Tales from my Father pt2

Tales from my Father pt2

Shortly after my father married, he was scheduled for a transfer. Another airman from the same unit was slated to transfer at the same time. As such things go, the Air Force allowed them to state their top three choices in order of preference.

This other airman wanted to serve at McChord AFB near Tacoma WA. So he put that choice right at the top.

My Dad strategized his selections based upon his knowledge of how such things usually worked in the military. He too wanted to go to McChord, but he put in for Larson AFB as his first choice instead. When the postings came through, my Dad was pleased to see that his new posting would be to McChord. His airman friend landed at Larson. (Confirming once again his understanding of how the government worked.)

At the time my Dad moved to McChord, the ACW unit had their own separate quarters on the base. As in his time at San Antonio for basic, supply problems were still rife. The airbase had a shortage problem, not enough blankets to go around, but unlike San Antonio there was plenty of food.

The nearby army base Fort Lewis had exactly the opposite problem – a shortage of food, and too many blankets. Such complementary problems created many opportunities for horse trading a la Sgt. Bilko. The ACW unit soon had plenty of blankets to go around.

The ACW kitchen at McChord was located right on the flight line. So all day long they could hear the F-86 Sabre jets roar in and out. The facility was principally for the personnel manning the radar, but it became a favorite spot for the base pilots to drop in for a meal. This kitchen was the only one open 24 hours a day and hence was more handy than the pilots’ own.

The ACW cooks always kept very good care of the pilots, giving them anything that they wanted, even items not on the menu for the day. The pilots in return would regale them with stories about their recent patrol of the Pacific coastline.

The pilots created quite a buzz around the kitchen when they came back from flights in which they had chased some slow moving lights off to the west. They would be closing in and then try to overtake these objects on afterburners, and these lights just as quickly warped away from them. Such actions left the pilots with the distinct impression that they were being toyed with.

This was the time of many UFO sightings, and a few years after the famous snapshot of the objects over Mount Rainier.

There was never any indication that the pilots were fabricating a tall tale. The cooks had the sense that the pilots were dead serious, and weren’t relaying anything other than what they had seen.

Tales from my Father Pt 1

Tales from My Father Pt 1

When my Father enlisted in the US Air Force in 1951, he reported to basic training at Lackland AFB in San Antonio TX. It was a rough time. The Korean conflict had just broken on the scene and over 100,000 men were crammed into a camp meant for 20,000.

Their uniforms were all WW2 issue – Army Air Corps khaki. The new blue uniforms for the recently separated service arm were not yet available.

In addition food was scarce and the men were always hungry. So after basic Dad was not unhappy to be assigned to the cooking school. All those similarly appointed made their way to Fort Devens in Massachusetts. There all the hungry enlisted men who had suffered through basic in San Antone were pleasantly surprised to see a mess hall flowing with “milk and honey.” Six weeks of training in their specialty ensued.

His first orders were for Larson AFB in Moses Lake WA which he reached via Payne Field, north of Seattle.  Dad in his capacity as cook was assigned to an AC&W squadron (Aircraft Control & Warning). These were special radar units were a part of the Air Defense Command (ADC), set up to give early warning about the approach of enemy airplanes. These Washington State sites were tasked to be on the lookout for Bearcat Bombers expected to be coming over the pole from Russia (the USSR). A squadron each was placed at a series of a half dozen bases that ringed the atomic facilities at the Hanford nuclear reserve in the tri-cities area of the state.

Other ACW squadrons were mobilized for service in Korea to do the same function at the air bases there.

From Larson he was seconded to another base, but only spent one day there. He was told that someone had read his orders wrong and that he should have been sent to Colville WA instead. They turned him around, however, and sent him back to Larson, as the new base outside of Colville was still under construction.

Having time on his hands and being curious, my Dad got a hold of some maps and checked out where the town of Colville was located.

When the orders came through for the squadron to proceed to Colville. The Master Sargeant asked the men assembled if anyone knew where Colville was. Dad spoke right up and said he knew the way, the fruit of satisfying his curiosity earlier.  So the Master Sergeant had the PFC join him in the lead car of the convoy as they headed for their new duty station.

They arrived in Colville hungry and pulled up in a line on Main Street. Having scoped out a place to eat, Dad again volunteered, this time to guard the cars and trucks. A lot of locals and looky loos stared in wonder as they passed the parked convoy, pondering what had come to their fair community. (There was very little in the local press about what the military was doing up on the mountain. Their equipment and mission was top secret).

They took the Tiger Road out of town, and over Squaw Creek up to the mountain where the base, at least as far as personnel goes, was ready. The radar installation had not yet been completed, but it would be soon.

Knowing that Colville would be the only place nearby to meet girls, my Dad came up with the following stratagem his first furlough there. Walking down the street he ran into some children, he opened his ploy by asking one of the boys if he had any big sisters at home. When the answer came back in the negative, he switched gears. Did he have a babysitter. Yes, he indeed did have one, and he led my father straight to the house where she lived.

My Mom answered his knock at the door. This being a small town out west in the early 50’s, if a man in uniform appeared on your doorstep, hospitality required that you invite him in. So she did.

She was home from school that day, looking after her younger siblings. Their mother had just passed away the week before. She entertained the young airman by playing the latest 45s on her record player. So the music of Eddy Arnold, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Patti Page and Bing Crosby’s version of Harbor Lights formed the sound track for their courtship.

They were joined in wedlock six months later. And for the shivaree (a quaint custom that takes various forms along the frontier in the US) he was made to push his new bride down Main Street in a wheel barrow.