somewhat concerned that the nice fella seemed to not understand English all that well.

"Damn it! You will call me Sir and you will answer my questions without the attitude, AIRMAN!" said the not-so-nice-now fella.

Without batting an eye, I said, "Begging the Airman First Class's (A1C) pardon, but you are not a Sir. Also, I was told to deliver the envelopes, not the  bodies. If you count the envelopes you will note that there are six. I was given six, I gave you six. Mission accomplished. Tout est fini!" (No, I didn't actually say the French bit, but that would have been cool, wouldn't it?)

Before the now-apoplectic-not-so-nice fella could reply, the chap who yelled at us to get off the bus and pointed to our current location with much animation told the A1C behind the counter to "shut it" and suggested that I plant my "ass" in the chairs with "the other scum" while they went through the six, yes good job on the envelopes he said, envelopes in the possession A1C Nice Fella.

Now all that occurred 42 years ago from the Saturday before Mother's Day, the 13th instant as it were. Yes, dear ones, Yours Truly entered the United States Air Force on the 13th of May when he was nobbut a callow youth of 22 years. Back in 19 of 75. Oddly enough I remember quite a bit from those days as a brand new airman.

For one thing I showed up wearing a chambray shirt, Navy jeans, and combat boots. ("What are you lost? The Navy is that way." Mentioned one of my sergeants, flinging his arm in a seaward direction.) Why, you might ask? Why not, I might answer? It's pretty much the clothes I was accustomed to wearing at the factory where I worked pre-Air Force so why buy new clothes? After all, my dear Uncle Sam would be giving me spiffy new clothes at some point. Right?

Why yes, yes he did. And surprise, surprise, most of them fit and fit rather well I might add. (Yeah, surprised me too. I was expecting the kind of things you see in movies.) But I see that I'm getting ahead of myself. Back to my first night (day?) in the Air Force.

As I mentioned, it was the middle of the night when we arrived at Lackland. The other 34 chaps were inexplicably delayed and were not expected until around 0300, yes, that's right, three in the AM and the four of us would, no doubt, not mind waiting up for those fellows. Oh yes, and the two knuckleheads lost in Houston. So we were four out of a party of forty.

Our Training Instructor (or T.I. as the Air Force calls 'em) brought us to our barracks, two large squad bays with a rack, a locker, and a chair for each of us. We were handed our little blue books of "required Air Force knowledge" (think which fork to use and what is the proper club when you're 60 yards short of the pin, no, not really) and told to stand at parade rest (which the other three had to be shown, with a year of Army ROTC under my belt, I already knew that) and study those books until you know them by heart. No fooling around, he yelled, as he would know it if we did.

After his departure, I carefully scanned the vicinity and sat down in my chair. The fellow across from me damned near collapsed of heart failure when he saw that. I indicated that they could not see us, but they could hear us. After a while we all sat down and read our little blue books at our leisure.

The T.I. did come up to check on us but as the door was around the corner, we could hear him in plenty of time to resume parade rest and pretend to give a crap, er, I mean study our books.

Eventually the rest of the flight (except the two knuckleheads adrift in Houston) arrived and we were allowed to go to bed, that must have been around 0400. Now round about 0600, with much yelling and bellowing and colorful language, we were awakened for breakfast and given a tour of the local area. Oddly enough they actually expected us to be in step and march in a nice column during this tour. Which didn't happen until we had been there another day or so. I mean this was the Air Force and not the Grenadier Guards dontcha know?

Oh yeah, the Lost Boys from Houston eventually showed up in the afternoon of the first day. Much talk was made as to sending them home as being unfit to wear the uniform, etc., etc. While they did let them stay, they didn't last very long. Both were a few fries short of a Happy Meal and eventually were "set back." That is, they were transferred to another flight not quite as far along in their training as we were. Sort of a Mulligan, a do-over. I lost track of them after that, but I later heard that they were eventually set back to being civilians.

Like I said, squirrels.

But that was 42 years ago and, who knows? I might have forgotten some of the details. But I do remember one of the Lost Boys standing on his head in the barracks, in the middle of the night, and being threatened with great bodily harm by a couple of his flight mates as his antics were, indeed, cutting into our beauty sleep. The fire guard called down to the Charge of Quarters (CQ) who sent someone up to take the head stander away for a psych consult. Like they needed proof the guy was a loon.

Ah well, memories. I have them, no doubt I will share more as I march down memory lane in the days of my youth...

Good times.


28 comments:

  1. When I went to take my OCS tests in Shreveport, the hotel was a hoot! I drove myself there, and it looked like prison!! The fence was 12 feet high with barbed wire on top. They closed and locked the gates at 2200. I knew then, that changes of heart had taken place there.

    My room mate for the night was heading to Army basic, tanker after that. He introduced me to BET.

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    1. Wow, my hotel had no fence and certainly no barbed wire. For some reason I don't think there were curtains in the room either.

      Good times, neh?

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  2. Now that's a great story Sarge. Sure kicked over a termite hill of memories. That first night at boot camp, before we were made up into a company, there was some really tall guy who had incredibly stinky feet and we had no access to showers. In the middle of the night someone went prowling and found an aerosol can of industrial strength cleaner and sprayed the guys feet, which solved the smell problem but also caused the foots to develop chemical burns. I later found out he had to get skin grafts and everything. He spent a year in hospitals and home on medical leave, then medically retired. Today he's the president or commanding officer or whatever of a vfw post in his home town.

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    1. Damn! In essence he spent a day on active duty (well, the hospital time counts I'm sure but you know what I mean). While it wasn't his fault, I would hope he doesn't put on airs with the locals.

      It's like the kid who worked for me at Offutt telling the other guys that he had been in the Marines. Did delayed enlistment in the Marines then for some reason never made it to boot camp and never actually became a Marine. Did I straighten him out? You betcha.

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    2. Yeah, well, whatchagonnado. He has an interesting spiel that starts out, "Before I was wounded..." He's told me some fascinating things. Either doesn't remember me or doesn't care. I feel sorry for the guy, which surprised me at first because I wanted to be mad at him.

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    3. Wounded? Oh dear...

      Some people's kids.

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    4. Well, did he say, "Wounded in combat"? If not, I suppose he's got an out of a sorts, because he certainly was wounded. :D Yeah, I know, a Clintonian "telling a (half)truth to deceive", but it works in Washington. I'm surprised he's not a Senator by now.

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  3. Ah, I preceded you by a couple months (middle of February, in the Year of Our Lord, 1975), but I enjoyed the subtropical climes of Orlando, in that wonderful state of Florida. I was responsible for only one envelope (and one body), and the pleasant man was called a company commander in the United States Navy.

    I only did six active, followed by two reserves. Kinda wish I woulda dun the other 12, as I would have been meeting once a month, and two weeks per year, all with Mr. Reagan's portrait smiling down on me, followed by Mr. Bush the elder, and perhaps a brief moment or two of Mr. Bubba's mug grinning at me on the official wall of Commanders in Chief.

    Still, I don't regret the time, or the friends, or the training which gave me a good paying career afterward.

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    1. '75 was a good year for joining up. Ditto on the training, the friends, the time, and all that. It also led me to doing what I do now. Which is for the Navy, odd that.

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  4. I was spared the glamour of military indoctrination by virtue of floating bone chips in my neck. I don't think I would have fit in very well, but I would have done better than the squirrels.

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    1. You probably would have done fine. You might have driven a few sergeants to drink, but they'd do that anyway.

      :)

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  5. Golly, if I start now, I could prolly finish a post about my first days in the Navy by the time the date shows up

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  6. I was a couple of years ahead of you at Lackland. The first thought that popped into my head when I read today's missive was that the term "rainbow" sure has a changed.

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  7. I started Navy Boot Camp at Great Lakes in February of '73. And the stories of the the cold wind and winter weather are no exaggeration.
    And due to what I guess was the cross pollination of various illnesses, everybody was sick at one time or another.
    From reading the post, the experience sounds very similar to mine.
    And I still remember my boot camp company commander's name was Freddy L. Hicks, Aviation Boatswains Mate First Class.
    Great post.

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  8. Ah, memories. From the time we boarded a train in Denver until we disembarked from a troop ship in Germany, I seemed to be a nail and the cadre a hammer. How I escaped as a SP5 E5 with an Honorable Discharge is a mystery.

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    1. I was surprised to have lasted 24!

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  9. Well I vacationed at Lackland AFB ten years earlier than you; we didn't get no stinkin' chairs. Other than that, not much was different. Although we had real NCOs as TIs, not the make-believe kind you had.

    Paul L. Quandt

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    1. We had actual sergeants. No airman TIs like now. But...

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  10. Memories, indeed. Stepped off the bus in front of the reception station at Fort Ord in February of '74. All of our DI's were Vietnam vets. So were four of the "recruits" in our company (including my squad leader), returning to military service. My dad stepped off the train there two weeks before Pearl Harbor. He got to pull guard duty along the shore at night armed with a whistle and wooden axe handle (see my remarks in an earlier post about how he wound up flying B-17's).

    I still have my graduation book with all those young faces. Where did the time go, and how the hell did we get here? If I had it to do over, I would not change a thing.

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  11. At Lackland in 1963 OTS. Big thing was don't SIE (self inflicted elimination).
    Had a guy in the barracks who was a Podiatrist. Of course we called him Doc.
    Even had office hours at night.
    Two sides to OTS. One on Lackland, the other at the dreaded Medina Annex.

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    1. I've been to Medina Annex, hated it beyond words.

      There's a story there, which might get told.

      Some day.

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  12. Great Lakes, summer of 72.
    My initial uniforms also "most of them fit and fit rather well", at least for the first few months.
    I had a growth spurt and grew 9 inches and added 30 pounds in the first year after boot camp.
    Took a couple more years before I had a complete set of uniforms that fit again.
    The feet grew a couple of sizes too.

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    1. I didn't go in until I was 22. The only growth I have experienced since then is sideways. Something I tried to avoid in the Air Force, not always successfully.

      Now all those uniforms have experienced major shrinkage. I blame the closets!

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