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My military days are an area which has just begun to get my interest again, thanks to a chance e-mail from an old Air Force guy which has led to many renewed contacts and lots of great memories from years ago.

  • Enlistment - Dallas, TX - US Air Force 8-8-1955. I'll always remember the physical exam. They stuck a needle in my arm to take a blood sample, removed the syringe and gave me a little vial to catch the dripping blood in. Great for a guy who really doesn't like the sight of blood, especially his own. Made it through that and finally got to the point of weighing in.  I topped the scales at 208 (I was 5'-81/2" tall) and there was some shaking of heads. Then some guy compared my test scores to my weight and issued a waiver.  Had lunch at a Walgreens drugstore, using vouchers from the AF, in downtown Dallas; my first meal courtesy of the military and the taxpayers. They swore us in in the afternoon and put us on a bus to Love Field to catch a flight to San Antonio. My first brush with greatness, they put me in charge of the group of new recruits. Luckily nothing happened so I didn't have to do anything. The flight was my first commercial airline flight ever and it was on a turbo-prop airplane - a completely uneventful flight with all us guys flirting with the stewardesses of course.
  • Basic Training - Lackland AFB, TX, 3711 Military Training Squadron, Flight 709, 8-9-1955 to 10-27-1955.  Arrived after dark at the San Antonio airport where a nice blue bus from Lackland was waiting for us.  The Sergeant who met us seemed to be in need of attention, considering the way he talked to us and told us to do this and that.  Little did I know that he was a actually a pretty nice guy, compared to what was ahead.  They got us to the base, stopped at a building where we were issued sheets and blankets and on to what would be our home for the next thirteen weeks. Now I'm not the least bit sure where they get DI's (Drill Instructors) but I assume it someplace deep in the bowels of the earth, at least a little lower than Hades itself. My goodness what a pushy, demanding person he was, and for the life of me I can't remember his name.  We had a flight consisting of a few Texans, guys from Missouri and the Carolinas and a bunch of guys from Puerto Rico. I'm sure there were other states represented but those are the ones I remember.  I doubt that anything seriously different happened to us during those weeks, but at the time I think we all thought that we had been singled out for this inhuman treatment. My wife is still amazed at how good a bed I can make, especially those hospital corners.  As I am sure happened to everyone else who ever went through the experience, we came to love and respect our DI and for many of us it was a sad farewell.  Perhaps my most memorable experience was after aptitude testing and we got to kind of choose our career path.  My technical scores were great and I was sure I would get into electronics like I wanted.  The only catch was that I my records still showed me over 200 pounds and very nearsighted. I lost a bunch of weight during basic, from 208 down to 165 and they had to completely reissue my uniforms before I left Lackland. Both of them precluded electronics as a career according to the rules then in effect.  In fact about the only thing open to such nerds were things like meat cutter and cook.  My scores were enough though, and after some fevered consultations they decided to give me a waiver and electronics it was. 
  • Electronics School - Keesler AFB, MS, 3391st Student Squadron, Course AB 30332C, AC&W Radar Repairman, Class 18016-A, 1-26-1956 to 17 Oct 1956 (the period from Oct 55 to Jan 56 was spent in a duty squadron waiting for a class opening). During an assembly in the duty squadron they had asked for anyone who could type to hold up their hands. Believe me, volunteering for that was one of my best decisions in my early AF days.  I became an acting clerk and got to do fun things like assign KP rosters and stuff like that.  Kept me out of all kinds of ridiculous manual labor over the two months we waited.  About two weeks before school was scheduled to start I got to feeling bad, went to the hospital and they put me in bed with a case of the measles. Twenty-one years old and coming down with the measles.  Luckily it didn't hold me back from school. I loved electronics and excelled in my classes. Always at or near the top of every section of study.
  • Wheelus Air Base Tripoli, Libya/633rd AC&W Squadron -Radar Maintenance  - Oct 56 to Jul 58. (Originally I was assigned to IUdine, Italy and flying over. But when I got to Manhattan Beach AFS for shipping, they informed us that for the first time in absolutely ages there had been a few orders changed and a few people would have to go over by ship. Naturally when I got up to the desk to have my orders checked I was going to go to Libya and go over by boat.)
    That trip on the USS General Alexander McCarroll Patch was fun though there are lots of pitfalls to going over on a troop ship. We did get to stop briefly in Italy (Udine and Naples) and see a little bit of the sights. This assignment included a 21 day (turned into 77) day TDY to Adana, Turkey where we maintained a mobile ground radar setup. Remember all that tension in the Mideast about that time we were part of the US presence that helped keep the peace with Project Clearview.  We also got to see U2's flying out at close hand.  Nobody would talk about them but they made impressive take offs and landings. We got to visit Athens, Greece on the way home, though there wasn't time for any sightseeing. I also got to go to Casablanca, Morocco for a couple of weeks for training on a new radar system from Bendix.   
  • Benghazi, Libya/633rd AC&W Squadron, Detachment 3- July 58 to July 1959. I had gone to Det 3 earlier in the year on TDY, then spent a month stateside on re-enlistment  leave, having taken an early discharge and reenlisted for six more years, and came back to transfer out there permanently.  Who can ever forget that radar maintenance shop painted bright yellow with black trim.  We were really proud of that different look thanks to some leftover petty cash in the Commanders accounts. A little incident in downtown Benghazi resulted in my demotion to A/B, but thanks to a really great NCOIC and Commander I was  promoted to A/2C before I left North Africa on my way to marry my fiance and go on to Lewistown, Montana and my first stateside radar maintenance duty.
  • Wadena, Minnesota/739th AC&W Squadron, Sep 1959 to Jan 1961. Here I was again, left Libya with orders to Lewistown AFS, MT, but the orders were changed while I was on leave (only I didn't know it). So my brand new wife and I drove all the way to Montana only to immediately have to drive back east to Minnesota. Worked in radar Maintenance and at the two gap fillers sites at Elbow Lake and Bagley. This is where we became friends with Ralph and Patsy Thomas who became lifelong friends - at least Ralph did. 
  • Kalispell, Montana, Jan 60 to Sep 64. A group of four of us from radar maintenance were selected to transfer to a new squadron, the 716th at Kalispell AFS Montana and we all drove together across the cold frozen north in January 1960. About two months after we arrived there I was selected for Advance AC&W Radar Maintenance course and departed for Keesler AFB. After school, in late November we returned to Kalispell for duty. 
  • In September 1964 I ended my military service and was discharged at Malmstrom AFB, MT. I had originally planned to make a career of the Air Force but changes in the way we had to work, lack of support by passed over Captains and maybe even the possibility of Viet Nam service made up my mind for me and so I became a civilian for the first time in 9 years, six months, and 16 days. It was a great run while it lasted. I learned a lot, served my country honorably and wouldn't trade the experience for anything in the world.
  •  San Antonio, TX. Let's jump ahead from Basic Training by 52 years to a Reunion of the USAF Radar Sites Valerians in San Antonio, October 21-26, 2007.  Though I follow this groups activities their reunions have always been just a little too far away for me to make easily. What a treat to have them choose San Antonio as this year's location. Close to a hundred of us, give or take a few, gathered at the Red Roof Inn on Monday and had a chance to visit and swap tails. Tuesday we were treated to a tour of Lackland AFB which now looks more like a college campus. Lots of memories flooded back there as I realized that I had graduated Basic training there this very same week in 1955. Luckly they are all good memories of a time of my life I consider to have been well spent. On Wednesday we got to tour Fort Sam Houston with major emphasis on the medical training program they have for Army Medics. Under the BRAC program they will soon teach all service medics at this facility, again it looks more like a university than a military base. Thursday night we had a wonderful banquet at the Officers Club at Randolph AFB. Great food and an entraining program. Then Friday everyone back to their homes, all over the US. It was a great time, revived scores of great memories and enjoyed by Judith and I immensely.

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Copyright 2001-2014 by Roy R Giddens, Jr / This page was last updated on 12/07/14