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Goat in my hotel room . . .

Near the end of my three-year assignment to US Customs Headquarters in the nation’s capital, I traveled to Seattle, then to Blaine, Washington, then to San Francisco and on to Los Angeles on official business—my duties at that time were those of the National Program Manager for Custom’s detector dog program. In Seattle I met a fellow officer from Los Angeles, and together we observed and evaluated Customs’ operations in Seattle, at Customs’ land border port of entry at Blaine near the Canadian border,  Customs’  operations in San Francisco and finally Customs operations in Los Angeles, with concentration on the detector dog program in the various locations.

My purpose in this post is not to bore the viewer with details of Customs enforcement programs—my purpose is to relate two separate incidents, one that was hilarious and one that was somewhat embarrassing.

My fellow Customs officer told me that his baby in Los Angeles would meet us in San Francisco and travel with us back to Los Angeles. I assumed that his baby was his wife, and therein lies a tale. His baby, an amiable and quite presentable young woman—much younger than he—dined with us at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco that evening, checked into the hotel with him and traveled with us on the flight from to Los Angeles the following day. Dinner at Fisherman’s Wharf included fried octopus, my reluctant first—and definitely last—encounter with that creature as cuisine.

We had adjoining rooms at an upscale hotel near the airport. When I went to check out, my fellow officer was already checking out, so I fell into line behind him. While I waited I heard him tell the woman behind the desk that he was bothered by noises coming from the room adjoining his. He said there was a party in that room that included an animal, one that sounded suspiciously like a goat or a sheep, and that the sounds continued late into the night.

The clerk registered a mixture of surprise, skepticism, incredulity and something akin to horror, and said that she would tell the manager right away and an investigation would be made. I stepped forward and told the clerk that the room was mine, and that all the party goers were of sound mind and legal age—including the goat.

Okay, I admit it—that was funny, but the surprise that awaited me at his home the next night when I accepted his invitation to dinner was not funny. I arrived with a screw-top bottle of fine wine, rang the door bell and was invited into the house by a very lovely and very pregnant lady that introduced herself as the wife of my fellow officer. Nope, it was not the same baby that met us in San Francisco and traveled to Los Angeles with us—didn’t even come close. The best part of the evening was my feeling of satisfaction with my selection of wine for a dinner gift.

That was an embarrassing moment for me. I wisely held my counsel until the following day, at which time I ticked off the reasons why I should not have been misled. My scorn was wasted on him—he found the incident far funnier than the goat in my hotel room debacle.

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

 
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Posted by on September 3, 2010 in Humor, marriage, Travel, Writing

 

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A two-week boat ride to Japan . . .

In 1950 I traveled from San Francisco to Japan in 14 days, and back to San Francisco in another 14 days, with a considerable amount of time spent in Japan and South Korea between the trip to the Orient and the return to the United States, somewhere in the neighborhood of 22 months. Fifteen of those months were spent in bad neighborhoods—they were spent at Taegu in the south and Kimpo in the north, two of our US airfields in South Korea during the Korean War.

I refuse to call it a conflict. It was a war, one in which more than 40,000 members of our armed forces died during four years of fighting—that qualifies it to be called a war, not a conflict.

I traveled by bus from my mother’s home in Midland, Texas to Alpine, Texas, then by train to Los Angeles and up the Pacific coast to San Francisco. The month was April, and the trip up to San Francisco—a distance of almost 400 miles—with the blue Pacific Ocean on the left and the green mountain slopes on the right was memorable. In San Francisco I boarded a ferry and was taken to Camp Stoneman. I was quartered for a week or so before boarding another ferry to the Port of San Francisco where I boarded an army troop ship bound for Japan.

Camp Stoneman, located in the city of Pittsburgh some forty miles from San Francisco, was a staging facility for military personnel traveling to foreign destinations to the east from the Port of San Francisco. Arrivals from oversea assignments and those departing for such assignments traveled by ferry to and from the Port and Camp Stoneman. Opened in 1942, the camp was shut down in 1954. Click here for images of Camp Stoneman and its brief history.

We departed for Japan on the USS Daniel L. Sultan, a U.S. Army vessel named for an army general, a ship that on this voyage would be loaded with 5,000 troops, 500 dependents and an indefinite number of cats and dogs, pets of the dependent members. When we pulled away from San Francisco, we headed north instead of west to pick up the dependents and their pets in Seattle, Washington.

My brother Larry, an army Warrant Officer, was stationed at the Yakima Training Facility and I obtained permission to debark in Seattle—yes, debarking, that’s what they called it—in order to make a phone call to him. No, I did not have a cell phone—they had not yet been invented. Our conversation was brief, limited to expressions of how are you, how have you been, how is everyone else, where are you going, and good luck.

On my return to the ship I ran afoul of the Officer of the Day, the worthy that stands on deck by the gangplank to greet boarders, to inquire as to their reason for boarding and to ascertain whether contraband is involved in their boarding. I had no problem answering the questions, but I committed a serious breach of military protocol.

As any sailor knows, when one boards or debarks a military vessel, courtesy must be given by saluting the United States flag flown by the vessel. I had been briefed on that courtesy and I saluted accordingly, but I was chastised—chewed out—by the Officer of the Day. It seems that I saluted the prow of the vessel instead of the stern. I had been below decks ever since boarding the ship and had no idea which end was which, so I took a guess—I guessed wrong.

Other than that, the two-week voyage was uneventful. I was seasick for the first two days and spent a lot of time hanging over the rail, and I learned to gauge the wind—one had to watch one’s output closely because one’s output had a bad habit of almost reaching the waves and then riding the wind all the way back up, often to its origin. I learned early to heave and then quickly step back from the railing. Some others weren’t that lucky. There’s an old joke that goes like this: The admiral asks a young sailor if he has a weak stomach, and the sailor says, No, sir, I am throwing it just as far as the others are.

Every GI on the ship had a daily detail. Some worked in the galley, some in the heads, some did laundry and various make-work tasks, but I was one of the very privileged—I was assigned to the poop deck detail. No, not that poop deck, not that flat-roofed cabin that is erected at the stern of old-time ships for storage and to serve as an observation point. The word poop is derived from a French word poupe, meaning stern, the back part of the ship.

No, my detail involved poop, the real McCoy. People with pets were required to exercise them every day on the rearmost part of the top deck, and the poop naturally followed. Every morning the call came over the intercom—first a series of shrill whistles, then came the words, Now hear this, now hear this—sweepers, man your brooms, clean sweep down fore and aft.

I never knew what was swept down at the fore, but I learned over two weeks about sweep down aft. It wasn’t that bad, though. There was always a strong breeze, if for no other reason than the forward motion of the ship. We used high-pressure hoses to wash down the deck, and we used the brooms to loosen poop reluctant to go into the Pacific Ocean.

I was quartered on Deck 4C, four levels below the top deck and three compartments aft of the head, or latrine. My bunk was second from the floor in a tier of four canvas bunks stacked from the floor to the ceiling. I was lucky because the fellow in the bunk above me was slightly built. The unlucky ones were those with a heavyweight sleeping in the bunk above them. In some cases, it was difficult for them to turn over without bumping into the weight hanging above. Bummer!

Speaking of the head—it’s at the extreme front end of the ship, but it would have been far better situated for use had it been located amidships. The bow of a vessel rises and falls with every wave, and one that is urinating must be ready to stop and restart the stream as the bow rises and falls. If not, one will be hitting one’s shoes as the bow rises, and splattering the wall as the bow falls.

If you have traveled on a ship you’ll understand what I mean, and if you have not, just ask any seasoned sailor how the system works. In the event of heavy seas, one would be advised to perform the act in a seated position—not very manly, but much safer and much easier on one’s shoes—and the wall.

We arrived at the Port of Yokohama, Japan two weeks later and docked in a harbor festooned with jellyfish. Just form a vision of Monet’s ponds covered with lily pads, then multiple it by thousands, perhaps millions, and you’ll have a vision of the Yokohama harbor.

A short time later—oops, let me rephrase that. The words short time have a very different meaning in military lingo, so I’ll say that a bit later a dozen or so of us were on a GI bus headed for Yokota Air Base, near Tokyo in Northern Japan. The bus ride, Yokota Air Base, Fussa and Tachikawa merit a separate posting—stay tuned!

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

 
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Posted by on August 29, 2010 in Military, Travel, wartime

 

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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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My brief stint as a cocktail waiter . . .

I returned to the United States in February of 1952 following a twenty-two month tour of the Far East. I enjoyed the first nine months in Japan—the other 13 months were spent, with far less enjoyment, in South Korea at the height of the Korean conflict. At the conclusion of a two-week boat ride on a US Navy troop transport ship that finally docked in San Francisco (click here for a description of that landing and numerous other fascinating vignettes), I traveled to Midland, Texas to visit my mother and my stepfather now residing in that city—my mother was employed as a nurse and my stepfather hawked commercial advertisement items such as matchbooks, calendars and other items imprinted with the names of various businesses. He did a very small amount of that, and a large amount of poker playing at a local establishment—he viewed himself as a high-roller, but I doubt that any others viewed him in that light.

Papa John, my stepfather, was a dues-paying member of the local chapter of the Fraternal Order of Eagles (F.O.E). He was a rather committed poker player, and the F.O.E. made it possible for him to indulge in such activities regularly—nightly, and often till well past the witching hour. According to my mother, he spent almost as much time there as he spent at home. I did not linger in Midland long enough to either doubt or refute that, but I have reason to believe her.

I had just returned from a combat tour in Korea. My stepfather was inordinately proud of me for having contributed to our efforts in the war against communism and the invasion of South Korea by North Korean army regulars and elements of communist China’s enormous armies. He discussed my return with an F.O.E. personage, one that sported the title of Grand PooBah, or something on that order. They agreed, in my absence, mind you, that it would be beneficial to the organization and its members for me to bring them up to date on the progress of the Korean war.

I reluctantly accepted the invitation to speak, and Papa John insisted that I appear on stage in uniform. I appeared in uniform on stage and addressed a large banquet hall filled with comfortably seated people. I struggled through an impromptu no-notes speech, a speech that I will not attempt to recreate here. Suffice it to say that I received a warm welcome and a warmer round of applause. Texans, and Midlanders especially, possess and display many different characteristics, not the least of which is patriotism—it’s embedded in their characters and they give voice to it proudly and openly. I probably would have received the same applause had I stood and recited Mary had a little lamb, its fleece was white as . . . etc., etc.

Now on to my brief—very brief—stint as a cocktail waiter:

On the same evening shortly after I gave the club  members my version of the Korean War, Papa John retired to the back room to play poker. I went with him and stood around kibitzing—however, I did not attempt to give unwanted advice, something that kibitzers usually do—no, and not just no, but hell no—I knew better than to even contemplate it. As the game progressed, its seven players quickly drained their various bottles and glasses of various types of spirits, and the house called for another round of drinks for the players. Note: the house is the non-player that runs the game and takes a percentage of each pot for the organization—hey, they have to pay rent!

When the house started to send for a waiter, Papa John volunteered me for the job. The house said sure, and I silently said—well, what I said matched what the house said, but only in the number of letters—its pronunciation was different. I will try to finish this quickly because to linger will just bring up more unhappy memories of that evening.

I took the written list of drinks to the bar. The bartender obligingly filled the order, placed numerous containers on a very large tray and said There you go. The tray held more than seven containers, because some players had ordered such drinks as boiler-makers—that’s a shot of whiskey with a beer chaser—or is it a shot of beer with a whiskey chaser? I can never remember which.

As I threaded my way between tables and booths en route to the back room, with the tray held firmly in both hands at waist level, I noticed that other waiters held their trays well above their heads, with just one hand supporting the tray at that height with its expensive cargo.

Yep, you’re way ahead of me. That posed a challenge for me, one that my character could not resist—I splayed my right hand and placed it palm up beneath my tray and elevated it, just as the others were doing. I found it quite easy to do, and actually danced around and twitched my hips a bit while transiting the room full of diners and drinkers, and arrived at the poker table with out incident. However, at the exact moment I began to lower the tray, things went awry—something slipped and caused a complete dump of the trays’ load—I managed to hold on to the tray, but everything on it hit the floor with a combined sound of liquid sloshing and glass breaking. Bummer!

I was not allowed to pay for the lost lubricants, nor was I allowed to fill a second order. I rendered my I’m sorries, my thank yous and my good nights shortly after the incident and managed to exit the building without running into anything or tripping over something.

That’s it. That’s my version of The Night That a Teenage War Veteran Dropped the Drinks, a tale of tragedy comparable to The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, a notable work by Samuel Taylor Coleridge that also involved a tremendous amount of liquid. The main event of that night is a tale that is probably still being told to younger generations of Midlanders, especially those that may be groomed for employment as a waiter at the local Fraternal Order of Eagles. I can’t vouch for that, because I put Midland in my rear view mirror several days later and have never returned.

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

 

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Arizona apples & cheeseburger briefs . . .

I have three daughters—one lives in Wylie, Texas, a city near Dallas. Another lives just a mile from me in San Antonio. The third daughter lives and works in Virginia, and to celebrate her thirtieth birthday in 1990 we met in Phoenix, Arizona to begin a six-day adventure touring and photographing in three of the states which comprise the legendary four corners—we toured Arizona, New Mexico and Utah but did not make it to Colorado—we saved that for a later birthday, one yet to be scheduled.

The next three paragraphs are in my daughter’s words, exactly as I received them in her e-mail suggesting that I post something on our Southwest adventure.

“Write about me buying a tourism book on things to see in the southwest, reading a caption that went to a different photo, then making you drive 20+ miles on a dirt road to go see what eventually was Hovenweep (but thinking it would look like Mesa Verde in Colorado because of how the caption was laid out)…and how I walked into the canyon and you videotaped my descent and mentioned that I wouldn’t return because something would get me and how city slicker I was; how I wasn’t equipped to be down there and you shouldn’t have let me go—then I heard all of this played back when you played back your video at the hotel!

“Other places we went on that trip: Casa Grande Ruins National Monument (10/21/90, I think) in Coolidge, AZ (south of Phoenix)—4-story, 11-room mud structure. This is where I photographed the cactus blooms in the parking lot on our way back to the car—that photo placed in the nature category of the 2nd annual reader’s photos contest with American Photo. You can even mention that and send the winning photo to put in that posting!

“San Xavier del Bac Mission (The White Dove of the Desert) Tucson, AZ (was that in ’90?—I think that’s what my slides were identified with).”

I agree with her recollections of the trip except for her statement that we were “thinking it would look like Mesa Verde in Colorado because of how the caption was laid out.” Wrong—we (she) actually thought that Mesa Verde was in Arizona, not that it would look like Mesa Verde. However, she is right in saying that I videotaped her descent into the canyon, scolding her soundly as the descent was recorded. And I continued to mumble to myself long after she was out of sight and hearing, with the tape still recording my comments, stressing how stubborn she was and that she should mind her ol’ pappy—some of my mumbling included some rather salty language. Fortunately the only listeners (to my knowledge) were the ghosts of the long-gone ancient Anasazi people—and it’s a safe bet that none of them had video cameras. Above: Hovenweep ruins, © Cindy Dyer

We met in Phoenix on Tuesday, October 16, following our respective flights from Alexandria, Virginia and San Antonio, Texas. We went directly to a rental car office and selected a vehicle—when asked if she preferred any particular color, my daughter replied, “Anything but red.” To this day she refuses to accept any rental vehicle even lightly tinged with the color red (some sort of complex there, I suppose). Right: Canyon de Chelly in Chinle, Arizona © Cindy Dyer

Our transportation was blue and therefore acceptable to my daughter, but our adventure began on an ominous note. We located our car in the parking lot, and I placed the ditty-bag containing my toilet articles and my unmentionables on the ground while we loaded our baggage and photo equipment into the trunk and then neglected to load the bag. We left Phoenix and headed for scenic Sedona, located 116 miles north of Phoenix.

We were out of the city and well on our way before I remembered the bag. It was a freebie that came with my wife’s purchase of Lancome items and was marked with the maker’s name and logo. I had lugged it all over the globe for many years, including trips to US cities from Miami to Seattle and Boston to San Diego. The bag also accompanied me to foreign destinations, including Mexico, England, Germany, South Africa and Botswana. The name appeared prominently on both sides of the soft-side bag and could not be effectively obscured—I and my Lancome bag were subjected to numerous speculative side-glances, both by women and men—especially on my trips to San Francisco. Above: wall at San Xavier del Bac Mission, Tucson, AZ © Cindy Dyer

Their visual inspections seemed to focus alternately on the Lancome bag and me, perhaps to resolve some lingering doubt and either refute or  confirm their first impressions. I wanted to tell them that just as one can’t judge a book by its cover or a horse by its color, neither can one judge a traveler by the logo on carry-on luggage—or at least one shouldn’t. Right: Petrified Forest National Park, Petrified Forest, AZ © Cindy Dyer

Bummer.

There was really no good reason to go back for the bag. All the articles in it could be easily replaced, with one very important exception—the bag contained a pair of boxer briefs, cleverly and profusely decorated with colorful images of cheeseburgers—the briefs were a Father’s Day gift from one of my three daughters—on second thought, the three may shared the cost. My daughter remembers the item as being decorated with French fries, but they were cheeseburgers—I insist that my memory is correct and must hold sway, especially given that my relationship with the briefs (my contact, so to speak) was far more personal and up close than hers. In addition to being quite functional, the briefs had a lot of sentimental value for me, so we returned to the rental car parking lot—the bag was just as I left it, cheeseburger briefs and all, and we again headed out for Sedona.

Sedona, Arizona is located in Oak Creek Canyon and is a very popular tourist destination. It’s an artist’s haven, a shopper’s heaven, a photographer’s dream and a traffic nightmare. One can forget parking in the commercial area and only hope to find a wide place to park somewhere along roads leading into and out of the city. On a later trip to the four-corners area, while traveling on IH40 on our way back to Las Vegas from New Mexico, we decided to make a side trip south to Sedona. We toured the city and headed for Las Vegas without ever parking, or even shutting down the engine—our efforts to find a parking place were fruitless.

Speaking of fruit:

On this commemorative thirtieth birthday trip we lingered in the upper Oak Canyon to watch rock-climbers descending and ascending the canyon walls, and found an abandoned apple orchard—at least it appeared to be abandoned. The orchard showed years of neglect with heavy undergrowth, and an old house visible beyond a fallen gate was obviously unoccupied.

Evidently other travelers also considered the orchard abandoned—they were munching on apples garnered from the ground, and the area had been picked clean by the time we got there. However, that was no problem for a stepper, or rather for a climber. The temperature was uncomfortably cool, and although encumbered by the weight of the army field-jacket I was wearing, I climbed several of the trees, filled my pockets with apples and shook down some for others to enjoy (I’m always searching for ways to be of service to fellow sojourners).

The apples would have eventually fallen anyway—I just accelerated the process.

In the interests of brevity I’ll close this posting (not that it’s particularly brief) and get back later with more details of our memorable conquest of the Four Corners area (or at least three of the four states that comprise the four corners). There’s lots more to tell—tidbits such as our stays at several La Quinta motels on our trip. We were always treated to Continental breakfasts, and after our meals we appropriated several bananas to last us through the day. I can’t speak for my daughter, but I consumed so many bananas that I lost most of any affinity I may have had for that particular fruit.

Incidentally, I have to eat bananas sideways in order to keep from blushing (hey, that’s an old GI joke—lighten up!).


 
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Posted by on December 4, 2009 in Humor, PHOTOGRAPHY, Travel

 

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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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