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Sunday, November 29, 2015

Lay Low

I have been laying low for several days.  I mentioned in my American Pie post under Launch, that I often don't know where my writing will take me and I wanted to think about where I was going with this thread.  I have brought the story up to the point where I was making the decision to be a pilot, with no going back.  It occurred to me that I hadn't said much about my family or close friends during these early years.  I've decided to continue to keep most of that to a minimum.  This is going to be about the development of my career.

April and I had been married for a few years, when I started flying at Graham Aviation at Butler Graham Airport.  We talked about flying full time and trying to get through all the necessary licenses and ratings as fast as possible.  Learning to fly would be my full time job.  She would be supporting us.  Jim Weber was the instructor who could work with me as his primary student.  The others had too many other responsibilities and Jim was building his clientele.

I had passed my private pilot check ride and could now take people with me on some of the practice flying I needed to do without an instructor.  There were lots of cross country trips that were necessary and lots of time flying a "complex" airplane, with retractable landing gear and constant speed propeller.  April and I took a trip to Norfolk VA, giving my cousin and his wife a ride home.  When we got there, the weather turned for the worse and we had to wait until it improved.  It took us a few days to get back to Butler.

Some time after this, April told me she wanted a divorce.  I tried to talk her out of it several times, but eventually went along.  I was surprised that she let me crawl out on that limb of not having a job and then cut it off, but I was working part time as a line boy at the airport and moved back into my parents home until I was able to get a full time job as an instructor.  I shared a room with my brother, Kevin, who is 15 years younger than me.  He was a very good baseball player and it was kind of fun working with him to improve his pitching skills, but the divorce was tough.

I put my head down and worked hard finishing the commercial license.  I took my check ride with Wild Bill McCowin, who used to be the chief pilot and was a designated examiner.  With that, I could be paid for flying, but there was not much I could do except give airplane rides when the weather was good.  The next step was the flight instructor rating.  That would really open the door to being able to be a professional pilot.

Jim was my instructor once again.  He was very thorough.  He was knowledgable about aerodynamics and was an aircraft mechanic also.  We spent lots of ground school hours going over all I needed to know when the weather was not good enough to fly.  Of course, we became good friends.  Many of the friends I was making at this time of my life and for the rest of my career have been the best I have ever known and have remained so until now.  There had been a few disappointments prior to that.

I think the things I learned from classes in the army and from that experience helped me in this endeavor.  However, I had to understand that I was no longer a platoon sergeant with a bunch of trainees.  In civilian life, I had to back down my Type A personality a little.

The conventional wisdom among the pilots at Graham Aviation was that no one passed a flight instructor check ride at the Allegheny County Airport FAA General Aviation District Office (GADO) on the first attempt.  I'm not sure if that had been their experience or if they merely told me that so that I would not be disappointed if I failed.

On the flight down to AGC for the check ride, I decided to do the best I could.  I felt that I was very well prepared and had confidence that I could fly and talk my way through most such challenges.  I was responsible for all the things a private and commercial pilot had to know and had to be able to "teach" the FAA inspector any of the maneuvers for those licenses.  I had to do this while flying the airplane myself.  The fact that I was rushing through those licenses and consolidated all that learning into a relatively short time was helpful.  It was all fresh in my mind.

The instructor ratings, unlike the private and commercial required a ride with an inspector who actually worked for the FAA.  This created a little more apprehension than taking a ride with a designated examiner like McCowin, whom I had known for several months.

Bill was about the same age as my father, nearly 30 years older than I.  He was the "Ol' Captain" around the airport.  He always called all of us Captain, unless we had screwed up somehow in his opinion, then he called us Lieutenant.  Remember, he had been fired from Graham Aviation, but was always hanging around, giving check rides and flying for some airplane owners who had him on retainer.

He was a tall, thin man, with long wavy hair, combed straight back.  I had seen a picture of him, when he was a young man and he seemed to be a good looking guy back then.  When I knew him, he looked a little rough around the edges, but he was a smart man.  He just had a drinking problem and let it get the best of him some times.

As the local designated examiner, a private citizen who had gotten the authority from the FAA to give check rides, he was the guy all the instructors at Butler Graham sent their students to.  Therefore, his philosophy of flying influenced all of us there.

When I met the FAA inspector for the instructor ride, he put me at ease and I remained so for the entire event, which included an oral exam and then the ride itself.  When we returned to the office, he told me I had passed and gave me my temporary certificate.

Wow!  I can't tell you how happy this made me.  Despite my experience in the army and all the confidence I had gained, I still had doubts about being able to succeed in life.  I didn't have anything to really compare my flying abilities with.  I was always flying with instructors with much more experience.  I didn't know where I stacked up against others.  Jim had been telling me I was doing well, but I thought he was just encouraging me to continue.  Passing that instructor check ride meant I now had the ability to fly for a living.  I could always be an instructor.  I had a profession.

While working for the super market, I was bored and thought I might just be lazy or something.  With the attempts at selling real estate, life insurance and cars, I felt that I was not a self starter and just couldn't push myself hard to do the work.

After that check ride and while flying back to Butler, I felt very motivated to spend long days building flight time.  The guys worked as much as 12 hours a day, when the weather was good in the summer.  I was so happy, I actually allowed myself to consider doing a victory roll in the Cherokee, but then decided against that.  Smart move.  I had never done one before and probably would have ended my career before it started, not to mention my life.

Jack Redman, the manager of Graham Aviation, gave me a job as an instructor.  Jim was starting to become busy flying charter and pilot service flights and someone had to pick up the slack with the students.  My next hurdle was going to be the instrument rating.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Life Goes On

While the flying lessons progressed, there were other things going on in my life.   I bounced to a couple different stores for the super market chain.  I helped open a new store in Wexford PA.  I started thinking I needed to try to do more with my life and the flying thing  seemed to be a big hurdle.  It was going to take a long time to get the licenses and ratings I needed and then I had to get experience, hours.

Along with driving a taxi, I was working part time as a real estate salesman.  I did sell one house, but there was no training program at the agency I worked for.    

I met some guys who ran a life insurance agency and left the super market to go to work for them.  

In 1969, April and I were married.  We were both working and she was gone on trips a lot.  This gave me time to work and fly.  

I can't remember how all this fell together time wise, but the insurance thing wasn't working out and I went to work selling cars at a Datsun dealership.  In retrospect, I think I was too young to sell real estate and life insurance.  It is not easy for a guy in his early 20s to relate to the kind of people who are buying homes and life insurance.

Datsuns were Japanese imports and are called Nissans now.  That was going well for about a year, then there were issues with the American car manufacturers and the price advantage the imports had.  The government started dong things to level that table and sales were very hard to come by. I had a discussion with April about making a decision to go all in on the flying career.  We agreed that I would leave the dealership and fly full time, while she continued working.  In my mind, I wanted to be an airline pilot, but decided that I was going to be a pilot, even if it meant dusting crops.

I made that move, left the dealership and also began flying at Graham Aviation at Butler Graham Airport.  There was an opportunity to work as a line boy, which means fueling airplanes and pulling them in and out of the hangar.  Graham Aviation was a Fixed Base Operator (FBO), which provides aviation services in General Aviation.  GA is everything besides airlines and military, small airplanes.  They sell airplanes, provide maintenance, fuel service, flight instruction, air taxi (charter) and pilot service (rent a pilot).

Remember that the VA was paying for 90% of the cost of my flying lessons.  By working for the FBO, the other 10% was discounted.  It was costing me zero.  Zero cost is good.  There was a lot of grass at Butler Graham airport.  There was a paved runway with grass around it, but there was also an equally long, perpendicular grass runway.  Part of my job was to drive a tractor with a big mower behind it to keep the grass under control.  I didn't make a lot of money, but it was a fun job.  I was lobbying the manager to give me a job as a flight instructor when I got that rating.  He said maybe.  That's better than no.

At Beaver County Airport, I had flown with Moore Aviation.  It was a small school, with 3 part time instructors.  When I told the owner I wanted to fly every day, as much as I could, she recommended switching to Graham Aviation.  There were 3 full time instructors there.

My first instructor there was Dave Orris.  Soon after I started, the chief pilot was fired.  His name was Bill McCowin and he had become unreliable, because of a drinking problem.  Dave was promoted to chief pilot and was going to be flying charter flights.  He would not have as much time for instructing.  That is when Jim Weber became my 13th instructor.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

A New World

On the drive back home, it was necessary to bounce back and forth between Interstate 70 and US Route 40.  The interstate was not quite complete east of Columbus.  You pass through the panhandle of West Virginia, then back to PA.  I always joke about the time I was driving along Route 40 as I crossed the state border and while looking at the Welcome To Pennsylvania sign, WHAM!, I hit a big pot hole, the first I had encountered on the drive.  Welcome back to the land of pot holes.

For two years, I had thought about getting back to my nice little life at home.  However, things were different.  This was the late 60s.  Young people were starting to protest the war.  Marijuana was everywhere.  It had not been around 2 years ago.  If it had, I would have known.  I felt uncomfortable with my old friends.  Because of the conversation I had with myself that night in the Constellation, I didn't let that bother me.  I was going to try to follow my own plan and not let the opinions of others discourage me.

Soon, I met a flight attendant who worked for Allegheny Airlines, named April.  We started dating.  Through her I met some of the pilots and began talking to them about being a pilot myself.  They were telling me how to go about doing that and that Allegheny was hiring.  The problem was that there was so much to do to become qualified to even apply for a flying job.  It would take time and money.  Fortunately, because of my service in the military, I could take advantage of a Veterans Administration program that paid for flight training.  It was the same program that paid for college.  First, I had to get a private license on my own.

Coincidentally, I became reconnected with an old friend I had met in first grade and again in high school, Jack.  He was taking flight instruction at a little airport just outside Zelionople Pa, north of Pittsburgh.  He belonged to the Condor Aero Club based there and flying Cessna 150s, small, 2 seat, high wing airplanes.  I joined the club and started taking lessons.  My instructor was Harold Bennett, who had flown B-17s in World War II.

I returned to my job at the super market chain.  I was offered an opportunity to take a position at a store in Butler PA as a "third man".  This meant I was next in line behind the store manager and assistant manager.  I was being taught the duties they performed in the office.  I continued to live in the Pittsburgh area and it was a long commute each day.  I soon tired of the drive and decided to ask for a move back to a store closer to home.  This was granted, but the management option was off the table.  I was not terribly disappointed.

As I learned more about what I had to do to become qualified to apply to an airline for a job as a pilot, I began to have a mental image of a mountain.  It seemed that there was a mountainous obstacle before me and I didn't know if I was supposed to climb it, dig a tunnel through it or start shoveling it away.

I can't remember the exact requirements, but each step along the way was well laid out.  First I had to pass a medical exam and get a student pilot certificate.  Then came the private license.  That required something like 40 hours of flight time.  There were minimum times within that for night time, cross country time, instrument time.  There were several maneuvers that had to be taught, so that I could perform them on a check ride after completing all the training.  I had to study to take a written test, then an oral exam from the FAA inspector or Designated Examiner who gave me the check ride.  Flight time is expensive.  To earn enough to pay for my lessons, I began driving a taxi several nights a week.

Once I had enough time for the private license, the Veterans Administration would pay for 90% of the flight time expenses.  Then I would begin training for a commercial license.  I think the minimum time requirement was about 160 hours, but was told it was not practical to believe I could do all that was necessary in less than about 180 hours or more.  (My memory of all these time requirements might be a little faulty, but I'm in the right ballpark.)  As with the private, the commercial had lots of minimum times in various categories.

After the commercial, there were several ways to go.  I could get a flight instructor rating and start earning money and building flight time, if I could get a job at a nearby airport.  Also required would be an instrument rating, a multi-engine rating, and an instrument flight instructor rating.  The instructor ratings could be bypassed, if there was a way to get a job flying someone's plane, but that was a near impossibility without flight time.  The most logical way to build time was as an instructor, but I usually avoided making decisions until I was forced to.

I remember the day Harold turned me loose for my first solo flight.  We had been flying around the traffic pattern at the local airport for the last few lessons and I had about 10 hours.  After a few touch and goes, Harold told me to make a full stop landing and taxi to the little building where the club was located.  He got out of the plane and as he was standing there with the door open, told me to make 3 landings, 2 touch and go and 1 full stop, then return to the building to pick him up.  I didn't know how I would react emotionally and decided not to look over at the empty seat.  In my mind, he was still there.  That self deception didn't last long.  The plane was so much lighter with only me on board, that it leaped off the runway on the first takeoff.  I continued to look forward only.  The glide path was a little different also, but I was able to make the necessary adjustments.

Long story short, I survived that and we moved on to the other requirements of the training regimen.  As time went on and I learned more about the many hurdles before me, it came to my attention that I would eventually have to move on from the flying club, because the VA required that I fly at what is called a Part 141 Approved flight school.  The Condor Aero Club was not such a school.  I decided to move to an approved school at Allegheny County Airport.  This meant a change in airplanes.  The new school flew Piper Cherokee 140s.

 This was a move from a high wing plane to a low wing plane.  This was not a big deal, except that you have to realize which area of your view is blocked by the wings.  I like the low wing platform, because as you banked the plane in a turn, the high wing came down and blocked your view in the direction of the turn.

There were some issues at the Allegheny County flight school.  It seemed I never flew with the same instructor twice.  There were some little technique differences from one guy to another and I thought relearning these was a waste of time.  That was a good lesson for future reference.  Another problem was that the airport was on the opposite side of town from where I lived.  I decided to move to the Beaver County Airport, which was about the same distance to drive to as the other airport, but did not require driving through Pittsburgh traffic. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Little Red Muskrat

For a while, I wasn't making very much money.  My dad had to sell the Hosemobile.  Then with the promotion that accompanied my going back to the Drill Sergeant school, I had a few extra bucks in my pocket.  I had no living expenses, so I decided to buy another car.

I bought a new 1967 red Mustang coupe, with a 6 cylinder engine and standard transmission.  Ricky, Carbo and I would drive that car to Louisville, nearly every night, to do what young men do.  I'll leave that to your imagination.

The cost of paying for the car, left me with very little extra cash.  The other guys didn't have cars, so I asked them to buy gas and food and drinks for me when appropriate.  Eventually, Carbo started complaining about that arrangement.  I said, "OK, we'll stay here and hang out in the company area, because I don't have any gas."  That lasted for 2 days.  They finally broke the code on what it was like not to have a car available and we were driving up the Dixie Highway once again.

This was about the time we started having issues with our company commander, Lt. Morris.  He had been a kind of mousy guy to this point, but after time, must have gained some confidence and was being advised by the CO from the company next door.  The "Hollywood Sergeants"  all had our own platoons and in fact, with all the lifers either going to Viet Nam or getting out of the army, I was the senior and most experienced NCO in the company, except for the first sergeant.

This meant that I was the Field First Sergeant. (Necessity is the mother of all qualifications.)  I had been in the army for about 18 months, with 6 months to go.  I was now in charge of the movements of the company of 250 trainees each day, as we moved from one training site to another.  This was a job that called for an E-8 pay grade in the army's pay organization system, same as a First Sergeant.  I was a pay grade E-4.  The army was in a bind, because there was a sudden need for more experienced NCOs in Viet Nam.

The guy who had been our Field First Sergeant since I first arrived at Delta Company was Sergeant First Class, Paul Mayberry.  He was a good guy and I had learned a lot from him.  He was the kind of guy who led by example.

I felt more than qualified for the job, because of my training and experience.  I never had any complaints about my work and my platoon was always the best in all the areas that could be measured.

I was eligible for upgrade to E-5 paygrade (the same as the stripes on my arms and 3 levels below the job I was doing) at the point when I was in the army 18 months.  That promotion never came.  I did not complain about it or talk to anyone about why it had not happened.  I merely decided that I would let the clock run out and become a citizen again on 21 Oct 1967, 2 years after I was drafted.

Just before I got out, Lt. Morris left the company and Lt. Martin became the CO.  As I said before, he was a great guy and we would have been better off if he had been CO all along.  Part of the process of getting out is to meet with the CO, so that he can talk about reenlisting.  Since I felt I had nothing to lose by being honest at this point, I explained that I was going to get out and that I had considered staying in and even becoming a Ranger and/or going to Officer Candidate School.  He told me he could get me in OCS or anything I wanted to do.

I said that I was unhappy that I had not received my promotion, that I had never been told that I was not doing a fine job or counseled on how I could do a better one.  I said that I had volunteered for everything I could, that I was working well above my pay grade and experience level and that it had not been appreciated for what seemed like personal reasons.  He agreed completely.  He said he would put me up for my promotion immediately.  He told me about a big cash bonus for reenlisting   He awarded me Outstanding Cadreman of the cycle.  I thanked him for all that, but said I had already made my decision and was going home.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Smoke 'em, if you got 'em.

I flew back and forth between Louisville and Pittsburgh several times during my time at Ft. Knox.  Eventually, I had to have some wheels down there.  I brought the Hosemobile down when I could afford to drive it.  My flights were almost always on a TWA Constellation, just like the first night I went down there.  I thought you might like the videos I posted above to see what it was about the Connie that inspired me that night.  It was a really classy plane. I still love seeing and hearing the engines start.

I don't think I was in the first class of Drill Sergeant Assistants, but I was very early in the program.  I certainly was the first at my Delta Company.  I think the first sergeant was pleased with the results.

The guys who had gone to Drill Sergeant school were always lifers before this.  I don't know exactly how they qualified to go there, but because we were going to be a whole new program, our intelligence tests upon entry were part of the criteria.  Since we did not have years of army experience, they wanted us to be of some  minimum level of intelligence.

I think this worked out very well.  We were taught things about leadership and how to do the job that the lifers may have scoffed at, because of their experience.  Guys like me had no experience, so we just paid attention and learned what was taught in school.  It was pretty good stuff.

When I went back to the Drill Sergeant school again, I had been promoted to Specialist 4 pay grade, acting sergeant - 3 stripes.
It was really easy this time.  I lived in my room at my own company and only had to worry about the uniform I wore to work each day.  The standards were still as stringent.  Take those stripes for example.  We had to make sure there were no loose threads and the dark edges were not showing any of the gold.  We used a magic marker to darken the edges.  I had just finished the exact same school only 6 months before and the academics were a piece of cake.  I did very well.

Soon after graduation, I was given my own platoon.  It was the first time I learned the old axiom - Necessity is the mother of all qualifications.  When I first talked to my trainees, I told them that I had only been in the army a year and was not that far removed from where they were.  I think this inspired some of them and they thought they might be able to do the same thing.  I relied on the leadership skills I had learned in the school.  I said that I was not responsible for their being there, but that we had a shared responsibility to get them well trained with the things they had to accomplish in basic training.

I told them to watch the way things were done in other platoons, by sergeants such as Jerome Hanberg.  I didn't mention him, by name, but just generally referred to the others at the company.  I told them that I didn't want to resort to any of that nonsense, but could if I had to.  I explained that I wanted to say what I expected to be done, to leave and then see that it was completed when I came back.  This worked for about 90% of the trainees, but there were always those few who needed a little more attention.

I was developing a strong set of lungs and voice from all the drill commands.  I was now doing much of the instructing for company classes, such as hand to hand combat, physical training (PT) and bayonet drill.  I had started smoking at a young age and still did at this time, but all the physical activity helped me maintain my excellent conditioning.

We were starting to get other young guys who had gone through the Drill Sergeant Assistant school.  We were all natural running mates.  We spent a lot of time in Louisville.  My best friend and room mate was Ricky Richter, from near Camden New Jersey.  Jim "Carbo" Carboneau was from Chicago, Chi Town.  We all had lots of energy and enthusiasm and were good at the job.  We were having a blast.  Old Lean, our first sergeant, was very happy with his boys.

Our new CO was Lt. Morris.  Lt. Martin was the XO.  Martin was a regular guy, but Morris was a little anal.  He did not seem to think much of the way we young guys were having so much fun, both at work and off duty.  We all knew we were kind of hot shots and may have become a little like prima donnas, but not too bad, considering the fine job we were doing.  

I was starting to really like army life.  I felt a little out of place when in a civilian environment.  I was thinking about making the army my career, mainly because I seemed to be doing so well at everything.  I volunteered for every class that became available.  Every time the first sergeant had a cadre meeting and announced that one of us had to go to a school, I said I would do it.  This worked for everyone.  The other cadre members didn't want to go and Lean had to send someone.  There were classes for setting up the generators that powered the PA systems we used for the field classes.  There was a first aid class.  When I finished that, I got to drive an ambulance on long marches, instead of marching myself.  I went to school to learn how to drive a deuce and a half truck.  There were others I can't remember, but in my opinion, everyone worked to my benefit.  I spent most of my time in the army going to some kind of training.

With all this gung ho attitude, I was considering becoming a Ranger or going to Officer Candidate School.  I felt that I could do anything I decided to do.  It was a very heady time and it all went back to that night on the TWA Constellation.


Basic training companies are run by the cadre of drill sergeants.  There are officers, but they have not been trained to do what we did there.  They just kind of hang out and observe.  They also hand out pay checks.  

As I said, we had a captain when I first arrived and two second lieutenants.  The captain had orders to go to Viet Nam and one of the LTs would be our company commander (CO), the other the executive officer (XO).  

Before he left the captain had a meeting of the cadre and was kind of asking us which of the two we preferred as CO.  Long story short, we picked the wrong one.  More about that later.

The real power in the company was held by the first sergeant, James McIlhenny.  He was also a drill sgt. and was a big man.  He was tall, and he was big.  He did not look like he missed many meals at the mess hall.  He had a big gut, but still moved athletically and looked like a guy you would not want to mess with unnecessarily.  He had a big voice and looked like he could "bring smoke", which means he could make you wish you had not crossed him.  He was a very authoritative guy and when he talked, you listened.

One of the platoon sergeants was a black guy named Frank Haney.  He was a kind of a wise guy and I had trouble getting along with him, at first.  He often referred to the first sgt. as Lean, which was short for Lean Over the Belt.  He never used that name to his face.

Another platoon sgt. was Andrew McCoy, another black guy, who I worked for during one of our trainee cycles of 8 weeks.  He was a pretty good guy and treated me well.  When I brought the Hosemobile down there from the Burgh, he always wanted to borrow it.  He never put gas in it.

I worked for a white dude named Jerry Cotton for at least one cycle.  He was from Oklahoma and loved to drink hot coffee, regardless of the temperature.  He said that when the air temperature was very hot, the coffee made him feel hot on the inside, so that he felt cooler on the outside.  Hey, I'm just relating the story.  Jerry was a good guy.

My favorite was big Willie Bryant, another black dude.  He was kind of like a big brother to me.  He was a big strong man and liked to pair up with me when we were demonstrating hand to hand combat moves. One of the other guys would be talking on a PA speaker system and we would be up on a padded stage.  Willie was the good guy and I was the bad guy.  He loved to throw me and slam me to the padding, then say something scary to me as he pretended to hit me with a karate chop.  Then we would have to try not to laugh.  The trainees loved it.

The guy who was the unofficial leader of the black guys was Staff Sergeant Norwood T. Turner.  They all called him T.  He treated me OK most of the time, but for a long time, acted like he did not completely trust me.

Those of us who were not married, lived in the company area.  We were in an area that was called Disney World, because the barracks were 3 story buildings made of cinder block, 

instead of the typical wooden buildings.

T was one of those who lived in the barracks.  We had rooms we usually shared with another member of the cadre.  One weekend, T had been drinking and he confronted me with some racial stuff as we were hanging out.  I must have handled that well, because after that, he acted a little embarrassed at first, but then seemed to think I was an OK dude.

A guy named Sergeant Jerome Hanberg worked for T, as his assistant.  He was a tall, skinny guy from Montana and he was nuts.  On weekends one of us had to pull Charge of Quarters (CQ).  We were in charge of the company area.  

Hanberg liked to mess with the trainees when he was CQ.  There was an intercom system from the orderly room to each platoon bay.  Hanberg would call for a trainee in one of the bays and time his arrival at the orderly room.  Then he would tell the trainee he had taken too long and make him do 30 push ups.  He sent him back to the bay, then called for him there in a few minutes.  

He could not possibly have gotten back there that fast, but had to come back down.  By this time, he was running and Hanberg was timing his run and noting when he would get to a corner or doorway enroute.  Then he would start the same process with another trainee and time their trips so that they ran into each other at full speed at one of these tight spots.  Sick.

I filed all this information away for future reference.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Bring It Up From Down Here

Other than my demerit issues, the Drill Sergeant Assistant school was a blast.  I thought all the instructors were excellent.  They kept our interest and made everything seem easy to learn.  I wish all my teachers in school had been that good.

They broke things down into what is called "by the numbers" in the military.  Everything is presented in a fundamental, step by step manner.  It is simple, but simple is good.  We learned how to create a class outline and research our subject.

We would be teaching subjects in classrooms and outdoors on drill fields.  We were the descendants of Baron Von Stueben, who helped shape a ragged group of former militia members into an efficient fighting organization during the Revolutionary War.  I even learned to use some of his colorful language.

We would be teaching the most fundamental element of a fighting force, dismounted drill.  This provides the method of moving a large body of soldiers into the positions that are required on the battlefield.  We learned how to teach a group of any size how to do what is necessary, together and in an organized manner.  We taught the manual of arms, how to handle the rifle to prepare to march.  One of the results of this training is to instill obedience and esprit de corp.

As the drill sergeants march their platoons, they count cadence and sing songs with the trainees to maintain the marching cadence and alert any other passing trainees that this is the best platoon in the army.  I'll talk more about this later.

Long story short, I graduated from the Drill Sergeant Assistant School and would have been in the top three graduates if I had not been in so much trouble in the demerit department.

My self confidence was soaring, but there was still so much that was unknown.  One thing that was known for sure, was that I would be frozen in my position at the basic training company I was assigned to at Ft. Knox for 12 months from my graduation.

So here I was, about a week at the reception station at Ft. Jackson SC, 8 weeks of basic training at Ft. Gordon GA, two weeks leave at Christmas time in the Burgh, two weeks of leadership school at Ft. Knox Ky, eight weeks AIT at Ft. Knox and six weeks of Drill Sergeant Assistant School at Ft. Knox and I was going to a training company to push trainees.  It was about 6 months since I first became a trainee myself.

I was assigned to Company D, 13th Battalion, Fifth Training Brigade.  Delta 13, 5.  Our company commander was a captain, whose name I cannot remember, but I liked him and had great respect for him.  Not long after I arrived, he received orders to go to Viet Nam.  We had two new, inexperienced second lieutenants in the company, one of whom would be our new company commander.

I was assigned to work as the assistant platoon sergeant of a guy whose name I cannot remember, except that it was a Polish name.  He was a staff sergeant and kind of a gruff guy.  The first time I joined him and the platoon, he told me to march the platoon.  I called them to attention, with my squeaky, inexperienced voice.  "Platoon, Atten-SHUN!"  He shouted, "NO, NO GODAMIT, BRING IT UP FROM DOWN HERE!", chopping me in the gut with the edge of his hand.

I was embarrassed, but got over it quickly.  I still had much to learn.  This is a something everyone must realize, when they move from the classroom environment to the real world.  This was a truly heady time for a young man.  I hadn't had this much fun since I learned how to ride a bike.

I bounced around among several different platoon sergeant bosses for the next 6 months.  Several of my bosses were black guys.  You may remember my discussion of the flight on TWA from Pittsburgh to Louisville in the previous January.  One of the concepts that had been buzzing around in my head that night was that I needed to open my mind with regard to the racial issues that were bubbling up in our country at that time.

I had seen in basic training that the army was well integrated.  That had been initiated during the Truman administration.  There were two NCOs in charge of my basic training platoon, a white staff sergeant and a black corporal.  It became obvious very quickly that the sharper of the two was the black guy.  The rumor was that he had been court marshaled and busted to corporal from a higher enlisted rank. Because of his competence and the fact that he was wearing the drill sergeant shield, I believed he was the actual platoon sergeant.

It was clear to me, that if I was going to be successful in the army, I was going to have to treat everyone I encountered based on their rank and competence.  With that resolution, made that stormy night on an airplane, I was well prepared to move on with my advancement at Delta 13, 5.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

I Wanted To See If You Could Move.

So I volunteered to go to the Non Commissioned Officer Academy at Ft. Knox again.  This was going to be a six week class to become a Drill Sergeant Assistant or Drill Corporal.  It would be exactly like the school the drill sergeants went to, except that we would live in a barracks at the academy.

This may not seem like a significant difference, but I can tell you that it was profound.  It increased our workload, at least twofold.  We were inspected personally every day by the tech NCOs, the guys who were our platoon sergeants.  

The level of scrutiny was like nothing I had ever experienced before.  Our uniforms had to be clean, starched and pressed every day, with sharp creases.  There were to be no loose thread ends showing on name tags, insignia or buttons.  Boots had to be spit shined so that you could see your face reflected in them.  Everything had to be worn in a very exact manner.  The line of your shirt had to align with the right edge of your belt buckle, which aligned perfectly with the line of the fly of your trousers.  This was called the gig line.  Gig was slang for demerit.

We started out with a certain number of demerits and you could only lose them.  I think it was 100, but I'm not sure.  Because we lived in the barracks, all of our belongings and living area were inspected daily.  The linoleum floor of the barracks was made up of alternating black and white squares.  The post of your bunk nearest the aisle down the barracks floor had to be aligned with the edges of one of those squares on two sides and spaced properly from the next bunk.  

The pair of boots you were not wearing for the day had to be touching the post, with the front edge of the sole aligned with the edge of the same square on the floor.  All other shoes, including your civilian shoes, had to be clean, aligned and touching in the same manner.

It is needless to say the bunk had to be made so that it was tight enough to bounce a coin on it.  Your footlocker had to be open and everything in it in a prescribed position and clean, even your razor.  The only place that was not inspected was the inside of your laundry bag.  That is where you hid the razor that you actually used.  The bag was to be tied to your bunk in a prescribed manner and position.  There was a certain way your wall locker had to be arranged.

Hair cuts and shaves were areas where you could be gigged.  It was very detail oriented and put tons of pressure on our time.  Being late for a formation or class was a demerit.  The reason for this was to emphasize attention to detail to the extreme and to assure that we would be very sharp and impressive in appearance when we first met our new basic trainees. 

Other aspects of your behavior could get you lots of demerits, such as fighting.  I learned that from personal experience.  There was a guy in our class who had been in my AIT company.  We had been friends at first, but a situation came up because of my status as a squad leader and we had some issues.  This boiled over in the barracks at the NCO Academy and he took a swing at me, hitting me in the ear.  He was considerably bigger, but I defended myself, until others broke up the fight.

We had to have a meeting with the tech NCOs and he was kicked out of the school for starting the fight.  I was given a large number of demerits, but allowed to stay in the school.

As we drew near the end of the 6 weeks, I was getting very near to the limit in how many demerits I was allowed to have to avoid being kicked out.  One of the techs called me into a meeting to discuss the issue.  I consider this to be the best sales job of my life up to that point.  He said he didn't see any way I could complete the school without going over the limit.  

I pointed out that he had given me a ton of demerits for defending myself in a fight that I did not start.  I pointed out that I was one of the top three in the class in all the things that we had to do.  This was not just academic stuff, but it was also performance stuff, such as teaching classes before our classmates, in which they gloried in pointing out all the mistakes you made.  I told him that he knew I could go down to the basic training company and do the job that they thought I could do when they invited me to attend.  I said that I thought I had been subjected to extra scrutiny, more than my classmates, after the fight.  I told him that I had never experienced anything like the level of perfection demanded by this school before, but that without the demerits for the fight, was doing as well as or better than anyone else in the class.  I told him that if he gave me the break of normal scrutiny for the remainder of the time, I would be OK.  He bought it.

Several days later, we were learning about how to conduct a class in Pugil sticks, in which trainees beat the hell out of each other with padded sticks that look like big Qtips and are about the length of a rifle.  They are supposed to be used with the moves learned in bayonet training, thrusts, parries and rifle butt smashes.  It mostly ends up looking more like a fist fight with sticks.  We wore football helmets with cage face masks and hockey gloves.

I was probably at the lower end of the big, athletic dudes in the class.  There were a few guys bigger, faster and stronger, but most were smaller and less athletic.  

The rules were that you fought until you lost, then you went out.  I fought 3 guys who were my size or smaller and beat them.  It was a great opportunity for me to release my frustration from all the stuff I just told you about.  I really beat a couple of those guys badly, but then, as I was tiring a guy got a lucky hit in on me and I was declared the loser.

The tech NCO who had talked to me about the demerits was running the class and he told me to stay in the ring and sent the biggest, baddest guy in the class in with me.  He was fresh and eventually whooped me pretty good.  Nothing much was hurt except my pride and even that was not so bad, because of the circumstances.  I was a little angry about the way this went down, however. 

I had a chance to walk near the NCO and I asked him why he kept me in the ring after I had lost and he said he wanted to see if I could move.  I told him that the best way to find out how I could move was to get in the ring with me.  You should have seen the look on his face.  He was not expecting that.  Neither was I.  It just kind of flew out of me mouth.  He did not get in there with me.  I was no longer the quiet, reticent guy of years past.

Your Uncle Sam Needs You.

There I was, just happily drifting along.  No plan, no ambition.  I started hearing things about Tonkin Gulf and had no clue as to how dramatically all that would be effecting me.  I was just having fun with my friends, riding motorcycles, driving the Hosemobile, going to drag races, having girlfriends and all the fun things that guys that age do.

I had registered for the draft at age 18, but things were relatively peaceful at that time and the only war was a cold one.  Getting drafted was not on my radar.  The Cuban Missile Crisis, which was a result of the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, had all occurred when I was in high school.

Six months after my high school graduation, I was working in the produce department of the super market, when one of the guys came in and said, "Kennedy's been shot."  We turned on the radio and listened as that story developed.

That was a time when the media covered for many of the human failures of a sitting president and I wasn't aware of political considerations.  I can remember feeling angry that someone would have shot our president.  I also remember not liking Lyndon B. Johnson very much, but that was just a feeling without much knowledge or substance behind it.  It was just a personal thing.  He was not as appealing a human as JFK under my superficial scrutiny.

I think the nation had a hang over from that for several years.  The country's mood was starting to slide down a slippery slope and would not recover for nearly 2 decades.

I got my draft notice around my 20th birthday.  I had a couple months to get my ducks in a row, but I did not have that many ducks.  I felt helpless that I was being torn out of my pleasant little life.  Guys had not started trying to find ways to avoid the draft at this point.  No one was going to Canada yet.  With the background of military service on both sides of my family, I would not have made that choice under any circumstances.  Frankly, I thought it was gutless, regardless of how you felt about the reasons behind the military conflict.  However, at the time, I saw this as the worst thing that had happened to me in my 20 years.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Early Years

I'm switching the rest of the story to the Flexible Flyer banner.  I have always thought that would be a good title for my memoirs.  My son, Mike, even wrote a song titled Flexible Flyer.  It was a joke, because I was always joking with him that he should name his band Flexible Flyer.  The title will begin to make sense as the story unfolds.

As long as I can remember, I loved modes of transportation.  Somewhere, I have a picture of myself at age 2, sitting in my little green pedal car.  I had tricycles, scooters, but when I was able to ride the bicycle that belonged to a neighbor kid, I fell in love.  I knew instinctively that this thing could take me places.

At my earliest memory, we lived in my grandparents' house.  It was on a hill and you could look across the Western Pennsylvania valleys to see big houses on other hills.  From a distance, I always wondered what it was like over there.

When someone in my family was going away, I always had a sad feeling.  When I was leaving, I had no such feeling.  I was ecstatic to be going somewhere, to be traveling.  I have come to understand that the sadness I felt when someone was leaving was about me not going with them.

There are two things you probably know about Western PA.  There are lots of hills there and it snows a lot there in the winter.  For a kid like me, who loved going fast on things that were built to transport, the only thing I needed to add to those two things was a sled.  My folks bought a Flexible Flyer and I loved it.  I still have one today in the attic above the garage.

The kids in our neighborhood were very creative.  They built a log cabin in "The Woods" with two floors.  They made a skating rink by diverting water from the nearby stream.  The rink became a bicycle race track in the summer.  In the winter, they came up with ways to enhance sled riding.  One of the guys had a really long Flexible Flyer, that could hold about 4 kids sitting up.  There was a big hill in a cemetery (near where my parents are currently resting) and we would load the sled and run down this big hill.  There was a kind of a jump halfway down and the kids who were not riding would wait there and bombard the riders with snowballs as they flew off the jump.

On one of these runs, one of the guy's leg came off the sled and fell under the runner at the jump.  When the fully loaded sled came down on it, his lower leg was broken kind of lengthwise.  I had to walk home and get my dad and grandfather to drive over and help pull the kid up the hill on the big sled, load him in a car and take him to the hospital.  They attached a makeshift splint to prevent his leg from moving.  He was wearing cowboy boots and one had to be cut off at the hospital.  He was not very happy about that.  None of this deterred any of us from riding sleds down that hill again.

When I was a little older, we rode our bikes all over the area north of Pittsburgh.  We were amazed at the distance we could cover.  The bikes were the simple, single speed bikes of the 50s, but if a hill was too steep to pedal up by traversing, we just got off and pushed it.  I loved having a destination, such as a visit to a relative's house or a candy store.  I rode over to that other hill to check out the house and to look back at where we lived.  From there I could see another hill, with another house.

I had a bad encounter with a crossbar when I was young and broke my thumb in a crash while my dad was timing my ride around the block when I was 15.  I wanted to try to jump my bike through the air, by racing toward a big pile of gravel and zooming to the top, but had my face too close to the handle bar and it came up and smacked me in the mouth.  I crashed in flames and had to walk home with blood all over my shirt...again.

Driving age could not come soon enough.  I took every opportunity to drive someone's car, but did not own my own car until graduating from high school.

I had been a good student early in my life, but the last couple years of high school really dragged for me.  I could not wait for it to end, but did not really have much of a plan going forward.  I was mowing the lawn one day and my dad came out to talk to me about that.

He pointed out that I had not shown any interest in going to college and that I had not done very well in recent years in school.  He said that I could continue to live at home and he would give me the summer off, just like between school years.  But, he wanted me to get a job after that and start to contribute around the house financially and otherwise.  Fair enough.

I started looking for a job immediately.  We knew a guy who used to live next door with his family and was the manager of a big grocery store.  I talked to him and he gave me a part time job.  I started the next Monday after graduation.  I needed a car to get to work, so I paid $80 for a beat up 1955 Pontiac 2 door sedan.

It looked a little better than that, but it needed work.  It had a clutch that slipped and I spent a winter with my cousin trying to fix that in my dad's garage.  It turned out that it could not be fixed, especially after I wrecked it while driving too fast for conditions. My next car was a '55 Chevy and it was not much better.  Finally, my dad cosigned a loan for me and I bought a 1959 Oldsmobile, the Hosemobile.  This was the car that finally gave me reliable transportation until I was drafted in '65.

Working only part time at the supermarket, I had lots of time to spare.  Some friends of mine were working for a local Honda motorcycle shop and got me a job assembling motorcycles.  This job allowed me schedule flexibility to fit in with my other job.  Eventually I learned enough to start doing minor repairs, under supervision.  Cool, another mode of transportation.

As I said, I loved modes of transportation.  My dad worked for a railroad and I rode a streetcar (Pittsburghese for a trolley) and a bus to high school.  I dreamed of being at the controls of all these machines.

When I started riding motorcycles, it was like going to hog heaven for me.  A bicycle with a motor.  We assembled the new bikes several miles from the shop, so we often had to ride them there upon completion.  Test riding them before and after repairs was another opportunity.  The shop owned a CB 160 that I could borrow occasionally.

One year, my cousin, who was in the navy, rode his Harley Sportster home to Pittsburgh.  Something broke on the bike and he had to return to Norfolk.  He left the bike with me to get it fixed.  That was one of the best summers of my life until then.

To be continued.