MUSHY'S MOOCHINGS: PERMANENT PARTY AT KEESLER

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

PERMANENT PARTY AT KEESLER

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.

17 comments:

Hammer said...

Biloxi was exactly the way you described it until the hurricane.

Such a shame, the whitehouse hotel will take years to restore if ever.

Sarge Charlie said...

Just so you know you got an award over at the Old Sarg's place.

~Fathairybastard~ said...

Yep, Biloxi was cool. I was there a few years ago, and stayed with a buddy near the beach. We walked to the beach to go eat dinner, and then walked along the road, past the cool old houses, and watched the sun set there. Damn that hurricane!

Odat said...

Just stopping by from Sarge Charlie's to say Hi...I love your banner...very cool!
Peace

GUYK said...

Yep, I have been on Keesler several times and always like Biloxi.

I have some meories of tach school..might post them one of these days if I can figure away to do it without going to jail..I gotta check the statue of limitations and all..

Suldog said...

Living in Boston, I take an ocean view for granted. It's nice to be reminded how special it can be. Thank you!

I'm assuming the next stop might be overseas...

Mushy said...

Biloxi is one fine place...I must go back one day and see what is left of my memories!

SARGE - Thanks for the mention and the 2nd place finish! I'm honored.

Thanks for dropping in ODAT and congratulations on your recent award!

GUYK - the only thing that kept me out of jail then was being a cop (of sorts) myself!

SUL - no, still more stories from Keesler before 'Nam...and some have already been written.

Les Becker said...

Never having seen, smelled or heard the ocean, either, I wonder if you'll someday honour my request to have a pictureful, wordsmithy blogpost written just about that part of things. I have plans to see one - I wouldn't mind a basis for comparison (or a manufactured memory in case that particular plane of mine crashes).

As always, you made your memories real enough to take me there - now I'm starved and must go make grilled cheese... :-)

Sarge Charlie said...

I forgot to tell you to post the award on your site and present it to two people of your choice. I added this to my post.

david mcmahon said...

Mushy,

Another great post in a series that will be a reference point for many serious chroniclers.

You tell not just the tale, you tell the era, you tell the culture, you tell the WDP - whole darn picture.

Love ya style

David

Amazing Gracie said...

I'm over from Sarge's, too. His recommendations work for me!
~~~I graduated in '65 so this is all playing with my memory chips, too. So many young men in my class went to Viet Nam. I went to HS in a large metropolitan area so we lost several. I married during spring vacation of my senior year and my husband stayed ahead of the draft. He wanted to sign up but I was the millstone around his neck. He became an alcoholic instead...
I'm looking forward to reading the rest of your story. And last, but NOT least, thank you for your service!!!
~~~Blessings~~~

David Sullivan said...

I was just in Biloxi back in May and its still a wreck. They had a nice golf course at Kessler that I played a few years back. One of the fairways paralelled a runway where C-5's were taking off. If you timed your drive right you could get an extra 50 yards :)

Mushy said...

LES - I hope your cheese as good for you as it was for me!

SARGE - We'll see...I'm not much for such.

DAVID - It's not a conscious effort...it just comes out that way.

GRACIE - Sure glad to have you visit and I hope you come back. Thanks for the welcome home...I find myself still needing to hear that at times.

DAVID S.- First time I ever tried golf was on that course...but they didn't have C-5As to help you out then. Great story!

Thoughts of a Diva said...

I love looking at my dad's pictures from when he was in the military and all of his travels. Don't ya love to think back to yesteryear?

-----------
Dang Mushy! It's your day for awards. Diva over here thinkin you're awful nice.

http://sweetdivathoughts.blogspot.com/2007/08/tish-thinks-diva-is-nice-awwwww.html

Come n git it!

Ciao!

Dixiechick said...

Found you via Sarge Charlies... don't have much time to read today as I'm at work but all I can say is

Wish that I was on ol' Rocky Top
Down in the Tennessee hills
Aint' no smoggy smoke on Rocky Top
Ain't no telephone bills

Once I had a girl on Rocky Top
Half bear, other half cat
Wild as a mink,
but sweet as soda pop
I still dream about that.

Rocky Top you'll always be
Home sweet home to me
Good ol' Rocky Top ... WOOOOOOOOO0
Rocky Top Tennessee,
Rocky Top Tennessee

I believe that Sarge is the one "misguided".. ;-)

So, hello from a fellow Tennessean.

Mushy said...

DIVA and DIXIE - wonderful to have you both stop by...letting me know that local folk like me too!

Cranky said...

Well, I was finishing boot camp at Keesler when Betsy came along so we spent some time in one of the triangle sturdy buildings. We boots got to clean up the base after. USAF was doing 4 weeks at Lackland and the rest of boot at one's school base. Did 6 days a week school in "accelerated cannon fodder" of that time when bodies were needed over yonder. I left Keesler in July of '66 and ended up in Vietnam in '68. Telecom kind of guy and figured to sit at Bien Hoa and play radio but USAF loaned me to the USArmy for the duration. Stuff happens. Did my time at Plantation Combat Base with a week off in Sydney. Came home alive so all is well.