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Michael Warbritton - Horns - 1958-1959 - Ft Worth, TX
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After about nine weeks, we departed for Keesler AFB where I was to be trained as an Airborne Radio Repairman (Air Force Specialty Code 30130B).  I had not yet officially completed Basic Training when I left Lackland with several hundred other students to be transported by Greyhound type buses to Keesler AFB. We sat around with our duffle bags in the early Texas dawn at Lackland, waiting for someone to come around and tell us what to do.  I don’t remember anyone really giving us a bad time, so maybe that was our initiation into the real Air Force.  We traveled all day, stopped a couple of times for lunch and dinner, and rode well into the night before arriving at Keesler.  I still remember my first impression of Mississippi.  All you could see and smell when you got off the bus was pine trees, the Gulf and white sand.  It was a very pleasant sensation.  I think we got in about two or three in the morning.  A check on Google reveals it is just over 600 miles between San Antonio and Biloxi and takes about nine hours to drive, so that would probably be about right since it probably took longer  because the interstates were not active.

The Air Force had a policy, long since discontinued I’m guessing, that personnel who were going to attend an extended course of training at one of the major Technical Training Centers, would complete seven weeks of basic at Lackland and then complete the remainder at their follow-on technical assignment base.  When you were not at school, you were completing your basic training.  It was nothing like Lackland and consisted mainly of watching old Air Force films about the history of the Air Force and some marching.  We lived in dormitory type barracks, no more than four students to a room.  It was like going from the hell of Lackland where everyone was thrown together into a Holiday Inn.  It was known as The Triangle.  I think I had only one or two other roommates.


Along with my friends from Lackland, we joined the Drum and Bugle Corp as soon as we completed our basic training commitment.  A check on the web reveals they call themselves the Blue Knights, but I don’t remember that.  Must be something new they did.  It turned out to be a better deal than the one at Lackland as it got us out of everything including Kitchen Patrol (KP).  We provided music for noon and afternoon shift changes.  Keesler at that time was running classes 24 hours a day in six hour segments.  Everyone but permanent party still marched everywhere, but as members of the Dumb and Bungle guys, our permanently assigned drill instructor was not around that much and we were pretty much left to govern ourselves.  The Drum and Bugle Corp drum major was also a student like every member of the corps and I was the assistant drum major.  We did have to move from our nice rooms in The Triangle to the main side of the base and lived in two story barracks again, similar to what we had at Lackland.  We were not as crowed though, so it was quite pleasant. 


We wore a white rope on our left shoulder, a white scarf around our neck and white web belts like those in the pictures (from other alumni pages of the day). 


We still had Saturday morning inspections, but at noon on Saturday, we were on a pass that lasted until midnight Sunday night with the right to go into town, even venture as far as New Orleans, 90 miles away. I sewed on my first stripe during this time and was now an Airman Third Class (A3/C) making $85.80 a month.  Since I lived in the barracks, ate in the chow hall for free, and did not really have any expenses other than laundry and what I wanted to spend at the Base Exchange, Theatre, or Airman’s club though, it seemed to be enough.


I drank my first beer at Keesler in the Airman’s Club.  The base, like most in those days had three clubs: Airman, NCO, and Officer.  The Airman’s Club was for all ranks from E-1 (Airman Basic) to E-7 (Master Sergeant) although NCO’s (E-5 and above) rarely visited unless they were looking for one of us.  It had a cafeteria with hamburgers, hot dogs and such and served 3.2 beers.  For those who do not know, a normal beer contains anywhere from 6 to 12 % alcohol.  Since lowly airman were probably not able to control themselves, the Air Force in its infinite wisdom decided to cut back on the percent of alcohol to better control us.  It did not seem to matter to some though, because I remember a lot of guys drunk on their rear ends and fights were a nightly occurrence on the weekend.  I think you had to be 19 in order to order alcohol, so my first beer came sometime after December 15th of 1958.  I don’t remember it having a particular attractive taste though, not knowing the taste of beer was a learned process that took time.  Tastes fine now!


That school was supposed to be a little over ten months but for me took a little over a year.  The first six or eight months were classes in Basic Electronics including Direct and Alternating currents, amplifiers, transformers and receiving and transmitting communications systems.  Classes were divided into Phases lasting from one to three weeks, with the majority being about two weeks.   I still have one of the notebooks from one phase of training.  One of the subjects it covers in detail was amplifiers, all tube type, and transformers.  These were the days before digital electronics.  I actually failed to pass two portions of the basic electronics program and was phased back to do it again.  I successfully completed each of those phases the second time through.  The last portion of the school was used to introduce us to a variety of VHF, UHF, HF and intercom type systems actually used in aircraft by the USAF at that time, although I was to discover, not many of the ones currently being used in aircraft, at least the aircraft I worked on. 


For me personally, a funny thing happened several years later during the last two years of my Air Force career when stationed at Altus AFB, OK.  I was working on a Bachelor’s Degree from Southern Illinois University (SIU) and we were required to complete an inventory of all of our Air Force training so that SIU professors could evaluate our training and award possible technical credits that could be applied to our degree.  I obtained a copy of my training evaluation from Keesler and found the following comments written in by a counselor (I think it was a Master Sergeant).  In his evaluation, “this student does not possess the intellect or ability to successfully complete any course of study in electronics.”  I do not remember meeting with anyone during my course of study and am positive no one ever told me I was being considered as a candidate for elimination from the program.  My career as a member of the USAF and as a technical trainer both in secondary and post-secondary educational programs would indicate otherwise I think.


A couple of things I remember from a personal point of view occurred while stationed this time at Keesler concerned a suit, teeth, and people coming into the barracks late at night.  I bought my first suit at Keesler, actually downtown in Biloxi.  It was a small men’s store on the main drag and the suit was grey with small black pinstripes.  I must have bought it when I got promoted, because I remember paying $55.00 dollars for it which had to have been a fortune for me.  I don’t recall the circumstances of why I bought it; nothing comes to mind as far as occasions, etc.  I think I just fell in love with it on display in the front window.  I had it for years until I got married, grew larger and finally could not wear it anymore.


The personal thing with my teeth revolved a summons I received from the base dental clinic to stop by and get my annual dental examination.  I remember riding the shuttle bus from the Triangle to the dental clinic located on the main side of the base, about three miles.  While they were examining my teeth, they decided to pull all four of my wisdom teeth.  I can’t tell you how long it took, but by the time they were through with me and sent me on my way, my mouth was packed with cotton and the Novocain was slowly but surely wearing off, the shuttle bus system had shut down for the day requiring me to walk the three miles back to my room.  It must have been a Friday, and as the weekend worn on, the pain medicine wore off and I began to really hurt.  It seems I had developed a “dry socket” where one of the teeth had been removed and by Monday morning it was duly infected.  I almost got phased back in school because of this, but somehow I managed to make it until the pain was bearable and the antibiotics started to work allowing me to recover.  Not one of my favorite memories.


The late at night incident occurred as a result of one of our room mates who like to come in after curfew from weekend pass and raise all kinds of noise due to his frequent alcoholic endeavors.  After about the third time we decided to teach him a lesson.  Our beds were twin size with the ends being identical.  The picture on the next page is almost identical to the ones we used.  The ends could be disconnected from the main bed frame to allow for easy storage or transportation.  We unhooked one end of his bed and turned it around so that it looked as if it did normally and placed a butt can (usually a one gallon can painted red filled with water) used to extinguish cigarettes under one end of the bed.   All of our beds had mosquito nets covering them and we untied one end of the netting so that it appeared to be covering the bed.  When our boisterous room mate arrived around two or three in the morning making his usual loud noises, most of us held our breaths to see what was going to happen.  We heard him removing his clothe and getting ready for bed and when he jumped into bed with his usual élan the bed collapsed, turning over the butt can and giving his freshly shined shoes, lined up neatly under his bed, a bath with the contents.  A quick look reveled his mosquito net had also collapsed on him momentarily trapping him in what I would guess would be an angry mood.  None of us moved or said a word although it was hard not to laugh.  He had a good idea who had set the trap, but he never said a word and neither did we.  The noisy entrances from weekend pass came to an end.  I guess it seems childish now as I approach 70, but we were 18 and 19 years old, we were kids.

                

I was promoted to Airman Second Class (A2/C) just before leaving Keesler which raised my pay to $99.37.  As I stated earlier, I was in the Drum and Bugle Corp, living on the main side and I remember wondering why my promotion had not come through.  The first two or three promotions were automatic if you kept your nose clean and all you had to do was accumulate the time in grade to be promoted.  I went to the headquarters barracks to speak to the First Sergeant and ask what had happened.  In a pile of paperwork on the sergeant’s desk were the promotion orders for several of us in the drum and bugle Corps.  My first lesson in finding out you needed to take charge of your own affairs, as much as possible.


As I stated earlier, we were given a pass to go off base on weekends with the restriction we had to be back in our beds by midnight Sunday night.  That is when I first visited and fell in love with the great city of New Orleans.  There was always someone who either had a car or knew someone who did so four or five would pile into the vehicle and take off for the Crescent City.  Since we had finished our basic training requirement, we got to wear civilian clothes although anyone who had normal vision knew we were GI’s because of our haircuts.  Even though some had let their hair grow out, the restrictions were so severe, you could not hide the facts.  I had grown my hair in a crew cut for years anyway, so I did not look much different than I did when I graduated from high school.


Our New Orleans trips usually consisted of driving the 90 miles in a little over two hours with a stop for a hamburger along the way.  Once we got there, we usually split with the knowledge we would met at a certain place on Sunday for the return trip.  At first, all I did was walk the streets of the city.  In 1958 you could walk anywhere without fear of being mugged or assaulted.  The smells and sounds of New Orleans are unique to my knowledge, I have never been anywhere like it or doubt I ever will.  A recent trip to Montreal comes closest, but not really.  Our return trip was always a little shaky, since we would usually fudge the return time to something like two or three in the morning.  We were all young and things like that just seemed normal.  We would take turns driving depending on who had taken on the biggest load.  I usually drove the last leg and more than once woke up to find myself driving on the side of the road.  God must have been looking out for us though, because nothing bad ever happened.


On my second or third trip in 1959, I found a local treasure known as "The President".  It was a paddle wheel boat with at least three decks, two or which had bands and places to buy food.  It was moved in 2007 to St. Elmo, Illinois to be turned into a multi-million dollar resort and casino after sitting idly for years on the Mississippi in New Orleans.  


It was on the paddle wheeler that I met my first love, well my first since Linda Cash, my high school sweetheart.  I don’t remember her name, but I can still see her face.  I can still see her daddy’s face also.  On our second date, I offered to pick her up at her home.  She was a little hesitant at first, but finally gave me directions on how to get to her home.  I took the Algiers ferry across the Mississippi, waited for the bus she told me to take, and imagine my surprise when I got off the bus and found myself in the middle of what could only be called “Black Town”.  It turned out her daddy was an old Cajun who had bought the property years before African-Americans had moved in.  He probably died there.  He met me at the door, his white face being a really nice surprise, and invited me in.  He was a really nice guy, even offered me a beer while we sat in his living room waiting for his daughter to come downstairs.  We dated a few more times, but both of us could see it would never evolve much beyond friendship and my eventual departure from Keesler brought a swift ending to a pleasant interlude in my life.  She was the first Catholic girl I ever dated.


Another place I remember going while stationed at Keesler was to visit Beauvoir, the home of Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederacy.  It was located only a few miles from Keesler on what was then US Hwy 90, the main road that took you to New Orleans.  At the time I was there, it was a girl’s private academy probably turning out little Southern belles by the hundreds.  It was severely damaged during Katrina, but a search on the web found a story of how they have restored the home.


Another trip took a couple of busloads of troops to Mobile, Alabama where we met several of those Southern Belles who were a little older.  They brought a bunch of them to the Mobile USO club where they would sit around and talk with the troops dressed in their finest hooped skirts.  That was my first experience with that species that talked so slow and deliberate you could actually see the southern charm leaking out of their mouths on both sides.  It doesn’t tell well, but if you had been there or have ever had the pleasure with talking with one, you would know what I’m talking about.


One other trip I remember taking was courtesy of the USAF and the city of Fort Walton Beach, FL.  The Keesler AFB Drum and Bugle Corps was invited to participate in the Billy Bowlegs Pirate festival in Fort Walton Beach, Florida.  We flew to Eglin AFB just east of Fort Walton Beach on a World War II transport known as a C-47.  A check on the web reveals they are celebrating their 54th anniversary of that event this year, so we must have participated in the third one.


I think I went home on leave for a few weeks after that before reporting to my new base in South Carolina.   I had been home only one time since reporting to Keesler and that was over the Christmas break of 1958.  I only remember it because I was riding with a married A1/C and his family who had offered a ride home to Texas.  His car broke down in Vicksburg, MS.  We were there for a couple of hours while the mechanic repaired the car to allow us to continue on our journey.  I remember it quite clearly, because as we waited, we were watching the NFL championship game on TV.  This was before the Super Bowl, and the champion was decided by the winners of the two National Football conferences who were representing their conference.  The game was between the New York Giants and the Baltimore Colts.  Johnny Unitas was the winning quarterback for the Colts and Charlie Conerly led the Giants.  It was the NFL’s first overtime championship game and the first to be nationally televised.  I wasn't much of an NFL fan then, certainly not like I am today.  A search of the web called this "The Greatest Game Ever Played".  I guess it must have been, because 17 members of the two teams eventually found their way to the NFL Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.




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