I just read about the young airman who left his base in Germany and went AWOL to Sweden, and later was called a deserter for 28 years.
He never once got in touch with his parents in Pennsylvania, and not even his wife or his three children were aware of his real identity.
I know all about AWOLs. My first six months in the military, having never been away from home, I was so homesick.
I was a day late getting back to my base from a three-day pass to Jenkins. I had been training to become a radio operator on a B-17 Bomber and was given seven days of K.P. 16 hours a day for the one day AWOL.
After I became a printer, three men from my print shop went AWOL. Word came down from the Pentagon that all discharges were canceled because of the war in Korea in June 1950. I was due to get out in six months, and was also extended for a year.
During my 24-year printing career I worked along side of the OSI (Office of Special Investigation), printing classified information on airmen who went AWOL. It was something like ‘Wanted Posters’ for the old West.
If we were overseas, the information went out to the whole world.
Most airmen turned themselves in.
During the Korean War, I was given extra duty to go to Mitchell Field, N.Y., to pick up a young airman who went AWOL after his flight leader would not give him a three-day pass to go to Pikeville to talk to his girlfriend after she had written him a ‘Dear John’ letter.
The kid was 18 years old and had been taking basic training at Sampson Air Base, N.Y. I was only a couple of years older than he.
I picked him up at the guardhouse, and after we boarded the train to take us back to base, I took the handcuffs off.
After talking to him during the two-hour trip I felt so sorry for him and decided to help this young airman.
I was NCOIC (noncommissioned officer in charge) of base printing and knew a lot of high-ranking military people. When we got back to our base, I asked to talk to the Air Police commander so see if he would go easy on the kid who had been AWOL for two days.
The commander let the young airman rejoin his flight to finish his basic training, and kept in touch with the young man.
At the end of his training I got him the career field that he had wanted in jet engines.
His family came up from Pike County to visit him and took my family and me out for dinner. They were so grateful for what I had done for their son.
The young airman made a career out of the Air Force and we kept in touch with each other until I retired and lost his address.
Contributing writer Everett Vanover lives in Fairfield, Calif.