Getting out of basic training is like getting out of jail. My friend David and I discussed this on the train. He was going to radar mechanic school. We wondered, “Is it going to be like this all four years in the USAF?”
On my 18th birthday, I was on a train going to Rantoul, Ill. — Chanute AFB. Several of us got on an Air Force bus and went to the base. The gate guard checked our ID cards. We were back in the U.S. Air Force again.
In the transient barracks, some men warned us to get up real early and disappear, because some cooks always came and picked some men for KP. I did this for two days, then overslept and spent the day in the kitchen for 10 hours. After that, I got up early, walked off the base, had breakfast at a small restaurant, and stayed gone until about 9 a.m.
I got up early one morning and left. When I got back, someone had stolen my raincoat. I had to pay $10 for another one.
I was assigned to the 3353rd Training Squadron. I was assigned to “A” shift — from 6 a.m. to noon. We marched to breakfast, then walked back from school at noon. After an hour or two of study, we were free for the rest of the day.
I liked my jet engine mechanic classes. We were training on the engine used on the B-47 bomber. I made good grades. We had bed check at 11 p.m. We had daily inspections of the barracks, and if we got a “gig”, we had to march on Saturdays.
From that day to the last day of our training, at the end of the day that man was the first one in the shower.
We had “mail call” every day except Sunday. They called out a name, then threw the mail in the general direction of your voice, “Here, sir!” Mom sent me my camera. It was thrown and hit a guy in the eye, sending him to the hospital. Later, she sent me a package of homemade fudge. I opened it, got one piece, then everyone grabbed a piece and it was all gone in five seconds.
We graduated, had a parade, and got our orders. Thirty of us were going to jet engine mechanics school, and thirty more to medics school. None of us got the job we wanted and were promised.
I went to the orderly room to get the pocketknife they had taken away from me the first day. I had a big argument with the clerk, who said he didn’t have any knife in the footlocker. The commander came out, and I showed him my knife with my name and number on it, and he gave it to me.
Basic training was over. They had taken 60 boys and turned them into 60 men in 11 weeks. We got our first stripe. I met my friend David again at the train station. We rode to Columbus, Ohio, then hitchhiked home and stayed for 10 days.
I had gained 17 pounds. They had to refit all my uniforms. One of our men lost 110 pounds in 11 weeks.
We lined up alphabetically to get paid. The line stretched for a mile. There were 20,000 students on the base. Again, there were the charity tables, and if you didn’t donate a dollar, you had KP the next weekend.
One of our men was always try to get a discharge. One day, he went to a bakery and bought some doughnuts. Then he bought a hammer and nails. He went around the barracks, driving in a nail every six feet, and hung a doughnut on each nail. He went to the orderly room and invited the squadron commander to his party. An ambulance was called, and he winked at me when they loaded him into it. He came back in two days with a general discharge in his hand, with 100 percent disability.
I met a man from Pikeville and he was driving home the next weekend. For $10 I could ride with him. I went home, stayed three hours, then hitchhiked back. I got back a half an hour before bed check. I decided not to do that again.