In December 1956, the base scaled down operations for the holidays. One man from each shop had to be there because they had one plane flying each day, and they had to be there when the plane landed in case he had any trouble. The base was to be closed for 17 days. My day to work was December 27.
On December 26, I hitched rides from Blackey to the base. My former roommate was gone, so I stayed in his room that night. The next day, the plane took off at 2 p.m. and so did I. I hitchhiked back home. Unknown to me, the plane came in an hour later with the engine out of alignment, and they couldn’t find the engine mechanic — me. I came back to work January 2, and I was in bad trouble. I tried to say I was at the BX, but it was closed that day. For my punishment, I had to work for two weeks for the civil engineers, shoveling sand and gravel into dump trucks.
We were building a new sidewalk. Some more men were working nearby, planting grass. The second lieutenant in charge of us was giving us a bad time. When he left for a few minutes, I took a water hose and put cold water on that hot asphalt, making hairline cracks in it. Then I threw several handfuls of grass seed into the cracks. Two months later, that grassfilled sidewalk had to be dug up and a new concrete sidewalk put in.
The Air Police had a manpower problem. I was picked to serve with them as an auxiliary policeman for 30 days. It wasn’t hard work — just boring.
The base ammo dump was a few miles from the base. It had a three-shift, 24-hour guard on it. I pulled guard duty there once. The night before, the guard had shot at someone “trying to get over the fence.” I walked the fence line all night. All at once, it sounded like someone was trying to tear down the fence, right beside me. I turned around, jacked a round into my sawedoff 12-gauge shotgun, and started to let off the safety. The moon was out, and I came one second from shooting that cow scratching her back against the chain-link fence.
We lived in a small 35- foot trailer. We had a small kerosene stove for heat. They told us in school that jet fuel was made from highly refined kerosene. I found a gallon jug and took some home with me to try it in our heater. It would save us some money from fuel.
Before pouring it in, I decided I better first try it on something else. I poured about a half-pint onto a pile of brush. I threw a match into it, and it exploded into a large ball of flame in the brush and about 50 feet down the hill. If I had put it into our kerosene heater, it would have killed us both.
In August 1957, the base was expanding. The runway was going to be 1,000 feet longer. A new engine test cell was being constructed. A golf course was almost finished. A new base hospital was planned. On-base housing was being built. The base bought some land on a nearby lake and put in a recreation area for us. Six boats were bought. We were called into a formation on the flight line.
The base was closing, and all the 1,500 personnel would be reassigned. The base commander apologized to us. Things were about to get hectic at Mc- Ghee-Tyson.