[at-l] Anudder reprint Re: 12 Make that 40

Tom McGinnis sloetoe at yahoo.com
Sun Dec 5 10:35:06 CST 2010


Jeez, Louise. Wonderful.

--- On Sun, 11/28/10, hopeful_2003 at comcast.net <hopeful_2003 at comcast.net> wrote:

From: hopeful_2003 at comcast.net <hopeful_2003 at comcast.net>
Subject: Re: [at-l] 12 Make that 40
To: "Felix J" <AThiker at smithville.net>
Cc: "at-l" <AT-L at backcountry.net>
Date: Sunday, November 28, 2010, 11:13 PM

#yiv1998752121 p {margin:0;}FORTY YEARS AGO THIS MONTH
In humid, tropical environments, electronic equipment is always under attack by corrosion. Actually, everything is under attack but a large part of my job was finding and fixing rust. Between arming aircraft for the next sortie and patching the one’s returning, my world was defined by fighting the war of corrosion. After about the first five minutes of our deployment it got to be mindless, repetitive work but that was our lot: help arm, help launch, help recover, help patch, help fight corrosion. Do it all over again.
 
One mindless day in September of 1971 my section leader came out bearing a message, "You need to see the Chaplin right away." My heart stood still. Several months before, Mrs. Hopeful had written me that we’d need a larger apartment once I got home from Vietnam. For months I had been anticipating a message that our child had arrived. Now I got a sterile directive: go see the Chaplin. What could this mean?
 
As quickly as possible I made my way to the Chaplin’s office, identified myself to the clerk and then had to wait seven eternities until I was conducted into the officer’s presence. He hardly looked up from his desk. Picking up a piece of yellow paper he read: "From the Red Cross, one child born 18:22, 4 September ‘71, 9 pounds 2 ounces, mother and daughter find." Holding the paper out, he just looked at me. "Do you want this?" 
"Sir?"
"This message, do you want to keep it?"
"Ugh....ya-yes, yes Sir."
"Well, take it," he scorned 
 
Reaching across his desk I took the only physical connection I had with my new little girl. I saluted and walked away. Outside I read it over and over, "From the Red Cross, one child born 18:22, 4 September ‘71, 9 pounds 2 ounces, mother and daughter find." I squinted to see the words in the bright tropical sun, 4 September ‘71. What day is it? I looked at my wrist watch; it was 7 September, it was 15:30 hours; back in the "World" it was, what? What time was it on the other side of the earth? My mind whirled, fogged and cleared. I had a little girl some place. It was 10:30PM back home. A little girl, I had a daughter. She was already 3 days old. Was she still ok? What color were her eyes? What had we decided to call her? What was my little girl’s name? Was my wife ok? What happened when a baby was born? How long did it take for a the mother to be ok? 
 
I stopped to look around, was I walking back to my unit? Where was my squadron? I was ok, I was going in the right direction. "Get you head together, Dude," I chided myself. "You ain’t home y’know. You got a long time before you’re back in the World."
 
My division officer met me on my way back, "Hey Powell, I hear you got a message from the Red Cross. Everybody ok?"
 
"Yes Sir, well, I think so, it’s been 3 days. I have a daughter, it’s been 3 days"
 
Yeah, it takes forever to get a regular message through. Everybody’s ok or they’d get that word to you pri-one. Let’s get you on a phone call." That Chaplin needed to take lessons from my division officer.
 
In 1971 only the wealthy had private hospital rooms. Those with good insurance had semi-private rooms. Military dependants got wards. There were no telephones in wards, or chairs for that matter. The payphone rang and rang. I worried the Red Cross had given me a bad number. Someone in the family waiting room finally answered. "Hello."
 
"I have an overseas, person to person call for Mrs. Diana Powell," the operator droned. 
 
"What?"
 
Impatiently, "This is the international, overseas operator. I have a person to person call from a military member for Mrs. Diana Powell."
 
"What? What, Oh, oh! Wait."
 
Who ever had answered, banged the receiver down. I could hear what sounded like footsteps fading off as she ran down the corridor yelling, "It’s an overseas call!" There were another seven eternities. The operator was tapping something. A television was in the background and some people were talking but I couldn’t understand either the TV or the people. 
 
Finally I hear the loveliest voice on earth, "Sweetheart?"
 
"Diana, is it you? Are you ok? Is Renee ok?" By now I had remember what we had named our little girl.
 
"Yes, yes, we’re all fine! Oh, she’s beautiful."
 
It took a little doing but I managed to have a dozen roses sent to my wife. I had a single rose sent to my new daughter with a note: "I love you, Daddy." That’s corny I know, but I had to spend my combat pay on something. All I had of her was a piece of yellow paper, I want her to have something better from her father. It took 10 days but a letter finally arrive with pictures of my baby.
 
During deployment we kept our head in what we called "Vietnam mode." There were only certain times and places when you allowed yourself to think about home. Working on a flight line is dangerous enough. Working a flight line in a combat zone is all the more so. It was good that we worked long and irregular hours. The weeks and months passed quickly and yet, when you thought of home, it seemed you’d never get back to the "World." The order came one day, we were going home; we were going home earlier than we had expected! If it had been hard to keep our minds on business before, it was harder than ever now.
 
I don’t know why a squadron mate’s mother sent him sales magazines. The Sunday paper, I could understand, but not the sales magazines. There were no JC Penny’s where we were but at least we knew about the sales. It was late September back in the "World" and folks would be buying clothes for fall and winter. There was a turtleneck sweater in one magazine. "My wife would sure make that sweater look pretty," I told my buddy. I tore the picture out and sent it home.
 
Each day and each night was seven eternities long but the time came when I walked up to an Eastern Airlines ticket counter. The taxi ride to the airport was expensive, four bucks as I recall. I handed the cabby at ten and started for the terminal. "Hey dude, your change!" he called after me. I waved him off and never looked back. There was a flight scheduled to leave for Atlanta airport in about 15 minutes and I intended to be on it. Besides, I was loaded and there were things more important than money.
 
I had sent all of my salary to my wife but my pockets were filled with months of "hazardous duty pay." Before deploying to Vietnam I had traveled on standby status. This was iffy business because you could be bumped by someone paying full fare. I wanted to see my wife and our new little daughter so I was going to purchase a military reserve seat so there was no chance of getting bumped. Only, our new little daughter wasn’t so new any more. It was now November. I worried that she might be married before I ever got to see her!
 
"Can I make the flight to Atlanta?" I asked the ticket agent as I came running up to his counter. He never even looked at me, "I think so," was all he said.
 
"Good! Give me a military reserve seat, please."
 
I saw him reach for a pink colored ticket. Standby tickets were pink, reserved tickets were sky blue. "No man, I want a reserved seat. Reserved, not standby."
 
The agent still hadn’t looked at me. "You’ll save a lot of money flying standby, son."
 
The dude was old but he was hearing me, he just wasn’t cooperating. I had no intention of getting bumped from this flight, I was going to spring for a reserved ticket. "Look, Dude, I don’t care about saving money, I want to get to Atlanta airport as soon as I can."
 
He didn’t relent. He slowly printed out the info on the pink ticket. "This is going to save you sixty bucks."
Looking at me for the first time, he was smiling as he pushed the pink, standby ticket towards me. I just completely lost it, "Look man, I just spent the last year killing people I didn’t even know. One more ain’t going to make any difference. Give me a reserved seat. NOW."
 
I never even ruffled one of his feather. He never stopped smiling at me. He did look over to a "sky-cap" and said, "Help this fella get to gate such and such." Then he turned back to me, still smiling, "I’ll call down and tell them to hold the plane for you, they’re already starting to leave by now." I didn’t know what to say or do, this crazy old man had no fear of certain death. He pushed the pink ticket closer to me. "This is a non-stop flight to Atlanta," he grinded to me, "You can’t get bumped," then to add insult to injury, "there’s only two seats left. I put you in first-class."
 
The poor "sky-cap" half smiled and told me, "This way, sir." I grabbed his arm and ordered, "Run!" In the last 200 yards I saw my boarding gate and I abandoned the now gasping "sky-cap."
 
The gate agent was furious when I handed over my pink ticket. "@#$%@#$, you mean I held a plane for a @#$%@#$ standby?" I wanted to kill him, especially since I missed my chance with the pink ticket dude. "You’ll have to take the steps, the....." He never got a chance to finish his comment, some lady was standing and holding a door for me. I bolted past her and rocketed down the steps to the tarmac. Some employee at ramp level attempted to tell me I couldn’t be down there but I could see the boarding jet-way had been pull back, the plane had already been backed out, and the boarding ladder was down in spite of the engines turning and burning. In two or three bounds I was up the ladder and handing my pink ticket to a stewardess.
 
She offered to take my bag as she showed me to a first-class seat. It was huge! And there was leg room. I had no idea there was leg room on any kind of aircraft! As I sat down I realized I was sweating and trembling. "Would you like a towel, Sir?" She was talking to me. "What?" I asked and then felt totally stupid. She had ask if I wanted a towel, how complicated was that? "Oh, sure," I sputtered, "I guess."
 
There were three stewardesses in first-class and they were all looking as me and smiling. But not with mocking smiles, these were nice, welcoming, friendly smiles. In the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, military people didn’t get nice, welcoming, friendly smiles in California. "Did you just get back from Vietnam?" The words shocked me. "What?" I feared they thought I didn’t speak English or was hard of hearing or some such. " "Did you just get back from Vietnam?" she repeated. 
 
In an instant it hit me, I was home, almost. I was almost home. I was on a plane going home. I was back in the "World." When did I get here? How long had it been, a few seconds, a few days or years? I remembered a trip home that I had a few years before. I had not yet deployed. We were on final to St. Louis. There was a young army private onboard. His arm was in a sling and I could tell from his decorations that he didn’t get that playing football. The plane jolted as the wheels came down and he nearly came out of his seat. "That’s my home," he shouted."this is where I live! Oh God, I’m home!"
 
I could hardly speak for fear of starting to cry. How stupid was that? I couldn’t cry. I was the kind of dude who killed pink ticket agents without remorse. Me cry? "Ugh, yeah, I just got back. How did you know?" The stewardess just smiled bigger. "Nobody has a sun tan in November," she said, "Not around here anyway." 
 
Before I knew it, I had my now frayed and soiled, wrinkled and dog-eared pictures of my little daughter out for them to see. Diana had sent me dozens but they "Ooo’d and Awww’d" over each one. Whatever their true feelings, they took on as if they had never seen a prettier baby in their lives.
 
Soon it was our turn for takeoff and the flight attendants turned to their duties. As we taxied out, I noticed that the sun was setting. A strange rush of emotions flooded over me. On the other side of that sunset, there was a sunrise. There were people watching that sunrise who’d never see it set. There were others who would give nearly anything to be where I was. There were too many emotions working on me as it was, I couldn’t think this way now. It was a funny revelation. I had to be in "Vietnam mode" even though I was "back in the World." What was I to think about? I was strapped into a seat with nothing to do and nothing to fear. I had no young men to be responsible for now, not for 3 weeks anyway. The engines roared and pushed me back into my seat; I reviewed my photos yet again. In just moments we were at altitude and the one stewardess asked me, "Would you like a ......" but she stopped her own self and then, continued, "You fellows are
 always hungry." Maybe the airline industry teaches them to say that.
 
I tried to sleep but it would not come. I ached all over, my eyes would hardly focus but they would not close. I got up and walked to the restroom just to be moving. At very long last, we were making our final approach. At very long last, I was handing the cabby a ten as I bailed out dragging my bag behind me. "Hey buddy, your change," he called after me but he didn’t even get a wave off. In the glare of a porch light was my tiny family. Diana was wearing a turtleneck sweater. My tiny little daughter was now able to sit up in her mother’s arms. She had a little sweater on too. Oh God, I was home.
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