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A letter to Janie in el cielo . . .

A letter to Janie in el cielo . . .

I fully recognize the possibility—nay, the probability—that readers of this post may find it unusual in nature, unusual because the letter is for my wife, one of the most beautiful beings that God has ever created, a lady that allowed me to share her life for the past 58 years. It’s unusual because my wife is dead—she drew her last breath on earth at 9:15 PM on Thursday, November 18, 2010. Potential readers may reasonably be divided into three major groups, namely believers, agnostics and non-believers. Believers will accept my title, agnostics will wonder about it, and non-believers will reject it. Click here for details of her transition to el cielo—the sky.

El cielo is Spanish for the sky—I use the Spanish term because it suggests the direction of heaven, a place of eternal life of goodness and mercy, located somewhere beyond the universe overhead—heaven’s location is up rather than down. The ancients considered heaven up because the sky and the stars and the planets and the universe overhead are so beautiful, unknown but limited—heaven begins where the universe above stops. The ancients placed hell down rather than up, in the universe below, a place also of eternal life but an evil and unmerciful place of flames and heat and agony, its existence revealed to the ancients through volcanic activity.

How do I know my letter will be delivered? I don’t know, but I believe that it will be delivered to my wife in one way or another. Perhaps she is watching as every letter appears on my screen, or perhaps she checks her mail periodically just as we do on earth. And perhaps it will be delivered by angels, those ascending and descending to and from heaven on Jacob’s ladder, the bridge between heaven and earth, that stairway to heaven described in the Book of Genesis. I believe that it will be delivered because I believe in the Trinity, in the Mother and the Son and the Holy Ghost. My belief is newly-found and a bit shaky, but it grows stronger every day.

Yesterday, December 11, 2010 was a special day for flower placement at cemeteries across the nation, an improbable coincidence and a ceremony that my daughter and I learned about only after we arrived at Fort Sam Houston’s National Cemetery. The grounds were crowded with people and with vehicles of every nature, including those of several motorcycle groups, all gathered for an annual ceremony of placing wreaths to honor those interred there, to honor those that have died in protecting our country and those that have supported them in their sworn duties. Click here for information on Wreaths Across America.

As is my wont—my nature if you will—I have digressed, so on to the letter to my wife en el cielo:

My dearest darling,

Our daughter Debbie and I placed flowers yesterday on Plot #47 in Section 71 of Fort Sam Houston’s National Cemetery, a beautiful place of oak trees and lovingly tended grounds. The flowers we placed were sent by Gracie, one of the dialysis angels in the Nephrology Clinic at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, one of those that loved you and were loved by you over years of dialysis.

Plot #47 in Section 71 is yours, the spot where your mortal remains were placed. Your plot is in the newest section and is not yet shaded, but young oaks have been planted nearby and the area is being sodded, and soon your section will blend in with older areas. I felt that you would want to know who lies nearby, so I made notes. On your left is a lady named Mary L. Sandoval, a military wife such as you, and on your right is a U.S. Air Force member, Chief Master Sergeant Jack M. Thompson, a military member such as I am. I take great comfort in knowing that when I join you at sometime in the future, we will fit in nicely with our neighbors.

All the plots in this new area are marked only with a small card in a metal frame placed at the head of the plot, with only the name if non-military, and the name and military rank if a service member. That frame will be replaced within five or six weeks with a marble headstone engraved with the Christian cross, your name, the appropriate dates of your life on earth and information confirming your right to be there as the wife of a U.S. Air Force service member. The right to be interred in any national military cemetery is zealously protected by military authorities, as well it should be.

Yesterday, December 11, was a special day for flower placements at cemeteries across the nation, an improbable coincidence and a ceremony that we learned about only after we arrived at Fort Sam Houston. The cemetery was packed with people and vehicles of every nature, including many motorcycle groups, all gathered for an annual ceremony of placing wreaths to honor those interred there, to honor those that have died in defense of our country and to honor those that have supported them in their sworn duties, to honor  people such as you, my darling wife. You are among those honored for never failing in your support for me through my long absences from home caused by military duties, including tours in Germany and war-torn Viet Nam, and by frequent absences caused by my later employment as a federal law enforcement officer following retirement from the military. You were always with me when I was away from home, and you were always there for me when I returned—always loving and understanding and above all, always forgiving.

That’s all for now, Janie Mae. I’ll try to keep you posted on events here—Christmas is just around the corner, and you can rest assured that you will be with us—with me and our daughters and their husbands and our grandchildren and friends of the families, just as in the past. Other than the absence of your material presence, nothing has changed. You are always in our thoughts and always will be and yes, also in our prayers. We pray for you to watch over us and perhaps even put in a good word for us to You-Know-Who. I am reluctant to speak for the others, but I need all the help I can get.

Sleep well in heaven, my darling.

I love you more today than I did yesterday, but less than tomorrow.

All my love,

Mike

 

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Underage enlistment and other stuff . . .

Underage enlistment

My initial enlistment in the United States Air Force required perjury on the part of three people. The recruiting sergeant, my mother and I all lied about my age. I lacked six months and 12 days before my seventeenth birthday, the mandatory minimum age for enlistment with parental or guardian permission. The recruiting sergeant used ink eradicator on a certified copy of my birth certificate to change my year of birth and my mother perjured herself by signing the required parental consent form, and I was off on a great adventure—all 16 years, 110 pounds and 66 and three-fourths inches of me.

Speaking of height—I was unable to comply with the very first order given by an Air Force officer. Several of us, all new enlistees, were ushered into a room furnished with one desk, one chair and two flags—the U.S. flag and the official U.S. Air Force flag. The NCO that took us to the room told us the captain would be there in a few minutes to administer the oath of enlistment. A bit later the captain came in, said good morning, looked at his watch and said, Stand tall, men. I’ll be right back. I lacked one-fourth of an inch being five feet, seven inches tall, and I was dwarfed by the NBA wanna-bees with whom I was to share the oath of enlistment. Need I say more?

For those that have never had the pleasure of being sworn into the United States Air Force, here is the complete text of the oath I took:

US AIR FORCE OATH OF ENLISTMENT

I, (state your name), swear to sign away 4 years of my life to the UNITED STATES AIR FORCE because I know I couldn’t hack it in the Army, because the Marines frighten me, and because I am afraid of water over waist-deep. I swear to sit behind a desk. I also swear not to do any form of real exercise, but promise to defend our bike-riding test as a valid form of exercise. I promise to walk around calling everyone by their first name because I find it amusing to annoy the other services. I will have a better quality of life than those around me and will, at all times, be sure to make them aware of that fact. After completion of Basic Training I will be a lean, mean, donut-eating, Lazy-Boy sitting, civilian-wearing-blue-clothes, a Chair-borne Ranger. I will believe I am superior to all others and will make an effort to clean the knife before stabbing the next person in the back. I will annoy those around me, and will go home early every day. So Help Me God!

Hey, I’m just kidding! That oath came from the internet—you can check it and other hilarious pseudo military service oaths out here. That site is well worth a visit—trust me, you’ll like it!

The real oath of enlistment, the one that is administered by all services except the National Guard follows—this oath differs from the National Guard only because it includes the name of the state of enlistment. Click here for a history of the real oath of enlistment.

In the Armed Forces EXCEPT the National Guard (Army or Air)

I, (NAME), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.

The months and days between enlistment and the attainment of the required age of 17 were considered minority time, and had the law governing minority time in service not been changed, it would not have been counted in determining the time required for retirement from the military. The law was changed, I believe, in the 1950s through congressional action—my minority time was counted in my total service for retirement purposes.

Re: Minority time:

A funny thing happened to me on the way to retirement from the U.S. Air Force. About a month after I began basic training, our training NCO told one of the trainees to break formation following breakfast and report to the commanding officer. He then took a long look at me and said, You might as well go with himyou’re not seventeen either.

The two of us were ushered into the commander’s office and told to be seated. In addition to the commander, a military chaplain was present. The chaplain told my fellow trainee that his mother had contacted him, saying that her son was underage and she missed him and wanted him back home with her. Following that information, the commander told the trainee that it was his choice—he could be released from his oath of enlistment and be separated from the Air Force immediately without prejudice, or if he chose, he could continue his training and his enlistment.

When my fellow trainee elected to remain in service against his mother’s wishes, the commander told me that nobody believed that I was 17 years old, but that he would give me  the same option. I could continue my training, or I could choose to be released from the military without prejudice. He didn’t bother to ask me if I was underage, and I didn’t admit that I was—he probably figured I would lie if he asked me. I guess the commander and I were well ahead of the curve on the don’t ask, don’t tell option—mind you, this pertained to age only.

And the rest is history—I elected to remain in service. I managed to successfully complete basic training and I continued to reenlist over a period of 22 years plus before retiring. My retirement was based purely on years completed—no percentage for disability—no lower back pain, no loss of hearing, no bad feet, 20-20 eyesight, good teeth, etc.

I mention the absence of disabilities because some retirees feign medical problems in an effort to retire with a disability percentage—yes, Virginia, it’s true, some do—it’s only a few perhaps, but still some do try to fake it. Any percentage of disability will reduce taxes on their retirement pay and give them a leg up for employment in federal service—a disability of just five percent qualifies one for employment preferences and a reduction in federal taxes—a slight reduction, perhaps, but still a reduction. In many cases the full amount of retired pay is exempted from federal tax.

A bit of advice for future retirees—only the claim of lower back pain has even a slight chance to fool the medics. If one holds one’s ground, a disability may be given, probably the minimum five percent. Don’t even consider trying to fool the machines used to determine loss of hearing—it can’t be done. I’m not speaking from personal experience—had I known the ins and outs of faking medical problems I may have made the attempt, but I learned all this only after I completed my retirement physical. The doctor told me that my case was unusual—I took that as a compliment.

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

Pee Ess: I subsequently retired from a second career as a United States federal law enforcement officer after 26 years of spotless service, and still with no disability percentage, not even five percent—damn it!

 
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Posted by on April 25, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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Why I joined the U.S. Air Force . . .

The immediate reason I joined the U.S. Air Force rather than the Army was because the U.S. Army recruiting office in my town had reached its quota for March, 1949. The Army recruiting sergeant said his quota was filled for the month, so he offered me a position in the Air Force—yes, Virginia, the armed forces had fixed quotas in those days.

There were openings in the U.S. Navy for March, but that service held no attractions for me. I’m not a strong swimmer, and I also feared that the Navy’s uniform whites with the thirteen trouser buttons might be a bit unwieldy. I know, I know—I can swim far better than I can fly, but I joined the Air Force anyway—I liked the khaki uniforms and the Air Force was immediately available. Added to that was the fact that I needed to get out of town quickly.

The events leading up to my enlistment in the active duty military were numerous and varied. Some of those events were pleasant, but others were harrowing. I was enlisted in the Mississippi National Guard at the time, purely in order to get the $10 per month I was paid for training on one Saturday of each month—big money! I lied about my age in order to join—either the Guard recruiter believed me or really didn’t care whether I was old enough to join. I also lied about my age in order to join the Air Force—click here for a brief autobiographical dissertation that includes my underage enlistment. It’s a long read but I can unblushingly assure you, with no hint of personal bias or prejudice, that the read is worth your time and effort.

Now on to the real reason I joined the U.S. Air Force:

Picture this: A billiard hall on the second floor of a building that also housed a market, located a five-minute walk from the city’s combination high school and junior high school. The pool room was a favorite with young men and boys, particularly at noon during school hours, in the evenings (it closed at six pm), and on Saturdays. The proprietor served no alcoholic beverages and had strict rules for conduct in his establishment. Our local police officers came in occasionally for a free Coke and hot dog, and military recruiters made frequent visits to the pool room to discuss the benefits of military enlistments. Many students, including my mother’s youngest son, spend their lunch hour there every day during school terms—shooting pool, eating hot dogs and drinking cokes.

Special notes: A hot dog with all the trimmings cost a whopping ten cents, and the Mae West-shaped Coke was five cents, with no sales tax involved. Pool games cost ten cents each, paid by the players before the balls were racked by a rack boy. Most games were Eight Ball, played between two players and the loser paid for the rack before the next game began. One only needed to approach a table with two shooters and say, “I’ll play the winner.”

And so it was—the loser paid for the new rack, and the next shooter took on the winner. That process was normally honored, and if any shooter balked at giving up the table, the proprietor was called into action to arbitrate—the loser always lost in the arbitration. At least in theory, a proficient shooter could hold sway over a table for the full hour and never have to pay for a game.

I was a proficient shooter. On many school days I arrived at the poolroom with twenty-five cents, no more and no less. I bought a coke and a hot dog with fifteen cents and pocketed the other dime in the somewhat unlikely chance that I lost a game—it happened, of course, but not very often. If I still had the dime when it was time to return to school, I picked up a second hot dog and coke and finished them off on the way back to school. Ah, those were the days!

My encounter with the Army recruiter took place as I was shooting pool with two friends—the three of us were high-school dropouts, and the recruiter painted such a rosy picture of life in the Army that two of us accepted his invitation to appear at his office the following Monday for testing.

The third person at the pool table was physically unfit for military service—while sound in mind and body in most respects, his back was severely hunched, or humped—I’m unsure of the proper term to use. His deformity was so severe that he resembled a fiddler crab in his forward progress—he wore a sports jacket year-round, regardless of the weather. Before feeling too much pity, one needs to know that he was very much favored by the girls—we were never told what made him so attractive but we had our suspicions, and it sure wasn’t his intellect, his good looks or his conversational charm!

With all necessary apologies to our soldiers, both active duty and veterans, whether discharged or retired, I must state that the U.S. Army’s written test was ridiculously easy for me, but my friend made such a low score that the recruiting sergeant suggested that he not bother asking for a retest—statistics showed that he would never be able to pass the test, no matter how many times he tried. I have long harbored a suspicion that he deliberately failed the exam, but at this late date it is a matter of no importance—at that time he was out and I was in, and that’s all that counted.

Aside from the fact that I was at loose ends, bobbing about on a sea of endless days and nights with no particular feelings or expectations concerning the future, I admit that I was involved in some activities that did not bode well for my future. I passed the written exam and the physical, and I accepted the Army recruiter’s offer of allowing me to enlist in the Air Force rather than waiting for the following month to go into the U.S. Army. Mine was a wise choice, and I have never looked back—well, perhaps a few times during my 15 months in Korea at the height of the Korean War. In my looking back, I am thankful that I did not enlist in the army—had I waited another month I would probably have been in Korea anyway, but fighting on the front lines instead of maintaining aircraft in the rear echelon of troops in country.

I managed to hang on to my sanity through 13 weeks of basic training—click here for some thoughts on that period. Following graduation from basic training, I was treated to a two-week excursion on a U.S. Army troop ship bound for Japan, all expenses paid. I was fine until the third day out, but on that day I was so seasick I seriously considered jumping ship, right in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. However, being fully aware of my swimming capabilities and the lack thereof, I turned myself inside out over a 24-hour period and survived my bout with seasickness—a monumental turnaround, especially considering the quality of food served by the Army cooks.

 

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