The Air Force
When I went into the Air Force, integration had been implemented only three years before. There were a very small percentage of men of both colors who resented and demonstrated against this throughout my entire twenty-year enlistement. Somestimes, they were only words or small skirmishes, but sometimes they became violent, even death. Fortunately, these men were only a very small pecentage and a great percentage of the trouble was overseas. I was never a racist and my core of friends included both colors. However, I was envolved in several of these incidents and none was of my doing. I have written about them because they were a part of my life in the service.
The name " Blacks" was not known then. They were either Negroes or Colored. However, not to offend any one, I have used the term Blacks as it is used today.
It was a common practice to address each other by our last names. Hardly anyone was called by their first names. By doing this, I have forgotten almost all of my friends first names. and I have used their last names in a lot of cases.
When I graduated from Mt. Carmel High School in May of 1950, I went to stay with my brother Marcus and his wife Juanita. They had been married for two years and had moved to Kenmont Coal Camp at Jeff, Ky. No one could have asked for a better brother and sister-in-law. The only job that I could find was part time painting houses. I certainly was not going to work in the coal mines. Thirty days later, I decided to join the Air Force.
When I went to the recruiting station in Hazard, my father went with me to make sure that everything would be OK. He asked the recruiter if I needed any money and when he said not really, my father gave me two dollars and returned home. This meant a lot to me for I did not have a dime. I was wearing the same clothing that I had worn at my high school graduation. A forty thirty year old suit given to me by dear friend and teacher, Raymond Swauger. The officer took my application and I had a physical examination. I passed the physical with flying colors with one exception. I was underweight. I was 5'10" and weighed 130 pounds. The minimum for my height was 133 pounds. The recruiting officer told me to go and eat some bananas and come back in an hour. I ate three bananas and went back to to be reweighed. I got on the scale and the marker stopped at 130 lbs. See, said the officer, you now weigh 133 lbs. I was sworn in and sent we went to Winchester, Ky to catch a train to Lackland AFB, San Antonio, Texas, for basic training. This was on the 22nd of June,1950. While we were waiting for the train, the zipper on my trousers broke and I had to buy some safety pins to close the fly. It was a two-day trip and people kept looking at me. When we reached Lackland AFB, we had to line up for a shaved-head haircut. One of the recruits was bald from a childhood disease, but he had to sit in the chair like the rest of us. After the hair cut, we had to go through the clolthing line to be suited from the bottom of our feet to the top of our head. The Drill Sergeant that was to be our trainer for the duration of our training said that we could throw our clothing in the trash can or donate it to a charity. I threw mine in the trash and said "never again"!
We were given thirty dollars in script to use at the Base Exchange to buy our toiletries. The next morning we had to fall out to be put in a group known as a Flight to be inspected. When the Drill Sergeant got to me, he ripped me up and down for not shaving. I had never shaved, but I learned on that spot that I would be shaving every day for the next twenty years. From then on we worked, studied, and played as a team. We were going to be doing this for thirteen weeks, at least I thought so at the time.
On the first of July, the North Koreans crossed the 38th parallel and invaded South Korea. I thought what in the world is this! I joined the Air Force and a week later we are at war. Our basic training was reduced from thirteen to six weeks. When our six weeks were up, we proudly paraded as a graduating Flight. Our drill instructor suddenly became human. He congratulated each one each one of us as he gave us our Private Third Class stripes.
After finishing basic training, I was sent to radio school at Kessler AFB, Biloxi, Miss. in August. To say the least, I didn't care for Biloxi or the radio school. Biloxi had signs on the lawns for servicemen and dogs to keep off. There was nothing in town to do but to gamble and the tables would have four housemen to one patron. Biloxi had nothing to offer to a serviceman. It was the gambling town in 1950 and it is the same today except he loosers are not the poor servicemen who were trying to protect their country. Low-lives was too nice of a word for them. One of the coldest months that I have had was spending a winter there. The temperature only got down to seventeen degrees, but the dampness made it seem a lot colder. I was never warm, but the summer was hot and miserable as the cold in the winter.
Every morning we would fall into ranks to be marched to school. We went to school until noon. I was being trained to be a radio mechanic. I did not care for it and I did not want to spend four years doing it. When school was out at noon, we would fall into ranks once more. This time we were inspected from head to toes by our First Sergant to pass inspection. If one thing were out of place, we would receive a "gig". Three gigs in a week meant that you would not have a weekend pass. We then marched in a parade style pass a reviewing stand with the a band playing military marches to the mess hall.
Meals in the mess hall were adventurous and dangerous. One never knew what to expect except bad food prepared by poor cooks and served by disgruntal privates on K.P. who thought that they were the lords of all the the mess that they were serving and we should be thankful for it. I never heard any airman saying grace over it. The services had been entergrated only three years earlier and there were a lot of airmen who did not like Blacks and Blacks who despised the whites. One false move from either side would cause a fight and sometimes a near rout. Food would be flying and metal trays would be used as weapons. Cheering would be from both sides while some people watched, but a lot of others would keep on eating as if nothing was happening unless a tray would come whizzing by.
One time, I decided that I had had enough and decided to leave. I was sitting half asleep at the Greyhound Bus Station after curfew waiting for a bus to go to New Orleans when two Air Policemen shook my shoulder and wanted to know where I was going. I muttered to New Orleans. When I saw who they were, I quickly told them that I was waiting for the bus back to the base when I fell asleep and was dreaming about New Orleans when they woke me. They took me back to the base, but reported me to the Squadron Commander. Luckily, they did me a favor and had reported that I had overslept my bus to the base. I was given a reprimand and seven days of KP.
There was always a penny-ante poker game being played with a three-penny bet limit. This meant that a lot of pennies were needed. I supplied these. I would give ninty seven pennies for a dollar and when the game was over and the players wanted to get rid of thier pennies, I would buy them back at hundred and three pennies for a dollar. I was making six percent on these transactions. When one only make sixty-five dollars a month and pay day is once a month, he needs every penny that he can get.
My friend and I wanted to go to New Orleans over night which was ninty miles away. We decided to hitch hike. We started out at nine in the morning and by two we had made it as far as Gulfport, but Gulfport was only twelve miles from Biloxi. No one would give us a ride. We were standing there deciding what to do when a bus came along going to Biloxi. We decided to do the wise thing and get on that bus. The bus fare was twenty-five cents.
The beach was only a short walking distance from our barracks and it was a very popular place for the locals and tourist, One day while I was there, I saw this very beautiful girl sitting with her friend on the pier. I took their picture and walked over to introduce myself. After talking with her for a while, we became very friendly and I learned that her father owned a car dealership in Jackson, Miss. I asked her if she would like to go to the movies sometime with me. She said sure, but she had to ask her mother first. I was wondering why would an eighteen year old would have to ask her mother. When I asked her why, she informed me that she was only thirteen and needed permission to go on dates. They were going home that evening and if her mother agreed, I could pick her up. I never knew if her mother agreed or not because I was not the type to be dating a thirteeen year old girl.
One misearable hot day, I decided to go to the beach to cool off. After swimmimg for a while, I laid down and went to sleep. When I awoke, I was beet-red from head to toe. I could barely get up. In the service, if getting a sunburnt prevents one from reporting to duty is punishable. Before swimming I had changed from my uniform into swimmimg trunks and now, I had to get back into my uniform to go back to the base. I somehow got it on and in agony, I walked bow legged back to the barracks. It was on a weekend so I had two days to recover. By Monday, I was able to march to school. That was the last time that I went swimming.
I went home for a ten-day Christmas leave to visit my father and brothers. While I was there, I went to see a high school basket ball game at Viper. I happened to see my first girl friend, Margaret Faye Grace, who we use to share her box suppers at our Scuddy grade school fund raisers. I was really "struck on her" back then. She introduced me to her husband who was more interested in the ball game than wanting to meet me. I talked to her for a few minutes and walked outside. There was another Air Force servicemen who was drunk and being obnoxious. I didn't want to see him get into any trouble so I suggested that he had better hold down his shouting because there was a deputy sheriff there. He looked at me and pulled out a pistol and told me that no one was going to tell him what to do. He pointed the pistol at me and pulled the trigger. The pistol failed to shoot and he pointed the pistol in the air and pulled the trigger again. This time it fired. The deputy sherrif came running to see what was happening. He pointed the pistol at the deputy and when he cocked the hammer, the deputy put is finger between the hammer and barrell to prevent it from firing. Luckily for the airman, the deputy knew his father and took him home. This would make anyone believe in Guarding Angels.
I asked to be transferred and after several meetigs, permission was granted and I was transferred to Mather AFB at Sacramento, Ca. to work as a carpenter. This what I had wanted to do. I was given a few dollars for my pay, a train ticket, and meal coupons to use on a a military train that was taking us to Los Angeles and on to Sacramento by a commercial train. We had an eight-hour layover in New Orleans. While I was waiting for the train to Los Angeles, a Black lady approached me and asked if I wanted to buy her wedding ring set because her husband had thrown her out. She wanted twenty-five dollars for them. I told her that I only had that much and she kindly sold them to me for fifteen. I couldn't wait until a jewelry store opened so I could sell them and make a killing. The store owner looked at them and told a shocked airman that these could be bought at a Woolworth Store for $2.98. I kept these rings for years as a reminder to never be suckered again. I was left with only ten dollars to get to Sacramento. I bought a deck of cards and had a streak of luck and I arrived at Sacremento with twenty-five dollars in my pocket.
I arrived at seven at night and I didn't know where I was and how to get to the base. The next bus to the base was not for two hours, so I decided to look around. I didn't know that I was in the roughest section of the city with bars full with drunks and sidewalks filled with hobos looking for a handout. While I was walking by a bar, a big Mexican man asked me to buy him a drink. I had never had a drink and I wasn't going to start now. Before I could answer him, he pulled me into a bar that was filled with Mexican and Indian drunks. I was neverous to say the least and I was trying to figure out how to get out of there alive. I bought him a drink and started to walk out when he stopped me a again. About that time, two men pulled out their knives and started waving them at each other. While he was watching the fight, I slipped out the door and made a fast retreat.
I soon found out that Sacremento was a great city and was a friend to the servicemen. Along with Mather AFB, McClellan AFB was also located at Sacremento. It offered many different opportunities for the airmen. I loved Sacramento and Mather Field. Mather Field was a training base for pilots and McClellan was a logistics base. There was a large machine that dredged for gold twenty-four hours a day. It was located just of the base and we could hear it running at all hours. There was a large winery a little ways from the base that sold wine by the gallon for one dollar and your jug. Needless to say, there were a lot of winos in the area. If one wanted a ride to town, he would stand by the main gate and someone would pick him up in a matter of minutes. There was also a stand at he edge of town that was used by the airmen to hitch a ride back to the base.
When I arrived at Mather Field, I had grown from 5'10" to 6'3"' and I had gained forty pounds. I started going to the gymnasium and working out with weights and playing basket ball, hand ball, and other sports. I kept myself in shape. I would also do a lot of running.
I was assigned to work in the wood hobby shop and to instruct airmen in woodworking. I also would fill in at the arts and crafts hobby shop from time to time. I learned everthing from photography to gem cutting. There was an aircraft accident one noon-time that I will never forget. I was walking out of my barracks going to the dining hall when I saw that a B-25 aircraft was in trouble and was headed for the base stockade only a block from me. I watched it plow into one of the stockade's barracks and a few minutes later, it blew up. Only two men were killed because the prisoners were at the noon meal in their dining hall.
I was there for a few months when a notice was posted in the daily bulletin, that anyone with a high school diploma could take tests to be able to go to the Army Officer Candidate School. I thought that I would give it a try. The night before the tests, I got very little sleep and I had a terrible headache when I arrived to take the tests. I had a hard time listening to the instructions and I couldn't think. Our first test had a hundred multiple choice questions We were given forty-five minuites to do them. When the time was up, I had only completed fifty of them. The next test was fifty mathmatics questions that were also multiple choice. I could not finish all of them and I was positive that I had flunked both parts. We sat in the waiting room for about a half-hour when the officer came out and announced that all had passed but one. I picked up my coat and was walking out when he told me that I had passed the tests. He said that the tests were based on accuracy of the answers given. I had a ninty percent accuracy. We were given a physical and we were told that we would be notified when there was a school opening. This was in January of 1952.
The latter part of March I received orders for shipment to Tachikawa Air Force Base in Japan. They needed woodworkers to make shipping crates to ship supplies to Korea. Before going, I was given a thirty-day leave and I went to see my brothers, James and Marcus, who were living in Camas, Washington. where both working for Crown-Zellerbach Paper Mills in Camas. I had not seen James since 1944 when he had gone to Alaska to work for the US Government and Marcus when he lived at Jeff, Ky. I stayed with Marcus and Juanita. Marcus needed a car and we went looking for one. We found one that was cheap, but the body was shot. The salesman told Marcus that the engine was in perfect running condition. Marcus looked at the salesman and ask him if he were supposed to put a saddle on the motor and ride it around. He finally found a 1938 Buick for a hundred dollars that was in reasonable good condition.
While Marcus was at work at night I would drive the car around. The only problem was that I had never driven on a highway before and did not have a license. One night, I was approaching a stop sign so I stepped on the brakes, but they did not work. I went through the stop sign and ust my luck, there was a policeman sitting in his car at the entersection. He yelled for me to stop and I shouted back that I had no brakes. He yelled for me to pull on the emergency brake and while I was searching for the brake, the car came to a stop. He walked up and asked why I had run the light. When I told him that I had no brakes, he checked them and then he asked for the car registration. I told him that my brother had just bought the car and the papers had not come yet, but I showed him the sales slip. He asked me for my drivers license and I told him that I had a military license that had been sent to Japan with my records. He gave me a ticket and told me to see the judge the next morning.
When I came before the judge, the officer told the judge that I ran the stop sign because of faulty brakes and he had gone to the car salesman and got on him for selling a car with faulty brakes and ordered him to fix them. He also told the judge that I had a military license that had been sent to Japan. The judge said that he understood. He fined me five dollars and demanded that I get a license that day. Marcus drove me down to get my license. I passed the written part and did very well on the driving until I was backing into a parking place. When, I backed in, I went over the curb and hit a light post, but there was no damage. The officer looked at me and said for us to go inside. Marcus asked him how I did and the officer told him everything was okay except that I had hit a pole. Marcus thought that the officer was joking. The officer passed me because he knew that I had to get a license and that I was leaving for Japan. When Marcus and I went outside, he couldn't believe that his car was against a light pole.
Tachikawa was the main terminal for all supplies in the Far East. We were sent by a troop carrier, USS Hasse, from San Francisco to Yokahoma, Japan. Years after I retired from the service, I met another antique dealer named Hank Ford. We were comparing our years in the service. We found out that we were both in the Air Force stationed at Mather Field at the same time. He was the base photographer. I was asking him if he remembered the aircraft accident where the aircraft flew into the base stockade. He said that he was there and he was assigned to photograph it. I told him that I was sent to Japan shortly thereafter on the USS Hasse. He said that he was on the same ship going to Korea. Small world!
We spent our first night in the San Francisco Bay. The ship was rocking all night and I really got sea sickness. I was sick for most of the next day when a friend told me to go to the sick bay and get some tablets. I found out that a lot of people got sick while waiting in the harbor. I was really glad that I went because it cured my sickness. We had a stop over at Honolulu for two hours. While we were all standing on deck with our full uniforms on, there was a sudden rain shower that soaked us. We didn't care; we wanted off and off we went, wet to the bones. It was hot there and our uniforms were almost dry when we got back.
The entire trip took two weeks. The biggest thrill was going over the International Date Line. I spent my free time reading a handbook about Japan and a booklet that taught basic Japanese. Of all the languages that I have studied, Japanese is the easiest to learn. Before I got off the ship, I was able to speak some basic sentences. Finally, after two weeks of rocking back and forth and up and down, we arrived at Yokahama, Japan. Was I glad to touch land again! We took a bus to Tachikawa AFB, Tachikawa, Japan; called by Look Magazine the "Sin City of the World." I soon found out why it was so named.