Tag Archive: military


The Temps


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kHD5nd3QLTg

“Back in the U.S.S.R!”  But in my case it was “Back in the U.S. of A!”. For we were going home.  Finally and at last.

We’d moved into the “Temps” on the 5th floor of the German military (U.S. occupied) apartments that had been build for the German military back in “the War”.  These were a long string of single rooms, connected by a long hallway.  There were eight rooms on each side, each with it’s own door, and there were no doors on the end of the hallway.  They just ended there in the stairwell.  So while you were living there you were subject to have people walking through the ‘apartment’ that you lived in – whether you were taking a bath, cooking on a stove (in a separate kitchen, of course) – whatever you do.  Fortunately visitors – wanderers, actually – were rare.  Usually you’d just have a gang of kids pursuing one another – taking the forbidden fifth floor route instead of the one in the basement to cut from one long section of armored apartments to another.  We spent some time there – about one or two months, I reckon – living with those walls that sloped up (because you were near the roof) and with the dormer windows.

Gone were the apartments we had lived in below, with their long bay windows in the living room and balcony.  Man!  What can I say: those German soldiers lived nice compared to what I was used to.  And the walls – almost three foot thick, both to keep out the cold and exploding bombshells.  Everywhere: military. Everything green. O.D. was the color of my blood – or part of it.

The rest ran true red white and blue, though I had come to distrust some of the government.  I’d seen too much of it.  I’d lived under the burdens of this world.  I was looking forward to going back to the home of my childhood – if it still stood.

I’d had nightmares all my life, but I’d started to be plagued by this one.  In it I had gone back to the neighborhood, but everything had changed.  Everyone had changed in it; gone were some of the houses, and everyone would be looking at me strange.  As if I was an alien or Martian.  From another world.  Because it was another world, that rural world in Georgia, and this one . . . this all so foreign (and yet wonderfully strange; I wasn’t afraid to explore: I wanted to).  And the Army thing.

But I was ready to go. Gone past ready. It had to be November . . . that’s when dad always got his main orders (there were plenty of TDY’s, too.  And trips in the field.)  And this time we all were to go back home.

As I lay in my room staring at that sloped ceiling (when I wasn’t wandering the base, now stuck on foot, since almost everything we owned was packed up.  Luckily we were on a small one.  It was used to conduct spy missions on and over the border using Mohawks – planes like this one:

Mohawk w Electronics Pkg

They were used to spy on enemy and stuff.  I used to look at the photos some in the hangers.  There was a lot of neat stuff, but not my school.  THAT was over on/near Old Argonner, a base we used to live.  It was in Hanau, Germany, not real far (I think) from Stuttgart.  We wandered all over the place. Sometimes with the G.I.’s, sometimes in groups, sometimes with tours, often with our parents – or just alone.

We had spent a lot of time in the woods.  And in the bunkers doing military stuff.

but this last year had not been good.  First there’d been the fall of one good friend after another – falling away like leaves in the wind; there one day and gone in the next, until I was alone.  Nothing but new kids to play with; kids I didn’t wanna know.  I’d had enough. I was going home.  My last girlfriend has left 3 months ago.

I was ready, more than ready, to move on.

I’d had it with love and stuff.  I hurt inside.  I’d read a lot of grownup stuff.  I’d cruised the books in the libraries and read about everything I could get my hands on.  The administrators who gave tests all said I’d done really good, with a promising outlook.  One even called me a “lazy genius”.  I read and comprehended on a junior college level, and I wrote almost as well as I read, but I sucked in math.

I played the tuba and did art, but this year had been tough.  This year things were short – you won’t be there long enough’ – and they pulled me out some.  Early, it seems.  My heart wasn’t in it.

My heart wasn’t in anything anymore.

I felt burnt out.

And I lay on my bed and stared at the ceiling and wondered, had my doubts.

Everything is about to change which I’m afraid of, but I can’t stand this death I’m in.

The snow’s started.  It’s looking gray outside.  Inside I feel . . . cool.  Waiting and ready and nervous, and listening to the voices down the hall and staring at my room, with its blood red four square tiles, separated by mortar joints.

We’ll be outta here soon.

I hope and pray.

I look around at the bare room.

Its like my life.  Barren and empty except me.

Barren and empty like me.

13.

A Pause for Station Identification


We’ve taken a long pause on this, our blog of our childhood – and beyond. Perhaps this become another’s story; perhaps it is our own – though I know in reality they are intertwined, for ‘I’ am DID and there’s a lot in my life I don’t understand.

This is about “13”, our alter, who more or less took over from the time we left Germany until we came back to the USA – and beyond.  It wasn’t supposed to be that way it appears . . .

This is where “we’ve” been stuck, and is part of the reason for this blog: to work our alters out of our woodwork; to understand our own life, its arc and path – ‘who’ became ‘what’, the reasons why . . .

And that’s why ‘we’ have been stuck for such a long time. We’d sit down to work on this blog – and draw a blank on emotions, memories sometimes. Oh some of them would be there, like glimpses through a fog – snapshots only.

But a few weeks ago we started experiencing a disturbing emotion . . . and it turned out to be “13” – the key to moving on.

So we’re going over what we’ve wrote over the past week . . . documenting 13’s journey, and the steps we – he – ‘they’ took . . .

In many ways this is another alter’s story; not my own, not “Mikie’s”, nor the alter ‘he’ sprang from – an entirely different viewpoint, way of looking at the world . . .

for ’13’ was born when we were 13, and had only a few months left ‘in-country’ before we would go over the the “Good Ol’ U.S. of A.” which we had left a few years earlier.  Change was in the air; our best friend was gone, our girlfriend was fast becoming a thing of history, clouds were on the near horizon – gray ones, whirling and thick in my mind . .

 


I am 13 and I was born over in Germany but I was fairly prepared.  Gone were a lot of the emotions and outlooks I’d had.  I’d read many books and seen a lot of things, but sex with a girl was on my mind – not that I’d had any, tho’ I’d come close with a cousin once, and then with another girl.

I’d had sex over here but it didn’t take – friends were a thing of the past. I was way more into science and writing and stuff.  I played in the band.  I’d learned not to make friends.

I had learned racism over here, due to a few incidents with some blacks. That’s okay. I’ve very nearly gotten over it, but statistics don’t lie, and the black mobs over there were cruel. Unruly. And ran around in mobs.

That reminds me; I’m supposed to write about dealing with racism over here. (germany – host entry – he’s still a bit lost over ‘here’ in the real world)

Not that that has anything to do with this story. Racism plays a part in my life, but just a little one. We didn’t know nuthin’ as a kid about racism. All were the same in my little kid’s mind. ‘We’ learned better later on.

My host is reminding me it’s time to go on. “How should I write this” he is saying.  Should I do it from first person viewpoint or ‘yours’ (his).  I should be writing a question to my (intended) audience.  I could do it like stories like my Boss wants me, or just cut to the chase. I don’t want to do it either way.

But (sighing) I suppose I should fill in the racism blank. And a few other things over there.  But it was hard.

(Bosses Viewpoint):

Okay here I gotta step in (teen attending).  13 is a highly intelligent kid; apart somewhat from “the system”, although very important.  We’d always kind of ignored him – ‘he’ was like an engine running in the background, quiet, but doing his job . . .

then he began to ‘choke’ a bit last week.  Funny how what you took for granted can suddenly misbehave.  But that’s good. We’re gonna get some work done on this blog.

He’s all alone in his own way.  “We” had stripped him/it from certain aspects of ‘his’ personality.  He read.  He was well traveled.  He’d seen Berlin, Spain, whatnot . . . and plowed through every book he could get his hands on.  Fluent in English, he had gained a junior college vocabulary and reading comprehension skill level – he was tested for that – and wrote quite a bit (mostly poems).  And he was shy – painfully so. But at the same time big, quite strong, a bit flabby in the middle, but close mouthed and HARD.  He’d lie to you in a heartbeat, smoke a cigarette in the restroom – give a blowjob there – and go on to steal tank parts (or the bullets that go in them) at night.

He knew about nuclear bombs and nuclear missiles; about girls and boys – knew enough about the biology to make a woman happy; the seven erogenous zones (on a woman, anyway) – knew how to drink and hold it, used his bike like a car; was at home in a German atmosphere as the home one, tho’ sometimes ‘he’ would retreat inside while the child was being punished, sparing himself some pain . . .

He’d read “Everything a Boy Needs to Know About Sex” – and the girls version, too – just to be safe.  He’d seen a dog jacked off; done it on his own as his abuser had taught him to do, had loved and lost and loved again – and had lost

until he’d sworn off of it.

“Never again,” he was saying in the back of his mind. “No more pain.”

But ‘he’ didn’t know that, not yet . . .

that still laid ahead in his future . . .

and he was a pretty tough kid.

 


It was freezing night, a silver sliver of a moon showing through scattered rents in the racing clouds.  Streetlights threw yellow rays across slushy streets, and stark trees threw spidery silhouettes across the road.  We were walking the deserted streets from dependent’s housing section to the base’s amenities area, my family and I, surrounded by the impersonal military buildings, each with an identifying number, and some by symbols on the signs they wore.  We were on our way to see a movie.

What movie, I can’t recall.  It was on Fleigerhorst, a small military base.  It had it’s own little PX, an old theater, and a cafeteria for enlisted soldiers and people like me: dependents, brought with their father as part of his own army while he served the one we all worked for – in one way or another.  All part of earning a paycheck and doing duty to God, Country, and more . . . a tradition we’d been steeped in since I’d been born.

There wasn’t much to do – no internet, no TV, and only one radio station – but we still found things to do.  I ‘played’ with the G.I.’s, was in Scouts; we met in bunkers, and school dragged on, albeit on a different base.  I commuted on one of those old green shuttle buses, slugging through the crunch snow in the morning, coming back in slush in the afternoon . . . and god forbid you were too late for the last bus. It was a long walk from one base to another, though they had plenty of biking paths.

I had already gotten into trouble once about the theater by going to see “The Yellow Submarine”.  My parents had forbidden it.  They hated the  Beetles, didn’t like rock and roll, and were very conservative.  The only music they listened to was “Mystic Moods” (easy listening) and Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass Band.  I had gotten beaten for going to the movie but I didn’t care.  I’d been beaten so much it didn’t matter.  I was tough, used to them.  It was just another in a long string of ‘spankings’ – all my life.  It seemed normal.  I was used to having my ass pounded.  The trick was hiding it all.  My sense of self. The things I’d done – and was still doing.  And the crimes I’d committed, whatever they were (or were perceived to be) at the time.

But it didn’t matter.  During the “Yellow Submarine” the theater had caught fire.  It was a matinee so the G.I’s weren’t there – they were at work, which is how I managed to get there without my father knowing.  Us kids were sitting there in the semi-darkness when smoke began to billowing out from the bottom corner of the screen, and there were low red flickers behind it.  Us kids shifted restlessly; we were waiting for the movie.  Then a voice came on the PA saying “Stay in your seats! There is no cause for alarm.  The theater is on fire and we have it under control.”

I wasn’t dumb.  I sat there thinking this is a classic nightmare (I’d read enough books to know) – where the theater actually was on fire! – and here all us kids were just calmly sitting eating our popcorn and watching the smoke pour around the screen while the red glow grew brighter.  No panic, no popcorn throwing – just rows of quiet kids watching the scene.  Only in the Army would you see that.  In the civilian world there’d been a riot, people trampling each other as they raced to the doors . . .

But not us.  We were Army kids. We wanted our seventy-five cents worth.  We wouldn’t run until we saw the flames were higher than us.  But . . . true to their word they got the fire put out, we watched the Beetle movie, smelling acrid smoke.  I was happy, but puzzled.  I could not figure out why this movie was forbidden.  It didn’t make sense – the ban, not the cartoon, though the cartoon made little sense either.  However, I came home smelling of smoke and talking about the fire. Bad news: my parents knew what was showing, so I got my beaten and restricted again.  Another few days in my room. (sighing)

But this time it was an ‘approved’ movie.  The whole family was going.

We trudged through the snow and slush to the theater . . . saw some movie . . . and then when we came out I rushed over to the cafeteria and spent some of my own hard earned money for an ice cream.  Walking out to the sidewalk in front of the cafeteria I encountered my dad.  He stood there staring at me.  Then he walked up and with a scornful look snatched the cone from me and dashed it into the trash.

“If you can’t buy enough for everyone you can’t have one,” he said as I looked with horror at the pristine, brand new ice cream planted upside down in the garbage.

And I broke down and cried.

Because here’s the thing:

I had been taught and trained – it had been enforced and beaten into me over and over again: you don’t waste food. Not ever! – not a single crumb.  It’s an issue still for me, big time.  I have a hard time controlling myself when someone wastes food.  Why?

Well, when dad went to Vietnam, or overseas, or TDY, we’d go from thick to thin in a hurry.  Food was . . . hard to come by.  Hunger was an issue.  Money was thin.  I had to work for every dime I had, hauling trash and such.  Why?  Because he would give all his money away! – to missionaries to look good, and whores when he thought they weren’t looking.  With the former he was trying to feed his ego; with the second his selfish self wants – while we went without and he knew it.  Lord knows my mom knew how to complain (and we got the brunt of it, him not being there).  We were not with him.  We were a thousand miles, if not half a world away and more.

Why should he care? Except in a most superficial, distant way . . . the way he often cared for us when he was home – or not ‘disciplining’ us according to his needs . . .

As a result my mom always – always – fought to make ends meat, and barely succeeded. He would fight about her getting more education, fought about it when she had a job.  He wasted money at every turn of a dime.  It go so bad when he was away that sometimes our neighbors would come just to make sure we had food.

Meanwhile dad ate steaks – sometimes in front of us – and ate good.  He never knew a day of hunger and he kept his sweet tooth fed.  Sometimes he would eat steak while the rest of us had plain boiled hotdogs. No buns. Boiled in thin tomato soup, served up on noodles.

And that night that was cold as a freezing moon I ‘felt’ something ‘in me’ change . . . harden a little bit more.


I’ve seen the movie “Hunger Games”, me and my wife.  I wasn’t impressed.

I guess it’s hard to gain an impression of that lifestyle when you’ve lived one as a kid, courtesy of the United States Army and a few other folks.

I grew up in a wartime culture, as lot of my peers did: steeped in the consequences of Vietnam, our father’s fresh from the horror of Korea (and the PTSD symptoms that followed – at the time unrecognized, but visited upon their kids and immediate family sometimes).

I well remember the hunger games.  The real ones.  The ones that WE played – for real.

Kids, gathered or ganged, platooned or assigned, guardian and guerrilla – we came in all kinds, and all kinds of us had our own specialties.  We’d gather in squads or platoons in the woods under the guidance of some counselors, be they military men or civilian, it really didn’t matter.  I even had a Scout Master – Colonel R., from the time I was 14 or so until I grew up and went into the military myself.

We were all a bunch of Army kids – always ‘fighting’, often playing war.  Our Scouts skills consisted of learning a bunch of survival; our overseas training, even more.*

Often the ‘award’ from such a fight was a can of C-Rats – C-Rations, to you civilian folks.  The favorite was fruit cocktail, pound cake (in a can) fell behind as a distant second.

A stack of “Silver Bullets” co-offered by some counselor (gathered from us, of course!) – would be enough for a reward.

To the spoils goes the victor.

They would set the “goody” somewhere (perhaps), divide us into battle groups (divisions, platoons – squads).  Generally the ‘armies’ were divided evenly, but not always.  Sometimes the ‘smart’ kids would be given the little kids to fight with – and the other team would be a lot of big boys.

Very big boys indeed.

I remember laying curled face down in a ravine, knees against my chest as dozens of kids, charging, dove across the ravine, their heels hammering along my spine and ribs.  I served as kind of a footbridge for a lot of them, or so it seemed.  Not that I was there for that, mind you!  I was a spy, and these were my enemies.  They had come up the hill (stealthily, you know), but I had ‘a-spyed’ them, lurking through the bushes, taking little ‘rushes’ from cover to cover, and had sent my young ‘aid’ a runner, about an eight year old kid (I was 14) to go and fetch help, give warning, do something.  Assemble the troops or whatnot.  Set off the alarm.  For I wasn’t the commander – just an infiltrator into enemy territory seeking a few goals.

Often the rules were uneasy.  You were allowed to hurt other kids – but not too badly.  Nothing that needed first aid (and we’re talking here in the serious days, where a small burn or scratch would get you a look of contempt were you to bring it to their attention, much less whine about it.  Kids today are so ‘tender’ . . . but there again, I had such a high pain tolerance (gee, wonder where that came from?  LOL!)

We “played” hard for that little treat, that can of syrupy sweetness, all swathed in green . . . O.D. green, that is, the color of war and canvas.  (How I like the smell of fresh tinted canvas – that military ‘stuff’, thick, green, and sturdy . . . there’s something about it that says . . . something.  Like ‘welcome home’, somewhat . . .)

I remember (and now this was in my older days, when I was 16 and had learned a lot about survival – and torturing folks) – we caught a kid.

He was from the other team, and he knew where in these deep woods (bounded by a highway and stream on one side, a tremendous lake on the other, bordered by woods and mud, and cut-through with ravines like an old man’s face . . .)

So I had him – or rather my helpers – tie him up.

At the first they were amazed when I took his shoe laces and wrapped them tight around his thumbs.  I tied a noose-knot, one that wouldn’t come unbowed, and would tighten whenever he drew it.

And then I showed them how . . .

to tie him up (to a stump) – and then to torture him . . .

without ever leaving a mark.

(That’s kinda funny, seeing as his name INDEED was Mark; Mark T. is all I’ll say for his own protection here . . .)

He had been boggle eyed and incredulous when I had tied him by his thumbs, sneering and saying:  “I’ll get out in no time!”  He was sure of himself, and that he could break those shoe laces.

While he was struggling with his bounds, I turned to my ‘men’ and began telling them – rather, teaching them what to do.

“We’re gonna tickle him,” I said, glancing over my shoulder.  He was sweating now, and his thumbs were hurting – I could seem them turning blue.

He, overhearing that, stopped struggling (whilst I went over and loosen his thumb braces a bit there) – and laughed again.

“Tickle me?!!”  He barked a laugh again.  “That’ll never work!  You can’t hurt me, you know!  Not really.”  And he smiled with a show of self-satisfaction, and leaned back, confident.

I smiled grimly.

He knew little of what was coming.

Turning to my three or four young charges, I looked over my team and said:

“Like this.”

And we began.  We all took turns in tickling him – him bound against the rough bark of an old (and somewhat soggy) tree stump, and those kids taking turns tickling his ribs, and up under his chin – using every trick in the book, even leaves and soft branches.  We had his shoes off, so his foot soles were bared.  At first he couldn’t stop laughing.

Then he couldn’t stop crying.

Then he couldn’t stop himself from peeing himself.

While we all stood around laughing at him he gave us the information we need . . .

Such is the fate, and the victor’s spoils.

He was only a little younger than me, by a year or two.   After ‘extracting’ our information (and me having two swift young runners go back bearing the news, by different ways should one of them get caught) – we found their camp and made havoc on them, taking care not to snap any of their tent poles, but otherwise ‘destroying’ their tents, and pity he who left a bit of food laying out . . . we would take it, every last drop and crumb . . .

Hunger games.

Yeah.

I’ve played them.

.

.

*We were being ‘trained’ to be infiltrators and ‘helpful little hands’ (in some terms guerrillas) for NBC war.  Those skills included, but were not limited to, learning to fire the minigun from a Cobra’s co-pilot seat using a HUD.  Just in case too many Army pilots got wounded . . . during a nuclear war.

Berlin: 1972 – Behind the Red Wall


We weren’t supposed to go to Berlin.  The Army forbade it.  They were afraid due to my dad’s job and security rating the Reds might kidnap us and hold us for “intel” ransom – therefore any trip to, from, or through a Warsaw Pact country was strictly forbidden.  This held true for a lot of dependents, something we were constantly aware of.  After all, the enemy was “right over there” with their forbidden chemical weapons, atomic bombs, and engines of war.  Just as we were.  At least one base I know had atomic warheads – and in my late research I found an entry by a G.I. that confirmed it.  And I’m quite sure those were Pershing missiles I saw cruising through our neighborhoods – packed on the back of some old flatbed semis, and covered with green canvas.

But somehow my dad wrangled it – he was good at getting his way sometimes.  He held a position of mid-level power in the field where he worked, a Chief Warrant Officer – WO3 or 4, I believe.  And he was always doing things – strange things, like taking off for a week or so – or months at a time (after we’d come back to the United States) – and the oddest thing of all was how career-wise he didn’t seem to deserve it – though I suppose he did.  However, he had quite a few bad marks on his record during his first decade or so of beginning his career with the Army, including getting locked up in the psych ward on an isolated island where they kept “people like him” away from the general world.  They were often considered too violent – or messed up – to even associate with the Army.  So they kept him locked up for a year after Korea, plus he had numerous complaints and dings on his record, as well as a reputation for backstabbing and random betray (because he could, he said, explaining why he screwed over my best friend’s dad) . . .

And before I knew it I got the news, and we were on a train bound for West Berlin – “the free country” within an enemy state; an isolated segment of the country, like an infection locked within the enemy’s side – for a tourist trip.

I’ll never forget that ride . . .

The German trains were always on time, clean, and friendly.  The coaches were warm, even while the snow fell outside and our breath fogged the windows.  Sometimes when you’d go to the “W.C.” (the bathroom) when you ‘flushed’ you’d see a trapdoor open up under your turd and it would drop out on the ties flipping by – toilet paper strewn, sometimes, especially near the cities . . .

But the dining cars! – the rich thick coffee, bordering on expresso, souped up on caffeine cut with sugar (and heavy on the creamer, please!) – confined to walking the narrow isles of the train watching the landscape go by – the cold blustery winds on the platforms between trains (when there was not a ‘tube’ joining them) – cheeks red like apples while tears frosted in our eyes . . .

But this trip was a little bit different.  For one thing, we had to have our passports.  For another thing, the soldiers got on.

These were the East German soldiers – grim faced men, all of them frowning, running up and down the corridors with Uzi’s in their hands.  Their uniforms were strange to me . . .

We had come to a stop in the middle of the night.  I, asleep in my bunk, was awaken by some commotion and the lack of movement.   I could hear gruff voices in the corridor beyond the wall, and my mom sat up, looking shaken.

“It’s just the East Germans,” she said, opening the door a crack.  This was when I watched the soldiers running by.  They passed, checking the train (but mostly putting on a show, I was to later learn – to impress the Westerners with how tough they were).  They passed, and we moved on . . .

Berlin.

What can I say?  Kennedy went there – and declared himself a doughnut.  Comes from not knowing the language, I know – but when he said “Ich ist ein Berliner!” he was saying he was a doughnut – since a Berliner was a specific type of cream puffed pastry there – however, the Germans understood what he was trying to say – tthey are very good – and tolerant of our attempts at their language – and they applauded him, if not for nothing else than the fact he was trying . . .

We saw the Berlin Wall, Check Point Charlie, and the museum that was there.  There was an old car with more bullet holes than Swiss cheese, and lot of stories about people who had come over, through, or under the wall – and even more poignantly, those who didn’t make it.

I saw that wall – high, hugging a neighborhood in the distance – blank windows, all bricked up, the dragon’s teeth in the ‘no-man’s land’, curling barbed wire . . . knew there were sensors (and mines, it was rumored); there were the East German sentries staring (hard again, as usual) back at us – the curious milling civilian crowd, for the East German wall and Checkpoint Charlie were tourist checkpoints as well – places to go if you were going to see Berlin – and we did.

After that – indeed, during that trip a feeling of sympathy began growing in my heart towards these people, the East Germans across the wall.  You could see – practically smell! – how gray and hard, how restricted, regulated it was.  There were very few people, if any, that I could see.  The buildings were all either brown or grey.  There was none of the color and glamor of West Berlin.  Just what seemed a dismal dull and somewhat lifeless city ‘over there’ that the people who lived there were desperate to be rid of.  But there was nothing they could do – they were powerless – and so was I.  And so I read their stories – wished them luck, wistfully wished that I could help them . . .

and we left East Germany behind.

G.I. Joe Scouts


G.I. Joe Scouts

I was about twelve or thirteen when I joined the Boy Scouts. My parents told me about them – they were at the JYC or whatever acronym the Army used for that thing – an Army run “Juvenile Youth Center” where bored teens could hang out. It was worse than the USO, which had fallen into hard times during that period – probably due to the Vietnam war. They had an old dinged up ping-pong table, a couple broken balls, and a paddle or two – the rubber peeling off one side like dead skin. You could hear it flapping and woofing in the wind as you swung it around, batting the beaten balls on their unpredictable trajectories and hearing their dull thumps.

And that was about it.

Us kids were generally bored. We’d seen everything. I read a LOT. We’d scouted out the hangers, hung around in the barracks, stole supplies – you name it.   And we were very good.  Not that we were ‘bad’ kids, just generally bored Army brats with too much knowledge in this world.  So when my parents approached me – practically forced me – into this group, I joined as my brother did.

We were a very small group, this “Troop” of ours.  There were only five or six kids.  They were of various ages and colors – ranging from some small ones (two little black brothers), a medium one (Latino or Hawaiian) about my age, my brother, and someone else.  Race didn’t make any difference; never did, not until the blacks taught me to hate them for a while with their hatred for the ‘white man’ (though I was only a boy at the time).  Sometimes  I still have a problem with it, but then – so do they and they caused it.  At least in me later on.

We had a lot of ‘fun’ with those guys, our G.I. Scout Masters, serving as go-to boys for their beer. They sold it in the barracks in a soda machine – just insert four quarters and you were done – and we’d dutifully trot right on back, bearing their beer. We never drank it. Though German beer was good they didn’t offer it in the machines due to the higher alcohol content – and our Scout Masters always provided the quarters. They were our masters in more than one way, and we were their sons sometime.

They didn’t act like Scout Masters, not much. Nobody wore any uniforms, took any oaths or salutes. I wouldn’t learn those until later, when I joined a real Scout Troop over ‘here’ in the United States again. They acted like a couple G.I.’s who were set on having a fun mission – that of training us kids.   It involved a lot of hiking, quite often in Volksmarching (20 kilometers or more), hard winter camping, and learning survival skills, which included learning weapons and ammo, how to set up a tent, hunt for mines.  We met in one of the underground bunkers – the first of seven  of the rumored underground levels of the base we were on, Fliegerhorst Kaserne (Flying Horse, quite literally translated). These were also the two G.I.’s who took us on trips through parts of the huge sprawling bunker – it seemed to cover acres, and was built like a rat maze with rooms. All the doors were gasketed and vented with chemical ports – small black perforated domed eyes of thickly painted steel – with big dog-legged levers that pivoting in the middle, one on top and one on the bottom. There was a firing range there as well.

We spent a lot of time identifying bullets by their remains. The G.I.’s had us doing it at an outdoor mountain range one time, digging them out of a hill bank that acted as a range backstop, identifying them by name.

“This one’s a thirty caliber, and that one’s a forty-five,” they’d explain, holding up some mushroomed piece of lead, its copper jacket all torn and mangled. You could usually tell by looking at the lands (bottom rim) of the bullet what kind of gun it came from. But sometimes the bottom would be chipped and broken and you’d find yourself digging looking for the pieces, as if there was a story to be told and here were the hidden words. And that was the truth of it sometimes. Sometimes you could tell by small arms caliber fire what kind of bullets were used, and get some idea of the strength of their weapons. They could sometimes tell you the enemy’s – or a sniper’s – direction, though you hadn’t heard where the shot came from. And sometimes, piecing them together, you would learn a little bit about yourself. How to use your own skills to find things like that – those little bits and pieces, piecing them together, and announcing:

“They shot an M-16 from that booth on automatic,” and then pointing to the little holes, be able to explain where the fire came from, where was the enemy’s last known direction when this attack took place. From that you could determine where to go next. We always found ourselves going towards the enemy’s direction so we could track them, or else back to ‘base’ to make your report and stand by for ‘more orders’. A lot of the time those ‘something else’s’ ended up being extended marches – through the snow and woods; along some busy German road in the slush and the rain, backpacks bearing down across our backs. I wished so bad for a frame; mine didn’t have one. It took a long long time, saving up a little as I did, but it was well worth it when I did. My back became hard and strong by then.

One day we were walking when we heard some small arms fire coming from our right. Looking up the mountain, we could see a narrow green swatch of ‘range’ arrowing up on the mountains.  Earlier that day we had been poking for some mines and looking for booby traps and ‘things’ – those long thin wires they would lay out on the ground where a firework would go off announcing your presence to someone and you were ‘dead’.

Filtering up through the woods we ‘took’ that range strategically (announcing ourselves and surprising some older scouts posted around) and surrounding them, went into the long lean-to that served as wet weather protection and a place to clean arms. We all stood there fidgeting around while the two scout masters met, discussed something real quick, and the boys all laid down their weapons in the pits. I was hoping and praying we were going to get to firing them – you know, shooting the still warm weapons, but we didn’t. Instead the Sargent had us move on – filing out of the building single file. Later, after a long night, we came back and dug some bullets out – again, with our fingers stiff and sore because we had to use them. No one had a shovel, which I find rather strange – not even the two G.I.’s. Or if they had one I don’t remember.

So we walked again – a long time – set up our tents and laid down inside, still on the hard packed snow in our canvas bags because it had started snowing again. We were cold, wet and shuddering, wrapped in army canvas as we tried to stay warm . . . but soon the quilted warmth of our downy “Sleeping Bag, Arctic” kicked in, and we slept in our warm cocoons, our breath frosting our mouth and nose.

It was a long night . . . and just one of many I’ve experienced in my lifetime. And some not so comfortable as that . . .

Says a lot for the places I’ve been.

The Sports Ban


No More Sports.  Ever. 

That was basically what I was told when I was about twelve in Germany.  No more running. No more jumping. No joining a team with my best friend. No football – which I dearly loved – it was strictly forbidden. No hockey, no basketball, no baseball.  Add to this no TV, no radio (Except one military station), no internet, no telephone.

Overseas, while opening my minds to new cultures and ideas, new ways of thinking – led to a (perhaps) secret military program to militarize children, training them in the arts of war (for their own good, naturally) – closed a lot of doors.  It closed the door on my official “childhood” years, my childhood home, separated me from my friends, any family I had beyond my immediate family – separated from the land I had grown up in (and yet returning to the one in which I had been born) . . . no, no, no.  The military was full of regulations, my parents full of theirs.

It’s funny how one thing can lead to another, which leads to another, which leads you down an entirely different path in life than the one you thought you’d take. Sometimes it can be an accident, a move, a change in relationships. Sometimes it can be meeting a friend or losing an old one. Sometimes it’s just nature kicking you in the butt; sometimes it’s you kicking your own.

When I was a kid, I loved football. Now I’m talking about the time up until I went to Germany, and it wasn’t team football – it was that ragged free-for-all type of football neighborhood kids play. I was broad shouldered, big for my age, and had a fearsome reputation as a forward rush. I wasn’t good at catching or throwing the ball, but getting in there in the rough, and tackling my opponent – I was all into that. We didn’t have the niceties of game play, like football helmets and mouth guards. This was all one-on-one, flesh to flesh. Listening to the teenager talk, I had little kid aspirations of playing football on a team.

But some time after I turned twelve things started to change. I started to change. And the change wasn’t the subtle change of puberty. (That was to come much later, in my mid-teens.) It was something to do with my knees.

They first started giving me notice by a sullen ache, voicing their dissent with pain. Later on, they would begin swelling – for no apparent reason, until they were the size of large grapefruit (or small cantaloupes). At first my parents dismissed my complaints of “my knees hurt!” with “it’s just growing pains” – then later, as the evidence became more visual, they realized something must be wrong.

Now being overseas, the military hospitals didn’t have all the latest and greatest equipment – or doctors, it seemed. This was long before the invention of laparoscopic surgery or MRI’s. So the doctors poked and prodded, painfully twisting my knees this way and that, and taking x-rays of them. They scratched their heads, puzzling over the x-rays, and did it again. This went on for months – about six of them, if I recall. Finally throwing their hands up in disgust, they sent my medical records “Stateside”. Apparently there was some debate in the United States, because they took even more x-rays, having me assume uncomfortable positions so that they could get a better look inside my knees.

“Tunnel View” and “Skyline” were two terms I was to get accustomed to in the X-ray room. These views required climbing on the table on your hands and knees (sore knees at that) – and holding still in a contorted position while the technician made their adjustments and went and took the picture. I had so many pictures taken of my knees that they should have glowed.

Finally, months later, the doctor gives his verdict.

“Osteochondritis dissecans,” he solemnly intones, pointing to the x-rays he’s clipped on the light panels. He points to one that looks like the ghostly ends of a chicken bone. The ends are ragged.

“You see here,” he says, circling his pencil around the mountains and valleys, “the cartilage isn’t getting enough blood. It’s malformed, ragged.” He points to a white spot, like an eclipse on the left tibia. “And here is a bone tumor.” He shakes his head, regarding the x-ray for a moment while “tsk-tsking”. Then he turns and looks at my parents and I, huddled on the other side of the desk.

“He can’t run anymore – do anything which might jar his knees. No football, no playing sports.”

“What about an operation?” my mom asks. We’ve heard about knee operations. They usually have bad results. We know, having talked to several people who have had their knees operated on. And artificial knees hadn’t been invented yet.

He sits, leans back, his pencil stroking his upper lip.

“Well,” he admits, “We could look inside. But that requires cutting his kneecaps back – and we’d probably end up doing more damage than good. We can’t cure him. It’s best if we just give it time, see where it goes. But if he jams his knees – gets a good knock on them – it might break bits of cartilage loose, and then we’ll have to operate.”

And so there it was. No more playing sports, no more jumping around. No more leaping out of trees, no chance of joining a school team. The only “safe” sports the doctor recommended were swimming and walking. Nothing more. And even then – as I was to find out – my knees would still give me trouble, swelling up like balloons. And the pain could be excruciating – a grating, grumbling pain, especially in my left knee. I had to give up the high jump and the broad jump at school (not that I was any good at them, anyway), and soccer (in which I was excelling.)

But, ignoring the doctor’s advice like any kid would, I still played. I never played team games, nor was I allowed to play team sports, but I played. I jumped down stairwells, jumped from trees. I went running across the landscape and through the woods with all their trips and falls – and sometimes paid the price for it. But my parents, taking the doctor’s warning to heart, forbade me from doing those sort of things, even going to the point of putting me on restriction a time or two or three for “jumping” or playing. The only time they gave me a break was when we went skiing, and when I went ice-skating. Otherwise they’d always be warning me about my knees, until tiring of it, I’d go and do something anyway.

For their part, the doctors pronounced this condition a rarity. They made this completely clear after the initial diagnosis. They wanted to take pictures of it – that “Tunnel” and “Skyline” view – every three months or so, and watch its progress. I wasn’t too happy about that – the sessions always left my knees aching – but being an Army brat with no control over his life, I obediently submitted as required.

They got worse over the next few years – I developed a “trick” knee, which would go out on me unexpectedly like a limp noodle, sending me toppling down a flight of stairs, or tripping over my own two feet on the street. For the most part I tried to ignore it – when the pain wasn’t there I played just as hard as any kid, ignoring the doctor’s advice. I couldn’t of cared less – while I was jumping from trees or engaging in other sorts of hazardous activity, the thought was always in the back of my mind that I was taking a risk – but I just couldn’t seem to care. I viewed my knees as my body’s betrayal, and I was determined not to let them stop me from having a good time. As it was, I resented them – and my parents – for pulling me out of sports, and turning me towards a more sedentary lifestyle. For the first time in my life, I found something to hate about myself, a hate that continued to grow. And as a result I also grew more alone and separated from my peers – unable to join in their games, unable to keep up – which led to me becoming more isolated, more dependent upon myself for my own entertainment. Turning to books, especially when my knees hurt too much to walk, I found myself spending more time in my bedroom, stretched out on the bed with a scattering of books and a novel in hand. I hated it, but there was nothing I – or the doctors, apparently – could do, and my parents didn’t seem to take much notice. In the end this ended up making my life richer – I read more books than anyone else I know – but on the other hand, I think it robbed me of a lot of things – the thrill of playing on a team, the rush of victory. (Loss I already knew all too well.) But like most things in life, you gotta take the bad with the good – and struggle to find the good in the bad, though it can be hard sometimes.

As a result – this path nature forced me to take – I never did develop any great interest in sports, turning my attention more towards books and introspection. I know in part the reason is my own parent’s apathy towards sports – I don’t recall my dad ever watching a ball game, much less playing ball with us, and my brother has the same disinterest. (It was my mom who taught us how to catch and throw – which is why I “threw like a girl” for the first fifteen years of my life.) The few friends I have don’t understand my disinterest in sports, my apathy towards music – some of the things that sets me apart from them. But my daughter and my wife appreciate that I don’t spend my weekends watching games on TV, choosing instead to spend my time doing things more productive, or spending time with them.

Odd, the paths that life – whether through our own doing, or the doings of Mother Nature – takes us. Which, I think, is one of the reasons for the rich diversity of the human race.

 

 

 

Cookoff


Cookoff

As mentioned in “War Games”, us overseas Army brats were hard put in coming up with creative diversions to entertain ourselves. We played war with ourselves and the G.I.’s, rode bikes, explored abandoned World War II bunkers, wandered about aimlessly getting into things, and sometimes getting out of them. We also engaged in dangerous games, one of which should of gotten some unsuspecting bystander killed.

That was one thing about living on an overseas Army post in the early 70’s – us kids had open access to almost everything (forbidden or not). I recall riding out on the airfield one foggy morning, and finding an unlocked communications / radar van – I went in, playfully flipping switches and turning knobs. I knew I wasn’t supposed to be there – that instinctive kid’s knowledge that what you are doing is wrong – but I couldn’t resist all those nifty dials and switches with their red and green indicator lights, their mysterious acronyms and numbers. Had I been caught I have no doubt that I and my family may have been deported – messing with sensitive military equipment is a serious crime in the military’s mind – and my father’s career would have been adversely affected. But if you leave a door open on a piece of military equipment . . . and a kid happens by, well . . . I’m surprised there was no airplane or helicopter crash that day, and I suppose somewhere someone got his butt thoroughly chewed for leaving that van wide open.

Now there were other things on the posts to entertain us kids, and we took advantage of them. There were the huge stretches of woods that the G.I.’s trained in, the unfenced supply depots, and then there was the forbidden zone – the ammo dump. Going to – and through – the first two items on that list were always interesting and fun – you never knew what you would find. I recall spending a lot of time digging through piles of tank periscopes, marveling at the thick layers of plate glass, and us kids “sword fighting” with Jeep antenna (until I accidentally hurt my best and only true friend). But the third item – the ammo dump – was spoken about in hushed tones.

The ammo dump sat on the edge of the base, nestled in the woods. It was surrounded by tall fences and loops of concertena wire. Armed soldiers patrolled its perimeter, and there were signs posted every ten meters or so. “No Entry”, they said, and warned: “Use of Deadly Force Is Permitted”. These bunkers were serious business, for they contained the weapons of war. Riding through the woods, us kids would find ourselves unconsciously speaking in whispers and sneaking through the brush, maintaining a discrete distance from the forbidden zone. Sometimes we would ‘snoop and poop’ – creep through the nettles and bushes to catch a glimpse of the guards, the silvery metal separating us from them. Knowing that they had authorization to shoot anyone who intruded on “their” land, we kept away – for the most part. I know I did. But one kid didn’t.

I don’t know how he did it, except that he said it was at night. How he managed to evade capture or getting shot – again, I don’t know. What I do know is that he came back the next day bearing a long belt of .30 caliber ammunition. And then the game was on.

Now I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a belt of ammunition. It’s a series of metal clips, bound together in a flexible link, which holds bullets. These cartridges – .30 caliber – are a little over three inches long with a bullet that measures almost an inch and a quarter and is a third of an inch thick. You can “strip” bullets off of a belt by simply grabbing them and prying them loose – which we did. And then we’d play the “game”.

I guess it was a good thing we lived in old WWII German Army quarters, for the concrete walls were almost a foot thick. Had they been regular walls, such as you find in a house – well, I shudder to think of what might have happened. As it was we knew we were playing a deadly game with chance – and again, it’s a wonder we didn’t get someone killed.

We usually played “the game” in the evening – twilight, by some standards – after most folks had already cooked their meals and gone inside. We would start by scouting the apartment complex, looking for people who were cooking outside. Finding a grill full of coals, we’d strip off a dozen or so bullets, then throw them into the grill. Then we would beat a hasty retreat around the building’s corner and wait for the fun to begin.

“BANG! BANG-BANG!” Sometimes the shots would come all together, just like a machine gun as the bullets cooked off in the grill’s hot innards. Had someone – a cook who’d decided his steak was too rare, a child released for play – come by, they would have been in deadly danger. We’d wait for a few minutes after what we guessed (guessed, mind you!) was the last round, then we’d go back to survey the damage. The grill would be ruined – shot full of holes as big around as my finger – and there’d be pockmarks on the concrete walls. Where the actual rounds ended up – I don’t know, and we didn’t care. It was just “something to do”, something for fun.

Just another example of how us bored military kids sometimes spent our time – engaging in dangerous games.


Workin’ For A Living: 12 Years Old

That’s ME – Workin’ For A Livin’ for the USMC –
About Ten Years Down the Line

It wasn’t my first job; that was different, but it was the first one I got paid to go to other people’s houses to do. My first job, as my parents were fond of reminding me, was doing my chores. Those chores ‘paid’ for my education, my life, my rent – the food on my plate and the clothes on my back.

“We don’t have to feed you nothing,” my mom and dad were quite fond of warning me, “but water and bread and enough vitamins to survive.” Their way of showing love was giving beyond the basic essentials. You were rewarded when you did something good. You were punished by taking things away – including your liberty and freedom to go outside, venture beyond your room. You learned to take care of things by doing without if they got lost, missing, stolen, broken or anything. There was no second chance with toys.

We learned to do without – on a lot of things. Doing without TV for three years. Doing without any radio station except a foreign one. Doing without your toys – those had been left back Stateside to await your return, they were too expensive – too redundant to take along. Doing without friends.  Do without love.  Do without Stateside.  Do without America.  And make it on your own.  While the US Military might have been there for the adults and all their problems – for us kids?  You were on your own to solve your own issues, your own ‘things’; deal with the daily concerns of life and death and the overhanging threat of a nuclear war . . . with your enemies but a few stones throws to a few hours away, them  knowing your weapons are pointed at them, and you know theirs at aimed at you – a small child of twelve or thirteen.

“Make do, do without, or build your own.”

That was a rule I learned – and took that one to heart. I began to build my own toys, starting with models, and then later (when we got back Stateside) my own stuffed animals. But those things took money – money I had to earn. I could get fifteen cents for taking out the trash – my mom would grant me that, for use on the German roach coach that would come through the apartment complex at about noon to drop off soft drinks at everyone’s house (no one drank the water, or at least not unboiled – the German water treatment system left something to be desired, and an unwary traveler would learn). But you could only take the trash out every three or four days or so – when the can would start piling up. They lined it with a paper grocery bag – that’s all they had back then; everyone used them – and God forbid it got wet. The bottom would simply tear out and you would be left holding an empty paper sleeve, wet and dripping on the ragged bottom – and then you’d have to reach in, get whatever trash had fallen in, and stuff it in a new bag – over and over again. Sometimes we’d use two or three bags to line the can, but it didn’t much matter. My dad wouldn’t think twice about dumping some soggy coffee grounds in, or a mess that would make that bag soggy. My mom, poor thing, was considerate of me to sometimes wrap such things in paper – newspaper, “The Stars and Stripes”, the only publication we were allowed. (There were comic books, but those were almost forbidden things – like they were naughty or something – plus they were expensive at the store.)

We got a bit of allowance off and on, depending on how our father was feeling and how generous our mother felt at the time. Usually it was seventy-five cents a week, sometimes only fifty. That’s a lot of money to a little boy, but not so much to one of twelve in 1970. And I had to work hard for my fifty, seventy-five cents – making my bed, moping the floors, cleaning the bathroom, taking the trash out again – sweeping the bedroom (if it needed it) – sometimes dusting. But at least we didn’t have to clean the light bulbs, ha-ha! That would come much later.

And then somewhere – somehow – I got the idea of hauling trash for a living. I think it was my parents who suggested it to me, but maybe I had come up with it on my own. It might have been I wasn’t the very first kid doing it – it seems to me there were several doing it before I was done, and there was a bit of competition among us to find customers – one staking out one stairwell, another another and so on.

And it was hard work, too! Sometimes you had to run up to the fifth floor. All that way up – and then back down, clutching this bag of trash in your arms – you all along hoping they didn’t just stuff another wet and soggy bag into a new one because it would leak out and wreck the new one before you could get to where you were going, which was the huge dumpster at the end of the row of apartment buildings – four buildings in all, sometimes six, and one time eight – going all that distance to drop off some trash, for these buildings were long! They were the German base apartments, built for them in the past – pre-WWII. They were big buildings, hulking and ‘square’ – not that they were square – they were long, thick, huge rectangles, like slabs of meat with windows cut in. But everything about them was squarish in a way – squared windows with little squares within them in their metal frames – set in a bit so they looked even more cube-ish. The balconies on some – long slots cut into the rectangles, stacked like cord wood one over another. And the long roofs go marching on and on with their rows of dormer windows peering out over them like so many square frog’s eyes.

So I set about setting up business, going from door to door – knocking at each one, making my offers. If you lived on the first floor, it was fifteen cents; twenty-five cents for the second, thirty on the third, forty on the fourth and two quarters for the highest points in the building. I would come by every two or three days a week, depending upon my customer’s preferences. I didn’t keep any notes, any track of them. Once the deal was set, it was my job to remember them – where they lived and what time to come in. Since all the buildings looked the same, it wasn’t always hard – but it wasn’t easy, either. Sometimes I’d knock at the door to find my customer gone – swept away by some Army order – and another potential customer staring me in the face, wondering what was going on with this young kid in his jacket and boots standing there. And I’d make my offer again. I would point out how far away the dumpster is; what a bother it is in the morning. Or I’d come by later, taking off my hat (I often wore a stocking cap) – and making my offer another time, if they were were still in the process of moving in or out. I used to get ten cents a box for hauling them down to the trash – that was quite a boon! – finding someone who had just moved in, secreting their boxes somewhere, and then notifying some kids I wanted to play with, or selling them to some other – either way, making money hand-over-fist as best I could.

Not that it was a lot of money. Funny how money goes out of your hand as quick as you take it in. I became a firm follower of the German roach coach, buying candy for me and some kids. Or I would go down to the base theater and take a movie in. Often you could find me at the E-Club, playing pinball games or ordering a soda, a float – anything to take my mind off my loneliness and pain. And quite often I would go over to the PX to buy some model, usually a plane. I was quite fond of the ones from World War Two, buying endless bottles of various Testor’s paints and painting them up in ever increasing detail as my skills got better and better at this thing. I remember long hours sniffing model glue – not intentionally, I hadn’t a clue that it could get you high – I didn’t even know what ‘high’ is. That all would come later – much later – into my teenagehood.

I also would ‘go to town’ once and awhile, exchanging my dollars for marks and phennings. There I could buy something worth a dollar, and it would only cost one-hundred cents. Later, when the dollar plunged (another trip later on) I found my dollar was worth a quarter, and us Americans were considered poor.

There in town I would buy me candies and walk around; spending my marks on bus fares and stuff, touring, taking the trains. Often I would ride my bike into town to save the fare, and simply walk around. There the Germans would often greet me as one of their own – they always said I would make a good German! Some were kindly, some were cold – all of them strict in a way. A very German way of being: following the rules (some), not getting too wild, obeying all the laws (normally), and behaving in an orderly, logical fashion – and they were quite proud of their heritage, minus World War Two. That they seemed very embarrassed with, as if Hitler had let a fart and a bomb had gone off. Which they should be. It was a very shameful period and part of their history.

But that job ran out when we switched bases; after a couple times, I just got sort of heartsick about going on. The run of new faces, me pitching my pitch – how easy it would be for them, no more forgotten garbage sitting by the door, no more running through howling snowstorm or blizzard or thundering rain – I just felt sick at heart.

There’s a big difference between being ‘sick at heart’ and ‘sick of something’. ‘Sick of something’ implies you just don’t want to do it; that you may even feel some nausea at the idea of doing it again. But sick at heart? That implies a whole other level. That’s when you look down that row of apartment buildings, knowing what you have to do – and instead of just feeling nauseous, you feel down and depressed. Where it’s more than not just wanting to do it, or facing the same old task time and time again. I find myself hard put to put my finger on it – that pulse of emotion, that dread and sinking feeling I started to get each time I’d stare down a new street, trying to prepare for a new beginning. One that seemed to never come.

After awhile it seemed the apartment complexes began blending – each one different, but so much the same as the one we’d left behind that it did not matter. All the buildings were the same, the streets were the same – the endless blend of faces, all of them unknown – the same. And facing facts, I was getting quite tired of banging on doors and finding a new face staring out at me, wondering what was going on.

Eventually I gave up my job as garbage hauler, leaving it for the younger (and more ambitious, I presume) boys to employ. Instead I got me a job during the summer (at one place) mowing the center courtyard – the ‘big yard’ that stood between the building’s backs. Each row would face a street; behind them would be another row, facing another street beyond. Inbetween there might be a thin strip of land, varying (depending on where we were) – from one hundred to two hundred foot wide, and about as long as a football field. These were hard jobs to find, because they were in most demand, and we didn’t own a lawn mower – and essential tool for the job. Instead each community had one – just one – to do the job. And it was a tight position – always jostling with the other kids, making deals with the grownups – the grownups making deals among themselves, so that you never knew whether you got the job or not until the last minute. And then there was the mowing to be done. It was about thirty dollars a ‘whack’ or session – pushing that mower around and around all afternoon, pacing through the summer’s heat while the other children got to play. And it was one I didn’t get very often – no one did. It was sort of shared among the grownups and the kids (which meant just that much more competition) – although the grownups didn’t get paid (I think). They just did it for the enjoyment of mowing the ‘quad’ – something that would remind them of their time overseas and what they had left behind. So it really wasn’t a very good job.

I bought my first bike – though it wasn’t really the first one – using that money I made. I got it for ten buck off a G.I. who was going overseas – back Stateside – and needed to get rid of it. It had straight handlebars and was of foreign design, unlike the Schwinn I’d owned and that my parents had given me.

But that’s for another story – how I lost my bike not just once but twice – once to myself, and once to a thief over in a German town.

Flying Lessons


Flying Lessons

The Mohawk came in, hanging on a wing, one engine running. It hung vertical in the sky, that single engine not humming, but howling as its turboprop fan beat the air. Above the sky was cloudy and overcast, and a long long strip of black tarmac striped the emerald green grass below. We stood on the edge of the airport by the domed hangers, watching it come in. It was part of the air show.

The only thing is: every day was an air show of some kind. Living next to a military airfield guaranteed it. There were hangers on the ground and craft in the air. Gliders and hangers. Helicopters – all kinds, the fat round Huey UH-1’s, and the lean mean Cobra attack machines with their narrow head’s on profile. The “banana” chopper with its massive twin blade rotors on each end, bent in the middle just like a banana would be. They were Chinooks, I later learned when I got my nomenclature right. Everything is in the nomenclature in the military culture, from the language to the slang. “Fubar” comes from a military source, so does “C.O.” – another word for God, or a demigod if I’ve ever seen one. Add to that “crispy critter” – and know you never want to see one (or smell one, too).

Living on an Army airbase as a kid – especially on a “spy base” where certain planes were kept – offered opportunities not available to every kid – not even the military ones. I know I often wandered the tarmac and hangers along – me and my straight handle barred bike (for it was a German one) touring the facilities and talking to the men who were working on one project or another.

There were benches piled with electronics junk, and I rapidly learned to tell the difference between an oscilloscope and an airplane radar dome. I learned what the electronics looked like, and peered at optical lenses – and the photos scattered about. Often they were photos from our enemy’s land, and the G.I.’s would peer at them and whisper excitedly, showing me tanks, bunkers, and guns. There was a lot of emphasis put on ‘learning the land’ and learning all about them – what they ate, where they fed, where the mess halls were as opposed to those other things: armed emplacement, ‘hidden’ hills nestled in some farmer’s garden. Areas near the border were pointed out and marked as ‘mined’. Huge anti-tank emplacements studded certain areas of the border – huge ‘crosses’ shaped like jacks jinks and balls. Concrete trenches wide enough to swallow a tank whole. Lots of things – over and over again.

I remember staring at contour maps – maps of the land – and hearing that I should learn about them. “Topo” was what they were called. I have a ‘very scary’ memory – why it scares me? I don’t know. All I know is I don’t know how I got there or when I left – it was just a dark room, and from the feel, a cement one. There were some officers standing about; in the center, lit by a single overhead light, a table. On the table stood a map. Later on it would become a model – or perhaps I got so good at visualizing those topos that I could ‘see’ it as one. Mountains and hills rising, valleys, rivers, and the direction of the sun was indicated by the North arrows . . . it seems to me there were some other children there; just two or three, part of a ‘crowd’ I may (or may not) have been in. And the officers were instructing us on how to ‘read’ the maps, know our way around – and what to look for. Gun emplacements in the hills – those were always hard to spot – the paths and cobblestone roads. I place this memory in my ‘recovered’ pile, because I am not certain about what was going on. Just that single ‘snapshot’ and feelings of being . . . I don’t know.

The Mohawk flew past, its trailing wing nearly scraping on the tarmac as the pilot showed off his skills. I was used to seeing gliders pulled up into the sky, but I hadn’t seen much ‘trick flying’. This guy was illustrating how his plane would stay up with one engine gone. How he could fly it “on its side”. As though that might be a useful skill. Given that the belly cams were there – I suppose it was. He could whip through an enemy area and given his cameras, take a picture of everyone and everything there. There was also the electronics “pod” or package which eternally hung off some of the aircraft – for snooping through the airwaves, looking for enemy messages and eavesdropping on some.

Next came the jato rockets. They had strapped some to a Mohawk’s side – four of them if I recall; making for eight of them assisting in takeoff. That bulky old plane seemed to simply lift off the tarmac – jumping forward with a flash and a roar. I don’t think the wheels ever really rolled on the ground. The jato rockets were for short takeoff assists – and this was the shortest one I saw. I don’t think that airplane made more than a hair’s length before it jumped into the sky, jato rockets thundering in a cloud of smoke and flame. That one they made us back off from – standing way off the tarmac, watching it take off. Even then you could feel the heat from the flame. And those powerful turbofans running; the sound the props made – it was awesome. But nothing like the jet planes.

Those were the Phantoms, which rarely came in, for our airfield was too short for them (for the most part). They would swoop down low, thundering over the airport and base – so close you could feel the heat of their engine’s blast as they would sweep past, only a stone’s throw – and a child’s one at that – above the emerald land. Then a moment would pass and you would feel the ‘whoosh!’ of them – the air running behind them, pulling you along. And the sound was so awe-full, so loud – it would leave my young ears ringing for minutes, sometimes hours if there were a lot of them.

Then there were the helicopters, the most common of the crowd. The UH-1 – the ubiquitous “Huey” – which was the mainstay of the Army’s air force, not counting the DC-10’s, C-130’s, et all – most of which could not land our our air base – again, due to their size. However, occasionally one would see one – parachutes out and deploying, or taking off again – using those jato rockets to make it. I remember standing next to the Hueys as they would land or take off. Nothing else sounds like a Huey, that’s for sure! The deep “whomp-whomp” of those blades; the downblast showering you with dirt and pebbles – it’s a sound which still draws me outside when I hear it, though that has become more rare. The Army dumped its Hueys in favor of Apaches, America’s “newest” helicopter – though I saw one fly before I left there. And that was back in 1973 – long before the world had heard word of them. It was a “trial” flight and a demonstration of the machine’s abilities. To me it looked too large, sounded too wrong, and the fact that it could fly upside down failed to impress me – even as a child. I fell more in love with the Huey Cobras – a fast and lean machine built for war.

Living on those bases – it didn’t matter. I felt at home on them in some ways – especially around the hangers, with the smell of oil and grease and exhaust fumes, the constant rattles and roar – the G.I.’s loafing around or working on this or that; the pilots, heavy in their jump suits and gear, those big white helmets with drop down visors on their heads – a place that was always busy – and yet eternally slow paced. They were waiting as I was waiting as America was waiting as the Russians were waiting as everyone was waiting . . . for war. A time that (thankfully) never came.

And I’ll never forget that roar – those thundering machines taking off; landing – standing right there next to a helicopter as it came down; the G.I.’s taking me if not by the hand then by curiosities nose and showing me how things worked, what they were for, and where I would fit in to them should it come down to it, the arts and crafts of war.