The Road to Berlin
May, 2005 Newsletter - Section 6

By Al Pitzer (58-60)

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 6910th 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.

    © 2005, The Berlin Island Association

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