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USAF — A great way of life


After a wonderful 20 days on leave in Blackey, I caught a bus for New York. I stayed in Washington, D.C. two days, going through the National Museum and the Smithsonian Institute again.

When the base closed, they gave us the Outstanding Unit Award, a ribbon to wear on our uniform. In the Washington bus station, there was an office with two MPs. They made me take off the ribbon, saying it was not authorized. I put it back on when I left there.

In New York City, I had a few hours’ layover. I asked a barber where the Empire State Building was, and he took me outside and pointed to it. He said, “I wouldn’t recommend that you go there. With that uniform, these people will know you’re out of town, and you’ll be mugged before you get there.”

I went to sleep on the bus. I woke up with my head on the shoulder of a large Black woman. I raised up, and she said, “That’s all right, honey. You just lay back down. I got two boys in the Army myself.” The next time I awoke, a young woman had her head on my lap, and my head was laying on her hip.

Plattsburgh AFB was a sprawling base in northeast New York, just a few miles from Canada. It had KC-97 tankers and B-47 bombers. I was assigned to the 380th Field Maintenance Squadron. We had about 40 men in the jet engine repair shop.

My toolbox was shipped from McGhee-Tyson AFB. While I was processing in, the supply clerk said, “Since that base closed, we’ll have to issue you another toolbox.”

I was assigned to teach the new men about the engine used on the B-47. I got my third stripe a month later. My pay went up to $158 a month.

Them I was assigned to inspect all the engines before they were reinstalled or put into storage.

The base was having an open house and was giving away a car. A fellow worker was from Ottawa, Canada and talked the commander into let him and me go there and sell tickets at the American embassy. We spent four days in Ottawa, and we sold a few tickets.

My roommate was Bill Stecher from Brooklyn, N.Y. He was my assistant in the shop. It was the beginning of a seven-year friendship. We went with some men for a beer, and someone suggested we go to Montreal, Canada and check out some bars there.

On the way home, we ran into some ice, turned around a few times, then rolled over twice. I was thrown out, and the driver landed on my back. I was in the hospital for a week with a wrenched back. Bill had a concussion.

Later, Bill and I rented a boat and went fishing on Lake Champlain. We were out of sight of land when the engine quit. Then a thunderstorm came up. The waves were coming into the boat. We threw out the minnows and used the bucket to bail the boat. Finally, another boat came by, and I pulled off my shirt and waved it. They towed us to the dock and saved our lives.

In 1958, there was a crisis in Lebanon. The Strategic Air Command went on alert. All the bombers were loaded with atomic bombs. Then the Marines landed, and things went back to normal in a few days.

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