I hitchhiked home every other weekend, unless I had KP. I would leave at 4:30 p.m. and be home by 10 or 11 p.m. A few times I got stuck between Pineville and Harlan. If it was cold, I just built myself a fire there beside the road.
In April, 1956, they announced that the runways needed repair. Everyone on the base was going temporary duty (TDY) to Yuma AFB, Arizona, for 30 days. While there, our planes would practice firing rockets at moving targets.
Nineteen of us mechanics loaded our toolboxes and baggage onto a C-119 cargo plane. This was my first plane ride. I was thrilled as I stood beside a window looking down. On the way, one of the engines lost an oil cap. We were told to put on a parachute and get ready to jump out, that the plane couldn’t fly on one engine. We made it safely into Oklahoma City, got a new oil cap and took off again.
In Oklahoma they gave us some C-rations for lunch, packed in 1944. Going over the Rocky Mountains all of us got sick. As many as four at a time were using the garbage can.
At Yuma AFB, we were housed in tents pitched on a concrete slab, 12 men to a tent. It was hot, but bearable. On the flight line it was 120 degrees. There was a faint smell of cantaloupes in the air. Before going to bed we had to shake out our blankets to look for the scorpions. We never found any, but every morning we checked our shoes.
You couldn’t touch the aluminum skin of the aircraft without getting burned. We decided to work from 5 to 11 a.m., while everything was cooler. We never did much maintenance while there.
One man had driven his station wagon down there and invited some of us to go to Mexico with him. We drove across southern California to the town of Calexico. Across the border was Mexicali. We got some good buys. One man bought five baby green parrots for $10. It was illegal to bring them into the U.S. He put them in a shoebox under the back seat. The inspector at the border passed us through. After we got about 50 feet inside America, the parrots started squawking. We were lucky. (He later sold them for $100 each.)
When it was time to go home, we had a squadron party. Two of our pilots got drunk and stole a C-45 plane. They flew it to California, but crashed in the desert on the way back. When we got back they were sent to Japan.
Our 30 days were up. All our planes left. The planes scheduled to come pick us up didn’t show up. We would go to every cargo plane that landed and ask, “Where are you going from here?”
We finally found a C-47 going to New England, and bummed a ride to Tennessee. There were 20 of us on the plane. We took off at midnight, and landed for breakfast at Sheppard AFB, Texas. Later that evening, we landed back home. We had been gone 35 days. My first two plane rides were a lot of fun. I had been to three states I had never seen before.