In October 1971, my last month in Germany was spent showing my replacement around, and getting my household goods and car ready for shipment back to the United States. I wanted my car to be stateside when my family and I got off our plane. My plans had always been to return to Travis Air Force Base, California, retire and go back to work at Syar Industries in Napa, California, at the print shop I set up for it nine years earlier.
I reported to our personnel office and was told I could have any assignment stateside that I wanted. I put in for Travis and would know in a few days. The next morning I got a call from personnel telling me a job had come in wanting a printing supervisor at the Pentagon as soon as possible and wanting to know if I would take it. I told them I wanted the assignment to Travis.
When I got back to my quarters that night, I made the mistake of telling my wife Estelle about the assignment to the Pentagon. She had two sisters and a brother living and working in the D.C. area. She had been away from her kin for years, and wanted me to take the Pentagon assignment. So against my better judgment, I took the Pentagon job, where only the best military personnel are assigned.
When we returned stateside, Estelle and our children stayed with one of her sisters while I went to Jenkins to visit my parents for the first time in three years, and to work on our second car that we had to leave stateside for the three years.
After a couple of weeks, I drove back to the D.C. area to check on my family. When I arrived at her sister’s house, I was told my wife and kids were at the new house she had bought a few days before, and were waiting for our household goods to arrive.
Buying a house was not in my plans. I had saved money and owed no one for the first time in our lives. Her sister said Estelle was at a store buying things for our new house. I was very upset, but I would not show it in front of my kids.
Estelle had made me a map showing how to get to our new house. It was in a small town called Dale City about 25 miles south of the Pentagon. When I got to the house, it was very nice and in a nice area. I wanted to make the best of all that had happened. I just gritted my teeth and said nothing.
The next day I drove to the Pentagon to sign in and to get a look at the place I would be working. When I turned off the ramp to get to the Pentagon, cars were backed up for about a mile. I got out of my car to join the people standing around talking, and found out the road was blocked by war protesters and we would have to wait until the police brought buses in to haul them away. I was told this happened every morning. I knew then that I was not going to like my new assignment.
After I signed in and got my photo ID badge, I was escorted to the third floor of the largest office building in the world where a guard checked my ID badge and opened the door to the Pentagon Message Center. I walked into the largest room I had ever seen in my life, with no windows.
I met the officer in charge, who told me I was the ranking enlisted noncommissioned officer, and that I would be in charge of this place. I was told to report back at 7 a.m. the next morning for a meeting they had every morning for all the shift leaders. They worked 24/7 and I would be on the morning shift. I would be in charge of over 100 enlisted men with four of them master sergeants because I had more time in grade than they did.
I was a fast learner, and within a week I knew most of the things I needed to know about my job. I never saw so much top secret material in my life. I had worked with top secret all the time I was a printer, but nothing like we had in the Pentagon.
The war in Vietnam was winding down, and after 18 months I put in for retirement. It took 90 days for the papers to go through. I sold my house, and made enough money to make a nice down payment on a house in California. I was so glad to leave the Pentagon. I went back to California, bought a house for my family, went back to work in my old job, and worked until I was 81 years old.
I’ve worked hard all my life, and I don’t like the retired life. I try to keep busy playing senior softball.
(The late Everett Vanover, a contributing writer for many years for The Mountain Eagle, was born in Jenkins and lived in California.)