Beale AFB had belonged to the army during World War II, Used for tank training. That accounts for the gigantic size – 34,000 acres +/-. Our barracks, where the Armament and Electronic Squadron quartered had been the bachelor’s officers quarters. The air force had taken possession only a short time before I arrived.
The army, when it came time to leave, had evidently spit, leaving many things in their wake. Among these castoffs was a moderate-sized warehouse filled with a large number of gallon cans of white paint and apparently brushes too. Some said the paint been there since 1939. Indeed. A sharp screwdriver was needed to begin stirring.
Obviously, the powers that be had worried over this paint since day one. Shortly after my arrival we were notified of a “Self Help Program”. We were directed to paint our rooms any color we wished. To help, several airmen were stationed at the warehouse with dye of many colors – red, pink, yellow. Even black or gray.
My roommate and I settled on mint green walls with a white ceiling. Others chose yellow, rose, lavender. Arnold chose black and gray. Arnold had a room to himself. His choice. And ours. Because he was a loner we were unaware the Jaguar was his until the day he bought roll up window shades which he fastened to the window frames. From that point he kept his door shut and locked.
At last the “Self Help Program” was concluded. All the rooms were accounted for. An inspection day was published and placed on the bulletin board. That same day an open ranks inspection would occur at the parade ground. Everyone was invited. And while someone was conducting the inspection our Squadron Commander, a Bird Colonel, and our First Sergeant would tour the barracks and admire the results of our labor.
Someone had gotten a glimpse of Arnold’s room. He would not reveal what he saw. Instead, he suggested we find a way to put a tape recorder in the middle locker which always remained locked. No one had a key. While someone lured Arnold from his room our resident “safecracker” opened the middle locker and planted a Wollensak reel-to-reel tape recorder inside, set it to RECORD and then resecured the locker.
After our inspection at the parade ground was concluded the safecracker retrieved his Wollensack while we waited in the day room to have a listen.
The owner fast forwarded the first half-hour that had only the hissing sound of the the tape passing over the record head.
We recognized the First Sergeant’s voice as he shouted: “COLONEL! COLONEL! COME SEE THIS.”
“MY GOD,” roared the Colonel. “WHO LIVES IN THE ROOM?”
“I’ll have to look, sir,”
“Then get to looking!” the Colonel ordered.
His words were followed by a rustling of paper. And then Arnold’s name was revealed.
“I want that man in my office, front and center at 1200 hours today.”
“That’s only ten minutes from now, sir.”
“Do it. That’s an order.”
We knew where Arnold would be at noon, so we beat it to his room. And then we understood.
The floor, walls, and ceiling were gray. The window shades were also gray with black bars painted on them like a jail. A large link chain was painted from the bed frame to the wall where it was connected to a large black ball.
There didn’t seem to be any immediate reaction other than he repainted his room under the supervision of the First Sergeant and colors of his choice.
Weeks later, some of us were in the mailroom when Arnold checked his box.
“Ah, a letter from my Congressman,” he said, ripping it opening. I peered over his shoulder. The text was short and to the point.
I’ll no longer support you. You are on your own.
The PI (Political Influence) stamped on his records no longer carried any weight.
Arnold was awarded a Bad Conduct Discharge four days prior to his regular discharge date.