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:

An interview with my friend Hana, when she was only thirteen years old – A play in one act.  

Once upon a time there was a very remarkable young woman and young man who decided to flee communism and come to the United States of America in hopes of finding a better life.  Leaving their families and at great risk to their own lives they managed to elude the authorities in their home country and find their way to America.  With hardly anything except the clothes on their backs and speaking no English Hana and her spouse found asylum in the USA.  With the help of some good spirited people, they began to construct a new life based on their dreams and abilities and not simply by adhering to the “party” line. 

Hana became a good friend of ours in the late 80’s when we met at Process Management Institute, where Hana was now an esteemed consultant as well as educator at the University of Minnesota. Over the years, we shared many thoughts and ideas together.  Hana was one of the most competent consultants I have ever worked with.  She was wonderful at combining both “high tech” and “high touch” in working with her clients.  She was very capable of applying TQM technology but equally capable of compelling the leaders in the organizations she worked with to make the needed psychological changes to adopt a “new philosophy” as Dr. Deming called it.  TQM was ultimately more a change in attitudes then a change in technology.  A point that Hana was quick to recognize. 

Hana will be 80 years old this July and she had a birthday party this past weekend in honor of the occasion.  I was invited to say a few words about Hana at the party.  A picture of her as a young girl inspired my thinking about what I would say.  I thought of how Hana must have been when she was young. With this in mind, I decided to write the following fictional account of an interview with her as a young girl.  I decided to compose it as a short one act play.  At the party, I asked a good friend Nancy Hoy to play the part of Hana, while I narrated and played the part of the young reporter from Prague. 

Setting:

The 1948 Czechoslovak coup d’état (often simply the Czech coup) –  was an event in February 1948 in which the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, with Soviet backing, assumed undisputed control over the government of Czechoslovakia, marking the onset of four decades of Communist dictatorship in the country. Czechoslovakia remained as a Communist dictatorship until the Velvet Revolution of 1989.  More immediately, the coup became synonymous with the Cold War. The loss of the last remaining democracy in Eastern Europe came as a profound shock to millions.  For the second time in a decade, Western eyes saw Czechoslovak independence and democracy snuffed out by a totalitarian dictatorship intent on dominating a small country

The play takes place in Prague, 1948.  The Daily Prague newspaper has become a part of the Communist means of controlling the population and is looking for human interest stories.  It has heard of a young precocious girl who is the highest rated student at her school and they have decided to do an interview with her to help show the masses how wonderful life in a communist system can be.

Hana has been notified to expect a reporter from the Daily Prague.  Hana lives in clean 2 bedroom apartment with her mother, father and brother Jan.  Hana sits in a small chair near a larger sofa reading a book and waiting for the reporter to arrive.  It is a small but comfortable and very neat living room with a few pictures of relatives and friends on the mantle.

John:  (Knocking at the door. He is a young man of 25.  Medium height, blond hair. He has been very nervous lately and constantly has the feeling that someone is looking over his shoulder.  He has been warned to stay away from “compromising” subjects.

John:  May I come in?

Hana:  (An attractive looking young girl just turning 13.  Well-proportioned with short brown hair.  Her friends would describe her as elegant and very sophisticated.)

Hana:  Yes, please do.

John:  Hi, I am from the Daily Prague and I am here to conduct the interview with you.

Hana:  Wonderful, let’s get started.  Please sit down.

John:  Thank you. Well, Hana, I will begin by asking you a few questions.

Hana:  It’s Ms. Hana, if you don’t mind.

John:  Sure, Ms Hana.   Well, Ms. Hana, what would you like to be when you grow up?

Hana:  I would like to be President of the United States of America.

John:   (Nervous chuckle noticed by Hana) But you don’t live in the United States of America and even if you did, you could not be president because you were not born there.

Hana:  (Quite composed)  I am going to move to the United States of America and then change the law when I live there.

John:  Well, let’s just say that this might not work out; do you have a backup plan?

Hana:  Of course, I will become a rich and famous management consultant.

John:  But in Czechoslovakia system, only communists can become rich and even they are not allowed to become famous.

Hana:  Then I will go to the United States of America and become a rich and famous management consultant there.

John:  Why do you want to become a management consultant?

Hana:  So I can tell people what to do.

John:  Are there any other reasons?

Hana:  Well, so many companies are so poorly run and they need lots of help.

John:  How are you going to learn about business when you live in a communist system? Wait, I know, you are going to move to the United States of America.

Hana:  Right.  I will learn all about how to become rich and famous when I get to America.

John:  (More nervous now and deciding to change the subject) Could you tell our readers what your hobbies are and what you like to do for fun?

Hana:  I like to study, read and learn about new and interesting things.

John:  Yes, but what do you do for fun?

Hana:  I just answered you.  Maybe I did not understand your question.

John:  Well, like do you jump rope, play doll house or do dress up?

Hana:  What are those things?

John:  (Uncertain where to proceed) Well, I understand you are a very smart young student.  Do you like school?

Hana:    Yes, but recently they changed all the textbooks and they took out all the good stuff about the United States of America

John:  I have not heard about that but maybe it was because they thought it might be lies.

Hana:  Well, I don’t think that people should rewrite history just because they change their minds.  What about facts?

John:  (Quite nervous again)  I think you have a very inquiring mind.  You would make a good management consultant.

Hana:  (Very Serious) Do you know where I could find a good textbook on Management Consulting?

John:  I don’t think we have any of those in the library anymore.

Hana:  Why not?

John:  Well, in a communist system, nobody worries about how the system runs since it is up to the government to decide how things should be run.

Hana:  That does not sound like a very good idea. I don’t think they do it like that in the United States of America.

John:  Well, Ms. Hana, it has been wonderful talking to you.  Our readers will be quite pleased to see how happy and great life in Czechoslovakia is for you.

Hana:  (Very skeptical) May I review your notes?

John:  (Ignoring Hana’s request)  Well,  Ms. Hana, we always like to send our contributors a token of our appreciation.  Would you like a framed picture of General Secretary Joseph Stalin or Defense Minister Ludvík Svoboda?

Hana:  Could you send me a picture of Mickey Mouse?

The END: 

Time for Questions:

What would you do if you lived in a total dictatorship?  Would you risk your lives and those of your family to flee? Would you simply go along as best you could? How would you get started in a strange country where you could not speak the language?  How much courage does it take to start a new life?

Life is just beginning.

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