It’s time to get to four of the most interesting years of my life. I don’t know how much I will remember, but I’ll do the best I can. It was probably about March of 1961 that I went down to the Air Force recruiters office and signed up. I was scheduled to leave in a few days and had to go home and explain to my mother what I had done. She was not happy. We were on the farm then, so I didn’t stay very long. I packed what they told me I could take and boarded a train in Battle Creek which would first go to Chicago and then south to San Antonio, Texas. The only thing I remember about the trip was laying in a birth in the train and looking out the window at the night and watching the fields and towns go by and wondering what I had gotten myself into.
I eventually arrived in San Antonio, Texas where the Lackland AFB was. This was where I was to spend 16 weeks of basic training. Basic was a period of time in which they taught you how to be an airman. Since I was not an officer and probably wouldn’t ever be one, I was an Airman third class. Actually, I started out one step lower than third class but don’t know what they called it. The first thing they do when you get to Lackland is to give you a pile of clothes that you must wear during basic. Then you have an appointment with the barber and he cuts off all of your hair – gives you a buzz cut. Everybody who goes to the barber comes out looking like everybody else.
They send you to a doctor and go though a series of tests to see if you are fit to serve in the military. (Turn your head and cough) Everybody hopes they find something so you can go home and not have to worry about the military. I had a little problem since I had had rheumatic fever and they weren’t sure I could take the rigors of military life. But, they eventually decided I could take it and admitted me to the program.
Basic training was 16 weeks of misery. You marched and learned how to shine your shoes and live in a barracks with 50 other guys. You learned out to make your bed so that the sheet was so tight a quarter would bounce on it. We learned hospital corners and how to keep things clean. We each got a chest that sat at the end of the bed and the stuff in it had to be in exact order. Socks in a certain place, underwear in a certain place. You’ve heard of white glove inspections. Well, they did them, too. The officer would come through the barracks wearing white gloves. They’d run their fingers over surfaces and if they picked up any dust or dirt, then you got demerits.
We went on 5 mile hikes. They loved to wake us up at 3:30 in the morning and time how long it would take for us to go from being totally asleep to being dressed and in formation out in front of the barracks. The time had to get better and better or we’d get in trouble and get KP or an extra hike or something.
The trick was to keep a low profile and not bring attention to yourself. Just blend into the group and if they didn’t notice, they couldn’t yell at you. One time we were in formation and I absent-minded reached up to check my cap. It was supposed to be two fingers between the top of your eyes and the cap. Unfortunately the Drill Instructor saw me. He came over and with his nose about 1/2 inch from mine, chewed me out at the top of his voice. What I was done was break formation which was a no-no. He then had me do 20 push-ups right there in the street. None of my friends could say anything. They couldn’t even watch. They just kept their faces straight ahead and I did my punishment. That was easy and I got it done. I never did that again. I did not want to be known as a screw-up.
We did get to spend one weekend off base on leave. I went into San Antonio and went to The Alamo. That is an historical building where many Texan’s lost their lives fighting the Mexicans. Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie (who invented in Bowie knife) and others died at the Alamo. Go rent the movie and see what they went though. It was a dark day in the history of the United States. Actually, I don’t think Texas had been admitted to the Union yet, so the Mexicans were fighting to keep it that way.
San Antonio has this river way that runs through the town. There are little boats that you can ride. It was a rough neighborhood back when I was there, but I’ve heard that it’s been cleaned up since then. I spent a day seeing as much of San Antonio as I had time for. Of course, I was alone, so it wasn’t as much fun as it could have been.
The culmination of the 16 weeks was an obstacle course we had to run. In order to graduate from basic, we had to finish this course. We had done it before. I had done it many times and knew I could do it. But on the morning that we started the course, the first thing we had to do was grab a rope and swing across a small pond that was filled with muddy, dirty water. The guy right in front of me didn’t release the rope correctly and it was wobbling around as it came back to me. I should have waited and got a good hold of the rope and then taken a good swing and jumped over the water. But the DI yelled at me just as the rope came to me and I panicked and grabbed the rope and tried to swing across. Of course, I missed and into the water I went.
I spent the whole rest of the course wet and muddy. It made it doubly hard to do. We had to jump over piles of logs and brick walls. We repelled down a cliff holding on to ropes. Just like you see on “The Amazing Race”. I did it all. And I did it all wet. It was so much fun. (Not) I did graduate, however. They asked me what I would like to do for the Air Force. I told them I thought being a cook was a good job. You can tell, I didn’t have high aspirations, then. So they put me in electronics. Before I knew it I was traveling to Biloxi, Mississippi to attend Biloxi Air Force Base and learn electronics. They have one of the biggest electronic training centers in the Air Force there. And as it turned out, I was to spend the next 3 1/2 years at Biloxi, first going through the school as a student and then staying on as a teacher.