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USAF — A great way of life


Brigadier General James Wilson came in one day and things changed on Plattsburgh AFB. The Air Force had a totem pole rating, and the base was at the bottom of the list. He straightened out the base.

He first dismissed his driver, and said he would drive his own staff car. If an airman was walking, he would pick him up and talk to him as he took him to work.

He told the men on KP to go their regular jobs, and hired civilian KPs. All the squadron commanders were switched around. The Director of Maintenance was fired because we had three B-47 crashes in one year.

He had finance and personnel on three eight-hour shifts. If you wanted out of the Air Force, you just told your supervisor, and you were sent to personnel for your discharge.

There were 15 men in the stockade. All of these were discharged and ushered off the base, and the stockade was bulldozed to the ground.

He was seen all over the base, at all hours. A short major sergeant followed him everywhere. At the parachute shop they found a man with 19 years in the Air Force with a bent back. They had been hiding him there until he had his 20 years in and could retire. The general talked to him awhile, then sent him to the base hospital. He was medically discharged.

On each front fender of his car was a blue flag with a white star. When you saw it coming you better salute it.

A man who worked for me didn’t come to work one Monday morning. About noon, he came in, his discharge in his hand. He had gone to the general’s home and was welcomed in. He ate breakfast with the general and his wife. He was sent to personnel and got his discharge.

A B-47 was scheduled to take off at 4:30. One engine had a bad drip valve. I was on the maintenance stand and the maintenance officer, a couple of pilots and others, were on the stand giving me orders on how to change it. It was going to have a late takeoff.

I felt a tug on my pants leg. It was the general. He asked, “Son, how long will it take you to get that engine started if I get everyone away from you?” I answered, “About 10 minutes, sir.”

The general made everyone get off the stand and marched them to the edge of the aircraft parking lot. The engine was started and they weren’t charged with a late takeoff.

Four railroad cars of different colors of paint were brought in. Each room in the barracks was issued two gallons. One man painted each concrete block in his room a different color.

They got bedspreads, curtains, new Hollywood beds, and wall hangings. Two men painted their room solid black with spiderwebs in each corner.

He made a lot of good changes on the base. All the officers were scared of him, but the enlisted men liked him.

With his leadership the base went from last place to number 3 on the SAC totem pole.

Brigadier General James A. Wilson later became the Inspector General of the Strategic Air Command and got two more stars. He died about 1972.

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