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President Nixon’s visit to China

In 1972, I was a noncommissioned officer stationed on the island of Guam in the middle of the Pacific Ocean at Andersen Air Force Base.

My job was “Officer of the Day”. Anything that went wrong on the base, any information you need, call me and I can get someone to fix it or give you the information you need or take care of any problem.

About Feb. 14 of that year, the base commander, Colonel Dwayne Kelly, came to my office and sat down in the chair in front of my desk.

“Sgt. Cornett,” he said, “ The President is going to China next week, and he’s going to stop and stay all night here on the base, along with all his entourage. I want you to set up and man a command post to take care of all his staff as they come through.

“I want you to arrange housing, transportation, food, and anything else within reason that they need while they are here. I don’t know yet exactly where the President will stay, but it will probably be in my house.

“ You have my blanket permission to use all the base facilities for their visit, but remember this: Don’t call me unless someone is threatening to kill me or the President.

“ Take them anywhere on the base they want to go, and under no circumstances do you take them off the base. They will stay in the rooms we provide for them or they will sleep on the bus. There will be no exceptions to this rule.”

He laughed, and I told him what I would need. I needed an officer to take the day shift, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and I would take the night shift, 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.

He appointed a major for this job, and he came to my office and we started making plans.

We set up a room in one of the visiting officer’s quarters for a command post. It had two single beds, and we had two phones installed.

We arranged for the chow hall to bring us our meals while we were on duty. We had the motor pool arrange for drivers for a bus and five staff cars, and they were to be ready to take them anywhere on the base they needed to go.

We arranged for a bus and driver to transport them to the chow hall during meal times, and to and from the air terminal when needed.

All the drivers were briefed and told what the base commander had ordered, “No off-base travel.”

A couple of days later, a plane full of the White House staff landed just after dark. I sent the bus to pick them up and when they arrived, assigned them to their rooms.

Then the trouble started. The rooms weren’t good enough for them. Some of them wanted me to give them a ‘non-availability slip’ so they could go off the base to a motel.

When I refused, they asked me who my boss was, and they wanted the phone number of the base commander.

When I refused to tell them his number, I was chewed out royally.

After transporting several of them to the Officer’s Club and NCO Club and picking them up later when the club officials called and said to come and take these drunks home, things settled down for awhile.

One man came in to the command post and handed me his shoes. He said, “Here, shine these for me.”

I told him to go shine his own shoes; that’s not my job. He said, “Aren’t you here to take care of our needs?”

I told him I was, and told him I would take care of anything they needed within reason, but I was not his slave. He gave me the finger.

The White House staff left early the next morning. Some had to be carried to the bus. During the day shift, the major said there were no problems.

I came in for my night shift. I was there about an hour when I was notified that a plane was coming in with the Secret Service men on it. I sent the bus to the air terminal.

Some of them wanted their own cars to drive, and I told them they couldn’t have one. Some more of them wanted to go straight to the Officer’s Club. They didn’t appreciate it when I told them they had to check in and get rooms assigned first .

Once again, the rooms weren’t good enough. I told two of them who were ranting and raving to go find their own rooms, but I couldn’t furnish them transportation to go off of the base. They asked about taxi service and I told them there wasn’t any on the island. They then asked, “Is there no way we can go to a hotel?”

I told them, “Yes sir, there is. Walk off the base if the security policemen at the base gate will let you, and stick your thumb out. Good luck to you.” They didn’t like it, but I gave them the worst rooms I had.

Why was everyone coming and going during the night? The major who was supposed to be helping me had it made. Nothing happened on his shift. Every group that came through was worse than the last one.

Those who called themselves the Presidential Guards came in about midnight the next night. The same thing, arguments about the rooms; take us to the Officer’s Club (it was closed); let us get a room off-base; what’s your commander’s name and phone number? What’s your full name and serial number, Sergeant? (I gave them a fake one.)

They were tired from flying so long, and only had four hours to sleep before taking off again, so they soon settled down . . . all except the poker game going on in the day room. They had pulled out the tie-downs for the legs of the pool tables, and pushed the tables over against the wall.

The couches and chairs were piled on top of the table. They were having a great time, yelling and giving orders, until I called the security police to come over and threaten them with jail if they didn’t quiet down.

The next day, the major had to call in a carpentry crew to put the pool tables back in place, replace four broken windows and get the room straightened back up. Empty whisky bottles were scattered all over the room, and some had been thrown through the windows.

He put it in his report, and I sent a courier to the base commander’s house with our reports as to what has happened so far. He called me that night and said I was doing a good job . . . keep it up and don’t call.

That night, a captain came to the command post. He had a foreign officer with him, who got mad and yelled at me in his language when I didn’t stand up and salute him. The captain then told me that the officer was a general in the Army of Thailand. I told the captain, “How was I to know he was an officer? You should have told me first.”

He apologized to me and I stood up and saluted the general. He gave me a half-salute without even looking at me, and lit his pipe. The captain then said, “The general wants a room in the Officers’ Quarters.” I told him, “Every room here in this building is Officer’s Quarters.” I assigned him to a single room in the barracks.

The captain was a little nervous. He lowered his voice, “And the general wants to talk to the President when he comes through Guam.” I told him I’d see if I could arrange it, knowing full well that I couldn’t do that.

The captain fidgeted a little, then leaned over my desk. In almost a whisper he said, “And the general wants a woman for tonight.” I said, “Captain, I’m single; I’ve been on Guam for seven months, and I haven’t found a woman for myself yet. Tell the general to find his own woman.”

They left for the Officers Club and I never saw them again.

The next night was the worst. The CIA men came through. From the time their plane landed at 8 p.m., they started giving me problems.

“Give me a car to drive.” “Get out of my way.” “I’ll find my own room!” “Surely you don’t expect me to stay in a room like this!” “Take me to the best hotel on the island.” “ Take me to the Officer’s Club!”

The base exchange closed at 7 p.m. every day. A group of four CIA men came to the command post. “How come the BX is closed? Weren’t they notified to stay open until we could do some shopping there? We told the pilot on our plane to call ahead and reserve some BX time for us.”

“ Call the base commander and have him order that the BX be opened, and send some clerks. There are some things we need to buy before we go to China.”

When I told them, “No,” the crap hit the fan. From what they said, all my stripes were going to be gone, soon as they got back from China. And later, they got even.

About 2 a.m., two CIA men came to the command post. “We’ve got some classifi ed stuff to take to China, and we need someone to wrap it and stamp it top secret.”

I had to call out two men from the classified mail section of base headquarters. I personally drove the CIA men there because I knew those two men, and was curious as to what had to be wrapped and stamped at that time of the night. They put four boxes in the car.

We all arrived about the same time, and the door was unlocked. They went inside, looked around, then went out and carried the four boxes in.

In them were four cases of whisky! They ordered the men to wrap the boxes with special paper that cannot be x-rayed, and to stamp them top secret.

They put paper between the bottles so they wouldn’t rattle. They laughed about it. “Now the Chinese won’t confiscate our whisky!” Ha, ha, ha.

The two classified men didn’t think it was a bit funny, and they said they were going to make a report on it. I told them to go ahead, just send me a copy to add to my own report to the base commander.

Later that night, everything was quiet and I was asleep. The phone rang and I jumped up to answer it. I hit my little toe on the metal leg of the bed, breaking every bone in it. No one was on the phone. That toe grew back crooked, and I blame President Nixon for it. The doctor just taped it to the other toe, and it took six weeks to get well.

The base commander ordered that the base be cleaned up for the President’s visit. He might want to visit some of our offices, so they were cleaned from top to bottom and repainted where necessary. Gangs of men were working everywhere, cutting limbs from the coconut palms, picking up, putting up, painting up, etc.

We cleaned our rooms in the barracks. The base was spotless and ready for the Presidential visit.

On Feb. 20, 1972, Air Force One landed on the base. The base commander and other dignitaries were there to welcome him. I couldn’t go. I had to stay in the command post, because we were still trying to get the drunk CIA men woken up so they could catch their plane.

The commander of the Navy base on the other end of the island was there. President Nixon got in the admiral’s staff car and they drove off the base, through the capital city Agana, and on to the Navy base about 35 miles away, and he spent the night there with the admiral in his house.

The Governor of Guam gave a reception for the President that night at his mansion in Agana. Colonel Kelley wasn’t invited. The next morning, Nixon was driven back to Andersen Air Force Base.

The base commander was not notified he had arrived and he got on his plane, flew on to China and had his political visit.

Colonel Kelly was mad. He thanked me and the major for doing such a good job, and said he would keep our reports in his personal files just in case anything ever came up about the way we treated the visiting dignitaries so badly.

When my tour was up, I left Guam and went to Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton, Oh. After about a month, I was notified that I had been awarded the Air Force Commendation medal for my service in Guam.

I learned about five years later that Colonel Dwayne Kelley had died.

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