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Jane Russell, 38D, The Outlaw, Air Force, Hitchhiker . . .

Jane Russell, the tall brunette movie actress with the dark eyes and the 38-D bra is dead. Born in 1921, she died on Monday, 28 February from respiratory failure—she was 89 years old. When the news of her death was widely reported on television my memory took a long journey into the past. I felt that my thoughts of the star might be of interest to my viewers, hence this posting, and I know that at the very least it will be of interest to my daughters—they have never heard of this incident, a memorable event in their father’s life.

The year was 1946 and I was fourteen years old—wait, let me check that—1946 versus 1932—6 minus two = 4, and 4 minus 3 = 1. Yep, that’s 14 and in 1946 the Dixie Theater in Columbus, Mississippi, well ahead of its time, would not allow me to see Jane Russell in The Outlaw because of my impressionable youth, yet black-and-white movie stills in the display frames outside and the ones placed on easels in the theater lobby placed lots of emphasis on the twin outcroppings that brought fame to the statuesque brunette.

Had the theater been a carnival sideshow, I could have sneaked around back and crawled in under the canvas wall of the tent. That method had worked in the past with similar sideshows of carnivals that came to the city’s fairgrounds, but was of no use in this matter. And had I been accompanied by an adult family member, I would have been allowed to see the movie, but I knew that it was useless to ask my mother or one of my elder sisters, and my brother was off somewhere in the northern climes. And my exalted stepfather, Papa John, had once again shattered and deserted our little family and retreated to the Fraternal Order of Eagles club in Midland, Texas where he spent most of his nights losing at the club’s poker tables.

Eventually I despaired of seeing the movie and it finished its stint in Columbus and departed—it was heart wrenching because I was an avid western fan and that was the only reason I wanted to see it—yeah, right! While it was showing, I made numerous trips to drool—oops, I mean dream—over the still photos, and if the ticket seller did not look familiar I would try again to buy a ticket, but I was rebuffed each time.

Now fast-forward to Chanute Air Force Base located on the outskirts of Rantoul, Illinois, a small town some 125 miles south of Chicago. Much of the US Air Force technical training was centered at the sprawling air base, and I arrived there in the spring of 1949 to train as an aircraft electrician and engine mechanic. Chanute AFB was closed in 1993 by the Department of Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC).

I left Chanute a year later in the spring of 1950 after finishing my training and headed for home in Mississippi for a 10-day leave en route, and then on to San Francisco to board an Army troop ship bound for Yokohama, Japan to start a three-year tour in the Far East. That tour was shortened by a year because of the US intervention in the Korean War.

But I digress—back to Jane Russell and her movie, The Outlaw. While in casual status waiting for my classes to start, I learned that the movie was playing in Champagne, the site of the University of Illinois some 25 miles from Chanute. I had no access to private transportation, neither mine nor that of others, and I couldn’t count on buses or trains to get me to Champagne and back overnight, so I opted for the only transportation available. I walked to Rantoul and found the highway leading to Champagne and assumed the position of a hitchhiker and positioned my thumb properly to show my need.

Hitchhiking in those days was somewhat different than now. The papers and radio waves and billboards were not filled with information on serial murderers, kidnappings, rape and child abuse. There were no Amber Alerts, or Jessica’s Laws, nothing worth mentioning that would make drivers hesitate to pick up a boy-child hitchhiker pretending to be a member of the US armed forces. Yes, I was in my US Air Force uniform, the one with all the stripes indicating my lofty rank—one small stripe on each sleeve, a Private First Class—hey, don’t laugh—after all, I was in the first class of all the privates in the Air Force. That should count for something!

I towered around five feet, six inches tall and weighed in at 110 pounds, an image unlikely to strike fear into any driver whether young or elderly, male or female, gay or straight and regardless of race, religion or political affiliation. My thumb was elevated and pointed in the proper direction for no more than ten minutes before a kindly driver opened his door to me, drove me to Champagne and dropped me off in front of the theater where The Outlaw was being featured.

In retrospect I humbly state, with all humility aside that I was a cute little dude, an innocent baby-faced wayfarer, and that appearance could well have been the reason that I fared so well with the hitchhiking process. I have not retained any of those credentials today—well, perhaps the height, but the innocent baby face and the low poundage have gone the way of all good things, the victims of passing time.

Well, that’s it—that’s my tale of Jane Russell and the black-and-white movie The Outlaw. After dreaming of seeing the movie for three years I came, I saw, and I conquered my obsession, but many years later it returned tenfold. I found the movie on a VHS tape cassette and rescued it from its humble position on a garage-sale table. It now has a featured position in my collection of similar western-themed movies—nay, belay that—no  movie is similar to The Outlaw—thanks to Jane Russell it stands in a class all by itself. I have a very vivid recollection of Jane Russell and one of her 3-D films. That’s the subject for a future posting, so stay tuned.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 
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Posted by on March 2, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Mistaken identification—no gold tooth . . .

Long, long ago in 1951 in Japan, a far off land across the sea, a young American corporal, 18 years old, arrived late in the evening to the Transient Quarters at Itazuki, an American air base near the city of Fukuoka on Kyushu, Japan’s most southern island. That young corporal was on an authorized three-day pass for the purpose of resting, relaxing and recuperating from the rigors of singlehandedly fighting a war from Taegue Air Base at Taegue, South Korea, a war that raged between South Korea and North Korea and lasted four years, but was never won by either side—a truce was declared, and that truce exists to this day.

I was assisted in my efforts by the South Korean army and the US Army, Navy, Marines and National Guard units. That assistance was warranted because Communist China’s vast army was assisting North Korea in its effort to take over the entire Korean peninsula.

The hour was late and the lights were already out in the Transient Quarters. I found my way to an empty lower bunk, stuffed my stuff under the bunk, undressed, slipped under the covers and went to sleep. I awoke early the next morning and headed straight for the showers. When my ablutions were completed I returned to my bunk, donned my uniform and prepared to depart for the city for that aforementioned rest, relaxation and recuperation, activities that were considerably more available than in Korea or on the air base.

And then fate crossed me up—I took a cursory glance at the sleeping figure on the top bunk and recognized him immediately. His name was Ord Dunham, a friend I made in basic training, and we completed technical training together at Chanute Air Force Base, Illinois. We both shipped out of San Francisco on the same Army troop ship early in 1950, a few months before the Korean War began and I hadn’t seen him since that time.

I waited around for awhile for him to awaken, and passed the time by reading a comic book that was lying at the foot of bunk—well, at least I was looking at the pictures. I believe it was titled “Wings” or something similar, and its cover featured a beautiful girl drifting to earth under a parachute, one of the older type chutes, one of those with the straps between the legs of the parachutist—I will neither bore nor arouse my viewers by describing the girl’s dress or the lack thereof—suffice it to say that the cover was interesting, memorable and to a certain extent, stimulating. I sincerely hope that she made a safe landing.

I grew tired of waiting, knowing that the waiting was cutting into my time for rest, relaxation and recuperation, so I rolled up the comic book and smartly tapped Ord’s nose with it. His eyes snapped open, he raised up and glared at me, and I said, “Hey, boy, aren’t you a long way from home? He said, “Yeah, I guess I am, so what about it?” As he spoke I was treated to a good look at his front teeth, probably because he was smiling—well, actually he wasn’t smiling—it was more like he was snarling. The Ord Dunham I knew had one gold upper front tooth—the man I swatted across the face with a comic book did not have a gold tooth.

I said, in a very low and probably trembling voice, “You’re not Ord Dunham, are you?’ He replied, “No, I’m not, and that’s a hell of a way to wake a man up in the morning!” I did what any sane, intelligent and reasonable person would do and should do in such a situation—I said, “I made a mistake, and I’m sorry, really sorry, please forgive me,” and I grabbed my ditty bag and tried to restrain my feet to a casual walk towards the exit door. To others I would probably seem to be skipping, or perhaps speed walking.

I survived my faux pas and extended my three-day pass from three to seven days—why and how that was possible, and why I was never given a second three-day pass while in Korea is explained in an earlier posting—click here for the pertinent detailsI can say truthfully and modestly say that the posting is worth a visit.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

PeeEss:

To Ord Dunham, the Ord with the gold tooth: If you should happen to read this, please know that I forgive you for having a remarkable look-alike, one that almost got me in a heap of trouble!

And to Ord Dunham, the Ord with no gold tooth, the Ord on the top bunk: If you should happen to read this and remember the incident, please know that I appreciate the fact that you kept your temper in check that day—thanks—I needed that!

 
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Posted by on July 10, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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13 weeks of basic training . . .

This is the first of what may be many postings concerning my 13 weeks of basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. The training was a lifetime crowded into a mere ninety-one days. A related posting covering my enlistment and arrival in San Antonio can be seen here. That posting also has some interesting insights on Boy Scouts, rattlesnakes, John Wayne, Mississippi’s National Guard, tortoises, snipes and bacon and eggs and wieners and various other unrelated items—trust me, a visit is well worth your time!

And now on to the first day of my 13 weeks of basic training:

I entered the United States Air Force’s basic training course on March 7, 1949 exactly 61 years, one month and 29 days ago as of this date. I was there for 13 weeks, and to this day the sights and sounds and smells and events, whether positive or negative—and there were plenty of both—of that 13 weeks are just as strong as they were then, more than 61 years later. I can successfully recreate in my mind—and as one will see, in print—the tiniest happenings and recall of the faces and many of the names of most of the people involved—fellow trainees, training instructors, commanding officers, chaplains, cooks and Red Cross representatives. I can vividly recall my first day at Lackland Air Force Base here in San Antonio, Texas, a day of whirlwind events involved in the requirements of first-day processing.

We started by stripping to the buff—off with shirts, pants, shoes, socks, undershirts and shorts. Our clothing and shoes were picked up and placed in a container labeled with our names. We were told they would be held and returned to us at the conclusion of basic training—unless we indicated that we did not want them back, and in that case we were told they would be donated to various charities. I cheerfully abandoned my T-shirt, shorts, jeans, socks and scuffed sneakers. They were called tennis shoes back in those days, even though nobody played tennis, at least not in my level of society—come to think of it, nobody plays tennis in my current level of society either—not much change there.

In return for giving up our garments and our modesty, we were issued a Towel, bath, olive drab, 1, an item that we dutifully wrapped around our waists—unrolled, of course, to provide a modicum of cover both front and rear. There were several people that had to hang on to both ends of their towel at all times—their ample waistlines prohibited knotting the corners together at one side or the other to provide cover.

From there we submitted to the official ministrations of barbers, gentlemen that were proficient in rendering one unrecognizable to one’s mother or any other person, with just a few strokes of an electric clipper. The barber shop was a large room with multiple barber chairs, each with a long wooden bench directly in line with each barber’s chair. We straddled the benches and hitched our way from the rear to the front as the work progressed, and then from the front position to the chair. The hitching along generated lots of jokes, most obscene but all funny, many involving splinters and sitting too close to the man ahead, or for lagging behind (so to speak) and not putting enough distance between one’s self and the man directly behind (again so to speak).

When the barbers finished with us, not a hair was left standing—one could see where the hair had been but could only speculate as to the nature of the departed coiffures. For many of the trainees, ears that had been invisible—including mine– were now quite prominent. We were directed from there to the shower room, a huge area with multiple shower heads on both sides, closely spaced, and once there we doffed our towels and showered. Here, as in the barber shop, there were many jokes, most off color but most were funny depending, of course, on whether one was the butt of one or more jokes—and I’ll have no more to say on that subject!

After showering, we girded our loins with our towels, now quite wet, and joined a line to pick up military clothing—olive drab undershirts, olive drab shorts, olive drab one-piece fatigues, an olive drab fatigue cap, kakii shirts and trousers, collar brass, an olive drab web belt and brass buckle, hat brass and a garrison hat, a stiff-brimmed hat that was issued in two pieces—the hat cover was separate but was not available. We wore the hats to our quarters with no covers, nothing to protect our bald pates from the merciless summer sun of South Texas. Our issue of clothing included four sheets and two pillowcases, one pair of brown low-quarter (dress) shoes and two pairs of  brown brogans (work shoes), a laundry bag and and a duffel bag—both olive drab—carriers in which we stuffed our newly acquired wardrobe.

Yep, I joined the Brown Shoe Air Force—black shoes and blue uniforms came in 1951—I was in Japan when the first GIs arrived with the blue winter uniforms and the blue accessories for the summer kakis. When any of the Japanese girls asked why the others wore blue, we told them that the blue uniforms identified men that were afflicted with a social disease, men that  should be avoided at all costs. It worked for a little while, but it was too good to last.

As an aside, I must state that I was the only trainee that was issued white T-shirts instead of the olive-drab wife-beater undershirts. The smallest size available  was too large for me, so I was given a supply of T-shirt, white, round neck, 7. At first I felt special because I had always worn T-shirts, but as basic training progressed I would come to hate those T-shirts—more details on that later.

We marched several blocks to our barracks, a two-story edifice built before World War II began, constructed of wood with asbestos siding and standard roofing. Our home for the next 13 weeks was identical to all the others in that area, differing only in the building numbers—ours was numbered 4029, just one of many in Lackland’s 3724th Basic Military Training Squadron (BMTS). I said we marched, but it wasn’t much of a march—our combined movements were simply pitiful attempts to keep in step to the cadence voiced by our training instructor (our TI).

We entered the barracks, picked out a spot on the lower floor of the building, put down our bags and sat on them while our TI briefed us on things to come in the next 13 weeks. His first words on entering the building, after taking a long look at the group, a prolonged look at each man, some of the looks prolonged to the point of nervousness on the individual’s part. After staring at each trainee, his gaze returned to me, and he held that gaze while he said “Well, you look like a pretty good group—with a few exceptions.”

As one might expect, I took that to mean that I would find some obstacles in the road ahead—and I did. However, although I took some pretty hard hits none stopped me—I encountered rocks frequently in the 13 weeks, but one by one I conquered them by ignoring them, climbing over them or going around them. I graduated successfully in spite of being one of a few exceptions. At the end of the 13 weeks I proudly sewed on the single stripes of a Private First Class in the world’s greatest air force, a promotion after only 13 weeks in service! I accepted my pay raise of $2.50 a month, making my total compensation a whopping $75 per month and left for home, with a ten-day delay authorized while en route to technical training at Chanute Air Force Base at Rantoul, Illinois.

Hey, don’t laugh about my salary! My food, lodging, clothing, cleaning, laundry, medical care and dental care were all free, and all I had to do was follow orders and say sir to everybody with more than one stripe. I was just 16 years old and I had the world by the tail with a downhill pull—a veritable bird’s nest on the ground. And I was no longer under the watchful eye of a certain Salvation Army captain, the duly empowered truant officer in my small Mississippi town. I was free at last, and all I had to do was  go to places such as Japan and Korea and Germany and Vietnam whenever I was told to go—I figured that was not too bad a deal, except when wars were being fought in such places. Since none were being fought at the time, I felt little concern about future wars—perhaps I should have, but I didn’t.

I’ll get back to you later with more details.

 
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Posted by on April 6, 2010 in Humor, Military, Travel, wartime, Writing

 

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Never Volunteer: Note for Incoming Military Personnel . . .

NEVER VOLUNTEER . . .

Anyone who joins the US military under any condition and no matter which branch of service, will be bombarded with suggestions and admonitions voiced by “knowledgeable” others. Any listing of such would be interminably long, so here are just a few examples:

ADVICE ON MEDICAL PRACTICES:

Don’t bend over, no matter what the doctor says.

If you do bend over and the doctor places both hands on your shoulders, be afraid—be very afraid.

Watch out for that square needle in the left testicle.

Get ready to ride the silver stallion.

“Riding the silver stallion” is how GIs describe a procedure which requires one, while hanging upside down (a more accurate description would be while hanging “downside up”), to allow the rectal insertion of a long round shiny item similar to a giant ring-sizer. The purpose of this barbaric procedure is, ostensibly, to examine the lower third of the colon to determine if any polyps exist. I believe the procedure may have been replaced by one even more barbaric—it’s called a sigmoidoscopy—one lies on one’s side and allows compressed air to be blown into the colon through the rectal insertion of a flexible tube, again ostensibly to examine the colon for polyps.

ADVICE ON PERSONAL HYGIENE:

Don’t drop the soap in the shower.

If you do drop the soap, don’t pick it up—leave it.

ADVICE ON HOW TO POLICE (CLEAN UP) AN AREA:

If it’s not moving, pick it up.

If you can’t pick it up, paint it.

If you can’t paint it, salute it.

If you can’t salute it, frigate (at least two alternate spellings are available).

ADVICE ON JOINING FORMATIONS FOR DETAIL SELECTION:

To avoid being selected, huddle in the center of the group—stay away from the edges.

To avoid being selected, stay on the edges—do not huddle in the center.

HINT FOR FUTURE SELECTION FORMATIONS:

Any selector worth his salt will alternate his selection methods.

AND THE ADVICE MOST GIVEN TO INCOMING MILITARY PERSONNEL IS:

Never volunteer!

I failed to heed this advice on two memorable occasions early in my military career. The first was in 1949 while I was in a casual status at Chanute AFB in Rantoul, Illinois, awaiting starting dates for technical training courses. We casuals fell out (assembled) early each morning to present ourselves for various details, many of which were designed to keep us busy, off the streets and out of trouble while in a casual status. In my first assembly I was the only one who foolishly raised a hand when we were asked if anyone could type—I figured my typing skills would guarantee a cushy day-job in a climate-controlled office.

I was wrong—I spent a very long day at the base motor pool, breaking down vehicle wheels, very large wheels with very large tires, all very worn, very flat or blown out, and then reassembling them with new inner-tubes. (Yes, Virginia—long, long ago in ancient times, vehicle tires were equipped with rubber tubes that had to be inflated with compressed air—said tubes were very susceptible to punctures and blowouts).

In those ancient times, apparently there were no hydraulic helpers available—they either had not been invented, or the United States Air Force motor pools could not afford them, or they simply did not want to use them (with slave labor available, they didn’t really need them).

At times I was tempted, but I managed to avoid volunteering for anything else until June 25, 1950, a day which is so far in the past that an explanation is necessary—on that date units of the North Korean army crossed the 38th parallel and invaded South Korea. On that same day the aircraft maintenance personnel of the Eighth Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron of the 67th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing based at Yokota Air Base, Japan were asked to volunteer to staff a forward aircraft maintenance unit at Taegu Air Base, near the city of Taegu in the southern part of South Korea.

All personnel in Japan, whether accompanied or unaccompanied by family, earned one point per month of the 36 rotation points acquired for rotation back to the states. The carrot extended to us, if we volunteered for duty in Korea, was the promise to award three rotation points for each month spent in the combat zone, effectively limiting our tours to a maximum of one year before rotating back the United States.

Not one member of our squadron maintenance unit who was accompanied by a family member or members volunteered—most unaccompanied members unhesitatingly volunteered (I was in that gullible group). Using our real names, we signed a document to support our action.

Soon after the request for volunteers to participate in the Korean conflict on-site, my squadron relocated to Itazuke AB near Fukuoka, a metropolitan city on the southern island of Kyushu. A pleasant three months passed before our volunteer statements took away the pleasantries—on October 1, 1950 we volunteers, along with our toolboxes, were airlifted to Taegu in a C-119 cargo plane (said flight is the subject of a future posting—watch for it).

So far, so good—at this point we were pleased with our decision to volunteer, but the pleasure was short-lived. Somewhere in the upper echelons of command a decision was made to make Taegu the headquarters for the 67th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing, with a cadre of maintenance personnel remaining in Japan to perform certain aircraft inspections and accomplish complicated technical modifications to our aircraft. In answer to your question, “Yes—most of those remaining in Japan were the same non-volunteers who were accompanied by a family member or family members.”

The most significant result of this move (at least to us volunteers) was that, because our headquarters was in the combat zone, the people who did not volunteer—those non-volunteering, accompanied-by-family-members people—those who stayed behind to face the rigors of duty in Japan—would also earn three points per month to apply to the 36 points required for stateside rotation.

I had numerous other opportunities to volunteer during the following 20 years before I retired from the military (for length of service with 22 years plus). I must admit, but not without a certain amount of chagrin, that I volunteered for some of them, but only after considering a long list of pros and cons. A few times I lost the opportunity to volunteer because I spend so much time evaluating those pros and cons—some of the lost opportunities were welcomed—some others were monumental disappointments.

I’ll get back to you later with more details.

 

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