Thursday, August 30, 2007


I woke this morning to the sound of rain – unbelievably heavy rain with no wind, no lightning, and, of course, no thunder. I immediately went to the back porch and sat there thanking God for it and watching it fall. You could almost hear the trees and grass sucking it up. It was wonderful indeed!

We are almost 14” behind in rain this year and this hour long down-pour will be a start in reducing that deficient. However, it needs to rain almost this hard for a full day or three before the ground gets back to what it needs to sustain the grass and flowers through the reminder of the summer and fall.

Soon Judy and Baylee (not shown) joined me and we just lay back and breathed in the cool fresh air for as long as it lasted. We have had 30 straight days of over 90-degree heat, but with the rain, I doubt we break the 1993 record today.

As soon as it ended, I fixed a ham, onion, jalapeño, and three-cheese omelette, with healthy dashes of Tennessee Sunshine hot sauce! That and a tall glass of milk got us rolling for the day!

Folks, it is good to be retired and to smell life as it gently passes by – come join us!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007


One of the first things I had to do after settling into the routine at Keesler was to look up Woody. Woody was at Keesler as a trainee, not permanent party like me. He was probably into his ninth or tenth week of air traffic control training by the time we hooked up again.

Actually, I may not have even thought about looking him up at all, had I not seen him marching along with his training flight one day. There he was, as I watched from the patrol truck, doing that little half skip step you do when you are trying to get back into step!

That evening, after completing the day shift, I went down into the barracks area that housed the trainees, and began asking questions of everyone I met, “Hey, you know a guy named Woody (not his last name) from Tennessee?” Eventually, I found an Airman who knew who I was talking about and he pointed to an upper level of a barracks a few down from where we stood.

I went up to the barracks door, talked to the dorm guard who also knew Woody, and he let me go upstairs to see my “hometown boy!” Sure enough, there he sat on the end of his bunk looking out the window and twirling a few short strands of his brown hair, as he usually did when he was in deep thought.

Woody seemed genuinely glad to see me and introduced me to his new buddies. Before long, there were at least six of us sitting around laughing and talking, and then someone broke out a full bottle of Jack Daniels!

The party got into high gear then with each member of the group taking a sip as it came their turn. The guys seemed impressed, somewhat, that I was a “sky cop”, so as they asked me questions, I answered partly in truth and with some embellishments I knew they expected. When my turn on the bottle came, a bubble always rose to the top as I took a long “show off” pull on it. Their eyes widened with each drink I took and soon everyone was trying to imitate me! Before long, the bottle lay empty on the floor nearest my feet.

Suddenly, I knew I was drunk! For those of you that have never experienced this sudden onset of stupidity, it is just a quick feeling that strikes your brain with no preliminary warning, just a light switch is flipped in the brain that says, “You’re drunk…you need air…now! Go! Go outside now!”

While Woody was in the latrine, and the group continued to laugh loudly, I rose quietly, went down the stairs, out into the open air, and sat down behind a large yellow-pine tree and began to giggle!

When Woody returned and asked where I was, no one knew. As a group, they all went downstairs and asked the dorm guard, like from some western movie, “Which way did he go?” The Airman simply pointed outside and shrugged his shoulders.

To me, it was all so hilarious. Here were all these guys out calling my name like I was a lost puppy of something. I pulled up as thin as I could behind the tree and said nothing, watching them search the area in the now dark Mississippi night. Every time someone would holler my name, I would have to cover my mouth with my hand to keep from laughing aloud, and say in a whisper, “They can’t find me now! Hehehe”

It was one of those “retard” moments where you have no pain, no problems, and no good judgment. However, it only last a few carefree minutes before the stomach takes over and begins the process of bringing you back to reality!

Therefore, that is how they found me! From the first, loud, gut wrenching “RALPH,” to the follow-up “EARL” the group zoned in on me! “Ralph and Earl” give me up!

The same five or six guys who had not long before been admiring a brave and tough “sky cop,” were now watching him try his damnedest to throw up his shoes!

I do not remember ever seeing Woody again until years later in Harriman. I could have seen him a time or two more, but the memory is just not there. All I know is that this embarrassing incident happened, and I somehow made it back across an unfamiliar base to my own bunk!

Had I prayed to the “porcelain god” that night, I may have made some promises that may have saved me from that ever happening again. However, since I was on my hands and knees behind a tall yellow-pine tree, I got no help for the future. I was on my own!

Pine trees just do not have the same powers as porcelain gods!

Monday, August 27, 2007


The Franks and I reported the Provost Marshal’s office at 0800 hours Monday morning. He was a short man with short black wavy hair and a kind face, which put us at ease, even if he was a “Light” Colonel. We reported with a two other Airmen who had arrived on Sunday. They came to the Air Police Squadron at Keesler straight out of Basic Training to learn how to be “sky cops” through OJT (on the job training).

Our tech school training afforded us the privilege of performing duties on our own sooner than they were, but it was still some time before we did actual law enforcement patrol. Until then we would stand seemingly endless days and nights on “gate duty!”

A lieutenant, an adjutant to the Provo, assigned Frank Boyce and I to “A Flight” and told us to report to Sergeant Webb, at 3 PM that same afternoon, in our blue heavyweight winter uniforms, ready for work. Naturally, we were relieved that we would be on the same Flight. Frank Gordon went to another Flight, but we often had the same days off, so he would sometimes hang with us.

As soon as we got back to the barracks and told someone about our assignment to “A Flight,” the rumors started about Sgt. Webb.

“Wooo, damn,” someone said shaking his head. “That mean sombitch eats new recruits for breakfast!”

“Yeah,” another said, “ya’ll should see ‘bout gettin’ on another flight!”

Something with spindly legs crept up spine and when it got between my shoulder blades, it exploded into a hair raising cold shiver that I could not hide from the others. “Ah, hell, it can’t be that bad…” I looked at Frank and finished, “…can it?”

Frank Gordon grinned a devilish smile, like he always did when he thought he had something over you.

That evening at “guard mount,” we met the infamous Sgt. Webb. He was not the slight built “Joe Friday” (Jack Webb) of “Dragnet” fame! This Sgt. Webb was 6’ 5”, about 275, a huge barrel-chested man, with a face that appeared as though it had caught fire and been beat out with the bottom of a golf shoe! I am talking mean looking here. The kind of guy you really would not want to meet in the light of day, let alone a dark alley!

There was no smile on the pockmarked face, no hint of welcome in his voice as he introduced us to the “Flight” and asked us to give our names and a little background information. The others were too busy watching Webb’s reaction to our stories to listen.

For the first two weeks, either we rode with a seasoned AP or stood, wondering, “What the hell?” we had gotten ourselves into, on the various gates and intersections around the base.

Several months later, I was standing gate duty on the “back gate,” which, as you remember, was in sight and smell of the little café we frequented. The smell drove me crazy all day and once, since the restaurant was only steps outside the base fence, our “waitress friend” brought me a cold fountain drink. Getting the refreshing drink, plus watching people walk up and down the strip, helped pass the time, but I soon became bored.

A stupid little song, by Freddie and the Dreamers, had just become popular and I started to play it in my head. Soon, when I thought no one was watching, I began “The Freddie!” (Go ahead, click on the link and let it play while you finish reading!) It looked something like a “jumping jack” exercise and I am quite sure I looked ridiculous in full AP gear jumping around in front of the gate shack. However, gate guards often do stupid things to occupy their alone time.

I had no idea anyone had seen me until the next guard mount, when Sgt. Webb told me to stand up and said, “Do the Freddie for the Flight!” I was shocked and embarrassed, but, as I am prone to do, I covered my embarrassment with comedy!

“Sure,” I said as I stood up, “but you’ll have to hum a few bars!”

There was almost a smile, but it was quickly extinguished and replaced with gritted teeth and “DO IT,” was forced from behind them!

I did a couple of jumping jack moves while saying, “Do the Freddie,” but then sat down quickly, having learned a hard lesson.

It would be some time before I began to admire Sgt. Webb, but as I soon learned, those that worked for him, and worked hard for him, grew to love him. He was always ready to defend his “sky cops,” and no one reprimanded them but him, and that included the officers. We were his, and we grew to like it that way.

Moreover, I made it my mission to get smiles from him! It took a while, but I often got those little hints of a smile that came quickly between the movements of his chin as he chewed his Spearmint gum.

I went from being terrified when he would pull up to my post, to looking forward to the challenge. “Oops,” I wanted to say aloud, “there it was! I gotcha…you smiled!” However, you only went so far with Sergeant Webb.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


It is often said, probably too much, that you can never go home again. I probably did not know that cliché then, but I knew the truth of it almost immediately.

Coming home was a big disappointment. There was no Woody, Barry, Tom, or anyone with whom to celebrate. There was no girl then, and I began to feel very alone after the first few days.

Further, I could tell my brother, who was ten years younger, had already begun moving into my room. Displaced from my own familiar surroundings, I knew the only direction I could turn was toward Keesler, to my friends Boyce and Gordon, who I met in tech school, and the other people I had yet to meet in my new grownup world. I began to count the days until I left home for good – at least mentally.

As fate would have it, Frank Boyce and I arrived at Keesler AFB, in Biloxi, Mississippi, within the same hour and renewed our friendship by discussing how boring it had been at home. We did not have to report to Air Police Headquarters until Monday morning, so we had what was left of Saturday and all day Sunday to settle into our rooms and explore the base and the surrounding city.

As “permanent party” personnel at Keesler, we lived in two story concrete buildings, part of a large complex, painted bright white, with large roll out windows to help during the hot summer months. Even though there was no air conditioning, these buildings provided a rather cool place to live.

There were normally two Airmen per room, and it was up to the occupants to agree on either a bunk bed arrangement or single beds on opposite walls. Frank and I chose the bunk arrangement so we would have more room for visitors and the partying we planned to do!

The floors were dark green square tiles and the cinder-block walls were light green. On the wall, opposite the windows, were wooden closets and sets of drawers painted to match the block walls. It was very easy to keep clean, but still required the usual buffing for monthly inspections. However, we did have an electric buffer that the floor took turns using.

The main gate faced south and was only two blocks from the Gulf of Mexico. This was the first street of exploration and we soon found ourselves sitting on a dock looking out toward a beautiful sitting sun. This was my first visit to the ocean, which Frank found puzzling, but his family was obviously a little higher on the economic ladder than mine was. Our family’s idea of a vacation was a trip “home” to visit the grandparents and the extended family, several times during the year.

I sat there, sucking in the wonderful salty air, feeling my sinuses clear, for a long time while the red-orange sun slowly sank below the waterline. What a grand thing God has made,” I thought. It was such a feast for my innocent eyes, and I could hardly believe that I would be privileged enough to get to watch this event on regular basis.

On the way back to the Main Gate, we noticed a beautifully detailed grand old hotel called the White House Hotel that was everything you would expect in an early 1900 southern hotel. It was what you would expect, a white two-story building, with a large porch wrapping all the way around, and covered by huge roof that extended from the upper level and held up by six large columns. There were hanging baskets, Tiki lanterns blazing out on the ends of angled poles beside each three-tiered stair entrance to the porch, and all surrounded by a beautifully manicured lawn, exquisitely tended flowers and shrubs, and at least seven huge oaks draped in that wonderfully mysterious Spanish moss.

As we passed on the west side, we could see the red and blue glow of a lounge sign and we ventured inside for a better look. Inside it first appeared to be a large bar with tall stools, and several booths, but on closer inspection, it was rather tiny, with mirrored walls giving it a roomier appearance.

We loved it immediately, and we sat in the corner booth and Frank ordered us each a Tom Collins. I remember these drinks were quite different tasting from those back in Texas, and Frank smiled as he realized I had noticed the pleasurable Mississippi difference. This little hide-away bar became our favorite hangout for the next year and a half.

The next morning, after checking out the “chow hall” for breakfast, and hooking up with Frank Gordon, who arrived sometime the night before, we ventured out the “back gate.” The town began once you left the base heading east, first through a strip of bars and cafés, a laundry mat and dry cleaners, a drug store, a quick-check market, and a tattoo parlor or two, then into a “seedier” part of Biloxi housing, and finally into the business center of the city.

We worked our way back toward the base and just before entering the gate; we noticed a little café that would become our “quick food” base of operations. I wish I could remember its name, or the name of the young, rather plump, plain-Jane waitress that became our friend. She would holler our name out across the room whenever we entered, and all we had to do was say “The special,” which was normally gumbo, or “Put it on my tab,” and we were soon eating the best toasted bun hamburger, chili, grilled cheese, or bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich anywhere in the world!

I once sat down and ordered two buttery-grilled cheese, and two juicy BLT sandwiches just because I had always wanted to eat my fill of these mouth-watering sandwiches and having a “running tab” made it too easy! I sat there, alternating with different halves and sucking on a milk shake so thick the straw would stand straight up in the middle! What I wouldn’t give right now!

There would be a hundred mornings to come that Frank Boyce and I alternated running to the little café, pick up two Styrofoam boxed eggs, bacon, grits, and toast breakfast, while the other showered and got ready for bed after our midnight shift! We each looked forward to midnight shift just for this tradition. The last thing either of us would do before leaving Keesler would be to pay our bill at the café and give everyone a farewell hug.

It seemed we were home and into a routine, one we had created on our own, and we looked forward to our tour of duty. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could spend our whole four years here,” Frank Boyce asked?

It was the fall of 1964, and that would have been nice.

Monday, August 20, 2007


On the appointed day of transition, a bus picked me up and took me to the opposite side of Lackland, to older barracks and Flights of marching troops in more fitted fatigues and highly polished boots. This must be the “real” Air Force,” I thought as I peered out at my future.

Woody and Tom had been gone for over two days now and an even more lonely feeling crept through my stomach as I stood and walked off the bus. I cannot remember how I knew where to go or how I got signed into the Air Police Tech School, but I ended up in a room with two sets of bunk beds on opposite walls, four wall closets and drawers on another, and a row of large paned windows on another.

This is where I met Frank Boyce, a tall slender young man about twenty-three, from “up state Mississippi”, as he was known to say, especially to those that bragged about being from “up state New York!” He was pure southern breed, with a deep sense of tradition and he did not attempt to hide his dislike of the black or “Yankee” troops around him.

Frank was college educated and had washed out of Officer Training School (OCS) and, as a reward, assigned to spend his four-year enlistment as a lowly “sky cop.” Frank, as would be expected, hated the “stupidity” of the military mentality, but had long since resigned himself to ride it out and then get on with his life.

Frank, for some reason, out of pity I suppose, took me under his wing and over the next two and a half years, I learned a lot about how to function in an adult world – how to order food, fancy drinks, and even to assert myself in the world around me. Frank learned all this from being away from home since age eighteen attending college, and was more than willing to share his experiences with a “country bumpkin” like me.

I only remember one other of my new bunk mates; he was Frank Gordon (too many Franks, but worlds apart) from Marietta, Georgia. I remember the Franks from photos and experiences we had in “tech school”, later at Keesler, and finally in Vietnam. I once tracked Boyce down by phone, living in Nashville, but apparently, he had some live threatening disease at the time and did not want to talk to me. I was a little hurt, having always thought so much of him, but life goes on. He was a true friend then and I miss him to this day.

Life in “tech school” was not much different from basic. There was still the necessity of cleaning the barracks for inspections, pulling KP duty, marching, firing range visits, physical exercising, and classroom instruction. However, everything had a more focused purpose in training you to be a military “cop!”

Some of the duties included cleaning the K-9 kennels, the study of military and civil law, the tactics of crowd control, law enforcement techniques, aircraft security guard responsibilities, and the terrifying judo training.

We all hated judo training with a “purple passion,” but did not dare voice any complaints. The two hours a day we spent were the longest hours of the day, spent in pure fear, often terror, of the instructors, who seemed to be there not to teach, but to inflict pain for their own amusement.

There was a least one broken arm while I was there, and a rumor of a leg being broken in the previous training Flight. You had to stay alert and watch the instructors without being seen looking!

Usually there is a ring formed around an area cushioned by blue exercise pads, with the center used for demonstrations. Circling the ring are three to four other instructors, wearing their professional looking gees, who watched your every move – get caught looking away from the demonstration, or at one of them, and your legs were immediately knocked out from under you! It must be the kind of anxiety animals on the plains feel as lions or wolves circle looking for the weakest. Pure fear enveloped each of us until that class ended.

You just lay there helpless, hurting, and embarrassed as the instructor, with his foot on your chest screamed, “You bett'a keep yo' eyes focused Airman! Do you understand? Everyone looked straight ahead in empathy!

Once the demo is completed, you choose a partner and the two of you begin practicing the demonstrated move, repeatedly, until the instructors feel, you both are performing it properly. Do it wrong, do not apply enough torque, or pressure to a hold or throw, you then become the hapless dummy of demonstration – tossed about like a killer whale toying with a helpless seal.

Suffice it to say, I hated judo training, but I became pretty accomplished at it nonetheless.

The best part of Air Police Technical Training came along about the beginning of the third week, the instilment of pride in yourself, your appearance, the Air Force, and the pride of being a military policeman. Everyone begins to walk, talk, and look like a military person. The laundry shops in the area cater to troops wanting form-fitting uniforms. Everything in your wardrobe is tapered, press pelted, and starched. Your dress shoes and combat boots are highly “spit-shined.”

You spend hours melting your shoe polish, adding a little alcohol, and applying it hot with a cotton ball dipped in water (or spit) to your shoes, hat brim, belt, baton (billy club) holder, and .45 holster. You rub for hours in tight little clock-wise circles until layer upon layer of polish builds into a high-gloss shine – good enough to see your reflection!

When you wear the uniform of an Air Policeman, you strut, showing the world your confidence and pride. Even today, people tell me that I walk proudly, shoulders back (at least until my recent shoulder operations), and this could only come from my military police training.

I learned to enjoy the military during this time, often going to the Airmen’s Club with friends for 3.2 beer (4% or less alcohol), cigarettes, and often a “Tom Collins” a drink made of gin that Frank Boyce introduced me to as being “sophisticated.” Something a southern gentleman would have,” he would say. We would have many more “Tom Collins” after our assignment to Keesler AFB, Mississippi!

However, I must first go back to dreamland, back to Harriman for a mandatory thirty-day leave!

Thursday, August 16, 2007


Now that I've finished my Basic Training episodes, you must read Bruno's explanation of the harsh realities of military training - CLICK HERE NOW!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007


The last two weeks moved on at a snail’s pace, or as I’ve described like being on a turtle’s back. However, these last two weeks were the most enjoyable, if you can find any joy in basic training.

The DI’s begin to treat us with a little respect and us them. There are quiet moments of rest, in our dayroom where they answered questions about their careers and about what we were to expect after leaving Lackland. I found that my anxiety level again rose, wondering where I would be stationed next and what I would be trained to do.

When I first took the test at the recruiter’s office in Harriman, I had every intention of being in the medical field, specifically “paramedics” – do not ask me why. I just thought I would like working in a hospital when I got out and drawing blood from patients and then performing all the required tests to determine their various illnesses.

After the test came back, the “General Field”, which included medics, cooks, and air police, came out slightly higher than the Electronics and Mechanical Fields. So, that is what I signed up for, not realizing that specifically getting a medical assignment was not a guaranteed thing!

The last weeks moved on with more M1, class, and obstacle course training, but all the time my next duty assignment was foremost on my mind.

I scored “expert” with the M1 and thoroughly enjoyed the classes on firing disciple and the mechanics of the weapon. The most fun was sitting beneath the targets downrange and listening the sonic pops the .30 caliber rounds made above my head before sinking themselves into the dirt breams, pulling the targets down, marking the hits, and pushing them back into view again. It’s something I’ve always enjoyed and I frequent a range in Oak Ridge, not as much as I would like, just for the experience. To me, it is almost as exciting as the actual live firing!

Then there was the obstacle course, which is nothing like the Army or Marines I’m sure, but tough nonetheless. There is the expected full-out run over logs, through creeks, under logs, through mud holes, and the tougher crawl over logs, swinging from ropes, climbing walls, jump off walls, and completely exhausting and pushing your body to the max as a DI screams insults in your ear and in your face!

I remember that we were all told to run into the “tear gas” shack, make a left, and straight out the other side. However, as my line approached the canvas flap that covered the doorway, I could see briefly inside and I saw daylight straight through and almost laughed as a guy a few steps in from of us make the instructed left and go down. You could hear him behind the canvas begin to cough and yell “I can’t see!”

The line I was in was halted as a DI near the door, wearing a gas mask, reached in and pulled the spitting and sputtering Airman outside and down on the ground. They then waved us forward and apparently the guys just in front of me saw the same thing I did. We all ran straight through the canvas and straight out the opposite side of the gas filled shack! We had no problems holding our breath that long and were soon on our way down the course to the finish.

With this last flurry of action, “Order Day” came soon enough and the DI’s called us into the dayroom. They began by telling us what a pleasure it had been to train us and that they wished us well. “Yeah, yeah, get on with the lottery,” we all thought!

We all sat on the floor, legs crossed with our feet in front of us, and our elbows propped upon our knees, and our hands on each side of our faces like kids waiting for the presents to be handed out. It was a sinking feeling to realize the military had your life in their hands and there was nothing you could do to change their decision.

Names were called and next duty assignments, or tech schools, were read with running plus and minus commentary from the DIs. “Oh, Dawson, you are going to freeze your ass off in Minot!” or “Johnson, you lucky bastard, you’re going to Florida!”

For the most part, as each Airman’s orders were read, there were happy sounds and smiles, but for some there was shock and disappointment.

Most of the orders began, “…first you will go home for 10 (some as much as 30) days leave, then you will report to such-and-such-airbase for 10 to 18 weeks job specific technical school training.” Wow, I don’t think I realized you got to go home before being trained. I couldn’t wait for my name to be called.


“Yes sir?”

“You will go home for 30 days leave, and then you’ll report to Keesler AFB in Biloxi, Mississippi where you will train for 18 weeks for ‘air traffic control’ duty.”

“Thank YOU sir,” Woody nearly shouted as he looked satisfied into my eyes thinking about home!

Some thought of Woody and I getting to enjoy circling The Beacon one more time together fluttered through mine. It was going to be too cool! We would be wearing our dress blues and looking fine!



“Oh hell,” he said without finishing, but instead addressed the group, “Mushy is going to be a damn sky cop!” Everyone looked at me with that “first day of school” look and then laughed.

My heart, hopes, and dignity all sank to the floor and tried to crawl up under the dayroom couch, but they were now all too bloody and bare to hide.

“Mushy (not his real name), you will stay here at Lackland, transfer over to the Air Police Training School, and complete a 6 week (now 13 weeks) training course, after which you will be reassigned to a permanent party station somewhere in the world.”

“I, I don’t get to go home sir?”

“Oh, not until after you receive your next orders, and before reporting to your next station, I’m sure you’ll get a 30 day leave then.” He looked around and closed the session with, “Any other questions from anyone?”

The excited buzz continued as I walked back, head down, to my bunk and thoroughly read my orders over and over looking for a loop hole. “Damn…I hate this place!”

Woody and Tom came by my bunk and said “tough break” but could not contain their excitement. Who could blame them – they were going home.

I did not see Tom Hall again until years after our tour of duty ended. However, I would see Woody again 8 to 10 weeks later at Keesler.

I sat and sulked for some time thinking, “No Pararescue for me now…I’m going to be a dumb cop…a cop…what the hell?”

As it turned out, with Vietnam in my future, and the life expectancy of a helicopter rescue crew and all, it was a blessing I did not fully understand until 3 years later.

Next, 6 more weeks of hell!

Monday, August 13, 2007


The DI’s pushed us hard for about three weeks without giving the slightest indication they were human. They gave the appearance of being driven, “gung-ho”, and having been born from the womb of the military. Except for us seeing their wives occasionally, as we stood embarrassed in our skivvies, there was no indication they cared about anything other than the military.

However, one day, after an exceptionally long “double time” back from the firing range, we suddenly were shocked by “Lit’em up if you got’em!”

Hell, most of us had long since stopped carrying any cigarettes on us with the hopes of enjoying one at some rest point. There were two or three guys that did have a pack on them and they were quickly passing them out to us bummers!

If I had any since then, I should have never started back. It had been over three weeks since my last and the first puff sent me into a nicotine high that almost brought me to me knees! Still, I puffed the damn thing and ignored the rolling of my stomach. From that point on, we all carried our smokes and many, like me, continued to smoke for over twenty years!

Sometime after the fourth week, we were given a pass to visit San Antonio. It was scary and exciting all at once. I had never visited a strange city on my own, but the rumored possibilities of hooking up with some babe in town overwhelmed any fears of the unknown.

Traveling into town, dressed in our sharply pressed 1505 khakis, with a bus load of other Airmen squelched the “being alone fears” and gave you a since of bravery and need for adventure. However, most of us just walked the streets, avoiding the “strip bars” like the plague, and just sightseeing.

Along the way were dozens of Latino boys hawking their cheap wears, offering shoe shines, which we bought, and generally begging for handouts.

There were even those offering sex for money which scared the crap out of most of us young gringos! “Hey buddy, you wont gurl,” one asked in his heavy Mexican accent?

We all replied in unison, remembering the horrifying sex education films we had seen just a week earlier, “No thanks!”

“Well, how ‘bout a vurgen?”

“No thanks…we’ll pass.”

“How ‘bout me sester…she’s a vurgen!”

Again we said no thanks, but this time we gave it a couple of seconds thought before answering!

“Well,” the frustrated kid responded for the last time, “how ‘bout my grandmuther…She’s a vurgen!”

We had never stopped walking during this exchange and thankfully he gave up at some point and went back up the street looking for his next victim or customer.

As I look back on this, I do not remember even having a single beer on town leave. What was I thinking? Maybe it was “stay sober” and “stay out of trouble,” who knows!

Suddenly we realized we were standing in front of the Alamo…a sacred place to a Tennessean – David Crockett and all!

I looked around, not realizing that the surrounding building foundations were once where the outer walls stood, disappointed in what I was seeing. This cannot be where those brave men stood off 5,000 Mexican troops…too little!

Once inside, the vision of what I thought the Alamo should look like was again dashed against the stone walls of the tiny little building. It was years before I realized the true story, scope, and arrangement of the buildings and walls.

Still, it was the Alamo and I was there standing in history and in uniform myself. I played over scenes from the Disney movie called “King of the Wild Frontier”, staring Fess Parker, in my mine and soaked up the real-life scene before me. The Alamo was featured in the third and final part of the TV movie. It was a proud moment for me to be there, even though it was not anything like the movie set, but I will never forget it.

But then it was time to meet the bus and return to Lackland…no more time for sightseeing, “vurgens”, or history. It was the last time I would leave the base until after I finished two more weeks of basic training and the six weeks of Air Police Tech School heading home on “thirty-day leave.”

However, there was much more to come before that happened.

Saturday, August 11, 2007


Somewhere within any work situation, you will find “slackers”, people who try to get by with as little effort as possible. Sometimes, they try to get out of the work altogether. The military is no exception!

Slacker number 1 - The flight returned from the firing range about midday about 3 weeks into training and got no response at the barracks door. Wondering what the holdup was, the DI pushed his way up the stairs to the entrance door, banged heavily at the door, and yelled for “Barracks Guard!” There was no answer and no one could be seen through the little 10-inch pane of reinforced glass.

The DI yelled down to one of his assistants and the guy ran off toward the Orderly Room where the First Sergeant of area had his office. Soon the DI’s assistant returned and handed the door key to the DI.

The DI entered our barracks area and made a motioned that told the rest of us to be quiet and wait in place while he checked out the situation.

Soon the DI came out and told us to follow him in but that if anyone made a noise he would have his ass. Therefore, we tiptoed, following his lead, back through the barracks to the rear emergency door.

There, slumped in a metal folding chair, was the Airman from Oak Ridge (I cannot remember his name) who had arrived with Woody, Tom, and me. At first glance, I thought something horrible had happened to him and my throat tightened.

The DI motioned for us to ring the chair quietly and we did as he instructed. That was when it hit me that the Airman was just asleep…asleep on duty – my stomach turned over!

When everyone was in place, the DI kicked the chair as hard as he could and yelled, “Airman, what the hell are you doing?”

The poor guy caught himself before falling to the floor, then settled back and looked red-eyed around the room. It was obvious he was very embarrassed, but could not prevent the corners of his mouth to begin a smile.

The DI yelled at him for a long time while we all stood by frightened for him. We were waiting to see the DI kill him right before us - it never happened. Instead, he screamed “Attention,” causing the Airman to jerk into position fighting for control over his nervous muscles.

Long story short, the Airman was marched out of the barracks and over to the First Sergeant’s office.

Later we found out that the troop was “sat back” 3 weeks, all the way to the beginning of basic training. He would have to endue his first 3 weeks of basic all over again with a new class or rainbows. I could not imagine how that must have felt and I resolved to try even harder to stay out of trouble.

Then there was slacker number 2. His transgression we handled our selves!

G.I. parties involved coordinated teamwork, work the Flight Leader was responsible for and answered directly to DI if not done properly.

The party consisted of different groups of trainees being responsible for specific areas of the barracks. Some took the latrine, others the dayroom, while others took on the entire tiled barracks floor. The latter was my group, and a job I preferred over the latrine, but it was still hard work.

First, we moved all the bunks to one side, swept, and mopped that side, before applying a wax that required buffing out. As I have said before, we had no electric buffer, so one or two guys pulled around on G.I. blankets substituted. One side being done, the process began on the opposite side.

I might mention that there were two sides of the barracks, each a long expanse of floor with two rows of bunks mirroring the opposite side of the wall that separated and split the barracks area. Therefore, what was happening on one side of the divider was also happening simultaneously on the other by another group. All this is to point out that there was a lot of work going on with Airmen running everywhere at top speed.

As my side was finishing one-half of its side, we notice a guy lying across his bunk, obviously asleep! What the hell,” someone said aloud?

The Flight Leader looked over and became furious, knowing it was his ass on the line. However, instead of yelling, he decided to teach the troop a lesson.

About six of us circled the bunk, reached down, got a grip, and then hoisted the bunk above our heads, forcing the bunk, and thus the troop’s face, directly under a large bright florescent light bank. At that point, the Flight Leader yelled “FIRE!”

The troop panicked and jumped to his feet in mid-air and crashed to the hard floor below!

We dumped his bunk upside down and laughed at the startled and how hurting slacker who lay looking up at us puzzled.

That guy never slacked again and I’m sure slept with at least one eye open for the next couple of nights.

This was actually a very mild group message. I heard of some flights that dished out “blanket parties” where the slacker or screw-up was ambushed, rolled up in a blanket, and beaten almost unconscious! One guy was even killed after either blindly stumbling or being pushed down a flight of stairs during a “blanket party.”

When the whole group pays for the transgression of a single member, the group takes things into their own hands.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007


It is strange how those days crept along, like riding on the back of a turtle desperate to get somewhere but you can not get off and run. The evenings after returning to the confines of the barracks exhausted from marching drills, PT, or sitting in classrooms learning military discipline, the basics of disassembling and reassembling the M1 carbine, were themselves hell.

Hours are spent polishing the title floors by hand and dragging someone around on a G. I. blanket as a makeshift buffer. Constantly dusting and straightening everything in your area, or taking your turn on latrine duty and wiping down all the surfaces, including the floors are exhausting. All the while your legs shake and your arms hurt from the PT and constant marching. Of course, you just have to ignore the blisters on your feet from the new stiff brogans you were given the day you arrived.

In the first hours of working together doing the necessary barracks work, something strange happens. You start looking to others for leadership and for the little rewards you used to get from parents, friends, or employers. A leader emerges even though they wish they had never been given the respect.

Soon the DI picks up on those you look to when he is not around and assigns them the duties of being the Flight Leader, or Barracks Chief. The reward for this is a little red banner they wear on their right arm. Whenever the DI is going to be away, the Flight Leader is in charge and responsible for anything and everything that happens. It’s his ass that gets chewed if the Flight screws up or if he finds dust anywhere on “his” floor! Sometimes you go through a couple of Flight Leaders before a proper leader is found. Those that fail are forever targets of the DI’s rath.

The DI did not live in the barracks with us as you see in the movies. He went home to his cozy home and loving wife and family and left us from 5PM until “zero five thirty-five hours” the next morning.

During his absence we guarded the front door, swept, mopped, waxed, and buffed the entire barracks, cleaned the dayroom, the stairwell, and the latrine. After a few days of having to clean everything, you learn to clean up your own messes instead of having to do it on cleanup detail.

Therefore, this cleanliness stays with you the rest of you life. You get up, make up your bed, put everything either into the dirty clothes hamper, the closet, or wear it, but it does not lay around cluttering up your world. You shower, shave, and brush your teeth, then you wipe down the sink and shower as clean as before you started. It’s just what you learn and you never forget, or even think about – you just do it!

If you had guard duty, you stood by the front entrance wearing a web-belt, a white hardhat, had a whistle, and a flashlight. As you stood, you memorized your Air Force articles, your flight and Wing name and numbers, and military chain of command, and the barracks rules. You do it out of fear, because at any moment the DI, or one of his cronies, might began bashing on the door with their fists and demanding to be let inside. You know you can’t unless they respond with the proper badge and password, but some let them in from pure intimidation and they get their butts chewed on for what seems like hours!

All the while you cower in your corner and never look up from your work, or out from under your cover. The “boggy man” is chewing on someone besides you and you are so pleased. It’s like the herd mentality – as long as the lion is eating someone else, I’m fine.

Once inside, they drill you from the material you are supposed to have memorized, but, more often than not, you can’t remember because of the pure fear that envelops you as he is yelling, spit flying in your face, at you at the top of his lungs.

Then there are those midnight fire drills where you are rushed out of the barracks in just your shorts and t-shirts, while the DI’s wives sit in their cars smiling and giggling at all the half-dressed recruits.

However, this is just the routine you settle into for the next 6 weeks. After you have been yelled at, had your head shaved, air gun shots pressed into both arms, and double timed all over Lackland Air Force Base, you are happy to have a more familiar routine. It’s like being…home…where is home?

What used to be is now for dreaming about at night, but once the dreaded “the time now is…” shocks you awake, and you are back – awaken into the present nightmare!

This is your life…you have always been here…get used to it! Up until now, you have just been dreaming – this is the real world.