Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Me and Civilians*

Juvat's Monday post gave me a chuckle, especially his dealings with the "Very Southern, Very Old, Very Old Southern Lady" at an air show. While my interactions with civilians during my time in the military weren't quite as hilarious, there are a few encounters which stick in my memory.

Way back in the old days, when we flew on commercial aircraft, we were required to fly in our "dress" uniforms. Also known at times as "service dress" and even referred to by the odd Army type as "Class A uniforms." Think coat, tie, nice shirt, nice pants, shiny shoes. Oh, and a hat, must have a hat. (There is one uniform which has no hat, but that's a story for another time. Maybe. POCIR.) (Of course, back then our dress uniform looked military. Thanks to "General" McPeak, a curse be upon him, the dress uniform when I retired looked like a suit. With stripes. It felt like a suit, it wore like a suit, and looked about as military as a corporate executive's outfit. Minus the tassled loafers. Don't get me started on those, thank you very much.)


I had the opportunity to fly commercial a number of times when I was nobbut a lad in the service of Uncle Sam's Aerial Follies. Most people just assumed I was in the military and left it at that. On rare occasions, twice to be precise, in 24 years, I had the opportunity to sit next to elderly ladies (one was southern, one was not). One time was proceeding from Honolulu to San Francisco.

I was recovering from quite a hangover but was fairly sober when I boarded the aircraft.

What? Hungover Sarge? Say it ain't so! And if true, how did that happen?

Well, long story short, I was stationed at Kadena, on Okinawa, when I was notified by the Red Cross that my paternal grandfather had died. Though emergency leave was normally reserved for a death in the immediate family, I had a great boss at the time. And a really cool squadron commander. So they bundled my young self onto a commercial aircraft bound from Naha (on Okinawa) to Tokyo, thence to Honolulu, then San Francisco, then Chicago, then (finally) Bradley Field in Connecticut.

Also traveling back to the States was a Marine Gunnery Sergeant, a Corporal of Marines, and a passel of privates. Now in the presence of such an august personage as a Marine Gunnery Sergeant, aka Gunny, I felt lower than whale dung in the Marianas Trench. But this Gunny was a pretty cool and squared away individual. Who determined that he would treat us lower ranking enlisted pukes to a beer (or three) once we got to Tokyo.

Now at some point we staggered out of the bar in Tokyo to head for our gate. At which point Gunny, very much in his cups, proclaimed that we had 10 minutes to get to Gate 512 to catch Pan Am Flight 3 (I don't remember the precise numbers, those will do). Sensing that the high numbered gate could not possibly be correct, I checked my boarding pass. Sure enough, it was Pan Am Flight 512, departing from Gate 3. Upon my informing Gunny of this fact, he kind of paused, gave me the Marine stink eye and checked his boarding pass.

"Damn, but you're right. It is Gate 3, Flight 512. Damn, you Air Force guys are pretty smart. How 'come you Marines didn't notice that?"

They all sort of shuffled about, looked elsewhere, and played the innocent. but the corporal spoke up.

"Gunny. You say jump, we say 'How high?' You say Gate 512, we find Gate 512."

Gunny sort of swayed in the breeze, looked suspiciously at the corporal for a moment, then swaggered off for Gate 3.

"Damn right!" he said as he headed in the wrong direction.

Me, trying to be helpful, spat out, "Wrong way Gunny, reverse course!"

Glancing askance at me he said, "I knew that. Just checking to see if you were paying attention."

With that we boarded the aircraft. I had the pleasure of the corporal's company on the first leg of the trip and we, having mutually decided that this was a "long damn flight" and that we were "no way near drunk enough" to tolerate that, ordered drinks from our stewardess (for such they were called in olden times).

Imbibing those, we asked for another. We also inquired as to the health and welfare of Gunny.

"Oh, he's a sweet man. He had one drink and went right to sleep."

She didn't really understand why these two uniformed paladins of the American Armed Forces were giggling at that comment, rather like a couple of school girls, but we knew that Gunny had not "gone to sleep." Gunny was, no doubt, passed out from all the alcohol he had on board.

We followed Gunny to Dreamland and I experienced the shortest flight ever across the Pacific. Couldn't have taken more than half an hour. In fact, when we landed in Honolulu and they announced the local time, I was a bit staggered, we had not, by local time, even left Japan yet! We had gone back in time and, and...

"International Date Line, Airman. And I thought you Air Force guys were smart..."

"Ah right you are Gunny, I forgot!" (Yes, Gunny was recovered and looked none the worse for wear. The corporal and I, well, we looked rumpled, bedraggled,  and hungover. I forget what happened to the passel of privates. Gunny probably had them painting the terminal or some such thing.)

So, where was I? Oh yes, if you remember back a few moments ago, I was on board the flight from Honolulu to San Francisco, sitting next to an elderly lady, who smiled and promptly asked me, "Are you an astronaut?"


Visions of the all consuming fires of Hell popping into my head...

Then thinking, "What a great story this will be some day..."


"Why yes ma'am. Yes I am."

"Well I thought so. You have those wings on your sleeve and only astronauts wear wings on their sleeves."

My wings, one on each sleeve -

Did I feel bad about misleading/deceiving/lying to this nice older lady who promptly fell asleep as soon as the wheels came up? Well, yes, a little. Until we landed.

The nice older lady woke up, looked at me and said "Oh hello young man, are you an astronaut?"

"Um, um, no ma'am, I'm not. I should apologize for telling you that..."

"Oh no problem. When do we leave for San Francisco?"

"We just landed in San Francisco ma'am."

"Well I'll be, I was told that it was a much longer flight than that."

Poor dear was just a bit confused. So yeah, now I felt a lot guiltier than before.

In my defense, the other older lady I had sat next to earlier in my Air Force career, which would have been the year before, had been on a flight from Denver to Chicago. She had asked my if I was in the Army, I said no, the Air Force. What do you do in the Air Force. I work on the radar on the F-4 Phantom. What's a radar? What's an F-4? Why is it called a Phantom?

So I decided that next little old lady would not be given the opportunity to question me closely as to what service I was in and what did I do in that service. Easier that way, though rather wrong. I know. (I still feel bad.)

Upon boarding my flight from San Francisco to Chicago, which was packed to the gills (no, aircraft don't have gills, it's an expression), I saw that there appeared to be just two seats left on the aircraft. One two rows up, and one right next to me. I also noted that there were two people coming down the aisle with that "Hhmm, where's my seat?" expression. One little older lady and one very beautiful Chinese lady of about my age.

I knew that as punishment for telling the other older lady that I was indeed an astronaut, I would be fated to sit next to another little old lady on the flight to Chicago. I was already rehearsing my lines, "No ma'am, I'm not an astronaut. I am a lowly airman who works on the mighty F-4D Phantom." When what to my wondering eyes should appear, the little old lady taking the seat two rows up.

Before my inherent and ever-present juvenile male instincts could take over, I thought, "Ah, there must be another seat further back. No way do I get to sit next to a beautiful Chinese lady." When said lady comes up to where I'm sitting, stows her bag in the overhead bin and sits down next to me.

Of course, I say nothing. I am flabbergasted and amazed at my sheer luck in getting to sit next to this fine example of feminine pulchritude. She says hello, I say hello. Then she asks me where I am bound, I tell her New England, going home on emergency leave.

[Good one Sarge, play the sympathy card. - Hey, I was single at the time!]

She says oh, that's too bad. Then she informs me that she is traveling to Chicago to attend a symposium on nuclear physics. Somewhat smugly I ask, "So. You're a nuclear physicist?"

"Yes, I am."

[Ah, now I get it. "Yes, ma'am, I'm an astronaut." Taking advantage of a gullible senior citizen, now the hot Chinese girl, taking me for a rube, claims to be a nuclear physicist. I get it. Well played Fate. Well played.]

Before she settled back to read her book, which was similar to this -

She asked, "What do you do in the Air Force?"

"Uh, I work on the radar on the F-4 Phantom..."

"Wow, that's a cool job!" say the lovely lady.

For the remainder of the flight I tired not to drool on myself, scratch like the primate I am, and refrain from such bon mots as "Well golly gee miss, you shore are purty..."

That was a long flight to Chicago. Scenery though was magnificent. If somewhat out of my league.

True story. For the most part.

And The Missus Herself is far lovelier than that Chinese lady was. And yes, way out of my league. I got lucky.

Just wanted to put that on the record...

* Civilians and I?


  1. You do know that the wee small flaps around the cowling on a big radial engine to control airflow are called "Cooling Gills", don't you?

    1. I think I knew that but why ruin a good story with facts? (Also the aircraft in question was a 747, no gills that I can recall.)


  2. Back in the Stone Age days one nice aspect which I still yearn for was the USAF summer uniform of 1505 "suntans" which were tan short-sleeved shirts and and slacks which were standard "Class A" substitutes which all ranks wore pretty much most of the time (including Generals). Our actual blue "Class A's" (which all hated) were the "Bus Driver" look-alike uniform--no numbered AF patches on left shoulder, etc. were worn on only the most formal occasions during the summer. Better were the old tan Class A uniforms worn during the Korean era thru the late 50s/early 60s which included the numbered AF shoulder patch and at least looked like a military uniform.

    1. Man, did I miss those 1505s when they went away. Those were still issued in 1975, four sets. The short sleeved light blue shirt and dark blue pants combo was an optional buy item which very few people wore. The pants were (and still are) too damn hot in the summer in some locales.

      Virgil, you would have "loved" McPeak. The blues became a real bus driver suit, not just a look-alike.

  3. And boozy flights? I spent most of my 30 day leave en route PCS from DaNang to the UK in New Orleans and Baton Rouge partying with old friends and fraternity brothers. At the end of roughly three weeks of that I hopped onto an early AM Delta flight to my home in Illinois for my last week after an all night inge. I was no sooner seated in my 1505s (A TOTAL WRECK) at which point a Delta "stew" (the PC term "flight attendant" having not yet come into vogue) immediately hove on the scene with a bloody mary in each hand. "It looks like you might need these, It's on the house" she said. LOL!

  4. If I had a dime for every time I was "fairly sober" when boarding an aircraft...

    Remind me to tell the story of the physicist stripper I met at Evelyn's Grunge Bar...

  5. Sitting next to an attractive young woman was not the norm when I flew in uniform, much like Sarge's experiences it was often a lady of the mature persuasion.
    But this story is about the time that the person next to me was an AYL (Attractive Young Lady) and very shortly after we were wheels up she turns to me, smiles sweetly and says, "Say, you're afraid of flying aren't you?" I stalled for a moment by asking, "What makes you think that?" and she smiled again and said, "You almost ripped the armrests loose when we took off."
    Well, she was correct and I told her about my experience when the engine caught fire, (perhaps embellished just a squeak for the purposes of drama).
    The AYL was flying to her job as an animal trainer at one of the large aquatic parks and she had some great stories about what had happened from time to time when the customers interacted with the animals.
    She also told me about the killer whale that bit half of the customer's face off and she strongly cautioned me that if I ever the chance to get close and personal with wild animals of any type, say no, because wild animals.
    I know good advice when I hear it.

    1. Nice!

      (And yes, wild animals. I try not to interact with them. Sound wisdom there.)

  6. The USAF dress blues look a whole lot better if you wear boots ( spit shined, of course ) with the trousers bloused. More of that story upon request.

    Paul L. Quandt

    1. P.S. Thanks for the most excellent post.


    2. In my day the only folks who could blouse their trousers were the kettenhunde, er, I mean, Security Police and LEs.

      But yeah, that improves things. In my book the only folks who should be allowed to do that are folks who voluntarily jump out of aircraft. On purpose. Because it's their job.

      (That is, PJs, paratroopers, etc., etc.)

      But it does look cool.

    3. P.S. You're welcome. As always.


    4. "But yeah, that improves things. In my book the only folks who should be allowed to do that are folks who voluntarily jump out of aircraft. On purpose. Because it's their job."

      Well, I later jumped from an aircraft in flight ( a C-119, if you can believe it ), five times. My school jumps. It sort of involved my job as a survival instructor.


    5. Okay, you jumped from a C-119. Can't say I blame you.

      Survival instructors merit bloused trousers AND jump boots. Just sayin'...

      Then and now.

    6. Which gets us into the subject of the proper wear of "blousing rings" but I'll leave the thought... :)

    7. The best blousing rings I found were some rather fat springs which we got from parachutes which were used by the students in the survival school to make the gear they needed in the field. However, the staff at jump school were not amused when they caught a friend and me wearing them. Got to remove them and " properly " blouse our trousers into our boots in the " dying cockroach " position.

      Paul L. Quandt

    8. Hahaha! Dying cockroach position, how picturesque!

  7. When I have had the occasion to sit next to a little "old" lady on a commercial flight I make sure to them them that in the event of an emergency "their" job is to get my 250 lb, 5'11" backside out of the aircraft. Said with a smile of course. A smile fixes everything.



Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)
Can't be nice, go somewhere else...

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