Chapter Eleven - The Army Air Force
I was told again that I would not have to go through basic
training, due to prior military experience. I was again sent to a base
and assigned to basic training. I decided to just go along with it and
found I enjoyed it. Nothing to think about, just grunt and groan with
the young kids. It wasn't too bad and half the time the drill instructor
goofed off and gave the company to me.
There was the usual stuff, learning to make a bed, drilling,
long hikes, drinking beer in the PX, telling jokes, fights, home sick
kids, writing letters, working KP duty, standing watch, scrubbing
floors, smoking cigarettes, doing without, being broke and wondering
what the hell you were doing there.
It seemed like you were busy every minute, yet had all the time
in the world to reflect on where you had been and to wonder where you
were going in life. It had to end and it did and I was assigned to
Ellington Air Force Base in Houston, Texas.
I arrived at Ellington Air Force Base and was assigned to an
organization responsible for helping planes land in difficult
situations. We had large trailers filled with tube technology electronic
equipment. We had to pull the trailer to the end of a runway and level
it with hydraulic jacks, calibrate it, and then bring planes in to the
runway. We were supposed to be able to tell them when they were a few
feet from the runway and a few inches above it. Sometimes it worked that
way and sometimes it didn't.
The organization had forty eight enlisted personnel. Forty six
were Master Sergeants, converted from former Army Air Corps officers,
one was a Technical Sergeant, and myself - the lone PFC in the group. If
you are wondering who cleaned the barracks, who scrubbed the floors, who
emptied the trash, who went for coffee, who washed the truck and
trailers, who did the dirty work, let me set your mind at ease - I did.
I also worked in the control tower, giving clearance for taking off and
landing and keeping records. That duty lasted until a plane came in one
day and hit the runway and bounced in the air a hundred feet, hit the
runway, bounced in the air fifty feet, hit the runway and spun and ran
into the grass. I told the pilot, "Roger, I have you down at 11:03,
11:04 and 11:05." A few minutes later a bird Colonel came in the control
tower and asked who the wise ass was. I asked if observing a plane
playing leap frog with the runway made you a wise ass. A few hours later
I was terminated from control tower duty and assigned to maintaining all
back up power supplies and the control tower radio transmitter.
The duty was not too bad. I was soon dubbed Bowerman the
Powerman. I was provided with my own 4 x 4 to travel around to all the
units. The transmitter was several miles from the base so I had a pass
to come and go as I wished. I could also get all the gasoline and diesel
fuel I needed and used some of it for the power units.
It was my responsibility to check the lights on the very tall
antenna and replace them as required. I had to notify the control tower
when I was going to lower the antenna so they could switch to the
reserve transmitter. I went out one day and some bulbs were burned out
so I called the control tower and then hooked the winch cable to one of
the antenna anchor cables and started lowering the antenna. The cable
ran through a large metal eye on top of a huge slab of concrete. The
concrete came out of the ground and the antenna crashed. The damage was
many, many thousands of dollars and they invented a new rule that said
two people had to be present when the antenna was lowered. Naturally
they made the rule retroactive and threatened to take the cost out of my
pay if I had to serve a hundred years to pay for it. Fortunately they
got bogged down in their own red tape and dropped it.
I had a friend named Paul Carr who had played football in high
school in California. Paul managed to save up $200 and bought an old
Hudson car. It took both of us to get it started but once it was started
it ran pretty good. We would go out and run around Houston when we could
afford gas for it. It guzzled a lot of gas and also consumed an amazing
amount of oil. Paul had a visit one day from some people connected with
the University of Houston. They were starting a football program and
wanted Paul to play. He told them he was in the Air Force and he was
supporting his Mother. They told him they could get him out of the Air
Force and would bring his Mother to Houston and take care of her
expenses. In little more than a week he was out of the Air Force, his
Mother had an apartment in Houston and the old beat up Hudson had been
replaced with a new car. That is when I learned there is no such thing
as amateur college football. It is professional football at college
I found a new friend and he had a really old beat up Dodge. The
paint was long gone and the car was a real eyesore. We found what they
called powder puff paint. You actually painted the car with a powder
puff. I helped him paint it and it was real surprising how well it
looked as compared to before. It did not pass for a factory paint job by
any means but it was not bad looking at all. He got out of the service
and drove his old car back to Michigan. He did not have any money and I
called my Mother and arranged for him to stop in Tuscaloosa and get a
night's sleep and a good supper and breakfast.
It was obvious I was not going anywhere in the Air Force and my
Mother and Archie were divorced. I decided to get out of the Air Force.
I found that a hardship discharge was the only way and they did not want
to release me. I filed for it, on the basis that I had to pay child
support and my Mother needed me at home. My commander wrote a blistering
recommendation for disapproval and stated that if I had to pay child
support then my enlistment was fraudulent. The request had to go through
five levels of command and each level sent back a copy of their
recommendation for disapproval. I had discussed it with Ed
DeGraffenreid, my congressman, in advance and he had arranged for
someone at the next to last level to alert him when they released it.
They did, and he went to the approval authority and asked them to
approve it. They did approve it and routed it back through the chain of
command, with each level adding a nasty comment. Then it disappeared and
could not be found. I called Ed and he went to the top and gave them
five days to have me out of the Air Force. The fifth day was on Sunday
and I called Ed and told him I was still waiting. About noon I was
called to the office and discharged. The only officer on duty with
authority to sign was a female and a female had never signed a discharge
for a male before. Mine was the first in the Air Force.
That afternoon I headed for Tuscaloosa.
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