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
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
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.