November 17
by Max Beardslee

A  MEMOIR

The following shows a slice of my life as an Air Force Lieutenant in a remote part of Germany.   It’ll portray a portion of my contribution toward keeping America safe, while in Germany, from the fall of 1962 to the fall of 1965.  Our President Kennedy managed the Cuban crisis and then got shot among other events in that time frame.  After a suitable introduction to the reader about life there, I’ll get to The Skater part.   It seems I managed to skate through many self caused mishaps, without damage, all the way until the IBM thing you’ve heard about.  Perhaps they all stacked up for one big fall through the ice.

 

THE SKATER 

The 50th Tactical Fighter Wing called Hahn Air Base its’ home.  Settled into a remote area of west central Germany, between Luxembourg and Wiesbaden, Hahn became noted for its lousy weather.   With fog hovering in below 32 degree Fahrenheit temperatures, it confounded meteorologists who said such a thing could not occur.  Hahn housed about seventy F 100 Super Sabre fighters and about thirty-five F102 Delta Dagger fighters.  The F100’s played offense, patrolling the border of the divided Germanys, and always ready to penetrate deep into enemy territory, the F102’s defended the skies of the West.   If Migs launched an attack, the 102’s job was to knock ‘em out of the sky. 

Support of those planes and their pilots came from a population of about fifty-five hundred Air Force personnel including maintenance, weaponry, supply, police, medical, housing and services.   Add to those on active duty about two thousand wives and eight hundred or so school aged children.  After a year as a munitions supply officer, I lobbied for and became successful in getting the officer’s club manager position.  Having earned a degree in hotel management, the club job would give me a chance to use some of what I had learned.

And how would all those children be educated?  Well, from stateside teachers of course,  single,  predominately female, and about fifty in number.   These teachers, for the most part newly graduated, showed up wide eyed and nervous about their first exposure to the military in general and fighter pilots in particular.   Were the pilots gonna be as aggressive sexually as their chosen profession indicated?   And why all those zippers on their flight suits?  Was that a Freudian thing?  These and other questions would be sorted out in the next nine months, the normal rotation for them.  Teachers automatically enjoyed officer’s club membership as part of their tour, that duration breathing enough out of character experiences for most to exclaim nein, nicht mehr!  They’d drunk enough wine off the hills of the nearby Mosel, fought off enough testosterone driven Lieutenants, and hiked through enough castles and wineries to pack it in.  Head back to the land of the round door knobs. (Germans only had latches.)

The stag mating nature of the young officers started on day one.  I attended three “Welcome to Hahn Air Base” parties aimed at the targeted teachers.  Held at the officer’s club, “Mikelowsky” was the beverage of choice.  It sounds awful and it was.

On one side of a lemon slice, put up a teaspoon of confectioners’ sugar, on the other, coffee grounds.  Next, cover the slice over the top of a brandy filled tumbler, held in place with toothpicks.  Lastly, one took bite out of the lemon being sure to secure some coffee grounds and sugar along with it, followed by a healthy knock back of brandy.  If a teacher stayed with it they usually ended up in the restroom, quite ill, a healthy percentage enjoying their first experience at hugging a German toilet.  That episode, intending to knock down barriers to sexual exploitation, came with mixed results.  The teachers, having met the group of of guys with flight suits and all those zippers, along with the non flying “ground pounders”, like me, were off and running.

The hundred or so single officers on the base, with three-year tours the norm, remained solidly unified in furthering the teachers’ European experience.  The officers insured that every female teacher had an opportunity to leave Hahn Air Base as seriously sullied.  Various strategies came in to play regarding that objective.  I occupied the cat bird’s seat by running the club and from that seat, witnessing social passions played out as only they can when thousands of miles from home, young and dumb.

The teachers occupied two off base buildings:  Non-descript, bare essential two story clap sided housing with the moniker “M80”.  But not so far off base to escape the umbrella of American supplied police and fire protection services.  And while western Europe offered opportunities for sight-seeing and vacationing, our part of Germany appeared quite drab.    In house partying, at either M 80 or the officer’s club, therefore, occupied much more of one’s social time than a more tourist friendly setting like Kaiserslautern or Wiesbaden.

On one post midnight , alcohol heavily in play, I basked in the success of pulling off an Italian dinner stunt at M80. Four of us guests simultaneously trimmed our cooked spaghetti with scissors, a rehearsed performance, that went along the lines of twist, trim, lift and munch.  But, alas, I soon found myself in the second floor hallway of M80 after a brusque rejection along the lines of “Get out of here you asshole”.   What to do – what to do – I had it!  With booze fueling bad judgment like Miracle Grow favors a flower, an idea spawned.  Directly in front of me, appearing in the dimly lit corridor, stood a long glass cabinet housing a klaxon, fire ax and hose with the message “break glass in case of fire”.  Wow!

If I followed the directions, overlooking the “in case of fire” part, certainly lots of ladies would shoot out of their apartments, many of them scantily clad, providing the missing action I’d craved.  Done.   Using the hanging hammer, I shattered the glass, reached in and yanked the alarm right out of the wall, its electrical wires, however, still connected.

The klaxon’s alarm wailed away ten times louder than I’d imagined.  As the effect filtered through my whiskey sodden mind,  I skulked down  out of the dimly lit hallway to an outdoor tree-lined position, already regretting my action.   Minutes went by before the air blistered with a cacophony of noise and lights.  Holy Geesuhs!  Two  fire trucks roared by, sirens blaring,  big enough to have a wheelman in the back.  Two smaller pumpers drove right behind them.  Several police pickup trucks gunned into M 80’s courtyard to complete the ensemble.

Hahn’s educators bailed in numbers as the noise alone would have been impossible to ignore.  And forget the scantily clad thing.  I’d overlooked November’s chilly weather in my plan.   America’s traveling educators more resembled the Michelin Man!  Staying behind the tree-line I had to stay hidden for about two more hours, waiting for the carnage to clear, so I could crawl into my Vee Dubya and limp on home, a good 10 miles from the base.  Had I been spotted?  I didn’t know.

The following noon, a normal job start time for me, I showed up at the club, , in civvie clothes, also the norm.  My secretary handed me a note.  “Call Colonel Hancock.  ASAP.”  Heart beat, head throb, heart beat, head throb in perfect synch, I popped some aspirin and made the call, expecting the worst.  Somebody had seen me and turned me in.  Having gotten out of several scrapes, earning The Skater monitor as a result, I wouldn’t be getting out of this one.  Hancock , the base commander, not known for his sense of humor, carried a big career ending hammer.

I got right through to the Colonel and heard:

“Beardslee, late last night somebody created a false fire alarm over at M 80.  Pulled the fire alarm right out of the wall!  It created a huge disruption and expense.”

“ From what I hear, you know everything that goes on and I expect some Lieutenant did it.  So you hear this.  You round up whoever did this and have them report to my office at 2:00 p.m. today.  Make it clear to them that if I have to go find them, there’s gonna be worse hell to pay.”

“Yes Sir!”  I spent less than a second considering calling in later and saying I couldn’t find the culprit.  I’d take the rap.  Skate no more.

I had two hours to drive to my off base home, press my uniform, shine my shoes, use the Listerine, Visine and caffeine and Vee Dubya my ass back to the base.  At the appointed hour, sucking in a gulp of air, I  marched into the Colonel’s office, halted 10 inches from his desk, eyes straight ahead, and popped a stiff armed solute, holding it for eternity until Hancock looked up and returned it.

With a scowl and puzzlement, he broke the silence in a voice used to commanding  “You!  You?  You did this, Beardslee?”

Shaping my face into what I hoped would appear sorrowful, I replied in a subdued voice “Yes sir”.

Hancock started chewing on me, eyes on mine.  Without looking he opened up his right hand desk drawer and piled the klaxon, wires, hammer and broken glass onto his formerly uncluttered desk.

In what seemed like an hour but probably only minutes, Hancock wrapped things up by saying he’d instructed Major Blanton, in charge of the fire department, to work up a bill for all of the damage including wages paid to the German fire truck drivers.  I’m thinking thousands as I hurried a salute and about faced out of there.  But I’d also thought why not at least a military law based article 15 misdemeanor charge?  Where was that?  Forthcoming?

 

Blanton showed up at the club around 5:00 p.m. and motioned me over to a corner of the bar, his face screwed up into a grin.   That made no sense as he should have been the officer the most put out from what had happened.

“Colonel Hancock thinks you’re a helluva guy, Lieutenant” said Blanton.  “The Colonel told me how he’d called you to get the guilty party into his office and when you showed up he knew you’d decided to take the rap for somebody.”

I let that sink in.  Incredible!

“So he told me to hold down the bill.  Here it is.  How does two hundred-sixty eight dollars sound?”

I took the paper from his hand-“Buy you a drink, Major?”