My first overseas assignment was Hickam Field, Hawaii. The cost of living was very high, but I would get overseas pay as Hawaii would not become a state until 1957. I would be in charge of the base’s printing department. What I did not know was the commander of Headquarters Pacific Air Force, a rear admiral, had my records in front of him.
He liked what he read about me, and told his men that he wanted me. A major showed up where I was processing into the base, and asked me to come with him.
I was taken to the largest building on base where I met Admiral Williamson. I was told by his aide that his headquarters of 750 personnel, one third of them Navy, and all planes were in command of all the Pacific. I was to be in charge of their printing. I would be “key personnel” and have quarters on base for my family. I liked that.
I met my printers and a couple of them had ink all over them. The shop was a mess and I knew I had my work cut out for me. One young man stood out from the rest. He did not have ink all over him. In the next five years, both in Hawaii and when our headquarters moved stateside at Travis Air Force Base, Calif., this young man and I became great friends.
After his father died he started drinking. I could smell it when he came to work. My other printers were upset with him when he messed up a job and had to redo the work. I talked to him many times. I would cover for him during this time. It was wartime in Viet Nam and I could not have him in our shop with all the secret work we had.
The last straw was when his new wife came to me. She said that she was leaving, going back to Mississippi with their young son because of his drinking. I put her on a train and sent her home.
I talked to my boss and the legal office. We discharged the young man, who was like a brother to me at one time
Two years later I got a letter from his mother telling me that she went out to the little produce stand they ran on their farm to take him lunch, and found him dead.
It took a very long time for me to get over all of this.
Contributing writer Everett Vanover lives in Fairfield, Calif.