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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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Revisited: Vietnam, circa 1969 . . .

This posting was originally unleashed on an unsuspecting audience almost ten months ago on June 9, 2009. It has languished in the bowels of Word Press since that time. The number of visitors the posting has drawn, for whatever reason, is unknown, but the number that bothered to rate the posting is known—one, and in the interest of full disclosure I must admit that the one vote is mine. I briefly considered commenting on the posting’s excellence, but I couldn’t figure out how to do it and remain anonymous. However, when I reread the posting I was so pleased with myself that I gave it a vote of excellence, but no one knows I did it because voters are not identified. Given its poor performance in attracting readers, voters and comments I decided to bring it out into the bright light of 2010 for the enlightenment of those that, for whatever reason, may find it in their wanderings around Word Press.

I beseech you, visitors to this posting, to leave some evidence that you were here—a footprint or a finger print or an old sock or cigarette butt or a few marijuana seeds or a burned bobby pin or a beautifully crafted joint holder—anything to show me that someone was here. Whether the story pleases or displeases you, please take the time to vote on it and leave a comment, either positive or negative. And whether you like it or hated it, tell me why your liked it or hated it—if I know why you hated it, I can change it for the better, and if you liked it I can change it by making it doubly better—or I’ll make it worse if you insist. See how that works?

The original posting follows—view it at https://thekingoftexas.wordpress.com/2009/06/09/554/

In the spring of 1969 I began an extended vacation in Southeast Asia in Vietnam, one of the most beautiful countries on our planet, courtesy of the United States military with all expenses paid. My trip over was on a commercial airliner, with a brief stop on Guam. That stop was probably meant to prepare us for the sweltering heat we would soon be enjoying at Tan Son Knut air base on the outskirts of Saigon, Vietnam’s capital city, renamed as Ho Chi Minh City when Saigon and the rest of South Vietnam fell to the communist forces of North Vietnam.

My visit at Tan Son Knut was all too brief, but it lasted long enough for me to enjoy the last three months of the southern monsoon. According to our briefings, Vietnam has two distinct monsoon periods, six months in the south and six months in the north, cleverly labeled, respectively, the southern monsoon and the northern monsoon, with one beginning when the other stops. When I was transferred to Da Nang air base in the north, very much against my will, I was privileged to enjoy all six months of the northern monsoon, for a total of nine months of rain while in the country.

Monsoon, by definition, is a seasonal prevailing wind that lasts for several months. A monsoon typically includes the monsoon rainfall, a period during which a region receives the majority of its rain. On my vacation I was granted the opportunity to be drenched almost daily over a 9-month period.

I was wet every day that I spent in Vietnam, one way or the other, either drenched by rain or soaked with perspiration—one is supposed to be cooled by the evaporation of sweat, but in that climate perspiration could not evaporate because the air was already full of moisture. Shoes, boots, wallets and anything else made of leather, if left in an enclosed space for any length of time, would come alive with a solid coat of mold, looking like something in a Japanese movie on late-night television, more realistic, of course. By eight o’clock in the morning my undershirt was soaked with sweat and clung to my body like glue—I learned to not wear an undershirt, and I continue undershirt-less to this day. I also learned to wrap my wallet in plastic to keep it from imitating a Japanese horror monster.

My vacation tour of Vietnam was scheduled to last only 12 months—the thirteenth month was the result of a death in my family. I was allowed a 30-day respite from my vacation activities, but was allowed to complete my original commitment by staying an extra month on my return to Vietnam. The purpose of the thirteenth month was to make up for the break in my vacation tour—incidentally, the U. S. Air Force generously debited the 30 days from my accumulated leave time.

What a gift!

I have much more to tell about my tour of duty in Vietnam, but for this posting I’ll cover little more than the emergency 30-day leave—how it came about, and how and why and by whom it was initially denied but later authorized. I’ll try to be brief, and then return later with more details of my vacation.

Early one morning I was summoned to the office of the Red Cross representative at Da Nang to be informed of the contents of a telegram received from his counterpart in my home town. The telegram stated that my stepfather had died peacefully in his sleep, and that “… the mother is doing well and requests that the service member not return home.” That request not withstanding, I took the telegram to my Personnel Officer and requested a 30-day emergency leave in order to be with my mother to console her in her time of grief. I told him my late stepfather had held that title for 28 of my 37 years, except for a brief period during a divorce from my mother, a divorce that was soon followed by remarriage to my mother. I told the Personnel Officer that I felt that I owed my stepfather a return home because he was the only father I ever knew.

The truth of the matter? I desperately yearned to leave beautiful Vietnam, if only for a brief period, and 30 days of emergency leave was authorized in such circumstances as the death of my stepfather.

The Personnel Officer, a major, denied my request because the telegram stated quite clearly that my mother did not want me to return. My initial reaction was anger, but I calmly—well, sorta calmly—said to the major, “Sir, if my mother had requested my presence and I did not want to return, would you have ordered me to go?” He responded to my question  with these exact words, uttered with strength, volume and passion:

“Sergeant, that’s insubordination!”

I considered that for a long moment and then said, “Thank you, major.” I saluted, did an about-face, left his office and the building and hotfooted it to the Non-commissioned Officer’s Club, an organization that I was a member of and a very frequent visitor to, and I was also a part-time off-duty worker—I considered the Club Manager to be a good friend.

I briefly explained the situation to him and asked if he could get a call through to my wife in San Antonio. He immediately picked up the phone and established a connection with a U. S. Navy vessel anchored off-shore from China Beach. From that ship the call went to a satellite, from that satellite to the ground somewhere in Scandinavia, then up to another satellite and from that satellite down to my home phone in San Antonio, Texas, all in a matter of minutes.

My friend handed me the phone and I heard my wife’s perfectly clear “Hello,” as distinct as if she were in the room with us. I told her not to talk, just listen and do what I was going to tell her to do. I told her to call my mother in Mississippi and tell her to go to the local Red Cross immediately and tell them that she desperately needs her son home from Vietnam, that she is suffering mightily from her recent loss and wants her son to come home because she feels he will be able to assuage her anguish and grief—and tell her that time is of the essence!

I used several unrepeatable words and phrases to emphasize the importance of the call to my mother. I told my wife to tell my mother that if she failed to convince the Red Cross to authorize my absence from helping lose our war with North Vietnam, she would never, ever, see me again or hear from me again. This was not a threat—it was a solemn promise that I intended to keep. My wife said she understood and we terminated the call. This was no time for small talk—time was of the essence!

I felt no pride in what I was doing, nor do I feel pride in it now. It was necessary and needed to be done, similar to the ultimatum given to the defenders of the Alamo when surrounded by the Mexican army: They were told, “Surrender now, or we will give no quarter.” I wanted my mother to surrender and deliver, and to understand the consequences if she failed—I would give no quarter. There was no time for deliberation, reluctance or self-recrimination—I needed action, not excuses—time was of the essence!

Early the next morning I was again called to the office of the American Red Cross, and  the local representative gave me another telegram and told me to take it to the Personnel Office. Always one to comply with a direct order, I hastened my return to the office of the Personnel Officer. I was again ushered into that worthy’s office, wherein I saluted smartly, placed the telegram on his desk, stepped back and remained at attention while he read the message, a message which consisted of the things my wife told my mother to say, but without the unrepeatable words and phrases.

The major, apparently speechless, said nothing. Not a word, at least not vocally, but his face spoke volumes. He stamped the telegram APPROVED, with almost enough force to make a dent in the desk. I retrieved the approval, said “Thank you, sir,” saluted smartly and smartly pivoted 180 degrees (an about face), and went to the Administration Section to process for my return to the land of the big PX and round door knobs.

I departed Da Nang the same day on a commercial airliner, stuffed mostly with military personnel who had completed their Vietnam vacations. At the exact moment the wheels broke ground, a concerted and prolonged cheer erupted from the throats of some 200 men—I didn’t expect it and it scared the hell out of me, but I managed to join the choir, albeit somewhat belatedly.

I returned to Da Nang 30 days later to complete my tour in Vietnam—I never saw the major again, something we both can appreciate.

That’s all for now. I’ll have to get back later with more details of my vacation in Vietnam. It was one of the most memorable times in my life, a life which has, to date encompassed beau coup memorable moments.

See there? Even the word “beau coup” brings back memories of Vietnam—France occupied and fought in that country for many years. They no doubt took many mementos home with them, but also left many mementos behind when they left Vietnam, including a substantial number of Vietnamese mothers with children fathered by French soldiers. The French efforts in Vietnam were, of course, a prelude to American soldiers leaving similar mementos, probably in even more substantial numbers, of Vietnamese mothers with children fathered by American soldiers.

The plight and the beauty of those children deserve a separate posting.

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

 
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Posted by on March 22, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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Vietnam vacation, circa 1969 . . .

In the spring of 1969 I began an extended vacation in South-East Asia in Vietnam, one of the most beautiful countries on our planet, courtesy of the United States military with all expenses paid. My trip over was on a commercial airliner, with a brief stop on Guam. That stop was probably meant to prepare us for the sweltering heat we would soon be enjoying at Tan San Knut air base on the outskirts of Saigon, Vietnam’s capital city, renamed as Ho Chi Minh City when Saigon and the rest of South Vietnam fell to the communist forces of North Vietnam.

My visit at Tan San Knut was all too brief, but it lasted long enough for me to enjoy the last three months of the southern monsoon. According to our briefings, Vietnam has two distinct monsoon periods, six months in the south and six months in the north, cleverly labeled, respectively, the southern monsoon and the northern monsoon, with one beginning when the other stops. When I was transferred to Da Nang air base in the north, very much against my will, I was privileged to enjoy all six months of the northern monsoon, for a total of nine months of rain while in the country.

Monsoon, by definition, is a seasonal prevailing wind that lasts for several months. A monsoon typically includes the monsoon rainfall, a period during which a region receives the majority of its rain. On my vacation I was granted the opportunity to be drenched almost daily over a 9-month period.

I was wet every day that I spent in Vietnam, one way or the other, either drenched by rain or soaked with perspiration—one is supposed to be cooled by the evaporation of sweat, but in that climate perspiration could not evaporate because the air was already full of moisture. Shoes, boots, wallets and anything else made of leather, if left in an enclosed space for any length of time, would come alive with a solid coat of mould, looking like something in a Japanese movie on late-night television, more realistic, of course. By eight o’clock in the morning my undershirt was soaked with sweat and clinging to my body like glue—I learned to not wear an undershirt, and I continue undershirt-less to this day. I also learned to wrap my wallet in plastic to keep them from imitating Japanese horror monsters.

My vacation tour of Vietnam was scheduled to last only 12 months—the thirteenth month was the result of a death in my family. I was allowed a 30-day respite from my vacation activities, but was allowed to complete my original commitment by staying an extra month on my return to Vietnam. The purpose of the thirteenth month was to make up for the break in my vacation tour—incidentally, the U. S. Air Force generously debited the 30 days from my accumulated leave time.

What a gift!

I have much more to tell about my tour of duty in Vietnam, but for this posting I’ll cover little more than the emergency 30-day leave—how it came about, and how and why and by whom it was initially denied but later authorized. I’ll try to be brief, and then return later with more details of my vacation.

Early one morning I was summoned to the office of the Red Cross representative at Da Nang to be informed of the contents of a telegram received from his counterpart in my home town. The telegram stated that my stepfather had died peacefully in his sleep, and that “… the mother is doing well and requests that the service member not return home.” That request not withstanding, I took the telegram to my Personnel Officer and requested a 30-day emergency leave in order to be with my mother to console her in her time of grief. I told him my late stepfather had held that title for 28 of my 37 years, except for a brief period during a divorce from my mother, a divorce that was soon followed by remarriage to my mother. I told the Personnel Officer that I felt that I owed my stepfather a return home because he was the only father I ever knew.

The truth of the matter? I desperately yearned to leave beautiful Vietnam, if only for a brief period, and 30 days of emergency leave was authorized in such circumstances as the death of my stepfather.

The Personnel Officer, a major, denied my request because the telegram stated quite clearly that my mother did not want me to return. My initial reaction was anger, but I calmly—well, sorta calmly—said to the major, “Sir, if my mother had requested my presence and I did not want to return, would you have ordered me to go?” He responded to my question  with these exact words, uttered with strength, volume and passion:

“Sergeant, that’s insubordination!”

I considered that for a long moment and then said, “Thank you, major.” I saluted, did an about-face, left his office and the building and hotfooted it to the Non-commissioned Officer’s Club, an organization that I was a member of and a very frequent visitor to, and I was also a part-time off-duty worker—I considered the Club Manager to be a good friend.

I briefly explained the situation to him and asked if he could get a call through to my wife in San Antonio. He immediately picked up the phone and established a connection with a U. S. Navy vessel anchored off-shore from China Beach. From that ship the call went to a satellite, from that satellite to the ground somewhere in Scandinavia, then up to another satellite and from that satellite down to my home phone in San Antonio, Texas, all in a matter of minutes.

My friend handed me the phone and I heard my wife’s perfectly clear “Hello,” as distinct as if she were in the room with us. I told her not to talk, just listen and do what I was going to tell her to do. I told her to call my mother in Mississippi and tell her to go to the local Red Cross immediately and tell them that she desperately needs her son home from Vietnam, that she is suffering mightily from her recent loss and wants her son to come home because she feels he will be able to assuage her anguish and grief—and tell her that time is of the essence!

I used several unrepeatable words and phrases to emphasize the importance of the call to my mother. I told my wife to tell my mother that if she failed to convince the Red Cross to authorize my absence from helping lose our war with North Vietnam, she would never, ever, see me again or hear from me again. This was not a threat—it was a solemn promise that I intended to keep. My wife said she understood and we terminated the call. This was no time for small talk—time was of the essence!

I felt no pride in what I was doing, nor do I feel pride in it now. It was necessary and needed to be done, similar to the ultimatum given to the defenders of the Alamo when surrounded by the Mexican army: They were told, “Surrender now, or we will give no quarter.” I wanted my mother to surrender and deliver, and to understand the consequences if she failed—I would give no quarter. There was no time for deliberation, reluctance or self-recrimination—I needed action, not excuses—time was of the essence!

Early the next morning I was again called to the office of the American Red Cross, and the local representative gave me another telegram and told me to take it to the Personnel Office. Always one to comply with a direct order, I hastened my return to the office of the Personnel Officer. I was again ushered into that worthy’s office, wherein I saluted smartly, placed the telegram on his desk, stepped back and remained at attention while he read the message, a message which consisted of the things my wife told my mother to say, but without the unrepeatable words and phrases.

The major, apparently speechless, said nothing. Not a word, at least not vocally, but his face spoke volumes. He stamped the telegram APPROVED, with almost enough force to make a dent in the desk. I retrieved the approval, said “Thank you, sir,” saluted smartly and smartly pivoted 180 degrees (an about face), and went to the Administration Section to process for my return to the land of the big PX and round door knobs.

I departed Da Nang the same day on a commercial airliner, stuffed mostly with military personnel who had completed their Vietnam vacations. At the exact moment the wheels broke ground, a concerted and prolonged cheer erupted from the throats of some 200 men—I didn’t expect it and it scared the hell out of me, but I managed to join the choir, albeit somewhat belatedly.

I returned to Da Nang 30 days later to complete my tour in Vietnam—I never saw the major again, something we both can appreciate.

That’s all for now. I’ll have to get back later with more details of my vacation in Vietnam. It was one of the most memorable times in my life, a life which has, to date encompassed beau coup memorable moments.

See there? Even the word “beau coup” brings back memories of Vietnam—France occupied and fought in that country for many years. They no doubt took many mementos home with them, but also left many mementos behind when they left Vietnam, including a substantial number of Vietnamese mothers with children fathered by French soldiers. The French efforts in Vietnam were, of course, a prelude to American soldiers leaving similar mementos, probably in even more substantial numbers, of Vietnamese mothers with children fathered by American soldiers.

The plight and the beauty of those children deserve a separate posting.

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

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Peaches, Cadillacs, Convertibles, Cows and Combat . . .

SUBTITLE: When, where and how I first met my wife

The following statement was excerpted from the website of the Georgia Peach Commission:

“Nothing else tastes like a Georgia peach. Its deliciously juicy, sweet flavor is unique, but, at the same time, incredibly versatile.”

That statement is true—a Georgia peach is all that and more. The peach is the official state fruit, and each year between mid-May and mid-August, Georgia produces more than 40 species and more than 130 million pounds of peaches.

Historically, the beauty of Georgia peaches also refers to the beauty, versatility and sweetness of Georgia’s women. That is also true. I should know—I met and married a Georgia peach in 1952.

Every year of my life has been spectacular, but some years shine brighter than others—the year of my marriage, for example, and 1954, 1960 and 1964, the birth years of my three daughters, and several overseas tours and assignments including combat tours in Korea and Viet Nam (and my return therefrom) over a period of 48 years in the the United States government, including 22 years in the military and 26 years in federal law enforcement.

All shine brightly, but one year in particular stands out from all the others—1952, the year I met and married Janie, the mother of my children—Janie, my wife and my life.

In January of 1952 a Navy troop transport ship docked in San Francisco, two weeks after departing Japan. Among the military personnel debarking was a 19-year-old Air Force sergeant, six-feet tall (minus five inches), with a soaking-wet weight of 110 pounds. That young man was my mother’s youngest son, returning after 22 months with the Fifth Air Force in Japan and Korea.

I arrived in Japan in April 1950, two months before the start of the Korean conflict in June of that year—I spent seven months at Yokota Air Base near Tokyo and Itazuke Air Base near Fukuoka, a city on the southern island of Kyushu. The next 15 months were spent in Korea at the height of the war, with assignments to airfields at Taegu in the south and Kimpo in the north, near Seoul, the capital of South Korea. I had intermittent stays at Nagoya and Brady Field in Japan (Brady Field is a strong candidate for a future post). My time in Nagoya became necessary when the Chinese army overran Teagu in the winter of 1950—my outfit left the air base in considerable haste—at least as fast as we could in a heavily loaded transport plane, a vintage Gooney Bird (C-47). We drew fire from advancing Chinese communist troops on takeoff, but managed to remain airborne and completed the flight to Brady Field in Japan.

This “squad” pictured below in the fall of 1951 had just returned from a combat assignment well beyond the outer perimeter of Kimpo Air Base. A group of Chinese soldiers had been spotted “advancing on the airfield,” and we, along with other similar groups of freedom fighters, were dispatched to counter their advance (I kid you not!). Ours was a 10-man squad, but only four responded to the call to arms. Although we were undermanned, we were heavily armed and ready for any encounter—we each had a carbine, each loaded with 15 rounds of .30 caliber ammunition (once again, I kid you not!).

I’m the tall, handsome Gregory Peck look-alike on the right (I never did get the straps on my backpack straightened out). The Ted Danson look-alike on my right is not Ted Danson, and the man on the left, Chief Many-Stripes, is our squad leader, a retread who was called out of retirement to help win the war. He was also our tent chief until one night in the winter of 1951 when, to avoid going out into the snow he peed in our water bucket. He had an affinity for strong drink which he daily demonstrated, and he claimed that was what made him do it—we tossed the drunk and the peed-in bucket into a snowbank and relieved him of his tent-chief duties. The fourth member of our squad (second from left) was called Swede, a garrulous sort who owned and played—relentlessly and poorly—an accordion with several missing keys. He also accompanied himself with song and never refused my request to play and sing “Danny Boy,” my favorite refrain, rendered softly in an Irish brogue. Go figure!

squad

EPILOGUE: During the battle we were safely ensconced in trenches on the side of a hill, facing north with another hill between us and the enemy. We couldn’t see the action on the ground, but we could see the fighter planes going in,  unloading bombs and napalm and strafing with fire from .50 caliber cannons. We passed the time by reading and passing around pages removed from a paperback copy of Mickey Spillane’s “My Gun is Quick.” In that manner we could all read the salacious novel at the same time. We eventually concluded that the enemy had been effectively neutralized, and in the absence of orders to the contrary we returned to our duties in the interior of Kimpo Air Base.

But I digress—on to Georgia and its peaches.

In 1952 television was in its infancy—there were no cameras on the dock in San Francisco, not so much as a box-Brownie, nor were there any cute and curvaceous blonds (neither male nor female) with microphones waiting to congratulate us on our return to “the land of round doorknobs and big PXs” (doors in Japan were fitted with handles rather than knobs, and Post Exchanges were small).

We were met at the end of the gangplank by a Red Cross Welcome Wagon, a vehicle-drawn wooden affair fitted with flip-up sides, staffed by two ladies who would have been far more comfortable in a rest-home, knitting and cross-stitching items for their great-grandchildren. Instead they volunteered, on a normal day in San Francisco (foggy and drizzling rain), to greet and welcome American GIs returning from combat tours in Korea, and to offer and dispense lukewarm coffee and soggy donuts.

The coffee was lukewarm and the doughnuts were soggy, but the ladies’ smiles and their welcoming words were real. I hope God blessed them for that —I know I did.

My original enlistment was for three years, but that enlistment was extended by one year, courtesy of Harry S Truman, our president at the time. On my return from Korea I began that final year at Moody Air Force Base near Valdosta, Georgia, an advanced pilot training installation with Lockheed T-33 single-engine jet aircraft, a tandem two-seat version of Lockeed’s famous F-80 Shooting Star. I lived in enlisted quarters on base with a hodge-podge group of hooch-mates, including one who had found the love of his life in Douglas, Georgia, a small town located a considerable distance from the air base.

We’ll call him George, because that was his name.

Love-smitten George drove a 1947 Cadillac convertible which unfortunately was badly damaged when its driver, returning from visiting his girlfriend, traveling late at night and at high-speed on a narrow two-lane highway in an area which had no fences and in which cows, hogs, horses, sheep and other assorted domestic animals (and wild animals, or course) were allowed to roam free, attempted to have his Cadillac, with the top down, occupy a cow’s space when the cow started across the road. The two moving objects met in the center of the road and the results were predictable. The car was badly damaged and required extensive repairs. The cow was damaged beyond repair and died, expiring in the rear seat with all four feet in the air, having landed there on her back after flipping up and over the windshield following contact with the Cadillac’s grill.

At this point the reader may feel that, in the words of Hillary Clinton concerning General Petraeus’ report on the war in Iraq, suspension of disbelief is required, but the story is true. If one concedes that something is possible, one should therefore concede that it may have happened. Since George and the cow are not available to support or deny it (both now graze in greener pastures), the story should be allowed to stand and be accepted on its own merits—such as they are.

While the Cadillac was undergoing renovation, George negotiated a weekend date with his sweetheart, a girl who lived some 60 miles from the base and who would eventually become his wife. He begged and pleaded with me, on bended knees (yes, literally) to let him borrow my car. Not wishing to thwart his plans and spoil his weekend, I reluctantly let him use it, warning him to check the engine oil level. He did, but managed to leave the hood unlatched and, apparently at high speed, the hood flew up and was badly crumpled near its hinges at the windshield. I managed, with my aircraft mechanic’s tools, to make the car drivable and told George that he had seriously undermined our friendship, and that under no circumstances would he ever again use my car or anything else I owned.

With his Cadillac still in the hospital, George came to me a couple of weeks later with a highly unlikely tale about a lovely girl, a cousin and roommate of his sweetheart. He said that he had told her about a friend (me), and that she was interested and would commit to a blind date if I agreed, and therefore I should go with him, in my car of course, to meet her and keep that date. I tried mightily to refuse, but because the girl was described as a real “Georgia peach” in such glowing terms, I agreed to the blind date.

JanieinGreenI took this photo in Rock Creek Park, Washington, D.C. in 1983, our 31st year of marriage. The girl was everything George said she was, but our blind date was a disaster, a calamity comparable to the Titanic sinking and to every hurricane that ever hit the Gulf coast. She was not expecting me, and considered me nothing more than George’s friend, acting as his chauffeur. There was never a blind-date. The story was a ruse designed to move George the 60 miles needed to be with his sweetheart. The adage says “all’s fair in love and war,” but this was not fair—for George, perhaps, but not for me and not for my “date.”

She agreed, rather reluctantly it seemed, to go out with us for a movie and burgers, so the four of us spent several hours in my car that evening, hours which included “dragging Main” (very few of us remain who remember that pastime) and a drive-in movie, and later Cokes and burgers at a drive-in restaurant. At both drive-in locations my date stayed glued to her door with a firm grasp on the handle, rejecting any moves or suggestions on my part. I, of course, was pretty well ostracized and stranded in my position at the steering wheel. Meanwhile George and his girlfriend, at both drive-in locations, made out effectively and noisily in the back seat. The carhop at the drive-in placed her tray on my door, and I managed to take out some of my frustration by refusing to pass items to the couple in the back—they had to reach over the front seat for burgers, fries and drinks. In retrospect I realized that my actions, or lack thereof, did not endear me to anyone, neither to my “date” nor to the couple in the back seat.

We parted that night with both of us resolved never to darken our respective doorways again, and that any future interaction, dates or otherwise, was out of the question. The resolutions were unspoken but we both acknowledged them at a later time. However, my resolve faded as my memories of the girl I had met grew stronger. After a few very long days I managed to arrange a rematch, and eventually I won the championship.

That’s it—that’s when, where and how I met a girl, the Georgia peach who became my wife in a union forged at 4:00 p.m. on Saturday, December 13, 1952—a union which is well on its way to 57 years and one which will last forever.

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

 

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