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USAF — A great way of life


When I was graduated from Stuart Robinson School in May 1955, I decided I was going to go to Caney College. (Now called Alice Lloyd.)

I hitched a ride to the college and took the entrance exam. I passed everything except math. The lady said, “Go back to your high school and take one semester of algebra, and I’ll let you in. I hated algebra. I took it one day and was so confused I dropped it the next.

I came back to Blackey and ran into my friend David Estepp. He had joined the Navy, but said he would change and join the Air Force with me. We could see the world together.

On June 3, 1955 we were sworn in at Ashland. About 200 boys took the entrance exam. David made the highest score and I made second best.

The recruiter had told us that we could serve the whole four years together. (They separated us the second night, and I never saw him again for two months. He also told us we could both be pilots. Just go to the orderly room after your 60th day of training and tell them you want to go to pilot training.)

They put us on the train to Sampson Air Field Base, N.Y. We met other recruits there, who were just getting out of basic. They told us we wouldn’t like it.

Arriving at the base, we took more tests. It was almost midnight. We had lots of paperwork to sign. A boy from New York said, “I’m not signing anything until I read it first.” The big sergeant took him outside, and when he came back in, he signed everything.

We went to midnight chow, then to the barracks. We were told to have a good night’s rest, and that we could sleep eight hours.

“Clang — clang — clang” Someone was beating a broomstick on an empty artillery shell. It was four o’clock in the morning! We were told to be shaved and dressed and outside in 20 minutes. They gave us a Flight Number — 4375. Five minutes after we sat down to eat breakfast, our training instructor yelled, ”Flight 4376 — FALL OUT!” We crammed our mouths full and went outside.

The day was spent learning how to salute, march and make up our beds. Everyone got a haircut and they took all my pretty waves off. The barber asked, “Has anyone here had any college?” Two boys raised their hands. He said, “You two get a broom and sweep up all this hair.”

We were fitted for our uniforms. A two-striper spread his fingers around my waist and said “30”. I put my size 30 pants over my 32 waist and didn’t say a word. One boy talked back, and they made him stand with two bags of clothes and hold his hands outward, and “don’t let your arms drop of I’ll break both your arms.”

That night, we decided to get some sleep and go to bed early, but we were made to clean up the barracks until 11 p.m., then we slept for five hours. For the next three months, we never got more than five hours sleep every night.

We were issued two pair of one-piece fatigues. They only had three sizes — big, bigger, and biggest. I had to fold up the legs to my knees and sew them up. My shirt was the only thing that fit me OK.

I got tonsilitis and the doctor gave me a slip of paper that said, “24 hours bedrest.” I went back to the barracks and laid down in my bunk. The inspectors came through and told me I had to leave. I went over the hill, through the woods, to Lake Geneva. I laid down and slept a few hours.

When I woke up, I could hear someone crying. I sat up and about 25 feet from me, sitting on a rock, was a young airman crying his eyes out. I knew how he felt.

The Flight next door got into a racial fight. The next day, they were all gone. They sent all 60 of them to cooking school.

We were on the second floor. Half of us were from Kentucky and West Virginia, and the rest were from New York and New Jersey. One man from New York City was always picking up his footlocker and reaching under it. We got curious, and one day when he was in the bathroom we picked up his locker. Taped to the bottom was a needle and a small packet of powder. We never turned him in.

We got paid $50. There were several tables at the end of the pay line. Red Cross, Salvation Army, and one or two others. If you didn’t donate at least a dollar, your name was put onto a list, and you had KP the next weekend.

KP = Kitchen Police. You went to work in the kitchen at 4 a.m. and you worked until 10 p.m. And you WORKED. They put some initials on your back with chalk. DRO = Dining Room Orderly. BR = Bakery Room. CL = Clipper. Once, I worked in the clipper, washing silverware. I kept count of the forks, and I washed 15,000 forks that day. There was always something to do.

A cook yelled at me, “Hand me a spatula off that wall.” I looked at the wall, and metal cooking implements were hanging all over it. He yelled, “Well, take your time, you idiot!” I just stood there. He said, “Don’t you know what a spatula is?” I told him I didn’t. He let out some curse words and threw a long metal spoon at me. I ducked and it hit the wall, knocking off a couple of things, and he started cursing again. I slipped away. If he had said “egg turner” I would have known what he wanted.

Three of us were breaking eggs into a large metal pot. One was rotten, so I got a spoon and was digging it out. A cook saw me, and asked “What the (^&)0&) are you doing?” I told him about the rotten egg. He yelled, “Leave it in there.” I didn’t eat any eggs that morning.

At breakfast, a boy lit up a cigarette. A training instructor saw him, and made him butter a piece of toast, put tobacco on it and eat it. He got sick, and that training instructor and all his training instructor friends had a big laugh.

A man yelled, “Woman in the barracks.” A welldressed woman came up the stairs. The guard said, “Ma’am, you can’t come in here.” She yelled, “Lindstrum!” Lindstrum walked sheepishly down the center aisle. She said, “Get your things and let’s go.” The training instructor came out of his room to see what was going on. He told her that she couldn’t take him, because he had signed a contract for four years. She said, “Shut up! You can have him back when he’s 18 years old. Right now, he’s 16.”

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