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Join the Club

After college, I served four years in the U.S. Air Force. I went the ROTC route. Got my commission when I graduated and entered service as a Second Lieutenant. When I left the Air Force four years later, I was a Captain.

I spent all four of those years at Cannon Air Force Base near Clovis, New Mexico.

When I arrived at Cannon, I joined the Officers Club. Every military installation has an OC. It‘s a combination of restaurant, cocktail lounge and meeting hall. Membership isn’t mandatory, but all new officers join.

At first, I frequented the facility regularly. But I moved to an off-base apartment in time, and I wasn’t availing myself of the facilities to any extent. So, after a couple of years of paying dues, I allowed my membership to lapse. Others did, too. No one especially cared.

But during the final year of my tour of duty, that changed. Our Base Commander, Colonel Hoy, became involved in a contest with his fellow base commanders in 12th Air Force to see who could be first to reach 100 percent Officers Club membership.

Word went out about the competition, and slowly, OC membership at Cannon began to increase. Among those who had dropped out for whatever reason, most rejoined to avoid any unpleasantness. Colonel Hoy was optimistic.

As fate would have it, the issue came down to a single individual. Eventually, every officer at Cannon AFB joined the Officers Club, except one.

The officer who stood between Colonel Hoy and victory was a non-career, non-flight-status captain who had not responded to any of the membership appeals. The captain was summoned to the office of his immediate supervisor, Major Burger.

“Just join the Club,” the major told him. “You don’t have to go there. Just join the Club and be done with it.”

The captain politely declined.

Major Burger reported this to the Deputy Base Commander, Colonel Doerr. The captain was summoned to Colonel Doerr’s office.

“I don’t like the damned place, either,” the colonel told him. “But don’t be difficult. Just join the Club. Colonel Hoy will get his 100 percent, and then you can quit again.”

Once again, the captain respectfully declined.

Colonel Doerr reported this to Colonel Hoy, and Colonel Hoy was furious. He summoned the captain to his office. The tirade that followed, I was told, rang throughout the building for all to hear:

“You WILL join the Officers Club, you son of a bitch, and you’ll join it now, or your life will be miserable! I will give you enough extra duty to last a lifetime!

“I will ship your ass to Vietnam! Nobody flouts my authority! Now get the hell out! Be here at 0800 hours tomorrow, prepared to join the Club!”

The next morning, the captain reported to Colonel Hoy’s office. Standing in front of the colonel’s big desk, trembling, the captain made his case.

“Sir, Officers Club membership is offered to us as a choice. Being able to decline this membership is my right, and that right is important to me.”

Colonel Hoy was silent for an eternity. Then he said, “You’re dismissed.”

The shaken captain prepared himself for the worst, but no punishment followed. He began to question his action, and he strongly considered joining the Officers Club anyway. Surely this was a petty matter on which to take a stand.

But before he acted on the impulse, the base newspaper ran a story about the membership competition.

Cannon AFB, the article said, had become the first base in 12th Air Force to achieve 100 percent Officers Club membership.

It must have been so. After all, who would doubt the word of the Base Commander?

The Club, official Air Force photo, 1967.

The Club, official Air Force photo, 1967.

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