When asked to contribute a piece to
the newsletter, I struggled to come up with something that might be
interesting and not step on the many outstanding recollections of
fellow BIAers. I thought fondly of my years in Berlin and the truly
extraordinary times and experiences I enjoyed, several of which were
discussed in Paul Nikulla’s article a few issues ago. It was a
wonderful time in my life and I still feel the pride today that came
from having been a member of the 6910th
RGM and later the 6912th
RSM. But how did I get there? Ah yes, the first year, a time of
life I will never forget.
It started in the Air Force
recruiting office located in the San Pedro, California Post Office.
I had chosen the Air Force because it looked like I might be drafted
and I liked the blue uniforms. The recruiter was a Tech Sergeant
and a very nice man. He told me how much I would enjoy basic
training. He told me there were swimming pools and bowling alleys
and all sorts of fun things to do. I was sold, sign me up!
A week later I reported to the main
recruiting station in Los Angeles. It was organized chaos, three
hours to take a hundred question multiple choice test in a large
room where others were hollering out letters from eye charts or
turning their heads and coughing or simply wondering around with
dazed looks on their faces. It seemed like forever, but after about
six hours a large Master Sergeant burst into the room, told us to
stand up, raise our right hands and repeat after him. What a great
feeling, I am in, I am an official Airman. Now on to the swimming
pools and all the good times which were sure to come. One little
hitch however. There were about 50-60 of us in the room, some were
headed for Army basic training at Fort Ord, California, some 350
miles up the coast. They were bussed to the airport for a short
flight. We Airmen, emphasis on the word air, were bussed to the Los
Angeles train station for a three day trip to San Antonio. Go
figure. I have never been able to.
We were met in San Antonio by a
pleasant Airman Second, who said if we needed toiletries, writing
paper or the like, we should buy them at that point as we may be too
busy and not have the opportunity for quite some time. I thought,
how great is this, nice considerate people and I am heading to what
sounds like a little slice of heaven.
We arrived at the “Green Monster” as
it was called. My trigger quick mind told me the aura was changing.
Voices were louder and more harsh, we were being referred to in
unflattering terms. To make matters worse, some how my social
security card was temporarily misplaced, so all the Californians I
arrived with were organized into a flight, marched away and I sat
not knowing what to expect. It didn’t take long. In came a new batch
of guys but not Californians. Oh no, these fellows were from
Chicago, New York and New Jersey. And as if by magic my social
security card was found and I’m falling outside with my soon to be
roommates, who by the way are not particularly enamored with the
great state of California or those who inhabit it.
The next four weeks or “First Phase”
as we were told began the learning experience of my life. I am sure
it was to start molding us into lean mean fighting machines, but
there were those instances that gave us pause.
For example, about two weeks into
the program all of us were feeling pretty good about how well we
marched and had learned important things like the Military Code of
Conduct. We were ordered to fall outside the barracks and stand in
open ranks. From out of the blue our head T.I. screamed, “You people
are whale excrement at the bottom of the sea, under a rock no less”.
It was further explained that this was the lowest form of being on
the planet. As you can imagine there wasn’t much worthy of writing
home about that day.
The days passed, the unforgettable
experiences kept coming, but still no swimming pool, bowling alley
or even the ability to buy a coke from the coke machine just outside
the barracks door.
Somehow First Phase came to an end
and those of us not going on to a tech school headed for“ “Second
Phase”, another seven weeks, I believe. Oh yes, tech school. From
the very beginning when talking with the recruiter, I had planned on
becoming a jet mechanic. He assured me I would get my wish.
Somewhere along the way, the Air Force decided something different.
After spending two days taking a battery of tests at the Green
Monster, I met with a low key, nice Tech Sergeant. He reviewed my
test scores and asked me what career field interested me. I
unhesitatingly replied, I want to learn to be a jet mechanic. He
said that is a very good field but would I mind if he took a few
minutes to explain Security Service. Would I mind? How could I,
after all, my time was truly his time. He explained the wonders of
linguistics, learning at schools like Georgetown, Syracuse and
Monterey. When he finished, he asked me what I thought. I said it
sounded great, but I still wanted to learn jet mechanics. In a calm
but firm tone of voice, he said my country needed me in Security
Service and wrote that down as my first choice. To really seal the
deal and to show how badly I wanted that career field he said he
would list, get this, food service as my second and third choices.
No swimming pools, no bowling alleys and now no jet mechanics. Had
the recruiter been somewhat deceptive?
Second Phase just built upon the
magic of First Phase. After about a week in, this was the time most
of us received our “Dear John” letters. Topping that experience was
the first “Area T.I. Inspection.” I don’t recall the number, but it
seemed as if 40 or 50 T.I.’s descended on our flight creating the
greatest pandemonium I had ever known. Who can ever forget the sound
a Rise shaving can makes when the little screw valve on top has been
opened all the way, the can stood upright in the top shelf of a foot
locker and the owner told to slam the lid of the locker. One could
vividly picture the foamy goo filling the entire footlocker. Or how
about the poor fellow whose shoes were deemed to be less than mirror
like and told to place them in the center of the isle and watch
while the entire flight was ordered to march on top of them. Two of
my favorites were watching underwear open like little parachutes as
the tightly rolled garments were thrown against the wall and, my all
time visual, a tall freckle faced red headed Southerner who could
not contain himself and started to giggle at the sights. He was
stood at attention in a corner of the bay with a mop bucket on his
head and told to laugh. For better than 30 minutes the muffled sound
of ha ha came from under the bucket. We all wanted to laugh as well,
but knew better.
It finally arrived, graduation day.
The fellow in the bunk next to me was a sharp trooper. Every open
air bed day, he scraped the soles of his dress low quarter shoes
with a razor until they were perfectly clean and white. The tops
glistened with polish with an extra gleam which came with the use of
seven day deodorant pads. On graduation day we dressed in our Class
A’s and prepared to march to the parade ground for the ceremony. As
my friend put on his shoes, laced them up and took his first step,
the paper thin soles separated from the tops because the thread
attaching tops to soles had been deteriorated by the chemical in the
deodorant pads. He wore his brogans and nobody noticed.
Yes, like all of you, I did get to
Berlin, that magnificent town. The journey took me through what was
then called the Army Language School in Monterey, California and is
now the Defense Language Institute. After a very brief stay at the
in Kaiserslautern I finally arrived at Detachment 1, 6910th.
Like all of you, there are so many
stories that come to mind about those times. I think I have,
however, rambled on just about enough for this episode. I may regale
you with more at a future time. For now I will say that I would not
have missed one minute of my service time and those I was privileged
to know and be a part of their lives. Some are gone much too soon
but my memories of them will never die. To the others I say, thank
you for having been there, you are family.
Oh, by the way,
I lived on the fifth floor of Tempelhof. Just one floor above was a
gym with, hold on now, a bowling alley, and somewhere down
Tempelhofer Damm was a large swimming pool. It took awhile, but the
recruiter was right all along.