In mid-February, 1956, we got our orders. Most of us got bases close to home. I was to be stationed at McGhee-Tyson AFB, Maryville, Tenn. That was 170 driving miles from home. I didn’t know they had a bomber base there. I got a 10-day leave before reporting for my new duty.
Technical school was over. I was now a certified jet engine mechanic on the B-47 bomber. Things got easier on the base. No more bed checks except Sunday night. No more marching. No more off-base passes. Less worry; less anxiety; no more wondering what was going to happen next. The Air Force was getting better.
I found a man going to Virginia, and paid him $10 to ride with him to Hazard. Arriving at Winchester, the road was solid ice. We drove to London and headed toward Manchester. More ice. Temperature was 20 degrees. A slick spot sent us off the road and into a ditch at midnight. No traffic. We rolled up in our raincoats and spent the night. A coal truck pulled us out the next morning.
My friend David had already made it home. He was going to be a radar technician on a mountaintop at Oak Ridge, Tenn.
In late February I hitchhiked to Knoxville. I was assigned to the 354th Fighter Interceptor Squadron. No bombers, only fighters on this base. Our job was to protect the TVA dams and the Oak Ridge Atomic Plant from enemy attack.
Two weeks later I tried to pet the squadron mascot, a grown raccoon. He bit all the way through my thumb. He and I were restricted to the base for two weeks.
I stayed in the barracks, and made some extra money by pulling KP on the weekend for $10. In 1956 that was a lot of money.
I pulled a funeral detail. The dead airman’s sister beat me on the face and chest and yelled, ‘Why wasn’t it you!!”
The Red Cross had a blood drive. Donate over time a gallon of blood, and any member of your family can have blood when they need it — free. I donated. Later, my mother needed blood, and the hospital would not recognize the Blood Doner Card the Red Cross gave me. I’ve never given them a penny since.
On the first of April, 1956, I got my second stripe. My pay went up to $105 a month. The government decided to start taking out money from our pay for Social Security.
I loaned a guy a new set of Air Force blues to go to his sister’s wedding. He never came back.
I was the smallest man in the shop. I had to crawl up into the intake of the aircraft (F-85D) and check for hydraulic leaks. I was in there one day when I heard the power unit start up. I felt and heard someone get into the cockpit. The hydraulic pump was right beside my ear. Someone was getting ready to start the engine. I don’t know how, but I turned completely around in that small space and crawled out and hit the runway head and elbows first. The shop chief said it was impossible for a man to do that, but another man saw me do it.
From that day on, if a man was inside the intake, another man had to be standing outside, for safety reasons.