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Bo's Stories, Page 16

THE FAMILY OF BESSIE EDNA BROWN & THOMAS MONNIE WOODS

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Naval  Air Technical Training Command

Naval Air Station, Memphis, Tennessee

 

Three of us left OGU, on Friday April 1, 1949, for the Naval Air Technical Training Command (NATTC) at Naval Air Station (NAS), Memphis, Tennessee.  As per the Navy custom, all of the men were put in the charge of one, and that happened to be me.  I had custody of all our orders and meal tickets for the trip.  This was before the days of common air travel and we were booked first class on Southern Pacific Railroad.

 

When we got on our Pullman (sleeper) car, we found only two other people.  It was that way all the way to Memphis, just the five of us.  You know, I remember one of the navy guys, he was going to Lithography School at NAS Memphis.  His upper arms were covered with scars where he’d had some tattoos removed.   The other sailor is a cipher.  But I do remember the other two guys on the car with us, very well.  One was a Police Lieutenant from Virginia and the other was his prisoner.  The officer stayed handcuffed to his prisoner all of the time except when they were sleeping.  Then the prisoner was cuffed to the train in the upper berth with the officer in the lower.  The policeman told us zip about the prisoner.  We never knew what he had done, or was accused of doing.

 

When we left San Diego, I had no idea of the route we would take to Memphis.  I had only a vague idea of where Memphis was located.   Some place in Arizona I was talking to the Porter for our car and he told me we would go through Marshall, Texas late Sunday morning and would stop there.  Mama, and my sisters, Cathryn, Nell, and Patsy were all living in Marshall at that time.

 

I told the Conductor I would like to send a telegram and he said we would be stopping that night (Saturday) for about five minutes at some place in West Texas that I don’t remember.  He said that if I hurried I would be able to send a wire when we stopped.  When we came into the town, the Conductor opened the door and got down on the steps with me.  He pointed out the telegraph office that was about a block beyond where my car would be stopping and up one flight of stairs.  I had my wire already written out.

 

When the train slowed enough that I could safely get off, I jumped down and ran for the telegraph office and up the stairs.  I quickly handed my message to the Telegrapher.  He told me the price, I paid him and ran out and down the stairs.  It was a short five minutes, for the train was already rolling when I got down the stairs, but the Conductor was there at the door waiting for me and I ran and jumped on.

 

I don’t remember what I said in my wire except that I would be in Marshall on Sunday morning on the SP train.  When we got there, there was Mama, Cathryn, Cleo, Nell, and Patsy and my nephews.  They were all dressed up for Church, and Mama had brought me half of a cake that she had made for Sunday dinner.

 

We stayed in Marshall for just a few minutes, but I got to visit with my loved ones and got half a cake too.  After lunch I shared the cake with my car mates.  As I recall, I cut it into 5 pieces and we ate it.  I even let the prisoner have a piece of cake.

 

It was about night when we got into Memphis.  We had no idea where the Naval Air Station, Memphis was located, and were in no hurry to find out.  According to our orders, we had two more days before having to report.  We looked around for a little while, then found us a room in a boarding house.  (There were no motels in downtown Memphis, only hotels and we figured they were too rich for us).

 

The room we booked had only one double bed, so we shared the bed and were a little crowded to get much sleep, but when you are young most anything will do.  I think the room was $4.00 for the night.  The next morning after breakfast I decided we should go ahead and report to NATTU, NAS, Memphis.  I was out voted 2 to 1 for staying in town until we had to report.  I’d had a look at Memphis the day before and was ready to go to my new duty station.  I convinced the other two guys that we should report (after all I had their orders) and then called the NAS Duty Officer and he had a van pick us up.

 

NAS Memphis is located near the little town of Millington, which is about 20 or 30 miles northeast of Memphis.  There was not much to Millington then, but today the area is pretty well developed.  A state highway divides NAS Memphis.  NATTC was on the East Side of the road.  The operating squadrons and the base command were on the West Side.

 

It’s still that way today.  My friend James Calvin Doyal (more about Doyal in later chapters) from Conroe, whom I met in Hawaii in 1951, and I drove over there in September 1994 for a reunion of the Navy Parachute Riggers.  NAS Memphis hosted the reunion, and on the last day they threw a barbecue for us.  The Commander of the base joined us for lunch and James and I talked with him.  I never would have imagined socializing with the brass when I was stationed there in 1949.

 

I liked the Airman Prep School to which I was assigned and worked fairly hard to do well. The school was eight weeks long and was broken into two terms of four weeks.  In the first four weeks we had four two-hour classes each day.  The subjects were Mathematics, Physics, Blueprint Drawing, and Hand Tools.

 

The instructors were outstanding.  I had done well in math in high school, but this was like a college course completed in four weeks.  I breezed through it and still use many of the techniques learned in that school.  This was my first taste of Physics and it was a little tougher for me, but the lesson plans and level of instruction were so good that I found it a fun course.  I could say much the same thing about the Blueprints course, which I enjoyed and still use.

 

Hand Tools was a tough course.  We had it last period of the day and frequently had to work overtime to finish our assignments.  I will never forget our first lesson.  Each of us was given a block of steel about 3” x 3” x 3”.  These were about square, but purposely cut so they would not be.  We had to make them square with a file.  Once our work was approved, we had to layout four holes on one side according to exact dimensions.  Then we had to drill the holes one-inch deep with a hand-drill and cut threads in the holes with a hand tap.

 

Once this work was done and approved, we were given a steel rod 24” long, the same diameter as the holes we had drilled.  This rod had to be cut into four pieces, each 6” long, using a hacksaw.  Once cut, one end was threaded using a hand die.  The threaded ends were screwed into the holes on the block and presented for inspection and, hopefully, approval.  To pass, the bolts must all be the same height, and the top ends must be the same distances apart as the holes in the block, (it is very tough to drill perpendicular holes with a hand drill) within very close tolerances.  If the work didn’t pass inspection, you got to start all over.  Many of the people did, but not I.

 

The second four-week term was spent visiting all of the Naval Air Ratings (professions) shops.  We spent a couple days at each of the twelve different ones.  The purpose of this was to familiarize us with the role of each of the different ratings.

 

After completing term two, we spent about two days taking tests after which the class rankings were announced.  I was ranked 226th out of 580 men and women in this session of the school.  I guess there were probably 50 to 75 women (Waves) in the class. Results of the tests we were given showed which of the professions each student was best suited to pursue.  They told me that I should go into Aviation Electronics, but I had other ideas and they would allow us to bid on the three professions that we most desired.  I had long thought that Aviation Photography would be best for me, but it was highly sought after.

 

A person’s ability to get what he wanted was based on his class standing.  In other words, the number one person could have whatever he chose, but the lower you were in class ranking the less your chances.  At 226 I was in pretty good shape, but knew my chances of getting photography were very slim.

 

I had met and become friends with a guy from Balmorhea, Texas by the name of James F. Taylor.  His middle name was Fay, but he threatened me with death if I ever told anyone.  James had decided that being a Parachute Rigger and getting to make a parachute jump was exactly what he wanted to do and he begged me to go into it with him.  I finally agreed.  He was a week ahead of me in school and had already been selected for Parachute Riggers School.

 

On the final day, I put down my 1st choice as Aviation Photography, my 2nd choice as Parachute Rigger, and my 3rd choice as Aviation Electronics.  Such is the way paths are taken on the road of life.  I missed the cut on Aviation Photography, but made it on Parachute Rigger.  They always had plenty slots in Electronics had I missed PR.  Too bad I didn’t go into electronics.  I could have gotten a college education in electronics.  I got one in parachutes, but it is not of much use in civilian life.

 

James Taylor went on to Lakehurst, New Jersey where the Parachute Riggers School was located, a week or two ahead of me.  I hung around Memphis and painted a few offices (poorly I might add), then spent three weeks in the hospital before leaving.  There is one thing about the Navy.  They do not believe in idle hands.  Anytime a sailor was in between assignments or awaiting orders or transportation, he was always thrown into the labor pool and given a job (usually a day at a time) of some kind.  I had some interesting jobs over the years.  In this case I was chosen as a painter.

 

Twice while I was at Memphis, I went home to Marshall to visit Mama and the rest of the family.  Technically this was against the rules, since NATTC had posted a 100 mile limit on the distance we could travel on a weekend pass.  I exceeded this limit by about 500 miles.

 

The way I worked it was, on Friday afternoon I took the bus (they ran hourly until midnight) from Millington to Memphis.  Then I caught the 9:00 P.M. train from Memphis to Marshall.  At Little Rock this became Southern Pacific’s “Texas Eagle” that ran all the way to San Diego from the East Coast.  This was a very nice, fast train which made few stops.  I rode coach, which was much cheaper, though I cannot remember how much it cost me.  The train got into Marshall about 4:30 A.M.  This was in the early summer and day was just breaking.   This was a beautiful time of year. 

 

I learned something about myself then.  I found the anticipation of being at home and visiting the family was a very delicious feeling.  Once I got to Marshall, I was content to take my time to get to the house where Mama lived.  I took a slow leisurely walk from the depot.  I could smell all of the blooms of spring, and enjoyed having the morning all to myself.  Knowing that in a few minutes, I would be sitting in the kitchen talking to Mama.  A warm, perfect, greatly appreciated feeling seldom felt.

 

The weekend was too short and passed too fast.  Soon after lunch on Sunday, I had to leave to go back to Memphis.  I hitchhiked back to Memphis both times I made the trip.  Going home was a dumb thing to do under the circumstances, and I cut it pretty close both trips on getting back to the base on time.  The deadline was Sunday mid-night.

 

I had a couple of interesting things happen to me.  First, I was out on the north side of Texarkana thumbing for a ride when a pickup truck pulled up and stopped for me.  The truck belonged to a drilling company, and the driver had been sent into Texarkana to pick up some parts for the rig.

 

The driver was in a big hurry since the rig was down, waiting on him.  He was driving fast and I didn’t mind that, but what I did mind was he had a six pack of beer in the floor of the cab.  He must have already consumed quite a bit because he was clearly intoxicated.  Had I known that, I would not have gotten into the truck.

 

I tried to get him to stop and let me drive, but he wouldn’t hear of it.  A couple of times we narrowly missed collisions while he was rummaging for another beer.  Once I had to grab the wheel to keep us from hitting a bridge.  I begged the guy to stop and let me out, but he wouldn’t.

 

I kept a close watch on both him and the road (US-67 then was a rough, winding two lane road, I-30 was not even a dream yet).  After a while we came to the town of Hope.  I looked around some but didn’t see Bill Clinton.   Maybe he wasn’t born yet. Then, Hope had only one or two red lights I believe.  I was hoping in Hope that the guy would have to stop or slow down enough for me to bail out and I was ready.  Sure enough, just as we were coming up to a light, it turned red and the guy saw it and slammed on his brakes and stopped.  I was out of the truck in a flash and said a prayer for my safe delivery.

 

It was late afternoon by then and I got a hamburger at a small joint. Then I walked up the hill past a fork in the road and waited for a ride.  Things didn’t look promising.  There was not much traffic, but I was thumbing everything that came up the hill.  It was dark by now and I was getting worried.  I guess I had waited 30 or 40 minutes when a vehicle pulled off the road and stopped about a 100 feet before it got to me.  It was too dark for me to see what kind of vehicle it was, but a man got out and walked around in front of the headlights and called out to me.

 

My heart sank.  The man was in uniform.  A Chief Petty Officer in the Navy and I assumed it was the Shore Patrol about to arrest me for being outside limits.  But, in fact it was a Chief who had been on leave and was on his way back to NAS Memphis.  What a stroke of luck for me!  We had a good time visiting and stopped for coffee in one small town.  The chief drove me right up to the door of the Naval Hospital just down the road from NAS, well before my deadline.

 

The reason I had to go to the hospital was that I had been a patient there for about three weeks.  I have a long history of ear problems that were pretty severe in my youth, and I had a bad infection that spring.  They admitted me to the hospital and began giving me penicillin.  I got an injection (this was before oral penicillin was developed) every three hours for eleven days.  My behind looked like a pin-cushion.

 

Since those days doctors have learned that daily large doses are as effective and no longer give the frequent doses as they did then.  Anyway, I got over the infection, finished up my duties at NATTC and left for Lakehurst, New Jersey.

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