Having been raised in a semi-poor Appalachian home, I grew accustomed to receiving an orange, some hard Christmas candy, and possibly a pair of socks in my Christmas stocking. When some of my older siblings left home and gained employment, things at Christmas changed a little. They made sure that the remaining children had at least one item for Christmas that was needed.
I was the first male in the Shortt family, as far back as we could search, to graduate High School. Even at that, I tried to quit before graduation and join the army. I was barely seventeen in 1959 but was determined to enlist. I went to the office of the recruiter at Richlands, Virginia and filled out all the necessary papers but there was one great roadblock, my mother would not sign the papers of enlistment! After all, I was a minor! Things at home were not as great as they should be. Dad’s coal mine was not producing enough coal to keep up with the last remaining children’s needs and sometimes there was not enough food on the table, as well as, lack of necessary clothing. I was determined to join the military in order to be able to get a little relief for my parents and remaining siblings. As it turned out, I was able to go on to school and graduated the following June of 1960. I was still seventeen and could hardly wait for my birthday on July 14 to be able to enlist in the military!
My mother, Stella Shortt, was very quick to shed tears about almost anything. Because of this I determined that she should not know about my enlistment beforehand and especially the day I was to leave. On the sly, I decided that I would join the Air Force instead of the Army. This was probably because my Uncle Alvie, my old hunting buddy, was in the Air Force. I could remember seeing photos of him in his Air Force blues and thought them the greatest uniform I had ever seen! So the Air Force I joined. How I kept the fact from my mother, I just can’t seem to remember the details because I had to go to Bristol, Virginia to take all the necessary placement tests. That done, I was ready to head to basic training, later July 1960, probably the hottest time to go to Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, the only training center for the Air Force at that time.
Another reason for my wanting a quick departure to the military was because I did not want to become a coal miner. I had already experienced the claustrophobia of being under all that rock as my brother, Wendell, and I used to have to crawl back to the face of the coal and drag out grass sacks with as much coal as we could drag. Also, I had worked enough outside the mines and talked to enough miners who loaded coal to know that working inside was not for me! My brother and I cut mining props for the mines in our vicinity and this was also back-breaking work as we had no power saw only a crosscut saw with power provided by our skinny little arms. I weighed all of 121 pounds when I left for the Air Force. I was quite the ‘pencil neck’ in those days!
Having all my paperwork secured, my bus ticket to Roanoke, Virginia where I would be inducted into the Air Force, I told my mom that I would be spending the night with my Uncle Bill and his beautiful wife Aunt Geneva at Doran, Virginia, about 8 miles from our house. The night before I left was a memorable evening! Uncle Bill, an avid hunter, decided to take me raccoon hunting along the rugged Clinch River terrain. He and the hounds almost ran me to death, charging through marshy ground filled with saw briers, thick shrubbery, with the constant threat of being bitten by a copperhead snake. I was never so glad to see Aunt Geneva’s face as we arrived back at almost midnight. I had to be at the bus station in Richlands by 7am in order to depart for Roanoke. What a night I had trying to sooth all my scratches, bruises, and worrying about being to the bus station on time.
Uncle Bill dropped me off next morning with a hearty handshake and a quick hug. He was not a man given to too many of the niceties of life so I accepted his departing gestures with relish. I might have detected slight moisture glistening in his eyes! With a “Good luck, Frankie,” I was off to my four years of adventure with Uncle Sam, who turned out to be not so friendly as Uncle Bill!