Sometimes airmen in the USAF must leave their permanent base in order to train on new equipment
or new tactics. This is referred to as TDY or temporary duty.
While at Mather AFB, Sacramento,
California, in the 1960’s, I was given the title of Special Vehicle Repairman. This meant repairing towing tractors, fire trucks,
and refueling vehicles, as well as general purpose vehicles, if we had no other pressing work.
One day the Sergeant in charge came to the tanker shop where I was temporarily stationed and said, “Shortt, you’ve been chosen to
go to Chanute Field in Illinois to train on the latest refueling tanker, the R-2. You’ll be leaving in about a week!”
Not being one
to make waves, I did not answer him immediately, because if I did, I would have had some choice words for him! Instead, I went to
see him later in the day to get all the details.
This meant leaving the sweet thing I had met
in San Jose for at least a couple of months. Also, the weather in Illinois was a tad bit harsher than the weather in California. After
all, it was the dead of winter! As I entered the Sgt’s office, I had my speech already memorized. I meant to let go of both barrels
and tell him what I really thought. Instead, he gave me the old guilt trip so famously used in the armed forces. “Shortt, you were
chosen because we have noticed that you have leadership capabilities. You have aced all the tests given for making rank, and also,
you have a letter of recommendation from the Sergeant in charge of the barracks detail stating that you were a great leader in the
recent base cleanup.” What could I say after so rousing a buildup? I could almost see my next stripes come floating to my upper sleeve.
I could only reply, “Well Sarge, if that is what the Air Force wants me to do!” I was thinking of asking the little lass in San Jose
to be my bride soon. In fact, I was already putting aside a little each month to pay for the engagement ring. Another stripe would
mean more money, more money would mean that I could pop the question sooner!
The trip to Illinois
turned out to be interesting and informative. There were some other GI’s traveling with me and we spent our time shooting the breeze,
bragging about our accomplishments, and finding ways to stop the monotony of rail travel. As we sat in the parlor car, we kept noticing
a gentleman wearing a silk smoking jacket, (popular in the sixties) and looking as if he might be a wrestler, or at best, a pugilist.
Soon word wafted over to us that this was Louis Prima, a well-known singer and bandleader, purveyor of the ever popular song, ‘Old
Black Magic’! He and Keely Smith, his lead vocalist and one-time wife, chose different modes of travel from city to city plying their
trade. She always chose the airlines, and he, not trusting airplanes, chose the railway. We found all this out as Louis offered each
of us a cocktail, which we were more that glad to take, being low on cash and less on brains. He turned out to be a most interesting
and graceful host. At the time, military men were still respected. Not long afterwards, the Vietnam War changed all that.
Chicago I had to take a bus the rest of the way to Chanute A.F.B. which was in the vicinity of the little village of Rantoul and not
far from the University of Illinois at Chanpagne/Urbana. The trip there was uneventful, and after reaching Chanute Air Force Base
and checking in with Base Operations, I was assigned to a barrack, which, to say the least, was a little less ornate than the barrack
I had left at Mather A.F.B.! Let’s just say it had a WW2 atmosphere!
I believe I arrived on a
Friday, at the convenience of Uncle Sam, and on Monday I had to report to my duty station to begin my education concerning the R-2
Refueler Truck. This was supposed to be the latest design in Aircraft refueling. First off was orientation classes conducted by the
Sergeant in charge of the classroom. After many long hours of grueling boredom and fighting off sleep, we finally were led into the
presence of our subject. I did not tell the Sergeant that I had already been working on this particular vehicle for almost six months!
This made it even harder for me to stay focused. He taught from a manual, and I had learned from raw experience. After a few days
of getting familiar with the workings of the vehicle, we began the process of learning the valves which made up the bowels of the
truck. As we practiced saying the names, I began to hum an old southern gospel song that I had learned as a young man in Virginia
entitled, “Dem Bones, Dem Dry Bones, Dem Bones Gonna Rise Again”. Over and over, the words began to come back to me, until somewhat
later, I began to apply this as a method of learning the valves easier. Some stanzas of the song go like this:
Toe bone connected
to the foot bone
Foot bone connected to the heel bone
Heel bone connected to the ankle bone
Ankle bone connected to the shin bone
Shin bone connected to the knee bone
Knee bone connected to the thigh bone
Thigh bone connected to the hip bone
Hip bone connected
to the back bone
Back bone connected to the shoulder bone
Shoulder bone connected to the neck bone
Neck bone connected to the head
Now hear the word of the Lord.
I just simply substituted the names of the valves for
each bone and what it was connected to. Soon this intricate concoction of valves became a clear picture in my mind. After seeing my
classmates struggle with this maze for a couple of days, I went to the Sergeant one afternoon after class and presented my method
of learning the valves. He was game for anything that would make his class shine, so he determined to present the method to the whole
class next morning. It worked like a charm! Every man in the class, who had an ounce of rhythm in his body, became an expert at identifying
the intricate valve system. The Sergeant declared that this was the best graduating class he had ever taught! I was declared a hero,
of sorts, and every man there graduated with a passing grade. The Sergeant used this method thereafter, probably until the truck became
obsolete, or until he was transferred somewhere else, as is the way of Uncle Sam.
I returned to Mather feeling rather proud of myself.
I felt that I could teach the workings of the R-2 Refueler to the least bright airman at the base. As soon as I returned, I was placed
in charge of the Base Quartermaster station with fifteen eager, well maybe this is a little exaggerated, let’s say able, airmen to
do the work and I stayed there until I was discharged in April, 1964. I never saw the R-2 Refueler again, unless it was at a distance,
until I was able to find one as I googled it recently. My Tech School experience seemed such a waste of time and energy, wouldn’t