Air Force memories (Part 10)
On The Job Training and More
Next to Base Operations and the Weather Station was the Plane View Snack Bar. Before or after a shift we occasionally stop in for a cup of coffee. The coffee was only about 5 or 10 cents a cup. One day my Seattle trainer/coworker and I stopped in for a cup of coffee before beginning the swing shift. While walking over to the Weather Station, two Air Force pilot officers approached. We saluted as they passed. Suddenly the officers called me back, and started yelling at me. "Where did you learn to salute?" It turns out that I had my left hand in my pocket as we were talking, and didn't realize it when I saluted. I apologized to the officers, and told them it was unintentional. I then saluted them the proper way. I was extremely embarrassed. From then on I made a point to keep my hands out of my pockets when officers were in the area. Our training did not end when the shift ended. There were periodic training seminars. I remember one of the staff sergeants took us up to see the rotating radar dish. It was located at the top of a tower and enclosed in a hollow white protective ball or globe. We were also required to take correspondence courses through Extension Course Institute Air University to bring our skills up to the next level. We had to read and study each booklet, and take an exam upon completion. This was an ongoing occurrence. Postcards were sent to the Unit Training Officer (OJT) with the test results and a list of the questions that I got wrong. So far I've found six test result postcards. So I had six tests from December 1966 to May, 1967. There were additional courses after May, the results of which I haven't found. Once a month there was Commander's Call, a meeting of all detachment personnel except those on duty at the time. It was usually scheduled for 0730 (7:30am) just as the day shift was starting.
Local weather at Dyess Air Force Base
Certain times of the year were easy. The weather would be clear. That required an observation to be transmitted only once an hour. However, other times of the year the severe weather could strain your abilities. When the warmer weather season began around May, a daily weather pattern soon developed. The day would start out clear. At around noon rising hot air would start the development of updrafts. Soon puffy cumulus clouds would begin to form and gradually build up into huge thunderstorms. They could reach as high as 50,000 feet. They had a characteristic anvil shape at the top. A thunderstorm cloud is called Cumulonimbus Low clouds close to the ground we called scud. They were usually only a few hundred feet above the ground. Because of that you could see them moving rapidly. After a while, we were skilled enough to estimate the altitude of the cloud layers. The thunderstorm cloud that was the most interesting, but also the most dangerous, was officially called Cumulonimbus Mammatus. Mammatus means "breast cloud". Pouches (that look like women's breasts) form at the bottom of the cloud. These are precursors to tornadoes. One day I was up in the tower duty station. A thunderstorm was approaching. As it passed overhead it created a spectacular sight. Looking back towards the barracks, I could clearly see half of the barracks buildings. The view of the other buildings was completely blocked by a wall of rain with a crisp edge. I wish I had my camera for that one. It looked like a giant waterfall of rain. When I returned from leave that May, I left New Jersey in 70ºF weather and stepped off the plane in Abilene into a wall of 106ºF heat. That's how hot it could get. While I was on leave, severe thunderstorms passed through the area, dropping golf ball size hail. There were a lot of hail stone sales at car dealerships due to hail damage. After 17 weeks of Tech School and four months of on-the-job training, I was finally certified to work on my own April 5, 1967. My very first shift was mid shift 1600-0000 (4:00pm to midnight). Everything went smoothly until a thunderstorm moved in. One of the criteria for reporting a thunderstorm is if the observer hears thunder. I heard distant thunder. So I transmitted a teletype reporting a thunderstorm. The only problem was that SSgt. Barton's forecast did not include thunderstorms. So he had to scramble to put out a revised forecast. The next morning SSgt. Barton jokingly complained to Lt.Col. Davis, SSgt Rablin and the forecasters coming on duty that I had created extra work for him with the report of a thunderstorm. They all agreed that I did my job. The first month on my own went well. I didn't make any mistakes the whole month. As a result I was named "Outstanding Airman of the Month". Besides the certificate, I think there was some other positive reward that came with it. I just don't remember what it was. However, I didn't realize how lucky I was that month. I was never again able to go through an entire month without making a mistake. Effective May 1, 1967, I was promoted to Airman Second Class (E-3), which was later renamed Airman First Class (same rank, just a different name for it).
This event occurred during the summer while I was on duty in the upstairs observer station during mid shift 0000 to 0730 (midnight to 7:30am). It was a warm night with crystal clear skies. Everything was quiet. Usually the C-130 Hercules pilots practiced touch and go landings every night. But this night there were absolutely no planes in the air. Because of the clear skies, I only needed to transmit an observation once an hour. I couldn't read or listen to the radio because it would make me sleepy. So I opened the windows and looked out at the stars. The cool air would help keeping me awake. As I was looking out the window on the barracks side of the control tower, I saw blinking lights approaching, moving from south to north in my direction. There was no engine noise. As it got even with the control tower, it made a 90º angle left turn and passed directly over the control tower. The only aircraft I was aware of that could make an abrupt right angle turn is a helicopter. However, there was no engine noise. A helicopter can be heard miles away. As it passed over the control tower, I hurried over the window on the opposite side, and waited for the "aircraft" to reappear. It never did. It just disappeared. I looked out the windows in all directions, and could not see it anywhere. I called upstairs to the air traffic controllers on duty and asked if they have anything showing on radar. There was nothing on radar. I asked if they saw anything.....No! Since there were no planes flying that night, they were probably passing the time talking and not paying attention. I called downstairs and reported it to the forecaster and airman on duty. They ran outside and scanned the skies for any blinking lights. They saw nothing. This sighting created a bit of a commotion the next morning. But I never heard anything further about it or whether there were any other sightings reported.
Air Force memories (Part 11)
A copy of a newspaper article (top & bottom) that appeared in the base newspaper, "The Dyess Peacemaker", on August 11, 1967 is included with this posting, and gives an overview of the 26th Weather Squadron operations.
Air Force memories (Part 12)
Each room in the barracks housed two airman. One bathroom and shower was shared between two rooms. There was one sink in each room. We had bunk beds. I always liked the upper bunk for some reason...ever since basic training. We each had a locker for our belongings. There was a common room in the barracks with a television set. I think there were some vending machines also. I don't remember anything else in the room. My favorite shows back then were on Thursday night......The Dean Martin Show and Star Trek. I would get something out of the vending machine and watch the shows along with a bunch of the other guys. However, I didn't have control over what programs were turned on. So April 12, 1967 I went to the Dyess Federal Credit Union and borrowed $80 to buy a new TV set for my room. It was a small black and white set. Once set up in my room, it had to be connected to a cable. Cable television! That's the first time I ever heard of cable television. I believe it was either free or only had a small monthly fee of $10. Eventually I was ordered to switched rooms to the room next door with A2C Tony Franklin. My previous roommate was always off base during off duty hours. Someone said that he had a boyfriend. The rumor was that he was gay. I think that he was transferred to an apartment off base. Of course my new roommate, Tony Franklin, had his own television! So now there were two TV sets in our room. Tony also had a stereo record player and a bunch of records.
I remember the movie "Doctor Zhivago" was a big hit at that time. I loved the movie and the soundtrack to that movie. Tony had an LP of the sound track. I used to play that record over and over as I went to sleep.
I never had any trouble going to sleep.
The only phone available was downstairs. I think that was the laundry room. I was to use that phone several months later in an emergency.
Off Duty Recreation
There were a number of things we did while not on duty. A movie theater on base offered feature films, but only for a day or two. They sold a big box of popcorn for about 50 cents. But it was absolutely covered in salt. That was to make sure you bought soda. I remember playing touch football between the barracks. You had to wear shoes because of the thorny grass, not to mention the spiders and ants. Many times a few of us would get together and go over to the commissary for a cheap cup of coffee or maybe a glass of 3.2 beer (3.2% alcohol). The post office was next door. We each had our own box with a combination lock. I would go there regularly, hoping for mail. On Sundays I would buy the newspapers. But coverage of sports was limited to the local area. I had to wait a few days for the New York Times to arrive at the library so I could check the scores of Rutgers basketball and later football. I asked Mom to cut out any articles on Rutgers sports and mail them to me. The local Abilene colleges were Hardin Simmons College, Abilene Christian College and McMurrray College. Our barracks bay chief was Sgt. Bob Vickers of Albuquerque, New Mexico. He had less than a year to go on his enlistment. He would constantly tell us exactly how many days he had left. He planned to work for the railroad when he got out. He was dating a girl at Hardin Simmons College. We went with him to meet her one day. Later in the summer, he was to arrange for a blind date for me and Tony along with him and his girl friend. One day he drove a bunch of us out to a lake to go swimming. Of course it was a hot sunny day. Because the air is so clear, I got a very bad sunburn. One of my the airmen in my squadron, Steve Jones (Riverside, California), took leave to get married. As a result, he was put up in a apartment off base for him and his wife (she hadn't arrived yet). We visited him a few times. I guess his family had money. I still remember that he had a $400 Sony color TV set that he got from his parents as a wedding present. He also drove an El Camino.
Tony liked to play cards and racquetball. I didn't care much for cards. Tony always beat me at Hearts. But I liked racket ball. He would call the Community Center and reserve a racquetball court and equipment. Most times Tony would beat me. One time I remember getting hit with a racquetball right between the eyes.
Whenever we were undermanned, a temporary replacement would be flown in to help out. In January, 1967 we got a guy in from somewhere around Minnesota. He must have been glad to have warm weather. We went for a drive into the countryside 20 miles south of Dyess and Abilene. We saw a roadrunner and an armadillo. My friend managed to catch the armadillo and pose for a photo. We let the armadillo go. It was January 30, 1967 and the temperature was 80ºF. We couldn't get over that. It did get cold during winter. But It snowed only once, and that was only about 1/2 inch of wet snow that soon melted. In May I went home on leave for a few weeks. When I left New Jersey, the temperature was 70ºF. When I exited the Trans Texas plane (Also know as Tree Top Airlines or Tinker Toy Airlines), the temperature in Abilene was 106ºF!
In May after returning from leave, I was scheduled for my annual session at the rifle range. This time it was with an M-1 .30 Caliber carbine. I qualified once again as expert marksman.
Air Force memories (Part 13)
My July 1, 1967 letter home
I found one of my letters to home dated July 1, 1967. It cleared up some of the information I had posted in previous episodes. My reward for "Airman of the Month" was an extra day off. I was preparing for a test to be given on July 11, 1967. The weather has been pretty much the same except for the previous day when it drizzled all day. It reminded me of New Jersey. The lake where we went swimming, resulting in a bad sunburn for me, is called Lake Fort Phantom. It is located north of Abilene. The "beach" is nothing but pebbles and rocks. You had to wear sneakers or walk softly. Also in the letter I indicated that the previous week three other guys and me went over to Hardin Simmons College to play some tennis. We checked the tennis rackets and balls out of recreation supply which was next door to our barracks. We could check out just about anything: tents, sleeping bags, fishing poles, basketballs, guns, portable camping stoves, etc. I told Mom and Dad that time was starting to pass quickly now, compared to the first six months at basic training and Tech School, when the passage of time seemed to drag. I guess I was falling into a routine. At that time we were on a 6 and 2 work schedule (6 days on and 2 days off) which seemed like a luxury. However, our detachment clerk was transferred to Dow AFB in Maine. One of the guys was going on leave to get married (Steve Jones). And my ladies man friend was leaving for Thailand. So our work schedule would soon change to working 7 days a week with no days off. I ended the letter with "How's Dad coming along with the truck?'. Dad was fixing an old pickup truck he bought. I was starting to gain some weight. I had got into a habit of stopping at the nearby chow hall at midnight after working the swing shift. I loved scrambled eggs and bacon. You could have as much as you want. I started making appointments for dental work. The Air Force dentist told me I had impacted wisdom teeth that needed to come out. By August my two top wisdom teeth had been removed. I was scheduled to have my two bottom wisdom teeth removed in a few weeks. Sgt. Bob Vickers was arranging a date with his girlfriend, a Hardin Simmons student. He had two girls set up as blind dates for my room mate, Tony, and me. We would all go out together.
**Thursday, August 17, 1967. The day started out to be just another routine normal day.......and then my life changed. **
A bunch of us piled into a car and went over to the Community Center to play racquetball. You play in an indoor court and hit a hard rubber ball off the wall. I enjoyed that game. But my roommate was very good at it. I rarely beat him at a game. While we were playing, one of the guys yelled to me "Kover, Lt.Col. Davis (our detachment commander) wants to talk to you!" That was extremely unusual. I thought that I was in deep trouble. When I opened the door, Lt.Col Davis was standing there. Next to him was another officer, a major, who had a piece of paper in his hand. He was the chaplain.
Air Force memories (Part 14)
My brother had warned me that Dad was not doing well. They had finally convinced him to make an appointment with the doctor. But that never happened. I was only 22 years old. What goes through your mind when someone tells you that your father died? You would think that exact words would be ingrained in my memory. I don't remember a single word. I guess I was in shock. I'm not even sure whether it was Lt.Col. Davis or the chaplain who told me.....probably the chaplain. For some reason I wanted that paper the chaplain was holding. Maybe it was because Dad was on that paper. He was shocked when I asked for it. I think he gave it to me. But to this day I have no idea what ever happened to that piece of paper. I assume that we all showered and dressed. All I can remember after that was sitting in the front passenger seat of the car on the way back to the barracks. Our work schedule must have finally returned to normal (6 days on, 2 days off). The reason I say that is because we were all totally silent in the car, except for one remark by Bobby Gene McKinney from Houston Texas. McKinney started complaining, "Now we're going to have to work a seven day week again!". One of the guys in the back told him "Shut up! His father just died!". My next memory is making a phone call home from the phone in the laundry room. When Mom answered, she said "Where have you been?'. The Red Cross had been trying to contact me. I told her that I was getting emergency leave, and would catch a plane home the next day. My next stop was the weather station. Lt.Col. Davis had the paperwork prepared for emergency leave. The next morning I caught a plane to Dallas and then onto Newark Airport. Mom said that cousin Ernie Galayda was going to pick me up at Newark and drive me straight to the Gowen Funeral Home, 233 Somerset Street, New Brunswick, New Jersey. Ernie Galayda picked me up the next day. During the drive to the funeral home, Ernie took his black tie off and told me to put it on. I was wearing my tan summer uniform, which is worn with an open collar without a tie. I told him that I am not allowed to wear a tie with the summer uniform. When I arrived at the funeral home, and saw my mother I broke down and cried for the first time since getting the news.
Air Force memories (Part 15)
After the funeral my cousin, Kenneth Harned, told me that I should apply for a hardship discharge. His son, Kenny, was serving in Vietnam at the time as a helicopter mechanic. He was stationed at a place called Phui-Loi, 30 miles north of Saigon. I had written a letter to him back in February. He described the conditions there. The temperature was usually 100ºF. He was living in a tent. They had a couple of guys get killed during mortar attacks. Towards the end of the letter he wrote "Bill do what ever you can to stay out of this country, cause it isn't such a ball over here." I had never heard of a hardship discharge before. A hardship discharge is granted when circumstances at home change to such a degree that the soldier is needed at home as a means of support for a parent. Due to the sudden death of my father, my mother had little means of support. She couldn't work. My youngest sister at home was working, but didn't make enough money. My other sister and brother had a wife and kids to support. So it was important for me to return to civilian status and get a job. My cousin took me down to the Red Cross for the necessary paperwork and procedures to follow. I spent the rest of emergency leave preparing for a hardship discharge application. It involved completing a lot of paperwork, including notarized statements of family income and outstanding debts, notarized letters from family, relatives, neighbors and even my mother's doctor. Each letter had to indicate the reasons that required me to be home. Furthermore, I had to take a immediate action to try and land a job. But eventually my emergency leave ended. There were a lot of letters of support that still had to be obtained. I had to return to Dyess Air Force Base. In the meantime, my mother and siblings continued with the job of accumulating those notarized letters.
Upon my return to Texas, Lt. Col. Davis called me into his office and told me that I had the option of applying for a hardship discharge. So everything was set into motion while I resumed my duties at the weather station. During light work shifts when the weather was clear and only required an observation to be transmitted once an hour, I began typing copies of my resume and sending them along with a cover letter to companies back in New Jersey. My supervisor, SSgt. Rablin had a thick catalogue listing the addresses of companies all over the United States. I didn't remember this, but I even sent a letter to the C.I.A.. I actually got a response from them.
At the time I had no idea how long the processing of the hardship discharge was going to take. All the necessary paperwork had to be gathered first. There was also the possibility that my application would not be approved. In the meantime that blind date I was supposed to go on with my roommate, Tony Franklin, and Bob Vickers never happened. Also, I put off having my my two bottom wisdom teeth pulled. I eventually decided to not have the procedure done. I was told later by a civilian dentist "If your wisdom teeth don't bother you, leave them alone". I still have my two bottom wisdom teeth, and they haven't bothered me.
Air Force memories (Part 16)
Sometime in October I was notified that my request for a hardship discharge was approved. Part of the discharge processing involved undergoing a complete physical on October 18, 1967. My final orders came through on October 27, 1967. My discharge date would be November 7, 1967. I was relieved from active duty and assigned to the Reserve Personnel Center in Denver, Colorado as an inactive reservist.
However, processing out wasn't that simple. I had countless appointments for all sorts of things. I had to turn in my winter fatigue jacket. My account at the Credit Union had to be settled and closed. Probably one of the final appointments was to turn in my military I.D. Card. I wish I could have kept it as a memento.
In the meantime, I still had weather station duty. As the time came near, I took more photos. I had my roommate take some photos of me on and off duty. I tried to take photos of the guys I worked with as well as friends in the barracks. I still had that small black and white TV. I couldn't bring it with me, so I gave it away. The duty roster for the end of October and beginning of November showed that my final duty day was the swing shift (1600-0000C or 4:00pm to midnight Central Time) on November 5, 1967. As my last day approached, I had my coworkers take photos of me. Arrangements were made to ship my duffel bag home separately.
Since there was no obligation to get home soon, I planned to visit a few key cities on the way. My plan was to pass through Dallas, New Orleans and then Atlanta before heading home. The first leg to Dallas would be by bus. Tony Franklin drove me to the bus station in Abilene. I thanked Tony, shook his hand and said goodbye. When you are young, you don't think or realize the importance of that last handshake. That was to be the last time I ever saw him. He was the one who picked me up at the airport when I first arrived in December, 1966. I have often wondered what ever happened to him.
Air Force memories (Part 17)
While on the road just outside of Abilene, I took a photo of the countryside through my bus window. We stopped briefly at the bus station in Fort Worth, then continued on to Dallas. My first glimpse of Dallas was through the bus window as we pulled into the Greyhound Bus Terminal. I had a Dallas map with me. I rented a room about a block or two from the bus station. I remember that it was a very old hotel. The room had a musty smell. But the location and cost ($10 a night) suited my needs. It was only about four blocks from Dealey Plaza, which was my main reason for stopping here. I had read a lot about the assassination. I wanted to see the historic site in person. My duffel bag was being shipped home. So the only luggage I had was a small sports bag with my toiletries, etc. The next morning, November 8, 1967, I headed for Dealey Plaza, and took a number of photos of the historic area of the assassination. I don't remember much else of that day, other than walking to Sears store, where I purchased a .22 caliber pellet pistol. That pellet gun would be stored in my carryon bag aboard the plane. This was long before the era of hijackers. So airport security was not very strict back then.
The next morning, November 9, 1967 I returned to the bus station and hired a taxi to Love Field for a flight to New Orleans. I was able to get an inexpensive motel room near the French Quarter. This must have been off season. There were very few tourists. I walked the streets of New Orleans most of the day. That evening I had dinner at a small tavern nearby (Beer and Pizza). Then I went to the movies to see "Bonnie and Clyde". That movie was filmed in Red Oak, Texas just south of Dallas. Http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d0qnnwPLpxI
By now I was getting anxious to be back home. I decided to skip Atlanta, and catch a flight to Newark Airport the next day, Friday, November 10, 1967. I don't remember how I got home from Newark Airport. Most likely I took the train to New Brunswick and then a bus the rest of the way. I was wearing my dress blue uniform as well as a pair of Air Force issue flight sunglasses. All soldiers dream of arriving home to a grand welcome. But my grand welcome was an empty house. No one knew exactly when I would be arriving home. My sister, Kathy, was probably at work. I had no idea where Mom was. So I took off my Air Force uniform, and changed into civilian clothes. About an hour later Mom came home. My Uncle Paul and Aunt Helen Bruder had taken her food shopping. That is how my military career ended.
Air Force memories (epilogue)
In 1995 I visited Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene, Texas, where I was stationed December, 1966 to November, 1967. With prior written approval from the commander of the weather station, Captain Robinson, I was able to tour the weather station and parts of the base. I asked Captain Robinson if I could go up into the control tower the see the old observer duty location. He said I couldn't because the tower has since been condemned. I asked him how they were able to make their weather observations. He said "We look out the window". I intended to videotape my old barracks, but an MP wouldn't allow it. I also found out that I was not supposed to videotape the flight line. I attempted to videotape a full grown jack rabbit hopping across the lawn as we exited the weather station. But the video tape cassette was full. By the time I put a new tape in the camera, the jack rabbit was gone. I was able to tape some other jack rabbits, but they were much smaller than the one we saw. The jack rabbits seemed to be accustomed to humans. They only scoot away if you come close to them. I had hoped to go in the BX, but Captain Robinson said civilians aren't allowed in there. Here is a short video of our July, 1995 visit to Dyess Air Force Base. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OMA0hfg9fTc