Memories From the Old Barracks
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by Frank Shortt
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When I left home in July 1960, I was headed to San Antonio Texas to begin basic training for the United States Air Force at Lackland
AFB training center. Like so many others, I was in for a rude awakening!
"You dips fall in line" the sergeant ordered! This was as
soon as the group I was with disembarked from the bus that had hauled us from San Antoinio in a hot Texas morning. Before we had time
to think, we were herded to the base barber shop and sheared like sheep. The several moles on my head became miniature geysers of
blood as the shearer ran the rough barber shears over my head. "You should have told me you had moles" he shrieked as he tried to
daub the blood off with some paper towels! The purpose in shearing us was to insure that we did not have lice or something worse!
Now I had to worry about the moles becoming infected!
After barbering, we were once again told to 'fall in line' and then a nice march
to the barracks where we were assigned a bed and footlocker. This was to be the last we saw of our civilian clothes, literally, as
everything was donated to the Salvation Army, including my beautiful suede Hush Puppies! It took me many days of hard labor at sawing
mining timbers to acquire these shoes. That was one of the hardest things in life that I ever had to part with. The barracks was far
from being home! It was just a long hallway with beds and footlockers lining each side. There was no insulation! The ceiling was bare!
The floors were cheap tile that had to be cleaned with a toothbrush by anyone who went wrong with the sergeant. The rafters were exposed
and when we had 'barracks parties' we had to make sure these rafters were dusted thoroughly. At the end of the whole affair was the
room where the sergeant and his assistant slept.
After a short rest, very short, we were lined up again to go to Base Supply to be
issued the fatigues, underwear, hats, socks and brogans that we would need for the training we were to go through. The men at base
supply did not measure anything. They had done this so much until they were able to guess the approximate sizes we would need. All
my stuff, except for the hats, had to be altered. This cost us out of our $30.00 paycheck at the end of the month. Uncle Sam, in those
days, gagged at a gnat and swallowed a camel. I have never seen such waste that I grew accustomed to in the U.S.A.F. After Base Supply
we were ushered to the Commissary to buy needed supplies, such as, shaving cream, razor, soap, after-shave lotion, toothbrushes, toothpaste,
gargle, and other small things we thought we needed. We found out later these 'small things' would be confiscated as items that were
Next morning and thereafter, reveille was blown at around 4:30 a.m. If the g.i.s did not immediately roll out,
you had better have a good excuse. After dressing, we were marched to the chow hall for breakfast. By the time our flight entered
the chow hall, it seemed that just as soon as we sat down, we were commanded by the sergeant to assemble outside. We learned to chew
very fast and allow our food to digest later. Some of the food was terribly indigestible!
After this, back to the barracks to begin
our training of how to set up our footlockers, which housed all our personal items, rolled socks, and rolled underwear, etc. There
was a certain spot for each item, no exceptions, spaced just exactly to the nth degree. Our extra fatigues, rain gear, and wool overcoat
(as if we needed that in summer in Texas) was stored underneath the bunk in our issued duffel bag. I must admit I was a little slow
in learning some of the techniques having never been trained in any way as far as regimentation. (While I lived at home, dad said,
"do it" and that was the end of it!). The T.I., as the drill sergeants are called in the Air Force, became our mama, our papa, our
big brother, our trainer, but not our nursemaid! He delegated the responsibility of showing us how to do things to the flunkie Airman
Third Class who was, I must admit, a very sharp cookie! We soon learned that it was 'his way or no way'! We fell in to the routine
pretty quickly considering we were a bunch of hillbillies and street hoodlums from the streets of California.
Each time we left the
Barracks, we wished for transportation to the different areas that we were required to go to. Transportation!! Yeah, it was our own
two feet. We marched wherever we went, short trip or long trip. Sometimes the heat reached 100 degrees before the hot sun really began
shining down. (I remember one time we were standing at parade rest in the chow line at about 5 a.m. when all of a sudden I just simply
passed out!) It seems that the temperature was already 98 degrees and the sun had not even begun to rise. The sergeant explained that
I had locked my knees at parade rest, something you never want to do. It cuts off the circulation to the rest of your body, I guess!
I sat for awhile with my head down between my knees and had a swig of my hot canteen water. This seemed to revive me. There were many
instances like this until we became acclimated to the heat. I can remember having rings of salt underneath my armpits from sweating
in the heat. Also, helping this along were the salt pills we were required to take. We all somehow made it back to the old barracks
in one piece. I found out that most of this marching was to take us to training centers of one kind or the other. I must say that
I went in at 121 ½ lbs. and came out at 142. This was all solid muscle!
The hardest thing for me to remember was the chain of command.
I did not know a basic airman from a general. I suppose this was why I was sent to another incoming flight after a couple of weeks.
After being called ridgerunner, stump jumper, and told that when I went home my mother would come out from under the porch and bark
at me, I was all too happy to part ways with the first sergeant! Yes, this did go on among civilized men! Thank God, when I went to
the other flight, I became the trainer for all the incoming airmen. This set me in good stead with the sergeant, the marching trainer,
and with all the new men. I guess I was pretty helpful to them and made many friends among the group. When I graduated Basic Training,
I was only a couple of weeks behind my first flight. I never saw any of them again as far as I am able to tell. Best of all, I never
saw the First Sergeant after that as it might have been a different tale to tale afterward. I have since forgiven him as I now realize
that the purpose of Basic Training, in any profession, is very important! The person must first be broken down before he can be built
up into something useful.
After I graduated Lackland heading to my permanent duty station, I even dreamed about the old barracks and
somehow never got over the experience, even to this day!