My Years in the Air Force
I got a Greyhound bus ticket to Camas, Wa. to see my brother James and from there I was traveling across the Northern states to Pontiac, Mi. where my brother Marcus was living at this time. I was on a bus with no heat and everyone was freezing and crying all the way to Minneapolis where we were transferred to another bus. I arrived at ten at night at Pontiac and it was like being in a freezer. I finally got a hotel room for the night.
Marcus was working for Pontiac Motors and he tried to get me a job. There was not a job to be had anywhere in Pontiac. I thought about trying for a policeman's job in Detroit, but when Marcus told me that being unemployed in Pontiac was much better than being a dead policeman in Detroit. I stayed with him for one month and I told him that I had to go looking for work elsewhere. I went to several cities with no results and I finally arrived at Lansing. I got a room at the YMCA and went to Fisher Body's Oldsmobile Division looking for a job. They said that they would call me if I were needed. I had been hearing this for days when I had been seeking work in all the other cities. I went back to my room and was prepared to leave the next day. I was really surprised to get a phone call telling me to come to work that night. I worked for them for two months on the night shift on the assembly line. The factory was thirty blocks from where I was stayng. I rode a bus to work, but I had to walk home for there were no buses that time of night.
There were some blacks working along with me who were constantly harassing me because I was from the South. They were calling me a racist which was a lie. The foreman was under a lot of pressure and he took it out on the workers. One of the other workers and I made a deal that if he started to give us a hard time that day, we would quit. He came up to me and started yelling. I finally got tired of it and told him that I was not a jackass and would not listen to him. He started in again and I told him that I was out of here. I said to the other worker to come, but he looked at me and said that he was staying. I needed a job and was willing to work, but I could get by not doing this.
While I was working for Oldsmobile, I had rented a two bedroom apartment. Marcus's brother-in-law, Herbert Browing was out of work in the coal mines and he desperately was looking for work. I went to the employment office at the plant and told them of his condition. They said that they would hire him, He came and was living with me. My brother Fred also came to live with me while he was looking for work. I told Herbert and Fred what I had done. Fred was really upset and I did not blame him. I told Fred that I had no other choice but to reenlist in the Air Force. Herbert said he would keep the apartment and Fred could stay with him.
Next morning, I left for Hazard and reenlisted in the Air Force for four more years. I was sent to Ashland, Ky to be inducted. This was May 22nd 1954. When I was discharged, I was an Airman Second Class, but because I had been out for over three months, I was reduced to an Airman Third Class. I was shipped to Geneva, NY. for six weeks for retraining. Because I had previous service and had a higher ranking than the other men in my Flight, I was in charge of the routine duties. After my training was completed, I was once again sent to my favorite base, Mather Field in Sacramento as an aircraft refueling truck driver.
I wanted to continue my education so I enrolled at Sacramento Junior College to study journalism. Junior colleges in California at that time had free tuition and I took advantage of it. I really liked the course and the professor was one of the best. We were in charge of the college newspaper and I was the advertising manager and had a weekly page to produce. I chose Spanish as my language and was getting excellent grades. I used my friends 1948 buick to drive to school about twelve miles away. I would put fifty cents worth of gas in the tank before leaving to pay for the car's use. In the meantime, I kept busy doing other things. I joined the Toastmasters Club at Mather Field and we participated in several speech contests throughout the local area. I also got a parttime job washing dishes at a local restaurant to make some spending money.
There was an auction of household goods not too far away. I had never been to one so I decided to see what it was about. There was a brand new wringer washer that was the right size for the barracks. I was the barracks chief and I thought that it would be a good idea to have one so the troops could do their own laundry. This would be better and cheaper than to use the coin operated machines that were in a separate building. I bought it for fifty dollars and made a special connection to plug it in. I kept the connection in my room. For two dollars any one would own a share and have the privelege to use it whenever he wanted. Everyone was really happy that I had done this and I got most of my money back. I kept the connection in my room so people from other barracks could not horn in.
I had a thirty day leave comimg and I decided to visit Marcus. If there is a military plane that has a vacany one could request a seat at no charge. There wa a B-25 Bomber going to Louisville. Ky. I applied and I was accepted. We had to wear a parachute that could be gotten just by signing for it. We had to wear our khaki uniforms. My seat was in the bomb bay area behind the engines and except from a little queasy feeling, all was going well until night came and I could see the fire coming from the engines.One cannot see this in the daylight. The captain had instructed us to call him if we saw anything unusal. I immediately called him about the fire coming out of the engines. He informed me that this was nothing to worry about, but he thanked me for being alert. I felt a little foolish, but feeling a little foolish is better than being dead. We landed at the at the Kentucky National Guard Base at Louisville aroung eight and I was given a ride to the Greyhound Bus ternimal. I had to carry my luggage and the parachute so I left my parachute on to make it easier. I had every one staring at me as I was walking through the ternimal. After my leave was up, I had just enough money for a bus ticket back with only five dollars for food. I ran out of money at Salt Lake City and the only thing I had for food the rest of the way was eater and a pack of chewing gum. Twenty hours later, I was back in my barracks and the next day, I returned the parachute.
One day, I went to San Francisco for the first time. I was walking down the street when I passed a jewelry store and there was a shyster auction being held. The auctioneer was selling watches. While I was watching, he held up a watch and offered it for free if anyone could name the eight president of the United States. I held up my hand and answered Martin Van Bueren. He stood there shocked and grudgingly handed me the watch. I could have told him all the names of the presidents.
A local radio station ask the base service club to produce a one hour radio show by using the talent of the service personnel on the base. There were to be different skits for us to do each week and I was to be one of the writers. We also were going to have a country and western band. Two of my fellow workers were excellent musicians. There was a lady in the WAF who was from Vermont and was a very good singer. I could do neither, but I had a gift for gab and adlibing. I was chosen to emcee the show. Everything was set to go when the radio station informed us that they had decided to use another format and did not need us. This was a real let down, but we still got together with the band once in a while.
Airman Murray and his wife invited one of my best friends, Gerald Groff, and me to visit Yosemite Park with them for an overnight stay and have a picnic with them. Yosemite was a three hour drive and we gladly accepted. This is one of the most beautiful parks that I have ever visited and I have been to a lot of them.. To see the majestic Sequoia trees and thrill of driving through one of them is never to be forgoton. El Captain Rock and the waterfall is a sight that everyone should be able to see. We slept in the car and I was awaken in the middle of the night by some growling at the windpws. I looked up and saw a big grizzly bear staring at me. I didn't panic, but it scared the daylights out of me. While we were there, we saw some climbers climbing El Capatian. Better them than me!
Groff was an excellent bowler and competed in several tournaments in the area. I was a good bowler and was on some of the base leagues. We used do a lot of bowling at the Alahambra Bowling Alley in Sacremento. We also would keep scores for other leagues and one of these were the Chinese League. When I kept score for them for the first time, I was wondering how I was going to tell them apart. After a few rounds, it became very easy and I never made a mistake. He and I would make a few dollars and we did this for several weeks. Groff was from Compton, Ca. and he owned a 1951 Mercury car. We decided to drive down and see his parents and go to the Country and Western show called the Town Hall Party on Saturday nights. After having met his parents and having dinnner with them, he and I went to the show and we saw Tex Ritter performing his signature hit, "Do not Forsake Me"; the theme song of High Noon.
On our way back to Sacramento the next day, we thought that we had run into one of those famous fog spots noted for in Southern Ca. We could barely see how to drive. He slowed down to about thirty-five. Cars were passing us blowing their horns and we were calling them crazy fool drivers who were going to cause an accident when he accidently leaned against his side window and to our amazement the mist came off from inside. There was no fog outside. The windows inside had been covered with mist. He turned on the heater and it soon disappeared. We never told anyone how dumb we were
Another time, William Cady asked me to go to Hollywood with him. He owned a 250 CC motorcycle with a 6" by 9" buddy seat. It was a seven hour trip.We left after work with him driving and me on the buddy seat. I was allright for about an hour, but then my rearend began to get tired and no matter how I sat, it was getting uncomfortable. Then, my back began to ache because I had to bend over to hold onto him. I could only take so much so I asked him to stop to et a cup of coffee. I got off the motorcycle and, at first, I could not stand upright. I walked around like an ape. It went on like this, every hour or so, all the way to Hollywood. We cruised around Beverly Hills for a few hours and we decided to see a movie at Graumann's Chinese Theater. While I was watching the movie, Cady went to sleep with his legs out in the aisle and no one could get by him. They would ask him to move and when he did not respond, they would kick his legs out of the way. There were a lot of angry customers. When the movie was over, he woke up and we decided to head back to Sacramento. There is a streatch of road called "Dead Man's Curves" that we had to to travel on our way back. It is very treacherous and there have been many deadly accidents there I slept on that buddy seat and did not remember anything until we got to the bottom. There was a bus stop with a bus headed for Sacramento. I told Cady that I was going to take the bus back for I couldn't take another mile. I slept all the way to Sacramento.
I saved up enough money to buy a 1942 Oldsmobile and on the second day after I bought it, three of us decided to take a trip to Placerville, half-way between Sacramento, and Reno, Nevada. We were told that we could make claims on state-owned property to prospect for gold. It was about a forty-five minute drive. When we got there, we found out in order to stake a claim, it had too many restrictions for us to follow. On the way back, I wanted to pass a car going up a hill. I was trying to get around the car, but the driver wouldn't let me. I was going about sixty when I reached the top and saw what was ahead of me. It was another car coming towards us. I hit the brakes to slow down, but I had no brakes. I couldn't pass and I could not get behind the other car. I had one alternative, but I had to get on the left gravel shoulder which I was able to do. I was still going at full speed and gravel was flying everywhere. I told the other guys to hang tight and I put the car in second gear. There was a lot of grinding, but I was able to do so and I went from second to first gear and eventually slowed to a stop. Luckily, the gearbox did not get damaged. I opened the hood and checked the brake fluid and it was empty. I filled it and we drove back to the base without any trouble; but that trip taught me to never, ever to try to pass anyone on a hill again. It was one scary drive. When I was able to check to see why there was no fluid, I found out that there was a hole in one of the lines. I had it repaired and I had no more trouble with the brakes.
The movie "Blackboard Jungle" was playnig at the base theater in 1955. Movies only cost a quarter and there were a lot of times that I didn't have the quarter, but on this day I did and I was thankful that I saw it. The movie won several Acadedy Awards, but the movie also featured the song "Rock Around the Clock" by Bill Haley and the Comets. The song and the rythm was what really impressed me. After the move was over, I told my friends that this was the music of the future. I was correct for "Rockabilly" soon swept the country.
There was a group of five of us who went everywhere with each other. We went out one day just to drive around and visit some of the small towns in the area. We were driving along shooting the breeze, when one of the tires gave up and blew out. Luckily, we weren't too far from an auto shop and we were able to drive to it. The mechanic said that it couldn't be fixed and a new tire was twenty dollars. None of us had a dime. We told him that we were from Mather Field. He said that he would put a used one on for five dollars and we could bring the money the next day. That we agreed to do and we told him how much we appreciated it. When I got back to the base, I took five dollars out of my savings account and went back and paid him.
Airman Williams, a black man, was one of this group. I had just bought a high fidelity portable record player, This was a great improvement at that time for improving sound and for using the new 33 RPM records. My type of music was Country and Western. He asked me if he could borrow it to play his records. We sat down and he put a Dave Bruebeck record on an this was my introduction to Progressive Jazz. I began to love all types of music and to purchase these records, including Country and Western, Progressive Jazz, Big Band, Soul, and even Montavani. I have been buying records of all types since those days.
When I was promoted to Airman First class, I had to attend to a month long Non-commisioned Officer's course. This was a newly formed class and for what reason, I do not know. It didn't teach us anything that we didn't already know. One of the things that we had to do was to make a speech about any subject that we wanted. The speech that I gave was "Mules are Smarter Than Horses". Our speeches were judged by three members of Mather Toastmasters Club. I won the contest and I was given free membership in the club. This club had a great group of servicemen and wives who wanted to improve themselves and give them self confidence before any group. We competed against other clubs in the states and whether we won or lost, we had a great time.
I had to have better tires on all the wheels. One of the men in our Squadron had a 1932 Plymouth for sale. It had four almost new tires and he wanted seventy-five dollars for it. It was in good running condition, but there was hitch; the tires would fit but the wheels were of different size. That meant that everytime that I wanted to drive either one of the cars, I would have to change the tires by hand. In those days, changing tires was no easy task. It meant that I had to jack up the wheel from the car that I was removing the wheel, letting the car down on a stand, jacking up the other car and doing the same thing. Then, I had to take the tires and tubes from the wheels and put them on the other car. This took a lot of time and I had to do four wheels. Realizing all of this and that I had more time than money and I would have two cars, I bought it and used both cars for several months. Later on I junked the Plymouth because it was too much work.
Sgt. Oscar Randolph, who we used to talk a lot to each other and was also in the refueling section, but not a close friend, asked me if I wanted a good car. I told him that I did, but couldn't afford it. He said "That if I wanted one, then let's go look for one and I will cosign your note". I found a 1948 Plymouth in like new condition for three hundred dollars. We went the company that loaned him the money for his car. He talked to the manager and he said yes and we filled out the paper work. From that day forward, Oscar Randolph became one of the best friends who I have ever had. He was like a brother to me. He was older and had been in the Marines in WW11 and had been in the battles of the Pacific.
In 1956, I went on a thirty day leave to Pontiac to see my brothers. Fred and Baxter had married and each had children and living in Pontiac. Mich. I didn't want to pay for the trip myself and I asked around and four other airmen said they wanted to go and would pay for their share and help drive. Before we left, I told the men that I did not want this car to be driven over sixty miles per hour. We left at four in the afternoon and I drove for five hours or six hours and let another one do the driving. I woke up about two hours later and he was driving eighty miles an hour. I got on him and told him to slow down to sixty. About an hour later, I heard this clunking and the car had thrown a rod. I asked what happened and I was told that the driver had been driving at eighty again when the engine threw the rod. I got on him again and told him that he had better star hitch hiking. We were in Battle Mountain, Nevada. There was a used car dealer there and he offered me twenty-five dollars for the car because the tires were almost new. I certainly could not use the car any more and I sold it. I and two others had enough money to get home, but two did not. I loaned one man enough to get him home. The other one was Earnest McCullar. He was one of my co-workers and a good friend. He lived at Adrian, Mi.,not too far from Pontiac. I didn't want to leave him alone. I told him that we would hitch hike far enough to be close enough that we could buy bus tickets.
In Nevada, the hotels stay open all night and there was always gambling going on. There was a hotel that was nearby I went in and there was a table with only the dealer. I sat down and won fifty dollars and called it quits. I told Earnest that we only had to get as far as SaltLake City and we could pay our way. We put out our thumbs and within a few minutes we were on our way. When I got to my brother's house, I explained what happened. He said for me to check with some of the dealers in Detroit who needed drivers to drive sold vehicles back to California, The first one that I called and told him about myself, agreed that he would pay me one hundred dollars and gas money to drive a Ford Thunderbird to Sacremento. Was I lucky! On the way back to Sacramento, we drove by the Hoover Dam and through Las Vegas. I had always wanted to see these places and I guess that I got this opportunity because my car had broken down. I had a hard time getting back the money that I had loaned to the airman. So much for gratitude!
There was a lady visiting her sister who was my brother's next door neighbor. She was from West Virginia and a pretty good looker. She and I both liked bowling so I asked her if she wanted to go and she agreed. We also went to the Michigan State Fair in Detroit where two m my favorite B Western movie stars were performing, Lash Larue anf Fuzzy Q. Jones. I should have not wasted the money to see them. They were far from their days as heros of the West. The Platters were also performing. This group was one of my all time favorites. We had two or three more dates and I made a serious mistake. While we were riding with Juanita and Marcus on a shopping trip, we were all talking and out of nowhere, she said that she didn't want to get married. I had no intention of marrying either so I thought that I would test her veracity. I asked her if she would marry me and to my great surprise, she said yes. Now what in the world what was I going to do? I had been there for twenty days and I was engaged to be married. She wanted me to call the doctor and make appointment for blood tests. Marcus casually said that he was hoping that one Feltner would not get married before he was thirty years old. I said you are right, so I called her and told her that I had some bad news.
The Michigan law states that a person had to live in Michigan for thirty days before they could be married. She said that we could lie, but I sorrowfully told her that I did not want to start our marriage out on a lie. She agreed, but was very disappointed. We decided that when I got back to Sacramento, I would send for her. When I got back to the base, I found out that volunteers were needed for a two-year tour of duty in Japan. I volunteered and was accepted. I had to write and tell her that I was being sent to Japan and could not take a wife with me. By doing this I gave up my dream of finishing college and all the other plans that I had made. Two weeks later, I was on my way to Yokota AFB, Fusa, Japan which was five miles from Tachikawa, but this time we were flying. I considered myself as being very lucky to get out of the situation that I had so foolish put myself..