The Day I Joined the Air Force – Part One

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There is a prelude to this story.  I grew up with a father who was abusive.  He was six feet four inches tall and weighed 210 lbs.  I was five foot eight inches tall and weighed 145 lbs.  He had been a professional boxer with 21 wins and two losses.  I lived in fear of him for many years.  During high school, I seldom dated.  I never went to a single high school dance or prom.  Shortly after the end of my high school years in 1964, I finally found a girl whom I liked.  She also seemed to like me.  We dated a few times and I planned a Saturday night out with her.  I had my own car and had funded my own expenses ever since I was sixteen.  I had just turned 18 in the September of 1964.

I arrived home late Saturday afternoon.  It was the first week of October (the day of my planned date) and my father was sitting at the dining room table with a couple of friends.  He said he needed a fourth for a game of pinochle.  I did not want to play since my father hated to lose and I knew he would blame me if we did.  Nevertheless, my father demanded that I be his partner and so I sat down with his two friends for a few games.  Sure enough, we lost the first game and my father started to complain about my play and that I had really screwed up the plays.  We started the second game and he started right in again complaining about my play.  I finally had enough of his berating me and I simply said, “I quit.”  He blew his usual fuse and told me that I was grounded and that I should go to my room.

I went up to bed and woke up about 2 AM in the morning.  I don’t think I ever went to sleep.  I packed a few things in a bag and climbed out my bedroom window.  I went over to a friend’s house and knocked on the door.  Bobby Fandetti (AKA Rock) came to the door.  He was surprised but he let me in.  I told him that I needed a place to stay for the night.  He said fine and that I could sleep on the couch.

The next morning, I told Bob I was going down to military row (where all the military recruiters had their office) and that I was going to join the military.  Bob gave me a ride and I made him promise not to tell anyone where I had gone or that I had stayed the night with him.

I knew I had no chance of getting into any college.  I had poor grades and no money.  I had two arrests.  The first for breaking and entry (a stupid robbery with six other guys from my corner) and the second for a fight leading to an assault and battery charge.  Fortunately, both offenses were sealed since they had occurred before I turned eighteen.

Upon getting down to Providence, Bob dropped me off and left.  I had twenty dollars with me and a few clothes.  I walked down the block looking in the various military recruitment centers.  The recruiters were desperate and would have taken a warm body since the Vietnam war was in full swing.  I started looking at the various uniforms in the windows.  My biggest criteria concerned in which uniform would I have the best chance of getting laid.

marines

I did not like the Marine uniforms.  They seemed too gaudy.  Navy was out since their uniforms looked silly to me.  They were bell bottoms before bell bottoms became in.  The Army uniforms seemed too drab.  Green was never my favorite color.  Then I saw the Air Force uniforms.  They reminded me of my high school colors which were blue and gray. It was an immediate hit.  I could see myself scoring lots of babes in this cool uniform.

navy

At the time this all occurred, my father was an American Legion Post commander.  He was a decorated and disabled WW II veteran.  He saw service in Patton’s Third Army as a tank guard.  He won a Purple Heart for his combat injuries.  My father hated communists and had drilled me with the evilness of communists.  My motto when I went into the military was “Kill a commie for Christ.”

army uniform

The recruiter did all he could to make my day.  He was friendly and helpful and gave me a coke and some snacks.  I had to take a test called ASVAB that he said would determine which job I got.  I did not really care which job since I thought that I could get into some combat group and go to Vietnam to kill some “commie gooks.”  I got an AFSC or Air Force Service Code as a Nuclear Weapons Specialist.  For some reason, this was later changed to a 30352 code as an AC&W Radar Technician and I was switched from going to military training in Chanute, Kansas to Keesler AFB in Biloxi, Mississippi.  But first, every Air Force recruit had to go to basic training at Lackland AFB just outside San Antonio, Texas.

air force

However, I was not in the military yet.  I had a bunch of papers to sign and then they sent me by car to an induction center where many other branches of the military also went.  At this center I was going to get a physical.  I remember fifty or more guys all in this big hall and all of us told to strip naked.  A few physicians then went around checking everybody out with a stethoscope.  Guys with obvious impairments were told to get dressed and go home.  Finally, about a half of the original guys were still there.  We were told to put our civvies back on and then we would be sworn in.  We went into another room, where we repeated some oaths and the Pledge of Allegiance.  We were now in the United States Military.

swearing in

I was then sent by commercial bus from Providence to New Jersey.  From the bus terminal I got a ride to the Newark Airport.  At the airport, I somehow (I do not remember how) met some other Air Force recruits.  We had all been given vouchers for ten dollars or so for meals while waiting for our flight to Texas.  We decided to go to a café at the airport for supper.   When we got seated the waitress came around with a menu.  We told her that we had these meal vouchers.  As we ordered. it appeared that even if the price of a meal was less than our vouchers, there were items that we (for unknown reasons) could not purchase with our vouchers.  I got pissed, since I felt we were being ripped off.  I gave my voucher away and left.

I had my twenty dollars and I went in search of another dinner venue.  The airport had this upscale dining area and I went in and seated myself down.  I was surprised that I was the only diner in the room at the time.  The waiter came and he gave me a menu.  On it was a boiled lobster dinner for $18.99.  I thought “Hell, I am going out in style.”  I had never had a boiled lobster dinner in a restaurant although I had caught and eaten many lobsters in Rhode Island.

boiled-lobster-dinner-CNH3FH

The lobster came and I put a bib around my neck and proceeded to eat the lobster.  I was quite adept at cracking lobster shells (having lived in R.I. from my 11th to 18th year of life).  After I was finished with dinner, I noticed a bowl with water and a lemon floating on it.  I was staring at the bowl thinking it might be some weird soup.  The waiter noticed my gaze and came over and very quietly asked me if I knew what it was for.  I said no and he told me that it was to wash my fingers in.  I will never forget his kindness for not embarrassing me or my own lack of knowledge of good etiquette.  This would come back many times to embarrass me in my later years even after I had obtained my Ph.D. degree from the University of Minnesota.

I then rejoined the other recruits and we waited rather silently for the plane that would take us to our new lives.

To Be Continued:

9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Deborah Persico Tostanoski
    Nov 10, 2019 @ 16:29:38

    This is my favorite blog post thus far. Your Dad sounds a lot like my Dad, even though my Dad was your contemporary, not your Dad’s. So much of how you were treated by your Dad reminds me of how my Dad’s mother treated him and his siblings after his Dad (your Uncle) left when they were all babies (and how my Dad treated me:-(. My grandmother was beautiful. She was only 16 when she gave birth to my Uncle Jimmy, my Dad’s older brother. She was left with three small kids, worked in a cable manufacturing plant to raise her kids and lived with my great-grandparents, who were extremely religious, but not Catholic…She was brutally physically abusive to her two boys, but “only” emotionally abusive to her only daughter, my Aunt MaryEllen. My Dad also ran away from home at the ripe and tender age of 15, hopped a freight train in NJ (near Newark), and hopped off somewhere in the Deep South, where he went into an Army recruitment office, where he was given papers his “parents” needed to co-sign, as he was under age. I can’t remember the all the details—he found a lovely couple whom he convinced to sign the paperwork as his “Guardians.” The next day, he was in the U.S. Army. He told stories so similar about the process of being examined and enlisted. Or not. I used to hang on his every word when he told me about Korea and Japan. His older brother, Uncle Jimmy, was a Marine and served in Japan. Thank you for your service and your sacrifice to protect the rest of us! Did you learn to fly a jet fighter? All I know is I will forever be thankful for the day that Uncle Tony and Aunt Fanny randomly walked into the QuickPrint Center on Federal Highway in Boca Raton, to make copies, only to discover his nephew, my Dad owned the place! I was estranged from my Dad at the time because of his horrible treatment of my mother and me and my sister and brother. It’s a long story, but eventually, my Dad and I got really close (because of our co-dependence) (and forgiveness), and I was invited to his place for Thanksgiving, where he lived with his Jewish girlfriend, in quite an upscale condo on the Intracoastal Waterway in Highland Beach, FL. As he used to say, “not too shabby.” Thanksgiving that year was the year I met Arlene, Uncle Tony and Aunt Fanny for the first time, as Dad invited them, too. I loved them instantly. Many years later, my brother, Nicky, told me about a woman named Arlene who worked at his company, Mutual of America in Boca Raton, FL, and she was our cousin! It was Arlene. Arlene has been in my life for the most meaningful ways since we met. She has been an amazing “messenger,” and I am so thankful. She live less than 20 minutes from here, yet we never see each other. We should have a family reunion! In Florida! Bring your Sis! I think I wrote too much on your blog🤷🏻‍♀️ PS. I want lobster.

    Reply

    • Dr. John Persico Jr.
      Nov 10, 2019 @ 16:57:55

      No Deb. never too much. I was enthralled by your story. So much, I did not know about you and our family. I wonder how I could have grown up not understanding or knowing so much. I greatly appreciate your taking the time to share your past with me. I have written some things about my past but not a lot. I sometimes think it is because I don’t want to have to remember things that were very painful. I wish Sheri, my sister was alive to share some things with you. There were lots of things going on that when I left home I did not know about. Sheri ran away when she was 13. Jeanine and her were close and perhaps Jeanine would be able to share some stories. John

      Reply

  2. Vic Nurcombe
    Nov 10, 2019 @ 18:41:13

    Can’t wait till next instalment!

    Reply

    • Dr. John Persico Jr.
      Nov 10, 2019 @ 19:33:33

      Thanks Vic, I appreciate your comment and readership. Hope life “down under” is going well for you and family.

      Reply

  3. Jane Fritz
    Nov 10, 2019 @ 20:05:33

    Wow!

    Reply

    • Dr. John Persico Jr.
      Nov 11, 2019 @ 14:55:58

      Hi Jane, thanks for the wow. Hope all is well with you.

      Reply

      • Jane Fritz
        Nov 11, 2019 @ 20:36:47

        Hi John. Things are ticking along as winter starts making its intentions known. I’m looking forward to Part 2 of your story. You’re reminding me of what a blessed life I’ve had in the all-important love and support category. It’s an important reminder.

  4. jennygirl1278
    Nov 11, 2019 @ 19:09:56

    I was only 12 years old the day you left and they found that your bed had not been slept in. I remember feeling so sad because Mom was so worried. I did not care what dad was feeling because I knew he was the cause and resented him for driving you away.
    Looking forward to the continuation. Now that lobster has me craving one!! lol

    Reply

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