Sunday, February 27, 2011

Chapter 39

In the spring of 1946, I applied for training at the Air Force Institute of Technology to finish my engineering education. About this time, the Air Force was preparing to become autonomous and were starting aviation engineering school to train all the Air Force civil engineers personnel to man all of the Air Bases. Col. Dugan, who I was later to get very well acquainted with, was made head of the Civil Engineers school. He went to headquarters and reviewed all the applications for schooling. He picked 130 Air Force Officers with civil engineering background to go to school and become 1337s. That is a service number that depicts civil engineers and I was selected to become a civil engineer. In March, I received orders to report to Geiger Field, Washington to the school.

In the spring of 1946, we had been notified the Jones wanted their home back so we decided to build a house nearby. My father and mother had come to help us and we had reached the point of wall papering. Syl was downtown buying drapes when I got a call from the base that I had orders to Geiger. We turned the house over to a real estate agent who sold it at a marginal profit.

We packed the radio back in our trailer along with our other limited belongings, including our dog and dog house. We thought the doghouse would be an ideal way to ship her. We had a door on the doghouse which we closed, then bolted the trailer rear door tight against the door to keep it shut. Then with Grampa, Grandma, Mama, Papa, and two sons, we started out across West Texas. We went right past the King Ranch and I enjoyed Dad’s comparison of it with the Deseret Livestock Ranch, the second largest in the country. He looked at the flat, bushy country and allowed as how that kind of cow punching would be easy.

A short time after we passed the ranch we stopped for gas and found “Lady” was gone from the trailer. We reversed our direction and went back looking for her, but to no avail. Finally, we offered a $25 reward through the local paper and went on our way.

We stopped off in Payson to leave the grandparents and then on up through Idaho to Spokane. Housing was tough after the war and we finally found a room with a kitchenette in a motel in Dishman, about 10 miles east of Spokane. We continued to live there until we finished the school I was to attend.

Our class was scheduled to be the third class sent through the school. Just by accident, a most unique group of students were assigned to this class. Of the 17 students, I was the 11th in size at 6 feet and 215 pounds. 10 guys were bigger than I and all of them athletic. Being spring (1946) and being required to spend some time in physical conditioning, we just naturally started playing softball. I entered the team in the base league. Craziest team you ever saw. We had an excellent defense, a so-so pitcher and all the power in the world. Only we were a straky bunch. We customarily would goof around for about 5 or 6 innings then unload in one inning enough runs to get us through the entire game. One of our opponents was a team of field grade officers which the base commander was the pitcher. Both teams were undefeated to that point. We played three innings then unloaded in one inning enough runs to get us through the entire game. I (center fielder) was scheduled to lead off the inning so I up and parked a home run.  The next four batters each in turn, stroked a homer. Five homers in succession must be some kind of record. We went on to win, 7-3. Until we graduated from school, we went undefeated in the second half of the league, some of the players were assigned to jobs where they couldn’t get off each game and we lost one game to the team composed of the instructors at the engineering school we had just finished, mostly Corps of Engineers officers. We were all Air Corps officers, mostly fly guys.

The political situation on the base was not very friendly. It was an Air Corps filed but the commander and most of the senior officers were old line corps of Engineer officers. Assigned to the base as students, and other specialized duties, were about 130 Air Corps officers. The senior officers were disgruntled because they had to learn to do things the Air Corps way and were disgruntled because our bases expected us to do things the Corps of Engineers way.

Our championship softball game became the focal point for all the frustrations on both sides. A three game series was arranged by the base athletic department. The base athletic officer announced he was going to play for the Corps of Engineers although he wasn’t connected at all with the school nor had he played during the regular season, which sounded like a ringer to us. To make matters worse, the commanding officer of the company that some of our players were assigned to, arranged a special training activity that wouldn’t let some of our best players come to the game. I was put on first base to replace one of our lost players.

Our makeshift game started under protest because of the seemingly ineligible player. The base athletic officer said, “The base athletic department” (which he was) “decides I can play with the Corps of Engineers team.”

The game got underway and proceeded without incident until the base athletic officer came to bat. He hit a little bounder down to our shortstop who threw it to me but pulled me across the base to make the catch. The ringer then lowered his shoulder into my ribs and knocked me about ten feet. That’s alright, I’d been hit before but when he boasted, “You’ll learn to stand on the base when I’m running” that was a bit too much. I kept quiet and waited. The next time the same guy came up to bat, almost the same play resulted, a slow roller down to shortstop, a wide throw to first base. Only this time I knew the rules. As he lowered the shoulder, I side-stepped and threw my hip into him enough to knock him off balance and he rolled 20 feet. I swung around, facing him, expecting him to come up swinging but before he got up, the base commander who was umpiring the game grabbed me by the shirt front and shouted, “Blankety-blank you, I’ll throw you clear off Geiger Field.” I got thrown out of the game and we lost the game and the championship.

The next day the commander went to the legal officer who was an Air Corps officer and told him to start court-martial proceedings against me. Two days later in a Col. John C.B. Elliott arrived and replaced Col. Dugan as base commander. All charges were dropped.

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