Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Military’

Known But to God

This is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington.

Tomb-1

The last time I was there — which I am startled to find was 10 years ago — I took a boatload of photos and videos. I like these two pics pretty well.

Tomb-2

Tomb-3

If you’ve been there, you know that seeing Arlington and the Tomb is an emotional experience. God knows, I am a borderline pacifist, with no militaristic tendencies whatsoever. But there’s something about the Tomb — the story behind it, the rituals, the soldiers who guard it — that is genuinely moving.

As you’re probably aware, the Tomb honors fallen American soldiers whose remains were unidentified. How the monument came to be is a fascinating story.

The Unknown Soldier of World War I

The idea originated with a British Army chaplain during World War I. In 1916, he saw a grave with a wooden cross on which was written in pencil “An Unknown British Soldier.”

The chaplain envisioned a monument to honor all British unknowns. His ambition was to inter an unidentified British soldier at Westminster Abbey “amongst the kings” to represent all of the Great War’s unknowns.

He contacted the Dean of Westminster, who gave his full support. In turn, so did the British Prime Minister. The process of selecting a representative unknown soldier began.

In the fall of 1920, four sets of unidentified remains were exhumed from undisclosed battlefields in France. The bodies were placed in identical flag-draped caskets. A ranking general closed his eyes and placed his hand on one of the coffins. The other three coffins were reinterred.

The chosen coffin was transported with great ceremony across France, escorted by French troops and processions of schoolchildren. At the port of Boulogne, the coffin was piped aboard a destroyer and escorted across the Channel by a convoy of battleships.

On November 11, 1920, Armistice Day, the casket was interred inside Westminster Abbey in soil from various French battlefields. One hundred women, each of whom had lost a husband and all of their sons in the war, were the guests of honor.

The grave was capped with black marble, to which was affixed this plate (made of brass melted down from wartime ammunition):

Tomb-4

The United States followed a similar selection process in 1921.

The Army exhumed four sets of remains from American cemeteries in France and placed them in identical caskets.

Sgt. Edward Younger, who had been wounded in battle and earned the Distinguished Service Cross for valor, made the selection by placing a spray of white roses on one of the caskets. (Later, the roses were interred with the casket at Arlington.)

The casket was taken by funeral train through Paris to the port of Le Havre, then by ship to the United States.

On November 9, a procession carried the casket to the Capitol Rotunda, where citizens and dignitaries came to pay their respects.

On November 11, the casket was escorted by five soldiers, two sailors, and a marine to Arlington, where this interment ceremony that took place:

Tomb-5

The Americans chose a simpler inscription for the Tomb than the Brits.

Tomb-6

The Unknown Soldiers of World War II and Korea

In 1958, the remains of several unidentified soldiers who died during World War II were exhumed from cemeteries in Europe, Africa, Hawaii, and The Philippines. From these, two were chosen, one from the European Theater and one from the Pacific Theater, and placed in identical caskets.

Navy Hospitalman William Charette, a Medal of Honor winner, selected the casket that would be interred at Arlington. The second casket was buried at sea with honors.

That same year, four unknowns who died in the Korean War were disinterred from the National Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii. Army Master Sgt. Ned Lyle, a recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross for valor, selected the Korean War unknown.

On May 28, the World War II and Korea caskets were taken to Washington, where they lay in state in the Capitol Rotunda. On May 30, the caskets were carried by caisson to Arlington National Cemetery. President Eisenhower awarded both unknowns the Medal of Honor, and they were interred beside the World War I unknown.

The Unknown Soldier of Vietnam

The unknown from the Vietnam War was chosen on May 17, 1984, by Marine Sgt. Maj. Allan Kellogg, a Medal of Honor recipient. On May 28, President Reagan awarded the Medal of Honor to the Vietnam War unknown, and the remains were interred with the others at Arlington.

But a decade later, a glitch surfaced. At one time, the remains of the Vietnam War unknown had been identified tentatively as those of Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Blassie. Because the estimated age and height of the remains did not match Blassie’s, the identification was rescinded.

But by 1998, DNA identification had advanced significantly, and the Blassie family asked the Dept. of Defense to retest the remains. The DoD complied, and testing confirmed that the Vietnam Unknown indeed was Lt. Blassie.

At the family’s request, Blassie’s remains were removed from the Tomb at Arlington and reinterred in Missouri. Further, the decision was made to leave the crypt vacant rather than select another Vietnam Unknown. A marker on the crypt now reads, “Honoring and Keeping Faith with America’s Missing Servicemen.”

The Tomb Honor Guard

In 1925, a civilian guard was posted at the Tomb because people were picnicking on the marble slab to take advantage of the view. In 1926, a military guard took over. By 1937, the monument was under 24-hour protection.

Since 1948, the Tomb has been guarded by an elite unit of volunteer Army soldiers. All are members of the 3rd Infantry Regiment, which is stationed adjacent to Arlington Cemetery in Fort Myer, Virginia.

Serving as a guard at the Tomb is a high honor. Only 20 percent of volunteers are accepted for training, and only a few ever become Sentinels.

Applicants must be between 5′ 10″ and 6′ 2″ tall, with a waist size no larger than 30″. Guards must commit to two years of service and will live in a barracks under the Tomb. They cannot drink alcohol, on or off duty, or swear in public for the rest of their lives. If they do, or if they disgrace the uniform or the Tomb in any way, they forfeit the coveted Honor Guard lapel pin.

The pin is awarded after a guard has served nine months as a Sentinel. It features an inverted wreath and the figures of Peace, Valor, and Victory.

Fewer than than 675 soldiers have worn the Honor Guard pin; the Astronaut Badge is the only military pin awarded less often.

Tomb-7

The first female Sentinel came on duty in 2001, the fourth in 2017.

For the first six months on duty, a guard cannot talk to anyone or watch TV. Off-duty time is spent studying the lives of the 175 notable Americans buried at Arlington and knowing where they are buried.

The Honor Guard protects the Tomb at all times, 24 hours a day, regardless of weather, following a precise routine. Here are some pertinent facts:

— The soldier on duty marches 21 steps across the front of the Tomb, carrying the rifle on the shoulder away from the Tomb. The gloves are moistened to help grip the rifle.

— On the 21st step, the guard stops and faces the Tomb for 21 seconds. The rifle is switched to the other shoulder, and the guard marches 21 steps in the opposite direction. The 21 is symbolic of a 21-gun salute.

— The Changing of the Guard occurs every 30 minutes during the summer and every hour during the winter.

— The incoming guard is accompanied by the team commander. The outgoing guard reports to the commander that the Tomb is secure, and the new guard takes over.

— The guards wear sunglasses because the white marble reflects the sun.

— They wear shoes with metal plates to accentuate the ritual clicking of heels.

— To protect the marble, the guards march on a 63-foot rubber mat. The mat is replaced twice a year.

— While on duty (the soldiers call it “walking the mat”) the guards remove insignia that identifies their rank. This is so they will not outrank the interred soldiers, whose ranks are unknown.

— A team of guards works 24 hours on duty, 24 hours off duty, for five days. Then they have four days off while another team takes over.

— The guards spend an average of six hours a day preparing their uniforms.

In addition to their ceremonial duties, the guards protect the Tomb, prevent anyone from touching or approaching the monument, and confront tourists who are loud or disrespectful.

https://rockysmith.files.wordpress.com/2019/02/it-is-requested.mp4

So, mind your manners, buster.

 

Read Full Post »

As I’ve documented often on this blog, my dad was a bomber pilot during World War II. In 1944, his B-24 was shot down after a bombing raid, and he was captured and imprisoned in Bulgaria.

Dad’s two brothers also served, and, by the grace of God, all three survived the war. The night they were reunited in Savannah, they talked into the wee hours about their experiences.

But after that, the subject largely was closed. Except for occasional anecdotes about the good memories, they rarely talked about the war.

The only detailed accounting Dad gave about being a POW came in 1984, when, one evening in Savannah, his sister Betty got him to open up.

It was just the two of them. Dad talked for a long time and in great detail. After he went to bed, Betty stayed up and documented what Dad told her while it was fresh in her mind.

This is her typewritten account.

———

July 21, 1984

As told to me by Walter Anthony Smith, Jr.

Shot down June 23, 1944 — Prisoner of War in Bulgaria

Stationed in Italy — Flying a B-24 Liberator (4 engine bomber)

United States Air Force

Returning from a raid over Ploesti, Romania oil fields, his plane was shot down. After being captured, was imprisoned in Shumen, Bulgaria. (Shumen also called Kolarovgrad)

When he bailed out, he fell several thousand feet before he located the rip-cord, due to the fact that in his haste and excitement, his parachute was upside down and the rip-cord was on the opposite side from where it should have been.

When he landed in the mountains, he hit his head on a rock and was knocked out. When he came to, a peasant woman was looking down at him, probably thinking he was dead. When he opened his eyes, she ran away screaming.

At that time Walter ran, trying to find a place to hide and hoping to contact the underground. The woman must have told the military where she found the American, because about 100 soldiers formed a huge ring around the area.

As they closed in, they kept firing their weapons, trying to make Walter surface. As the circle grew smaller, they stopped firing because they could hit their own men. They continued closing in until they found him hiding in the brush.

The soldiers beat him terribly with their rifle butts in the back, head and all over. When he was down, they all urinated on him and took him to their commander.

The commander placed his pistol on the table and threatened to kill Walter if he did not reveal military information, but Walter refused to talk. He reminded the commander about his rights as a prisoner of war and that he could not be killed after he was captured.

All the men in Walter’s aircrew survived the jump and were captured and brought to Shumen.

Shumen was the only prison in Bulgaria for all Allied prisoners. It held over 300 men from 12 Allied countries. Walter was the highest-ranking officer, being a Major at the time, so he took command.

His first job was the get the men organized and come up with a survival plan. They only had black bread and watery soup to eat and about one glass of water a day for all purposes. They could hear water pouring over a waterfall nearby, but could not have enough to drink, bathe and wash bandages. Walter’s weight went down to 120 pounds while he was in prison.

As the Russians drew closer, Bulgaria was in turmoil. Many wanted to change sides. Some of the guards had deserted their posts. A group of Bulgarians who were Allied sympathizers, mostly educated at the American University in Sofia, slipped guns to Walter and the prisoners. They overpowered the remaining guards and took over the prison.

They commandeered a freight train and held the crew at gunpoint while the 300 prisoners got on board for the trip to Turkey and freedom. (A movie “Von Ryan’s Express” was based on this story.)

Walter turned command over to his deputy, an English officer, and flew with the friendly Bulgarians to Sofia, where he was given papers vital to the war. They included information about the locations of the enemy, all about their supplies, positions and movements, as well as the names of the prisoners and what had been done to them. Walter was told to take the papers to the Allied authorities.

They took Walter to the airport and gave him a plane so he could join his men in Turkey. He flew low because the plane had German markings, and he was afraid he would be shot down if the Allies saw him. He followed the railroad tracks for a long way and his plane was giving out of gas.

He frantically tried to find a button or switch that might turn on an auxiliary gas tank, but everything was written in German. While looking down for a place to land, he noticed a handle under his seat. He turned it, and it was the proper handle to switch to the auxiliary gas tank.

He flew as far as he could and landed in a cornfield near Svilengrad, Bulgaria just short of the Turkish border. He was captured again and locked up by Bulgarians who this time treated him well. They contacted the American consulate in Istanbul, who came the next day. Walter was released and went to Istanbul with the consulate.

When the train carrying the prisoners arrived in Istanbul, Walter and the embassy representative were there to meet them. The men were taken to hospitals and treated, some remaining there. 36 of them were on stretchers.

The Turks prepared fried chicken, fruits and vegetables for the men. Not having eaten in such a long time, they all got sick, but appreciated the efforts.

After receiving wonderful baths and resting, the men continued their train trip through Turkey, then around the Mediterranean Sea to Egypt. After 4 days they were back in Italy.

Gen. Nathan Twining received the intelligence from Walter and ordered bombing of the vital points that really hastened the end of World War II in that area. Gen. Twining recommended Walter for the Legion of Merit, our country’s third highest award. Gen. Ira C. Eaker also awarded Walter the Bronze Star.

Walter broadcast from Rome over the National Broadcasting Company’s news program (Max Hill being the reporter) and told about being a prisoner and now released. Although Mother, Daddy and I always listened to the eleven o’clock news, this night we did not. We did not know anything about Walter except that he was missing, so would have been thrilled to hear him speak.

The next morning, Lillian Mynatt, a distant relative, called and told Mother that she heard this program, and she knew it was Walter because he was described as a Major from Savannah, Ga. and she recognized his voice.

Within a few days we heard that he was freed. The newspapers all over the country and the Stars and Stripes had articles about the story. (See scrapbooks)

After staying in the hospital a month with pneumonia, malnutrition and filth sores, Walter was sent back to Bulgaria with an intelligence team to identify war criminals. Some were sent to Nuremberg, Germany for trial, some were turned over to the Russians and a captured German general hanged himself in jail rather than be tried.

When Walter returned to Bulgaria, the men lived in 2 beautiful homes. Quite a change from the prison. The trip was not without danger. The Americans were fired on many times by snipers who were still Nazis.

After the mission in Bulgaria was completed, Walter came home on leave in January, 1945. Mother and all of us did not open our Christmas gifts until he came home. He went to Macon to get Ann and Rocky, then they came to Savannah.

No need to say how grateful we are not to have lost him, as well as Allan and John who were in the service and have many stories to tell.

———

Tom Brokaw called the generation of my parents “the Greatest Generation.” They were born during the Great Depression, had World War II thrust upon them, and shaped the era of growth and prosperity that followed.

I read an article recently that said four factors created “the greatest generation.”

First, that generation of men and women experienced seismic changes. The world changed radically as they matured. And they coped with and adapted to the Depression, the war, and the good times that followed with dignity and grace.

Second, their experiences instilled in them a strong work ethic.

Third, they learned to be frugal. They found ways to deal with scarcity, to think creatively, to make do.

Fourth, from the men at the front lines to their families back home, they had a strong sense of duty and were willing to make the necessary sacrifices.

It added up to a generation noted for grit and strength of character. All my life, I saw it in my parents and aunts and uncles and their contemporaries.

It’s hard to say whether the generations that followed didn’t measure up, or, never having to face the same level of challenges, simply weren’t called upon to prove themselves.

All I know is, thanks to the Greatest Generation, the rest of us had it easy.

War stories-1

Dad (center front) and the crew of his B-24 at their base in Italy. Taken in early June 1944.

War stories-2

Dad (left) at the Officers Club in Italy after the train ride to freedom.

War stories-3

The Smith brothers, Walter, Allan, and John, back in Savannah in January 1945.

War stories-4

Dad and Betty before the war.

 

Read Full Post »

During the Civil War, Ohio native Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914) fought for the Union with distinction at Shiloh, Chicamauga, Kennesaw Mountain, and elsewhere. After the war, he became a prominent journalist and author.

Bierce is known for both his Civil War writings and his tales of horror and the supernatural. Of the latter, someone said Bierce bridged the literary years between Poe and Lovecraft.

In the late 1890s, while a columnist for the San Francisco Examiner, Bierce raised enough public ire to stop a bill being slipped through Congress that would have forgiven massive government loans to the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads. That’s my kind of journalism.

Bierce was something of a Hemingway type. In 1914, at age 71, he announced plans to go to Mexico to see the Mexican Revolution for himself. Perhaps travel with Pancho Villa as an observer. He promptly disappeared, fate unknown.

Like many ex-soldiers, Bierce declined to glorify war in his writings, as the following essay demonstrates.

———

Bivouac of the Dead

Published in The Collected Works of Ambrose Bierce, Volume 1, 1909

Away up in the heart of the Allegheny mountains, in Pocahontas county, West Virginia, is a beautiful little valley through which flows the east fork of the Greenbrier river. At a point where the valley road intersects the old Staunton and Parkersburg turnpike, a famous thoroughfare in its day, is a post office in a farm house.

The name of the place is Travelers’ Repose, for it was once a tavern. Crowning some low hills within a stone’s throw of the house are long lines of old Confederate fortifications, skilfully designed and so well “preserved” that an hour’s work by a brigade would put them into serviceable shape for the next civil war.

This place had its battle — what was called a battle in the “green and salad days” of the great rebellion. A brigade of Federal troops, the writer’s regiment among them, came over Cheat mountain, fifteen miles to the westward, and, stringing its lines across the little valley, felt the enemy all day; and the enemy did a little feeling, too.

There was a great cannonading, which killed about a dozen on each side; then, finding the place too strong for assault, the Federals called the affair a reconnaissance in force, and burying their dead withdrew to the more comfortable place whence they had come.

Those dead now lie in a beautiful national cemetery at Grafton, duly registered, so far as identified, and companioned by other Federal dead gathered from the several camps and battlefields of West Virginia. The fallen soldier (the word “hero” appears to be a later invention) has such humble honors as it is possible to give.

His part in all the pomp that fills
The circuit of the Summer hills
Is that his grave is green.

True, more than a half of the green graves in the Grafton cemetery are marked “Unknown,” and sometimes it occurs that one thinks of the contradiction involved in “honoring the memory” of him of whom no memory remains to honor; but the attempt seems to do no great harm to the living, even to the logical.

A few hundred yards to the rear of the old Confederate earthworks is a wooded hill. Years ago it was not wooded. Here, among the trees and in the undergrowth, are rows of shallow depressions, discoverable by removing the accumulated forest leaves.

From some of them may be taken (and reverently replaced) small thin slabs of the split stone of the country, with rude and reticent inscriptions by comrades. I found only one with a date, only one with full names of man and regiment. The entire number found was eight.

In these forgotten graves rest the Confederate dead — between eighty and one hundred, as nearly as can be made out. Some fell in the “battle;” the majority died of disease. Two, only two, have apparently been disinterred for reburial at their homes.

So neglected and obscure is this campo santo that only he upon whose farm it is — the aged postmaster of Travelers’ Repose — appears to know about it. Men living within a mile have never heard of it. Yet other men must be still living who assisted to lay these Southern soldiers where they are, and could identify some of the graves.

Is there a man, North or South, who would begrudge the expense of giving to these fallen brothers the tribute of green graves? One would rather not think so. True, there are several hundreds of such places still discoverable in the track of the great war. All the stronger is the dumb demand — the silent plea of these fallen brothers to what is “likest God within the soul.”

They were honest and courageous foemen, having little in common with the political madmen who persuaded them to their doom and the literary bearers of false witness in the aftertime.

They did not live through the period of honorable strife into the period of vilification — did not pass from the iron age to the brazen — from the era of the sword to that of the tongue and pen.

Among them is no member of the Southern Historical Society. Their valor was not the fury of the non-combatant; they have no voice in the thunder of the civilians and the shouting. Not by them are impaired the dignity and infinite pathos of the Lost Cause.

Give them, these blameless gentlemen, their rightful part in all the pomp that fills the circuit of the summer hills.

———

Bierce’s position that the Confederate dead should have been buried in the National Cemeteries was a minority view. As you probably know, the National Cemeteries did not accept Confederate dead. According to policy, the cemeteries were for Federal casualties, not the enemy.

In 1901, the 482 Confederates who managed to get buried at Arlington anyway were re-interred in a Confederate section.

In 1906, Congress okayed headstones for Confederate soldiers who died in a Union hospital or prison and were buried at that location. Prior to that, the graves were marked by the families, if at all.

The Civil War ended 150 years ago. It amazes me how much genuine animosity still lingers on both sides.

Bierce-1

The green graves of Grafton National Cemetery, West Virginia.

Bierce-2

Bierce in 1896.

 

Read Full Post »

In late 1967, I was still stationed at Cannon AFB, New Mexico, near Clovis, the “Cattle Capitol of the Southwest.” I was a 1st Lt. and Commander of the Supply Squadron, and I had moved off-base to an apartment in Clovis (where, incidentally, I met my future wife Deanna).

Here are some of my journal entries from those days. In them, you will meet:

Col. Frank Shepard, Base Commander
Col. George Doerr, Deputy Base Commander
Capt. John Thornton, Base Legal Officer and my roommate
Capt. Ted Mayo, Base Legal Officer

———

3 NOV 67

Well, I’m in trouble for sure. This morning, I testified in Airman Key’s administrative discharge hearing. Key is a bad apple, and Col. Shepard (the Rococo Toad) is hell-bent on kicking him out of the service. The pressure from the Toad to get it done has been intense. Ill-advised, if not illegal.

Thornton kept me on the stand for 45 minutes, and I said my piece. In the end, the board voted to retain Key in the Air Force. Shepard will go ballistic when he reads the transcript.

Originally, Mayo was appointed as Key’s counsel, but Key insisted on Thornton. Ted was livid. After the hearing, John being John, he sent a telegram to Ted in Ft. Worth, where he and Judy are attending a country club gala. The telegram read, KEY RETAINED STOP MAY HE COME TO THE BALL STOP

5 NOV 67

A few months ago, the City of Clovis installed a marble tablet of the 10 Commandments on the courthouse lawn. Yes, for real. Thornton and I went down there this afternoon to take photos.

And get this: the Clovis tablet has 11 (eleven!) Commandments. The line about not coveting thy neighbor’s house is presented as Commandment 10, and the rest of the shalt-not-covets are Commandment 11. You can’t make this stuff up.

I’m pretty sure the 10th Commandment is supposed to be something like this: “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, nor his wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbor’s.”

The Clovis version also skips the “nor his ox” part, and “nor his ass” was changed to “nor his cattle.”

Maybe the cattle part is appropriate. Clovis has stockyards as far as the eye can see and the nose can smell.

10 Cs

6 NOV 67

I got a call this morning from SSgt Hinkle, who came home early from a TDY assignment to find an airman from my squadron living with his wife. Hink wants to confront the airman in my presence. The villainous airman is on leave for a few days, so I have that to look forward to.

Mayo got John’s telegram Friday night in Ft. Worth. It arrived while they were searching for a pearl and diamond bracelet Judy lost. They didn’t find it. Poor Ted.

7 NOV 67

Thornton got permission from 12th AF to release a summarized transcript of Airman Key’s board hearing. Thank God. I was really worried about how Col. Toad would react to my testimony, honest and accurate though it was.

John said he did it to save his own skin, not mine. In his closing argument, he called Shepard two-faced and a dupe. Why, Shep would kick John off the bowling team for that.

8 NOV 67

Hinkle came to my office today and said he changed his mind, he doesn’t want a come-to-Jesus meeting with the cuckolding airman. He just wants the guy transferred as far away from Cannon as possible, ASAP. If not, he will call his congressman and every officer at Cannon from the rank of bird colonel on up.

When I informed Col. Shepard, he summoned me to his office, where he was waiting with Col. Doerr (Commissioner Gordon). Doerr is a decent guy, but nobody considers him a mental giant. He had little to contribute.

Shepard finally decided it would be best to get the offending airman reassigned. He left to go talk to Personnel about it.

9 NOV 67

The Squadron Fire Marshals met today at 1400 hours. I had to meet with Col. Shepard and Hinkle at 1500, so at 1445, I got up and quietly excused myself.

Col. Stitt, always a favorite among the junior officers, said, “Where do you think you’re going?” I explained where. “Sit down, Lieutenant,” he said. Sir yes sir.

The meeting ran until 1530 hours. When I got to the Toad’s office, he chewed me out for being late. I apologized for being such a slug.

Col. Shepard told Sgt. Hinkle that the Casanova airman will get a fast assignment to somewhere else. Personnel is already working on it.

He then gave Hinkle a lecture on how to keep your family together. Ha. Last spring, the Toad’s wife threw him out for two weeks for some mysterious transgression. To our collective chagrin, we never found out what it was.

10 NOV 67

When I got back from lunch, Capt. Bryan from Civil Engineering was waiting in my office. Some major told him that the CE barracks is a disgrace and Bryan’s men are filthy pigs, which is true. The major said Bryan could learn something from Supply Squadron.

That was flattering. I wanted to ask which major it was, but Bryan wasn’t in a happy place, so I refrained.

In spite of being angry and insulted, Bryan was curious. And there he was, asking to see my barracks. I gave him the pass keys and sent him down the hall with a pat on the rump.

13 NOV 67

This morning, MSgt Smith popped in and said he couldn’t find the pass keys. Did I have them? Crap. That moron Bryan didn’t return them.

Smith asked what we should do. I said either pick up the phone and call Bryan or go over to CE and find him, your choice.

I’m amazed that Smith got to be a first sergeant. He always needs help or permission.

I’m beginning to think the Air Force is a haven for incompetents and loafers who can’t make it in the civilian world. Maybe the entire military is that way. I try to maintain my sense of humor about it. You could go mad if you let the daily nonsense and stupidity and petty dramas wear you down.

Now if I can just laugh my way through the next 264 days, I’ll have my DD 214.

DD 214

———

The Rocky Smith of those days honestly believed, I can attest, that the Air Force was a sanctuary for incompetents and loafers incapable of handling civilian life. To him, the evidence was clear.

On the other hand, he was still a young lieutenant, not long out of college, whose work experience was, in fact, limited to the Air Force. Not until he left the military and widened his experience would he learn the truth: all workplaces are the same, whether military, government, academic, privately-held, or whatever.

In reality, the world of Dilbert is the universal norm. Only the people change. And you might as well laugh as cry.

 

Read Full Post »

When I got my Bachelor’s degree in 1964, I wanted to follow up with a Master’s in Journalism and Law. But there was a complication. I took ROTC as an undergraduate, and at some point, the Air Force would call me up to serve four years on active duty.

In reality, months could pass, even a year or more, before your orders arrived. Starting grad school in the meantime was not unreasonable.

But it didn’t happen. My orders arrived immediately. I graduated in early June and became 2nd Lt. Smith by the end of July. Indeed, life is like a box of chocolates.

My assignment was to Cannon AFB in eastern New Mexico. I lived in the Bachelor Officers Quarters and worked as an Administrative Officer, a deputy to one of the squadron commanders. Later, when the C.O. went to Vietnam, I moved up to his job.

Being a Journalism major and predisposed to writing, I quickly fell into the habit of keeping a journal about my life at Cannon.

Here are some entries from late 1965. All the names below are real except “Billy Joe Brown.” For him, a pseudonym seemed prudent.

———

3 DEC 65

The legal office called this morning and said to come running. They needed me on standby until we got a verdict in the court-martial of one of my airmen, Billy Joe Brown, alleged bad check artist, deserter, and car thief.

Billy Joe and I played double solitaire for an hour, and then the verdict arrived: a Bad Conduct Discharge, forfeiture of all pay, and six months confinement. I signed Billy Joe over to the APs and headed out to find some lunch.

6 DEC 65

Groan. 1st Lt. Jelley from Operations Support called. He said he had reason to believe that one of my men, A1C Wika, had stolen two parachutes while on the night shift and may have hidden them in his room in the barracks.

“You’re kidding,” I said. Jelley said no, he wasn’t kidding. With a sigh, I went up to Wika’s room and woke him up. I said, “Do you know your rights under Article 31 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice?” Nope.

I couldn’t ask questions until he acknowledged his rights, so I went back down to my office, got a copy of Article 31, and read it to him. He said he understood.

So I said, “Wika, don’t laugh, but did you swipe two parachutes while you were working last night, and if so, are they hidden in this room?” The room is barely large enough for me, Wika, and the bed.

“Yeah, Lieutenant,” he snorted. “I stuffed them in the pillowcase.”

7 DEC 65

I got to my office this morning to find 2nd Lt. Harkrider and MSgt Childress from Base Fuels waiting for me. Harkrider, who looks about 14, is trying to grow a mustache. It’s sort of a wispy blond thing. He said someone stole a parka, and he needed my advice on how to open an investigation.

That’s easy, I said. You don’t open an investigation. You call the Air Police, stand back, and watch them open it. Childress, who is twice as big as Harkrider and twice his age, never spoke.

8 DEC 65

MSgt Stricklan is a crackerjack first sergeant. I’m lucky to have him. Everyone at Cannon respects him, from the top brass to the latrine orderlies.

Strick and I have an unofficial arrangement: I don’t do anything without his tacit approval. That way, the squadron runs smoothly, and I get credit for having the sense to listen to my first sergeant. Mama didn’t raise no fool.

Usually, Strick is stoic and cool-headed, but this week he nearly blew a fuse. It happened during the barracks inspection when he discovered that Airman Lloyd hadn’t changed the sheets on his bed for about a year.

Apparently, Lloyd was out boozing the night before and was still sawing logs when Strick reached his room. Lloyd usually has the bed made and the room ready for inspection, but this time, he was sprawled out on the bed zonked, and the linens were exposed for all to see.

Something about it hit a nerve with Strick. He was appalled. Indignant. He said the sheets were brown, Lieutenant! Literally brown! He reamed Lloyd out and told him to (1) change the bed, (2) prepare for a re-inspection, and then (3) report to my office.

An hour later, a half-hung-over Lloyd knocked on my office door. He admitted he hadn’t changed the sheets since he arrived at Cannon this time last year, but he didn’t see what the big deal was. It was easier just to make the bed and be done with it.

I patiently made a hygiene case. Lloyd wasn’t impressed. No matter, I told him. I suspect you’re about to be put on a laundry schedule that will be personally monitored by the First Sergeant.

10 DEC 65

Maj. Colvard from Operations Support called. He wanted to know if I had reported the theft of the two parachutes to the APs. I said no, they aren’t my parachutes.

Maybe not, he said, but Col. Shepard wants you to handle it. And while you’re at it, report the loss of six aircraft tires. I have the paperwork. Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.

———

In my next post, some journal entries from 1967.

Stricklan & Smith

MSgt Stricklan and 2nd Lt. Smith in the Orderly Room, December 1965. Note the many decorations Lt. Smith had earned at that stage of his military career.

 

Read Full Post »

wwjd

dogs-out

caution

purr-more

 

Read Full Post »

I was there. I threw some of the snowballs. I know what happened.

Hold that thought for a moment.

As I’ve documented here a few times, I grew up a military brat, the son of an Air Force officer. From birth to college, I was uprooted every couple of years to move somewhere else.

So it was, that, just before I entered 10th grade, Dad was assigned as the Air Force Liaison Officer to 7th Army headquarters, and we moved to Stuttgart, Germany.

It was there, on a wintry Saturday night, that I threw the aforementioned snowballs. Specifically, at a passing car.

Winters at Patch Barracks, the Army post where we lived, were harsh. Lots of snow, lots of plowing, lots of ammunition for snowball fights. It was a common activity among us kids.

Early on, we learned to assess each snowfall by the type of snow it produced. We understood that wet snow is better than dry snow because the snowballs pack more easily and are heavier.

I mention this because, on the Saturday in question, the snow on the ground was a dry snow. The snowballs we made that day were so lightweight and ineffective that your opponents hardly bothered to duck.

Why a friend and I were still outside after dark throwing snowballs at cars, I don’t remember. We had spent most of Saturday at play around the post, and, for whatever reason, the fun continued into the evening.

The two of us crouched behind a row of hedges near the entrance to the family housing for officers. When a car drove by, we let fly with a few snowballs. They would skip off the roof, or plow into a side or rear window, always exploding harmlessly into powder.

I should mention that we never snowballed a car unless it had American license plates. This was the late 1950s, only a decade after the end of World War II. In those days, it would have been imprudent to assail a passing German.

Sometimes, the driver would tap the brakes or the horn, but no one stopped. Clearly, it was just harmless fun by some silly kids.

We, meanwhile, had ducked back behind the hedges to have a good laugh and make more snowballs.

But, eventually, as fate would have it, our luck ran out.

This time, when we pelted the passing sedan with a volley of snowballs, the driver braked suddenly and stopped. The door flew open. A man emerged in a huff.

“Hey, you kids!” he yelled angrily, “You broke my window!”

He stood behind the vehicle, pointing to the rear window. “Look what you did! I heard it crack!”

My friend and I looked at each other. Those snowballs weren’t capable of breaking glass.

Moreover, as the car had passed from left to right, the snowballs struck the side of the car, not the rear. That, I knew with certainty.

This guy was lying. He was trying to dupe a couple of kids into paying for a window that was broken under other circumstances.

And the scheme was working. We were nailed and defenseless, and we knew it.

Meekly, my friend and I came out from behind the hedge. We stood there under the streetlight as the man, a Sergeant First Class of about 40, fumed dramatically about the situation. Then he instructed us to fetch a parent.

I went back to our apartment and found Dad. On the way back to the scene of the alleged crime, I managed to lay out the true facts. Dad told me to keep quiet and let him handle things.

Dad listened in silence to the sergeant’s account of the incident. He didn’t defend us or offer an apology. He presented his contact information and told the man to send him the bill.

On the way back to the apartment, Dad told me he knew the sergeant by reputation. He said the scam the guy pulled was not surprising.

The subject of throwing snowballs at cars did not come up.

Some weeks later, I asked Dad if he had received a repair bill from the sergeant. He had, indeed, and the bill was paid.

“But,” he added with a sly smile, “I got even with him.”

At that, I came out of my chair. This was huge. I was desperate to hear the details.

But, in spite of my best pleading and whining, Dad would not explain.

“Son,” he said, “I’d rather not say. We’ll just let it be my secret.”

Once or twice in later years, I mentioned the incident and tried to get Dad, finally, to come clean.

He never did.

snowball

 

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »