New world view from the Air Force

Published 10:00 pm Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The saying was “Join the Navy and see the world.” I tried, but after they asked me to take off my glasses, they declined. How I got into the Air Force is another story (actually more stories, but for another day). I suppose that being in any service is educational and broadening, from what other vets tell me.
One of the first things I learned after arrival in Texas and joining some 60 other guys to make up a “Flight” is that there are a lot of different people in our country. I had never been out of North and South Carolina, so I only knew about African Americans who lived among us. I worked and played with them, but did not go to school with them.
I also heard them called something that I came to realize was not a good thing because I was not allowed to call them that at home. Anyway, I soon learned that we had Hispanics, Italians, Poles, etc. among us, all called by short names new to me. I told one of them that I thought people from Poland were Poles, and he explained about the derogatory names given to people of other nationalities. Those names were used both to belittle and benignly in friendly banter, but I opted not to use them at all.
My education continued rapidly as I learned about religions and the lack of any. I did not know what a Catholic was, since I did not know of any. I also did not know that there are people who do not acknowledge my God as Creator of everything. One of those avowed atheists used to say that “Man created God in his own image,” infuriating some of my fellow Christians. That explained why the ol’ Sarges recommended that we not discuss religion or politics in the barracks!
In my effort to become one of the boys, I began to use their coarse language, including both profanity and new bedroom words in my speaking vocabulary. Of course, this had to be turned off when off the base. It did not go well when these words and phrases slipped out in polite company!
There were also many good things that came from my time in the Air Force. I met some great people who are still my friends. I went to live in places where I enjoyed more uplifting experiences. I spent weekends in St. Louis with a family related to one of my buddies. In their large Methodist Church I sang in the choir and learned the great music of the church, accompanied by the mighty pipe organ. I also got tickets for two seasons of the St. Louis Symphony, hearing all the great soloists of the 50s in live performances.
Most of the WWII “warbirds” we cherish today in air shows were still on active duty when I was. The B-25s were training pilots to fly instruments, C-47s were doing courier service everywhere and B-17s were personal rides for Generals. My Squadron Commander had a P-51 assigned to him and he would not let anyone else fly it.
I survived the Great Blizzard of 1949 in Wyoming, where snow drifted into my barracks and the water in the toilet bowls froze and broke them. The steady 60-mile-an-hour winds forced formations standing at attention to lean about 15 degrees into the wind. It also blew all the paper into the shrubs so that policing the area was easy. The squadron dogs would scare up jackrabbits nearly as big as they were, that would lead them on a merry chase across the parade ground.
In Texas again I worked in an office building with two dozen IBM machines housed in mandatory air conditioned space while the rest of us, including our General, toiled with all windows open to the 100-plus degree heat. All papers had to be under weights to keep them in place as the big oscillating fans sent an occasional breeze your way. But there I met and later married the love of my life, so there are indeed many benefits among the trials and tribulations of military service.

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