“Almost a Cop”
You would have thought a guy that grew up on the wrong side of the tracks in Chicago, would have enough street smarts not to join the military on April Fool’s day, right?
Well, I guess you would be wrong then. I got to Lackland AFB April 1, 1965. Hair down to my shoulders, the coolest set of shades you ever saw and a chip on my shoulder the size of a baseball bat. I was used to eating well and often. Many things over the next many weeks were about to change.
The bus came to a stop outside the chow hall. I could smell the SOS even before the bus doors opened. I jumped from my seat and headed for the front of the bus even before it stopped. As I exited a big hand grabbed my shoulder, along with a fair amount of hair, “You look like you won’t starve if you let these other guys ahead of you.” Then he pulled me out of line.
When it was my turn all the hairless zombies behind the serving line laughed and pointed at my shiny, Brilcreamed hair combed back into a ducktail with an Elvis curl in front. I paid them no mind, I knew it was short-lived but it was more to the point I was trying to make.
I had taken high-school ROTC and for that I went in as an E1. That plus the fact I was not about to be herded into a coral of mindless morons being churned out every eight weeks at Lackland; presented a special challenge to my TI. Due to my training I knew how to march, disassemble an M1 blindfolded and how to salute. Which meant, if he was going to stand a chance at cracking my non-compliant attitude, he was going to have to get creative.
Sargent Goldwater was a Tech sergeant that dearly loved his cigars, and as such seemed to always have one between his teeth. The first morning after getting our hair cut and uniforms we fell out in formation in front of the barber shop. I’m sure Goldwater expected more of a commotion when the barber asked me if I wanted to save anything, I said, “yes, my Elvis curl.” The barber switched on his clippers and Handed my curl and turned me into Yul Brynner.
While we were all at attention in front of the barbers, Goldwater slipped a lady finger fire cracker into the belt loop of the fellow beside me. I have pretty good peripheral vision and noticed when he lit it with his cigar. When the lady finger went off the kid next to me about messed his pants and jumped into me. I stepped to the side to maintain my balance, and a second later Goldwater was in my face for not remaining at attention.
I was in a flight of the most malnourished kids you ever saw. When we went through the chow line everyone got huge portions of food. Everyone except me, I didn’t get enough to feed a bird. Fortunately, all those skinny guys weren’t able to finish their meal, so I was there for them.
After several other attempts at breaking me, Goldwater pulled out the big guns. He ordered us to circle the parade field ten times at a full run, and not quit until all ten were finished. Then he left the field. I had been on the track team in high school and knew at a certain point you get something called your second wind. I did and finished without a problem.
When Goldwater returned he ordered, “Fall out back to the barracks for a surprise inspection.” We all hurried back to get things in order. “Barracks, Attention.” Someone hollered. We all hurried to the foot of our beds and stood at and waited for our turn. He made his way to my bunk quickly lifting the lid on each foot locker until he got to mine. He didn’t lift my lid, he turned the whole footlocker upside down. Then went to my locker and pulled out some strategically placed uniforms.
Even if they had been mine, the laundry frequently sent back incorrect laundry. Goldwater accused me of stealing uniforms and ordered me into his office.
I stood at attention while he yelled at the top of his voice, He then flicked his cigar-but at me, and I ducked. He then stood to his feet and leaned forward, placing his right hand on his ash tray. Having just about enough of this crap and thinking he was going to throw the ash tray at me next; I reached across his desk, grabbed his shirt collar and popped him on the chin.
Here’s where things get a little dicey. The next thing I knew he was behind me, one hand on my belt the other on the back of my neck. He threw me down the stairs and out the barracks door, then into the Captains office, as he shouted, “I want this SOB out of my Air Force.” He told the Captain what had transpired over the past eight weeks, culminating with the punch to his chin.
The Captain nodded and dismissed Goldwater. “What’s your side of the story?” asked the captain. I relayed my version of the accusations, to which he replied; “Well I am going to transfer you to your sister flight.” “Yes sir, thankyou sir,” I replied.
I reported to my new flight. “Airman Nelson reporting sir.” It was obvious Goldwater had gotten to my new TI first. “I hate setbacks,” he replied, and back into the Captains office I marched.
This time I was setback to a flight that didn’t even have their uniforms yet. My next TI was an E3 with 17 years under his belt. I knew this guy had problems with the military and thought I might stand a chance with Lindquist. “I hate setbacks, what did you do?” were the first words out of his mouth. Oh boy here we go again I thought as I said “I hit Goldwater.” The expression on his face changer as his mouth opened. He took a deep breath and said, “I’ve wanted to hit that SOB myself on more than one occasions. We became good friends and I thought my problems were over. On graduation day we went to San Antonio and celebrated. I was allowed at this point to sew my stripe on and we proudly walked down the river walk.
A Boot Louie (Brand new lieutenant) walked toward us with his gold bars gleaming in the sun. We quickly crossed to the other side of the walk, as did he. We crossed back again and he followed our lead. We were trapped, so we turned to admire a cow’s skull adorned with turquoise in a picture window. The Lieutenant stopped alongside us and said. “Don’t you two know you’re supposed to salute a superior officer? Give me 50.” A Major passing by came to our rescue and said, “Lieutenant, I want you to return every one of those salutes.
Passersby got quite a kick out of three dummies saluting each other over and over. On the fiftieth salute I figured I would give the gathered crowd what they wanted. I gave a British salute by hopping up in the air click my heals together and gave a salute. The crowd cheered and thankfully the Lieutenant was too tired or embarrassed to order another fifty.
The following day we received our orders and I was to report to the head cook at lackland and learn how to peel potatoes. I expressed my dissatisfaction to Lindquist, to which he said, “just send it back through, they will change it.” I did and they did, this time I was a cop, I wanted electronics and Lindquist hand delivered the orders himself. Turns out Goldwater was on the panel that decided where you went.
I ended up at Biloxi Mississippi and Keesler AFB for Electronic Warfare Training. Which begins another group of sorted stories.