Whatever It Took To Save Lives

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Whatever It Took To Save Lives

My American Legion magazine arrived in my mailbox today. Though it covers many subjects the one that interested me most was the story of a Vietnam Nurse. She served in what was called MASH during Korea. Her story was not much different from a book I read many years ago. Even though her story impacted me, I I’ve long since forgotten the title. If you were to ask me, in a single sentence, what I took away from the book, it was that after Korea five years passed before she could eat beef.

I’m an air force veteran who served ten years active duty. No, I’m not a combat veteran. I don’t have any metals, ribbons, war stories, or battlefield injuries. I was an aircraft maintainer – airborne communications-navigation.

My first duty station after boot camp and then a year-long electronic education in avionics was Charleston AFB, South Carolina. My job was to maintain aircraft flying troops to and from Europe, Africa, South America, etc.. But about twice each week an air evacuation plane – a hospital flight – arrived from Germany with injured troops bound for Walter-Reed.

The aircraft commander always called ahead with his safety-of-flight problems and we were issued priority repair orders. Fix it as quickly as possible. Each patient had his own nurse and the atmosphere in the fuselage was absolute silence, with the exception of the sound of the ground power unit.

The aircraft I was most often assigned to was the C-121 – Super Connie – and some my equipment was located in the baggage area below the floor. A trapdoor gave access to this super-hot area beneath the floor we called the Hell Hole. Often I had to have the medic move a gurney wheel far enough to gain access.

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Focus

I was four when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and Gabrial Heatter shared his radio news hour with FDR. Most of the words the president spoke were beyond my vocabulary. I didn’t even fully comprehend why my four uncles responded to their draft notices. But I understood rationing of food.

We had no Kix, Cheerios, Lucky Charms, or Shredded Wheat shot from Cannons (so the commercial claimed). Instead we had the un-rationed oatmeal, porridge, gruel – call it what you like. I consumed my share. When the thought of it with molasses for sweetener turned my stomach I could have crackers and milk or bread and milk.

Today, 2017, a bowl of either brings my young childhood back into sharp focus.

Time Is Short

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When I was in high school we had a shooting war going on in Korea. Having registered for the draft brought this into sharp focus for me. But before my time ran out and the draft board sent me their invitation Ike came along campaigning for president. The big promise he made was: “If you elect me as your president I’ll bring your boys home from Korea.” Of course, I wasn’t old enough to vote, but those words certainly won my support. I had no desire to spend the rest of my life on Pork Chop Hill.

Ike went on to become our president and his campaign commitment became a reality. The details holding the agreement together weren’t perfect, but they certain were better than the shooting war that had already claimed 58,000 American lives.

During the two previous administrations, perhaps more, the agreement has become frayed. And during the final years of Obama’s administration it became a dangerous situation. Then along came Trump, the self-proclaimed Master Negotiator.

Trump needs to realize he can’t fire everybody who disagrees with him. He needs to curtail his petty Tweeting, stop his street-fighting and defuse this situation.

Here’s his chance to show his stuff.

It’s In the Details

During a three-way email discussion this week we reviewed a World War II movie where Morse code was sent on the sly by a tap dancer while the Tommy Dorsey Band played in the background. Our discussion was not so much about the move, but what language was used to send the secret message. It was tough copy, whatever it was.

I finally decided the message was sent via American Morse and by means of the old Sounder. In this manner one doesn’t copy the length of the tone. Instead, one copies the length of time the electromagnet is engaged – the time span between the click and the clack.

It was still difficult, but I was able to copy along with the person who was printing the characters. The movie reviewers thought he was writing it ahead. I found they were wrong, especially when she stamped her heel and then hesitated before continuing signifying a “T” in the word BOAT. In American Morse the T is three times longer than in International Morse.

 

The Stutz

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An icy winter wind bits Jack’s face as he cranks down his window and gazes at Wagontire, the place where he lived his childhood. Swinging his Ford pickup onto the shoulder, he let it roll to a stop in the gravel. Switching off the ignition, he grabs his field glasses and scans the isolated village. Changes have occurred. Slow, deliberate changes. His dad’s Shell station where he pumped gas during World War II is now Texaco. Its corporate red and white adding color to the high desert scene. His mother’s grocery store is now a Star Mart. The post office where she served as postmistress is gone.

Laying his binoculars on the seat, Jack hits the ignition switch. The V8 flares, and he continues toward the wide place, the scar on the desert floor called Wagontire, and parks on the south side of Star Mart. It’s like so many Texaco convenience stores, the cold drinks along the north wall. At the east end, where the Pepsi display starts are the prepared sandwiches – ham and cheese on rye, salami on wheat, and egg salad on white bread.

Pleased to find a small table with seating to accommodate four, he claims a bench where he can sit while he has a ham and cheese and a bottle of orange soda.

“Don’t I know you from somewhere?” asks an old man who has crippled in from outside. Before Jack can respond he adds, “Mind if I join you?”

“Of course not. Sit,” says Jack, gesturing, a palm up. Jack recognizes him from before he went off to join the navy.

The old man is silent for a time, gathering his thoughts.

“Can I get you something, Frank?”

“How’d you know my name? You remind me of someone,” the old man says.

Well I remember you. Frank Sluter? Have I got the name right? You wrenched for my dad when I was a kid here in Wagontire.”

By cracky, that’s why I thought I knowed you. You’re Jack. A spitting image of your dad, you are,” says the old man, reaching across the table to shake. “I haven’t heard anything about your folks for years. Are they still alive?”

They both passed away a few years back.”

That’s too bad.

Do you remember the fellow with the Stutz Bearcat?”

That red one. The fella that bought gas here during the war?”

Yes. Him. There was gas rationing and folks were only allowed three and a half gallons of gasoline each week. But this fella always had a rationing book chucked full of gas stamps. He always filled up when he was going south and he filled up again when he was headed back north. And he always gave me a nickel so I could buy a candy bar.”

Dad said we could set our calendar by the days he came each month.”

What do you suppose he did. Where’d he get all those gas stamps from? He must have worked for the government, don’t you think?” the old mechanic ventured.

Maybe, but we’ll never know. It’s been too long. One day while Dad and I were setting in the station office, after the war was over, he asked me if I’d seen the guy in the red Stutz. I hadn’t. He’d quit coming by and we hadn’t noticed. Dad always kept track of details. He went to the desk calendar and started flipping through the pages. After a few minutes he turned and looked at me with an expression I’d never seen before. Stress? I don’t know. But he finally explained that the fellow had stopped coming by about the same time the Atom bomb exploded. He said he thought that guy was carrying plutonium from Hanford.

 

The Perfect Cover

It’s been said that one who wishing to hide something should do so in plain sight. I can think of one time it may have worked perfectly.

An old friend, Terry, grew up in the small, high desert town of Wagon Tire, Oregon during World War II. His family owned and operated a grocery store, gas station, and the Wagon Tire Post Office at a place along US 395. Gasoline was rationed to 3.5 gallons per week except for mail carriers or defense plant employees. Yet one individual could always fill his automobile.

During the final year of the war this middle-aged man in tweeds and a neck scarf bought gasoline at Wagon Tire twice each month, once while headed south and again when he was headed north. He drove a Stutz Bearcat and always had plenty of rationing stamps. Terry told me he never questioned the man’s appearance or the fact that he always had stamps.

In 1945 the war ended and the man in tweeds was never seen again. Not until many years later did Terry realize that US 395 lead directly from Hanford, Washington to the general vicinity where the first atom bomb was tested.

“I think he was carrying plutonium from Hanford to the test site. The Stutz Bearcat and the scarf were a perfect cover,” said Terry.

Our House

 

In mid 1943 my mother decided I needed a better education than that offered at the one-room school my father and his father attended. She packed us up bag and baggage, and in spite of the fiery arguments issued by my grandparents, we moved. Mr. Black, a Bates County Commissioner, owned the house we moved into. We rented the ground floor. He reserved the upper floor for himself and the friends he often entertained.

Mr. Black's House

It was built in the latter years of the Nineteenth Century. I remember the dark, handcrafted wood  in the window frames and the heavy stairway banister of which I was forbidden to climb.

It was in this house that I recovered from measles, whooping-cough, and mumps. Unable to go outside I spent many hours lying on my back at the dining room window watching the snow flakes fall.

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In this front window just to the right of the entryway my mother hung the four blue stars indicating our family members, Weston, Clarence, Wayne, and Glenn who were away fighting World War II. Fortunately none of our blue stars were replaced with gold ones. That would have indicated one of our four was killed in action.