Sergeant Powell came by my printing department at Travis Air Force Base, California, early one morning and asked me to take a coffee break with him. I knew him for years, and we played sports together.
When we got to the coffee shop, he said he had orders for Vietnam and, with tears in his eyes, he told me he did not want to go. It hurt me to see this big guy with tears in his eyes. He had finished his process to leave the base and had come by to tell me goodbye.
Being in charge of the printing department of one of the largest air bases in the world, a lot of military and civilians owed me a lot of favors. I thought I might be able to help him. I did not tell him that. I did not want him to get his hopes up. I asked him to come back at lunchtime and we would go to the mess hall and eat.
I had been in our squadron longer than any other military person, and I knew most everyone on base. I went to our personnel office to see the officer in charge, Colonel Wilson, an old Kentucky man that I had known for years. We had pitched many games of horseshoes together. I asked him if we could do something for Sergeant Powell, and told him that Sergeant Powell would be leaving in a couple of days.
Colonel Wilson asked me if he could change Powell’s assignment, would I take him in my print shop and retrain him. I told him I would.
He then got on the phone to our main personnel office at Randolph Air Field, Texas, talked to his friend there, and got Sergeant Powell assigned to me. In about half an hour, we had got Sergeant Powell assigned back to Travis, and he was put “on the job training” in the base printing department.
I went back to my shop, but told no one. Powell came back at noon and we went to lunch. I waited until we ate, and on the way back to my shop I told him to take a couple of days off and report back to me, that his orders to Vietnam were cancelled and he would be working in the printing department.
Tears came into his eyes again, and he gave me a bear hug that almost squeezed the life out of me. I never saw anyone so happy. He showed up for work the next morning.
Sergeant Powell became great friends with my wife Estelle and her southern cooking. He would call my quarters on base and ask my wife when she was cooking pinto beans, cornbread and fried ‘taters for supper, and she would tell him what day he could come over. That boy could eat.
He became a very good printer, married his girlfriend Ruth, and made the Air Force his career. When they had their first child, my wife babysat for them while Ruth kept her job working in our squadron.