"The John Deere"

Category: "Air Force"
Les Gar Frazier on Jan. 9, 2021

Readers of my stories may wonder why I have not mentioned women. They may think fighter pilots live celibate lives if my stories are any kind of yardstick. Such is not the case. I personally have enjoyed many healthy relationships with women but unlike the war novels available in the bookstores, American women were in very short supply during my duty tours in South East Asia [SEA]. In-country LBFMs [Little Brown Fucking Machines] were available for a few greenbacks or military script - but they also carried a health hazard. Not AIDS, as AIDS was unknown during the SEA war years, but other sexually transmitted diseases such as syphilis and gonorrhea. In fact, during the entire length of this country's involvement in SEA, anyone stationed there will tell you that there was a strain of syphilis [or gonorrhea] so virulent, so infectious, so unspeakably loathsome, that those infected were imprisoned on some tropical island, never to return to America again. Of course, this was nonsense, there were no Americans ever held against their will for medical reasons on any tropical island. Personally, I think they are being held on Borneo...


 

This story has nothing to do with the hot, steamy, illicit sex with LBFMs in either Viet Nam or Thailand where I was stationed on five different tours but covers the opposite end of the spectrum: the most devastating news a combat member can receive: the dreaded, unimaginably horrifying "Dear John" letter from home. Sometimes we referred to a Dear John letter as a "John Deere" because it was like being run over by a tractor.


 

I suppose a definition of a "Dear John" is in order at this point: it is a communication from home that your wife/girlfriend has decided that the relationship is not working out and she is breaking it off. Out of my assignments in SEA, I received a Dear John on three different tours. I believe this may be some kind of record only because I've never met anyone who has had to suffer through more.


 

Civilians may have a different meaning for the words, but in the military, my definition has been used since at least WW II and is probably being used in Afghanistan and Iraq at this writing in late 2003.


 

FIRST TOUR: My first tour was a six-month assignment as a Forward Air Controller eventually assigned to a small village 60 miles north of Saigon, Republic of Viet Nam, named Song Be. I did not receive any Dear Johns on this tour because I wasn't close enough to any woman back at my home station of Misawa AB, Japan to warrant one. I had two girl friends at Misawa in fact. One was a Japanese schoolteacher who taught Japanese Customs and Traditions to American grade school students at Misawa. She also taught Spoken Japanese for the University of Maryland College Extension Service we had on base. She once told me that she could not attract a Japanese boy friend because with her two teaching positions, she made so much money that any local Japanese man dating her would lose face. We do not have the "lose face" concept in America and the closest thing I can think of that might be similar would be some sort of great and continuing embarrassment.


 

My other girl friend, an American schoolteacher at Misawa, wanted to get married and at age 26, I was not ready. She had been married before, was two years older than me and found that she could not have children. So, she was to me, just a roll in the hay. Later, she took an assignment in the American Embassy in Saigon and was killed in a bomb explosion.


 

While in Saigon, I visited various bars that catered to the tourist trade. Like Japan, bar girls were available for sex. While they might be dressed in the national dress of Viet Nam, the Ao Dai, they all wore a sort of clinical jacket: white, buttoned tight at the collar and down the front. The jackets were made of a smooth, soft fabric like barbers and doctors sometimes wear. My guess would be that they were dressed in that manner to show that they were hygienically clean.


 

Once, in a Saigon bar, I had bought a lady of the evening a drink called "Saigon tea," it was supposed to be whiskey but everyone knew that the girls drank colored water to increase the bar's profit margin. This particular girl had a lazy eye. I could tell when she became bored as we chatted in pidgin English because her eye would start to wander. I found that by slapping the bar, I could startle her and bring her eye back into focus.


 

Another time, walking down crowded Tu Do Street, I could see a Caucasian woman walking toward me and she looked like what I thought a French whore might look.  As she passed me, I caught her smell and she smelled like what I thought a French whore might smell.  When I mentioned the encounter to some friends later that evening, they knew the woman I described and told me that she was indeed a French whore.


 

At Song Be, there were no American women but there were young Vietnamese nurses assigned to the military hospital there. Some were cute so I volunteered to teach an English course to them. I spoke absolutely no Vietnamese, but the Staff Physician spoke fairly good English and would interpret. We Americans called him Doctor because he had graduated from Medical School, but because he attended school in Hanoi, the local Vietnamese commander called him an "administrator."


 

Like most of the Vietnamese at Song Be, the Doctor and the nurses were all Roman Catholics - as was the military commander. The military commander, a lieutenant colonel, forbade any fraternization between his nurses and the Americans. One of the nurses and I got on quite nicely but were unable to ever be alone. Her name was Co Sau and on subsequent tours in Viet Nam, I would sometimes buzz Song Be and would always attract the attention of the local Forward Air Controller [FAC] or Army unit who would come up my frequency to ask what I was doing buzzing the town. I would tell them that I was saying hello to Co Sau and if they'd be so kind, please run by the hospital and tell her that Dai Uy, pronounced die we [Captain] and on a later tour, Trung ta [Major] Les was in the area. I never heard whether she received any of my messages and have often wondered what happened to her when the communists occupied her country.


 

English class at Song Be, circa 1962 - 63. Co Sou is the fifth from the right and the physician is the first on the left. I don't know who the kids are. If a camera was brought out, every kid who saw it would run over to get in the picture. [picture to follow]


 

SECOND TOUR: It was said, that when returning to the States from an overseas tour, that if one could go for one year without getting married, one no longer felt compelled to marry. I made it for eight months before finding myself married to the friend of a squadron mate and his wife, Leslie and Bill Barbena. My duty station was Luke AFB near Phoenix, Arizona and my job was as a fighter gunnery instructor pilot, teaching young pilots how to fly the F-100 aircraft and use it as a weapons platform.


 

I had arrived at Luke in the spring of 1963 and immediately saw that many of my students were Air Force Academy graduates of 1959 and later. These kids were my contemporaries. The handwriting on the wall told me that if I did not increase my level of indispensability to the Air Force dramatically, I would be left behind in promotion cycles. I chose to attack my limited use to the AF on two fronts: education and combat. Education because I was on a directed duty assignment to Luke for four years and would not be going anywhere and combat because a volunteer combat assignment always looked good on one's promotion's records. Before ever marrying, I told my intended bride that my Air Force duties had to come first, the family second. I explained that because of my lack of education, I could easily be passed over for promotion and needed to increase my education level and later, my combat tours, at the cost of a normal eight to five work schedule. She agreed without hesitation and joined me in the night classes I was taking.


 

The first hint of marital discord arose when I was scheduled for early morning flights. Because the briefings could come as early as 0430, it was necessary to arrive at the squadron, ready to fly about one hour before. My wife liked to stay up late and couldn't understand why I would not want to join her. Although I tried to tell her, she had absolutely no idea how demanding a student mission could be and the associated need for rest before briefing and leading three students who may have a combined total of 25 hours in the airplane, and the airplane, the F-100, was not an easy airplane for a student to fly. I was to find out that my wife was a person who had to have constant attention and flew into a rage when I put in for and was accepted for an A-1 Skyraider combat assignment [the Skyraider was a WW II vintage propeller driven airplane, but still an awesome fighter-bomber] before my four year Luke assignment was up. The assignment was eventually canceled but an F-100 combat assignment was offered and I accepted it much to the anger of my wife. When I left for Viet Nam, we were barely on speaking terms. In fact, at Sky Harbor airport, when I was leaving, movie star, Peter Graves arrived amidst great adulation. My wife ran over to join in the crowd, leaving me to board without saying goodbye.


 

Viet Nam was the world's loneliest place. When I arrived at my duty station of Phan Rang AB, one of the first things pointed out to me was a flagpole by the post office that could be seen from our squadron operations. "When they run up the red flag, it means the mail has been posted," offered one of the squadron pilots. That had an ominous ring because I knew that historically, "running up a red flag," meant "no prisoners will be taken." Mail was brought in and posted seven days a week.


 

The F-100 experience level was very high during this tour and most of the pilots had wives who understood that part of the military marriage game included long separations. Yet, the occasional Dear John would come in and the recipient would have a few down days and then return to duty.


 

When the red flag would go up, anyone seeing it would make the announcement and as many as could get together would crowd into the squadron van, a bread wagon like the ones used by UPS, and rush to check mail. Twice, I saw squadron pilots haul those long and thick, white legal envelopes out and hide them on their person. On the way back to the squadron, the guys with family mail would be laughing and sharing the contents of their letters with other riders while those who had received the legal sized envelopes would sit in stunned, glazed silence. Once back at the squadron, the guys with divorce papers would tell our commander, Lt. Col. Ken Miles and he would always loan the pilot his assigned pickup truck to visit the legal office. I've passed the legal office more than once, surprised to see the commander's pickup parked there but the commander on duty in the squadron. Colonel Miles never shared the misfortune of anyone's Dear John with other members of the squadron.


 

I had passed though Clark AFB, Philippines on my way to Phan Rang and put an expensive one-carat diamond ring from the BX on layaway for my wife. When I had it paid off, I wrote the BX and had them send it to her in the States. My wife had been writing me less and less and about half way through my tour, I found the big fat legal sized envelope waiting for me.


 

I immediately called the BX at Clark and asked that the ring be sent to me, not to my wife. The sales lady in the jewelry section told me that the ring had gone out a few days earlier and there was nothing that could be done.


 

I borrowed the commander's pick up and went to the legal office. The Staff Judge Advocate [lawyer] that I saw certainly had seen many of them and took them personally as his attitude was "if she wants to fuck with you way over here in Viet Nam, let's see what we can do to fuck with her back in the States." An attitude that truly pleased me. According to my lawyer, The Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act of 1942, a law that was passed to protect servicemen on foreign soil by delaying any civil litigation if they can show their military responsibilities precludes their proper representation in court. I could show my military responsibilities precluded proper representation in court and was able to dictate the terms of the divorce, especially since my wife had been "back-dooring" me and had a Luke instructor lined up, ready to marry [he thought she was divorced]. Unfortunately, the Luke instructor was assigned to Phan Rang and was killed on his first night mission. So my now ex-wife married the lawyer who handled her case. Since the lawyer was about 20 years her senior, she may have been one of the first to be called a "trophy wife."


 

I wrote my ex-wife and asked that she send the diamond ring to me. She never did and I have no idea what ever happened to it.


 

THIRD TOUR: When I left Phan Rang AB, Viet Nam, my follow-on assignment was to the 1141st Special Activities Squadron, Ramstein AB, Federal Republic of Germany. My records were marked "Counter Insurgency Qualified" due to my first tour in Viet Nam and since the 1141st Special Activities Squadron sounded a bit like The Studies and Observations Group (SOG) -- a joint Special Operations unit that included members from the Air Force, Navy SEALs and Special Forces in Viet Nam, I never questioned the assignment. Only after I arrived at Ramstein did I find out that I was to be a staff officer in NATO, the worst possible assignment I could have drawn. There was no urgency, no initiative, and no excitement. Just a bunch of old geezers coasting their way to retirement, shuffling paperwork in a headquarters that had no responsibility, no mission with every American, German and Canadian holiday off. I was so horrified at the prospect of spending two years pushing worthless paper; I went to personnel and put in for an F-105 assignment to Thailand. I had heard that the F-105 community was short of pilots and hoped my tour could be curtailed to flesh out the shortage. Personnel told me I would have to complete the two-year tour, no exceptions, and once the tour was drawing to a close, I could reapply.


 

So I was stuck in a place I didn't want to be doing a job that anyone with 20/400 vision and a fondness for repetitive, useless fucking paperwork could do. The only perks were the types of flying available and the secretaries and schoolteachers stationed at Ramstein.


 

T-33 jet trainers [single engine, tandem seated, subsonic airplane] were made available to jet qualified pilots to keep proficient. We could take the airplanes to any western European air field that was an Airdrome of Entry [had customs], had 5,000 feet of runway, jet fuel and low pressure oxygen.


 

The Spaniards like to use us for "Faker missions." Faker missions were where we tried to penetrate the Spanish Air Defense System at altitudes of between 25,000 and 35,000 feet. If they painted us on their RADAR, they would try to intercept us with their F-86 jets. The Spanish Government put us up in expensive hotels in Palma on the island of Mallorca in the Mediterranean Sea, a playground for the wealthy and hundreds of horny, beautiful women from all over the globe.


 

We would take off from the Palma airport; penetrate Spanish air space, sometimes being intercepted, sometimes not, and then land at the American base at Torrejon, just outside of Madrid. If we wanted, we could refuel, go back to Palma and fly the same mission the following day.


 

Whether I went back to Palma seemed to depend on the number of labor chair orders I had from the Ramstein secretaries/schoolteachers.


 

The labor chair was a decorated three of four-legged chair with handgrips on the sides of the seat. Evidently, labor chairs had been used by the Portuguese for child bearing in the past and were now a popular room decoration item. The chairs came apart and were sold in boxes with brightly decorative seat pillows. Once, I had six boxes of labor chairs in the back seat of the T-33 with me and I've never owned a labor chair in my life.


 

An acquaintance at Ramstein had a Chinese girlfriend from Taiwan coming in to visit him. Since he was already dating a Ramstein schoolteacher, he asked me if I would take her off his hands while his Chinese visitor was in town. The schoolteacher, besides being a very attractive woman, was also a very nice person and I told the guy I would be happy to take over for him. Some how, I assumed he had cleared the arrangement with her but found out later he just expected me to charm her into my arms. This was never to happen because the schoolteacher didn't know about the Chinese woman and was truly fond of the guy trying to get rid of her. Before I became aware of the unknowns of the triangle, the schoolteacher approached me at the Officers Club bar one evening and introduced me to a young lady, also a schoolteacher, from the southern US, traveling in Europe. Since I was unaware of the devious trick being played on her, I thought she had approached me to jump-start a relationship - so I invited the two of them out to dinner.


 

During dinner, two things became apparent: the schoolteacher being cuckolded had no designs on my body and she was, in fact, attempting to introduce the other young woman around in hopes of getting her to stay on at Ramstein as a teacher by showing her the sights and the eligible bachelors.


 

"Eligible bachelor" probably needs to be defined at this point. There's an old Air Force maxim that states, "some married guys who go TDY [Temporary Duty to another station] become TDY bachelors," i.e., they forget that they are married. Ramstein was the crossroads for military aircrews in Western Europe and the Officers Club bar was filled with TDY bachelors almost ever night and especially on the weekends, hustling whomever they could. "Eligible Bachelor" on the other hand, meant that the guy had no wife. A "Class A Bachelor" meant that he had never been married and a "Class B Bachelor" meant that he had been married and might have kids. Class B Bachelors usually carried baggage and some of the schoolteachers avoided them. I was a Class B Bachelor but thanks to my Phan Rang lawyer and my ex-wife's desire to remarry quickly, I had only child support to pay. But I was to find out that my ex-wife had run up $8,000.00 in credit card bills, a significant sum in 1968, and the credit card companies came to me for payment. I wrote them letters, including copies of the divorce decree, highlighting the part where it was written that she "... would be responsible for any and all debts contracted by..." her. Each credit card company wrote me back, noting, that they had no contract with my ex-wife, that the credit cards were initiated by me [as they were] and I was therefore responsible for their payment. So, I had to pay for trips to Las Vegas she had taken, jewelry she had purchased, tires she had bought [16] and encyclopedia sets [4] she must have used to gain knowledge in screwing ex-husbands.


 

The other teacher at dinner, the one on the tour of Europe, was a small attractive southern belle. In fact, much of her manner could have been taken directly out of Gone With The Wind. She was part Scarlett O'Hara [Vivien Leigh] with a sensual, lively twist and part Melanie Hamilton [Olivia de Havilland] with a virginal, demure impression.


 

The teacher was able to secure a position at Ramstein and had her parents sell her car and send her clothing. She didn't seem to have any hang ups over Class B bachelors and we got along quite nicely. The cuckolded teacher, of course, found out about the Chinese girl and went on about her life, a life that did not include me - or her ex-boyfriend ever again.


 

Southern Belle and I carried on a most unusual romance for a year and one-half. At least it was a romance on my part, I will never be sure about hers. To use an old cowboy expression, I tried to "cut her out of the herd" on several occasions but could not. She always had another guy or two she was seeing - maybe more. There were times that she would go out on a date only later to wake me up in my quarters as she was undressing. She was absolutely the most loyal person I knew as long as she was facing me, but it seemed if turned my back, all fealty melted away. Once we went with two other couples on the train to Paris for a long weekend. While there, she told me she would be attending a base-wide party at another base with a guy who was stationed there. It was the same base where the other two couples were stationed. "Good Lord," I said, "you're shacked up with me here in Paris and next week, you're going to a party that they are sure to attend? Don't you think they will wonder about your morals?"


 

"I don't care what they think, I'll do as I please." And as far as I know, she went to the party.


 

Our relationship would surge, retrogress, surge, retrogress and on each retrogression, our relationship crumbled a bit more. Once we were lying in her bed and there was a soft tap at the door. A voice whispered her name and told her who he was. My God, I recognized the voice and the name because I worked for him at Misawa AB six years before. He was a TDY bachelor and I had no idea they were even acquainted. We didn't answer the door.


 

Finally, my two-year tour in NATO was coming to a close. I went to personnel and put in for an F-105 assignment to Thailand. A few days later, personnel called and said "We see you've put back in for Southeast Asia in the F-105. You've got over two thousand hours and one combat tour in the F-100. If you want to go back to the war, you'll have to go in the F-100." I agreed and orders were cut to send me to Luke AFB, AZ for a short refresher course with follow-on orders to the same base I had been at on my previous F-100 tour: Phan Rang AB.


 

After the refresher course, I went to Texas to visit my Mom and had talked Southern Belle into meeting me in Dallas when her Ramstein school let out. Part of my incentive was to ask her brother to accompany us, as he had never been out west. Without her brother, she arrived in Dallas and I took her to meet my Mom and brother's family who lived in Lone Star and Mount Pleasant respectively. The visit ended, we boarded the airliner to fly to Los Angles to pick up my car. Her brother, who was already on board the airplane, joined us. After spending a few days with friends, the three of us headed for Luke AFB, near Phoenix, Arizona, to pick up some flying equipment that I had left there.


 

When we arrived at LAX, my friend's wife and three boys met us and took us to their home. My bud, who had been with me at two different stations in the AF had resigned from the AF and was flying for an airline. He came in a couple of days later. I had lost a bag on the flight; so the two of us went back to LAX to see if it had arrived [it had not, I picked it up 13 months later]. Going back to his house, he stopped at an unknown house and said "come in here, I want to show you something." He had a key, so we let ourselves into the house and met his girlfriend, Lois, sitting on a couch watching TV. I was dumbfounded, I had no idea he was backdooring his wife and was furious at him for what he was doing and for taking me there. I railed the entire way back to his house and he promised to quit seeing her. Lois was a senior stewardess and my friend was a junior First Officer, so Lois was able to bid the trips that he was on. I ran into them at Clark AB, Philippines a couple of weeks later and it was obvious he never had any intention of agreeing to stop seeing her. My ex-friend's wife eventually found out about the liaison and divorced him. She used her alimony to become a successful RN.


 

In Phoenix, we put Southern Belle's brother on the plane for home, visited friends and attended a couple of parties. A few days later, we were on the road to Walla Walla, Washington, my hometown, to visit my grand parents. My car, an unairconditioned Porsche [air was not needed in Germany where I bought the car] was sweltering, as it was June of 1970.


 

In Walla Walla, Southern Belle charmed my grandparents so thoroughly that when I was getting ready to take her to the airport, they told her that they hoped to see more of her. She was evasive in her answers. At the airport, we had coffee in the airport coffee shop and promised to keep in touch. Back then, one could approach an airliner, so I walked her to the airplane steps, said goodbye and she was gone. After she left, I went back into the empty coffee shop where the lone waitress was working and also minding her child, and asked for a date. It turned out that the waitress was a single mother, a student at Whitman College in town, unattached and willing to go out.


 

Early that evening, as I prepared to go out, I called Southern Bell at her home to see if her flight was uneventful. It was and she also suggested that we should get married on my return from Viet Nam. I was stunned. Having tried to woo her unsuccessfully for the better part of two years, her suggestion caught me by total surprise. I agreed that it was an excellent idea; chatted for a while then called the waitress and told her I was unable to make our date.


 

Viet Nam was a terrible place to be stationed and I was in no hurry to arrive at my duty station. My year's tour started from the moment I left CONUS [Continental United States], so I hung around Clark, a way station, for as long as I could. Finally, after two or three days, I was told to be on the next airplane for Cam Rahn Bay, a base only 26 miles from my final destination of Phan Rang. At Cam Rahn, I hopped a C-130 and had the pilot radio ahead that a new F-100 pilot was inbound. Several guys, including the Chief of the Command Post [CP], who said I would be taking his position, met me. I had already found out that the experience level was low and that I was one of the high F-100 time men on base and was surprised that I would be going to the CP. In fact, only one guy, Jim Chestnut, had more F-100 time than me and he was running Stan Eval [an office that checked the proficiency level of other pilots]. I had been in Stan Eval at Luke and assumed I would work for Jim. Not so, my job for the entire year was as the Chief of the Command Post with an additional duty as a Stan Eval check pilot.


 

I was assigned to the 612th Tactical Fighter Squadron for flying and the other guys meeting me on the flight line were there to take me up to the squadron hootch and get me settled in. "Let's go by the post office first to check mail." I could see the red flag was up and the guys had already checked their mail but they ran me by to check [none for me] and recheck theirs and while there, I opened a postal box.


 

As was the custom for a new arrival on entering the hootch, booze was brought out and we started to drink whiskey and beer. The 'squadron welcome drink' was the Harvey Wallbanger, but I couldn't stomach the stuff, so I had beer. The days crossing the Pacific and the drinking in the Philippines caught up with me very quickly, so I told the guys I was having a severe sinking spell and needed to crash. I was taken to an empty room, painted black, and was told it would be my room. As a Major, I did not have a roommate. I hit the pillow and was instantly asleep.


 

Two things caught my eye as I was leaving the bar area [also called the Day Room]. One was a bulletin board with two photos of round-eyed women [Caucasians] tacked on it along with at least two hand-written letters along with some profane graffiti scribbled over one of the photos. I asked, "what the hell is this?"


 

And someone answered, "that's the 'John Deere Board.'" I had heard of Dear John Boards but had never actually seen one before. It was reserved for those who received Dear John letters and wanted to share them with the squadron. I was too woozy to study the board and entered a hallway that would lead to my room.


 

Along the wall, I saw where some one had kicked a hole, down low, through the wall into one of the rooms. Once again, I asked, "what the hell is that?"


 

One of the guys showing me to my room told me that the Operations Officer [second in command of a squadron], Pete Knight, was just a little fucker and didn't need anything as big as a door to get into his room. So a hole had been kicked through the wall, near the floor, to facilitate his entry. I had heard of Pete Knight, he was one of the X-15 pilots who had flown high enough in the airplane to earn Astronaut wings [50 miles above the earth's surface]. It surprised me to learn that Astronauts were pulling combat tours. I had assumed that they had their own little piece of the Air Force cut out and tucked away for them at Edwards AFB and never ventured far from there.


 

My second tour at Phan Rang in the F-100 was very much like the first one. The main differences were that the F-100 was configured to carry more ordnance and we were flying missions into Cambodia and Laos, something we didn't do on my first tour. We flew many night Close Air Support [CAS] missions and the nights seemed darker but that may have been because I was two years older and as one ages, one needs more light to see the same things as a younger person.


 

One bright spot was that I was receiving mail from the Southern Belle and she wanted to get married in New Orleans in October of 1971. That was fine with me as I planned to ask for an assignment to England AFB, Alexandria, Louisiana, just to the north of New Orleans. We also planned to meet in Bangkok over the Christmas holidays of 1970, but as the date grew closer, her letters became fewer. She did send me a brochure from the tour agency with which she was booked. But neither airline nor the arrival times were listed, just the itinerary that included the date of arrival.


 

Puzzled over the lack of communication from the Southern Belle, I left on R & R to the Siam-Intercontinental Hotel in Bangkok on Sunday, 20 December. There was a tourist office in the hotel and I produced the brochure and asked the man on duty when I could expect her airplane. He said "oh, that been cancelled."


 

"No," I said, "you misunderstand me, the flight is due tomorrow, at what time will it arrive at Don Muang [Bangkok's international airport]?"


 

"That tour been cancelled," he repeated. I thought we were having a communications problem, so the next day I went out to Don Muang and hung around customs as airliners came in from all over the world. About midday, I went back to the Siam Intercontinental to see if I had somehow missed her arrival. Surprisingly the tour agent was standing in the lobby, in front of his office, and said, "I look for her too." I went back to the airport and spent the rest of the afternoon unproductively at the customs exit.


 

That evening, she still hadn't arrived and I managed to telephone the BOQ [Bachelor Officers Quarters], where most of the teachers lived, at Ramstein. The BOQ was three stories high and only one phone line and two instruments, in the hallway on each floor, serviced about 20 rooms on each floor. The worst room to have assigned was the room next to the telephones. Even though it was mid day in Germany, I could tell by the hostile tone, the woman who answered the phone was pissed. When I asked if she knew Southern Belle, she said, "yes, she's touring Austria with some guy" and hung up.


 

Uh-oh, I thought. Things are not going as well as I thought. The honeymoon was over before it ever started.


 

When I returned to Phan Rang, the Dear John letter was waiting for me. But the Dear John bulletin board had disappeared and I wasn't all that certain I wanted to share my news anyway.


 

As it turned out, a puppy I kept in my room contracted rabies while I was gone and there was quite a bit of excitement to keep me from dwelling on useless letters from past girlfriends.


 

My tour finished, I led a flight of six F-100s back to the States. The old bird carried the air war in the south for eight years and was now being retired in favor of the F-4 and A-7. Oddly, the F-100 is seldom mentioned as a participant in the war although at one time, four bases, in the south, all had F-100s.


 

FORTH TOUR: My next duty assignment was Mountain Home AFB, Idaho on the Snake River plain in south central Idaho. It was an isolated location but only fifty miles from the State Capital, Boise, where I spent my Junior and High School years. The base was being equipped with the new F-111F that was called a "fighter" but was in reality a medium bomber. It had two engines and two crew members who sat side-by-side. One could move the wings back and forth, between 16 degrees and 72.5 degrees, by a handle located under the sill, on the left side depending on the flight conditions. At the time, it was the fastest operational "fighter" in the inventory and perhaps the world.


 

When one reported on to a new base, one had to go though a base processing. Many stops at many different base agencies were required, as an example, the hospital. When I took my medical records by the hospital, I went to the Flight Surgeon's office to complain of episodic tinnitus I'd been having while stationed at Phan Rang. As was the procedure with pilots, who were treated as prima donnas, I was seen immediately. The doctor said they had no ENT [ear, nose and throat] physicians on base and filled out a consult for me to visit a Otorhinolaryngologist [ear, nose and throat] clinic in Boise.


 

My appointment was two weeks later and when I presented myself at the practice of three established, well-known ENT physicians, I was asked to fill out several forms and then shown to an examining room. My blood pressure, pulse and temperature were taken although I told the nurse I was there for an ear problem, not a physical.


 

In about 10 minutes, my physician, Jean Peters, walked in. At least I thought she was Jean Peters, she looked so much like the American movie actress, it was startling. She introduced herself as "call me Kat, [her name was Kathleen and she had sparkling blue eyes]" and started asking me more questions about my tinnitus. Like trying to explain an irritating but intermittent vehicle noise to an automobile mechanic, I had no tinnitus the day. She examined me, which I thoroughly enjoyed and thinking the tinnitus might be occupation related, she asked me my profession. When I told her I was a fighter pilot, stationed at Mountain Home AFB, it was obvious she had never treated a fighter pilot before nor did she know where Mountain Home AFB was located. I found out later that I saw her during her first week at practice, having just attended the House Ear Institute in Los Angles, California. She had been in Boise about two weeks, getting settled in a condo her three associates had leased for her.


 

Nothing abnormal showed up in her examination, so she scheduled a CAT scan for the following week - if I was available. I assured her I would make myself available.


 

I lingered in her examining room for as long as possible and had the impression that she was in no hurry to get on with her routine of seeing other patients. During my drive back to Mountain Home, I convinced myself she was as interested in me as I was in her. She had no rings on, but that didn't mean much. Fighter pilots seldom wear rings either, especially around airplanes, as they can catch on projections and can rip one's finger off. But during the exam, she had suggested that my wife or I jot down the circumstances of any onset of tinnitus and when I told her I wasn't married, she raised an eyebrow.


 

When I returned to find out the CAT-scan revealed no abnormalities, Kat told me she was unmarried and that her favorite sport was water skiing. I told her that water skiing was also my favorite sport and that I had a boat, trailer and tow rig and "would you like to go water skiing with me sometime?" She accepted and we made a date for the Saturday after next [my appointment had been on a Friday]. This gave me a full week to look for a boat, trailer and tow rig and learn to water ski - as I had never been on water skies in my life nor had I ever owned a boat of any kind.


 

Finding the boat and trailer was easy. A Sergeant departing for an overseas assignment had a boat and trailer in the "Lemon Lot [a secure on-base lot where AF members could display cars, motorcycles, boats, RVs, etc. that they had for sale]." He called the boat a "Watermelon Seed" because of its shape and it had a 125 hp Mercury Black Max outboard motor attached to it, a very large engine at the time. On Sunday, the sergeant towed the boat to Strike Dam on the Snake River, a few miles from Mountain Home AFB, and demonstrated how to use it. We did not have skis but he explained how to use the boat to pull skiers. To my thinking, the water was too cold for any kind of sport since it was late spring. I asked the sergeant if he would be available to tow the boat to/from the AFB the following Saturday if we could agree on a price. We negotiated a price and he agreed to deliver and retrieve the boat.


 

Saturday morning turned out to be rainy and windy, but Kat met me at the Mountain Home Post Office, we had breakfast at a local restaurant.


 

I mentioned a party I was having that evening but she didn't seem interested so I didn't press it.


 

We took my Porsche to Strike Dam where the boat was in the water with MWR [Morale, Welfare, Recreation] ski equipment on-board. She stripped down to a sort of short-legged wet suit affair, filling it out magnificently, and took up a starter' s position in the shallow water. I gunned the engine and just about tore her arms out of their sockets. I circled back, threw her the rope and did the same thing a second time. "Maybe if you didn't accelerate so fast?" She asked when I tossed her the ski rope. Finally, I was able to drag her up and out of the water and pulled her back and forth for several minutes. Then, passing close to the trailer, she let go of the rope and coasted into shore. When I pulled into shallow water, she said "okay, the water's too cold to stay in and it's your turn."


 

Knowing this was coming, I said, "Jeeze, you know I forgot to bring my swimming suit and I think it's too cold anyway. Why don't we go to my house and get something warm to drink?" She agreed and I used a pay phone to call the sergeant to come pick up the boat.


 

Before leaving for SEA and while stationed in Germany, a friend of mine, Seb Arriaga and I, had flown a T-33 up to Copenhagen to look at Danish Modern furniture. I picked out enough furniture to completely furnish a one-bedroom house and I put it on layaway, picking it up as I was leaving Germany. The furniture had been in storage until I rented a house in Mountain Home, so everything was brand new. Since the furniture had been in storage for a year, I had teak oiled it over and over until each piece shined.


 

Part of the furniture included a bright orange, yellow and black wool rug that just about covered the entire living room floor.


 

Kat was taken by the interior opulence of my house. We sat around, drank coffee and I showed her how to play Liar's Dice, a game we often played in the AF to while away the boredom of some duties. "Kat, " I said again, "several of us are getting together this evening for a party, why don't you stay for it?"


 

She started to protest, saying that she didn't have the proper clothing and didn't want to drive the 60 miles to her condo to change.


 

"Not a problem, " I said. "The party is casual and we're holding it right here, so there's no need for you to change." So, we went shopping to pick up a few items I'd missed; the usual treats always present at any AF party: booze, ice, cheese dip, crackers and peanuts. When we retuned, I suggested we rest for a while because the cold weather and skiing had sapped our, and especially her, strength.


 

I insisted she use my bed which she definitely did not want to do, but finally relented and when I showed her the bedroom, she was intrigued by the colorful, heavy Spanish bed spread on my king sized bed. The bed spread had been a gift from a Spanish friend whose Mom lived in Madrid. I still have the bedspread and it still looks brand new.


 

I retired to the living room couch and awoke in an hour or so to Kat getting a glass of water. We sat out the nibblies and exactly at 1800, the doorbell rang. Unaccustomed to military punctuality, she found it hard to believe that everyone coming to the party, about 20, had arrived at my doorstep at the same instant. She was also unaware that at parties involving fighter pilots and fighter navigators, everyone talks at the same time and no one listens. She sort of stood in one corner, open mouthed, until all the guys, married and unmarried, started hitting on her. She loved it and joined the fun.


 

After the party was over and since we'd been drinking, there was no question of Kat driving back to Boise, so again she took to my bed wearing some silk pajamas I'd picked up in Japan many years before but had never worn. I returned to my couch. At about 0400, she came into the living room, woke me up and said, "come to bed..."


 

Both our schedules were hectic and it was difficult for us to get together but managed it about once a week. She had my house key and would let herself in, change and meet me at the base when possible.


 

At one point, TAC [Tactical Air Command] Headquarters had asked for volunteers to fly the AT-28 in Vientiane, Laos and I went to my Ops Officer, Ron Crozier, and suggested we put in for the assignment since we both had flown the T-28 and he spoke French [many of the Laotian officers spoke French] and I was "unencumbered." TAC picked both of us to go; Ron because he spoke French and me because I was "unencumbered." The assignment orders came directly to the squadron and by-passed the Wing Commander, Colonel Lynwood Clarke.


 

When Colonel Clarke found out we had applied for and were accepted as AT-28 pilots, he was furious and called us to his office. He called us "...traitors to the wing because we're trying to staff and equip this wing with a new airplane." Col. Clarke was a gentleman but berated us at full volume. Since Ron was a Lieutenant Colonel and I was a mere Major, Col. Clarke was looking at Ron while he yelled at us. I felt it prudent not to tell the Wing Commander it was my idea and sat on Col. Clarke's couch with my hands folded in my lap, pious expression on my face while Ron took the major hits.


 

Military orders are not easy to read unless you are trained in the acronyms, initializations and specialized language used by the people who write the orders.


 

I had left a copy of the TAC selection orders lying on my kitchen table and Kat, who was to meet me at the Officers Club, had let herself in and thought I had left her a message. She picked up the orders and was able to decipher the language sufficiently to think I was headed to Laos - and threw a shit-hissy when we met later at the club.


 

She calmed down when I told her I wasn't going to Laos, but something was lost in our relationship, never to be recovered. A few months later, I put in for and Col. Clarke agreed to let me take a temporary assignment to Takhli Royal Thai AFB, Thailand flying the F-111A. I had told Kat of my request for assignment and she didn't seem to have a problem with it.


 

I left for Las Vegas, Nellis AFB, to downgrade to the F-111A in October of 1972. I could see no reason for the downgrade requirement as the left seat of the F-111F was practically identical to the Nellis and Takhli based F-111As. But Las Vegas was a fun spot to visit and the Air Force had, as usual, packed a one-week's course into three months. Kat came down once to visit me and we took in the show "Fiddler on the Roof."


 

We said our goodbyes and promised undying love of each other. As I boarded the airplane to take me to Thailand, Kat was probably one of the least significant things on my mind as I was thinking about what lie ahead. The "12 Days of Christmas" bombing campaign of North Viet Nam had just concluded a day or two before and we were told to expect a renewed and more intense bombing effort into the North Vietnamese heartland. As it turned out, the bombing, which included B-52s, was so devastating to the North Vietnamese, they were forced to the conference table. All of our follow-on bombing was restricted to Cambodia and Laos.


 

Three months into my tour and having few letters from Kat, I received a letter from a friend telling me Kat had gotten married to an engineer on the Columbia River dam projects and moved away. While I wasn't particularly despondent over the news, there's always some question about one's adequacy.


 

Later, I found out that while the guy was an engineer, he was not employed, fired from his job and an alcoholic, living with his mom. When Kat found out she married a deceitful lay about, she divorced him only to have his mom talk her son into suing for alimony. It was not granted.


 

FIFTH TOUR: Two years later, I met and married another Boise girl. Twenty-nine days later I left for a one-year tour in Thailand. It never occurred to me, even with my unsuccessful background with women while on foreign shores, that I might have a problem.


 

We've been married for over 30 years at this writing.


 

Readers of my stories may wonder why I have not mentioned women. They may think fighter pilots live celibate lives if my stories are any kind of yardstick. Such is not the case. I personally have enjoyed many healthy relationships with women but unlike the war novels available in the bookstores, American women were in very short supply during my duty tours in South East Asia [SEA]. In-country LBFMs [Little Brown Fucking Machines] were available for a few greenbacks or military script - but they also carried a health hazard. Not AIDS, as AIDS was unknown during the SEA war years, but other sexually transmitted diseases such as syphilis and gonorrhea. In fact, during the entire length of this country's involvement in SEA, anyone stationed there will tell you that there was a strain of syphilis [or gonorrhea] so virulent, so infectious, so unspeakably loathsome, that those infected were imprisoned on some tropical island, never to return to America again. Of course, this was nonsense, there were no Americans ever held against their will for medical reasons on any tropical island. Personally, I think they are being held on Borneo...


 

This story has nothing to do with the hot, steamy, illicit sex with LBFMs in either Viet Nam or Thailand where I was stationed on five different tours but covers the opposite end of the spectrum: the most devastating news a combat member can receive: the dreaded, unimaginably horrifying "Dear John" letter from home. Sometimes we referred to a Dear John letter as a "John Deere" because it was like being run over by a tractor.


 

I suppose a definition of a "Dear John" is in order at this point: it is a communication from home that your wife/girlfriend has decided that the relationship is not working out and she is breaking it off. Out of my assignments in SEA, I received a Dear John on three different tours. I believe this may be some kind of record only because I've never met anyone who has had to suffer through more.


 

Civilians may have a different meaning for the words, but in the military, my definition has been used since at least WW II and is probably being used in Afghanistan and Iraq at this writing in late 2003.


 

FIRST TOUR: My first tour was a six-month assignment as a Forward Air Controller eventually assigned to a small village 60 miles north of Saigon, Republic of Viet Nam, named Song Be. I did not receive any Dear Johns on this tour because I wasn't close enough to any woman back at my home station of Misawa AB, Japan to warrant one. I had two girl friends at Misawa in fact. One was a Japanese schoolteacher who taught Japanese Customs and Traditions to American grade school students at Misawa. She also taught Spoken Japanese for the University of Maryland College Extension Service we had on base. She once told me that she could not attract a Japanese boy friend because with her two teaching positions, she made so much money that any local Japanese man dating her would lose face. We do not have the "lose face" concept in America and the closest thing I can think of that might be similar would be some sort of great and continuing embarrassment.


 

My other girl friend, an American schoolteacher at Misawa, wanted to get married and at age 26, I was not ready. She had been married before, was two years older than me and found that she could not have children. So, she was to me, just a roll in the hay. Later, she took an assignment in the American Embassy in Saigon and was killed in a bomb explosion.


 

While in Saigon, I visited various bars that catered to the tourist trade. Like Japan, bar girls were available for sex. While they might be dressed in the national dress of Viet Nam, the Ao Dai, they all wore a sort of clinical jacket: white, buttoned tight at the collar and down the front. The jackets were made of a smooth, soft fabric like barbers and doctors sometimes wear. My guess would be that they were dressed in that manner to show that they were hygienically clean.


 

Once, in a Saigon bar, I had bought a lady of the evening a drink called "Saigon tea," it was supposed to be whiskey but everyone knew that the girls drank colored water to increase the bar's profit margin. This particular girl had a lazy eye. I could tell when she became bored as we chatted in pidgin English because her eye would start to wander. I found that by slapping the bar, I could startle her and bring her eye back into focus.


 

Another time, walking down crowded Tu Do Street, I could see a ight smell." When I mentioned the encounter to some friends later that evening, they knew the woman I described and told me that she was indeed a French whore.


 

At Song Be, there were no American women but there were young Vietnamese nurses assigned to the military hospital there. Some were cute so I volunteered to teach an English course to them. I spoke absolutely no Vietnamese, but the Staff Physician spoke fairly good English and would interpret. We Americans called him Doctor because he had graduated from Medical School, but because he attended school in Hanoi, the local Vietnamese commander called him an "administrator."


 

Like most of the Vietnamese at Song Be, the Doctor and the nurses were all Roman Catholics - as was the military commander. The military commander, a lieutenant colonel, forbade any fraternization between his nurses and the Americans. One of the nurses and I got on quite nicely but were unable to ever be alone. Her name was Co Sau and on subsequent tours in Viet Nam, I would sometimes buzz Song Be and would always attract the attention of the local Forward Air Controller [FAC] or Army unit who would come up my frequency to ask what I was doing buzzing the town. I would tell them that I was saying hello to Co Sau and if they'd be so kind, please run by the hospital and tell her that Dai Uy, pronounced die we [Captain] and on a later tour, Trung ta [Major] Les was in the area. I never heard whether she received any of my messages and have often wondered what happened to her when the communists occupied her country.


 

English class at Song Be, circa 1962 - 63. Co Sou is the fifth from the right and the physician is the first on the left. I don't know who the kids are. If a camera was brought out, every kid who saw it would run over to get in the picture.


 

SECOND TOUR: It was said, that when returning to the States from an overseas tour, that if one could go for one year without getting married, one no longer felt compelled to marry. I made it for eight months before finding myself married to the friend of a squadron mate and his wife, Leslie and Bill Barbena. My duty station was Luke AFB near Phoenix, Arizona and my job was as a fighter gunnery instructor pilot, teaching young pilots how to fly the F-100 aircraft and use it as a weapons platform.


 

I had arrived at Luke in the spring of 1963 and immediately saw that many of my students were Air Force Academy graduates of 1959 and later. These kids were my contemporaries. The handwriting on the wall told me that if I did not increase my level of indispensability to the Air Force dramatically, I would be left behind in promotion cycles. I chose to attack my limited use to the AF on two fronts: education and combat. Education because I was on a directed duty assignment to Luke for four years and would not be going anywhere and combat because a volunteer combat assignment always looked good on one's promotion's records. Before ever marrying, I told my intended bride that my Air Force duties had to come first, the family second. I explained that because of my lack of education, I could easily be passed over for promotion and needed to increase my education level and later, my combat tours, at the cost of a normal eight to five work schedule. She agreed without hesitation and joined me in the night classes I was taking.


 

The first hint of marital discord arose when I was scheduled for early morning flights. Because the briefings could come as early as 0430, it was necessary to arrive at the squadron, ready to fly about one hour before. My wife liked to stay up late and couldn't understand why I would not want to join her. Although I tried to tell her, she had absolutely no idea how demanding a student mission could be and the associated need for rest before briefing and leading three students who may have a combined total of 25 hours in the airplane, and the airplane, the F-100, was not an easy airplane for a student to fly. I was to find out that my wife was a person who had to have constant attention and flew into a rage when I put in for and was accepted for an A-1 Skyraider combat assignment [the Skyraider was a WW II vintage propeller driven airplane, but still an awesome fighter-bomber] before my four year Luke assignment was up. The assignment was eventually canceled but an F-100 combat assignment was offered and I accepted it much to the anger of my wife. When I left for Viet Nam, we were barely on speaking terms. In fact, at Sky Harbor airport, when I was leaving, movie star, Peter Graves arrived amidst great adulation. My wife ran over to join in the crowd, leaving me to board without saying goodbye.


 

Viet Nam was the world's loneliest place. When I arrived at my duty station of Phan Rang AB, one of the first things pointed out to me was a flagpole by the post office that could be seen from our squadron operations. "When they run up the red flag, it means the mail has been posted," offered one of the squadron pilots. That had an ominous ring because I knew that historically, "running up a red flag," meant "no prisoners will be taken." Mail was brought in and posted seven days a week.


 

The F-100 experience level was very high during this tour and most of the pilots had wives who understood that part of the military marriage game included long separations. Yet, the occasional Dear John would come in and the recipient would have a few down days and then return to duty.


 

When the red flag would go up, anyone seeing it would make the announcement and as many as could get together would crowd into the squadron van, a bread wagon like the ones used by UPS, and rush to check mail. Twice, I saw squadron pilots haul those long and thick, white legal envelopes out and hide them on their person. On the way back to the squadron, the guys with family mail would be laughing and sharing the contents of their letters with other riders while those who had received the legal sized envelopes would sit in stunned, glazed silence. Once back at the squadron, the guys with divorce papers would tell our commander, Lt. Col. Ken Miles and he would always loan the pilot his assigned pickup truck to visit the legal office. I've passed the legal office more than once, surprised to see the commander's pickup parked there but the commander on duty in the squadron. Colonel Miles never shared the misfortune of anyone's Dear John with other members of the squadron.


 

I had passed though Clark AFB, Philippines on my way to Phan Rang and put an expensive one-carat diamond ring from the BX on layaway for my wife. When I had it paid off, I wrote the BX and had them send it to her in the States. My wife had been writing me less and less and about half way through my tour, I found the big fat legal sized envelope waiting for me.


 

I immediately called the BX at Clark and asked that the ring be sent to me, not to my wife. The sales lady in the jewelry section told me that the ring had gone out a few days earlier and there was nothing that could be done.


 

I borrowed the commander's pick up and went to the legal office. The Staff Judge Advocate [lawyer] that I saw certainly had seen many of them and took them personally as his attitude was "if she wants to fuck with you way over here in Viet Nam, let's see what we can do to fuck with her back in the States." An attitude that truly pleased me. According to my lawyer, The Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act of 1942, a law that was passed to protect servicemen on foreign soil by delaying any civil litigation if they can show their military responsibilities precludes their proper representation in court. I could show my military responsibilities precluded proper representation in court and was able to dictate the terms of the divorce, especially since my wife had been "back-dooring" me and had a Luke instructor lined up, ready to marry [he thought she was divorced]. Unfortunately, the Luke instructor was assigned to Phan Rang and was killed on his first night mission. So my now ex-wife married the lawyer who handled her case. Since the lawyer was about 20 years her senior, she may have been one of the first to be called a "trophy wife."


 

I wrote my ex-wife and asked that she send the diamond ring to me. She never did and I have no idea what ever happened to it.


 

THIRD TOUR: When I left Phan Rang AB, Viet Nam, my follow-on assignment was to the 1141st Special Activities Squadron, Ramstein AB, Federal Republic of Germany. My records were marked "Counter Insurgency Qualified" due to my first tour in Viet Nam and since the 1141st Special Activities Squadron sounded a bit like The Studies and Observations Group (SOG) -- a joint Special Operations unit that included members from the Air Force, Navy SEALs and Special Forces in Viet Nam, I never questioned the assignment. Only after I arrived at Ramstein did I find out that I was to be a staff officer in NATO, the worst possible assignment I could have drawn. There was no urgency, no initiative, and no excitement. Just a bunch of old geezers coasting their way to retirement, shuffling paperwork in a headquarters that had no responsibility, no mission with every American, German and Canadian holiday off. I was so horrified at the prospect of spending two years pushing worthless paper; I went to personnel and put in for an F-105 assignment to Thailand. I had heard that the F-105 community was short of pilots and hoped my tour could be curtailed to flesh out the shortage. Personnel told me I would have to complete the two-year tour, no exceptions, and once the tour was drawing to a close, I could reapply.


 

So I was stuck in a place I didn't want to be doing a job that anyone with 20/400 vision and a fondness for repetitive, useless fucking paperwork could do. The only perks were the types of flying available and the secretaries and schoolteachers stationed at Ramstein.


 

T-33 jet trainers [single engine, tandem seated, subsonic airplane] were made available to jet qualified pilots to keep proficient. We could take the airplanes to any western European air field that was an Airdrome of Entry [had customs], had 5,000 feet of runway, jet fuel and low pressure oxygen.


 

The Spaniards like to use us for "Faker missions." Faker missions were where we tried to penetrate the Spanish Air Defense System at altitudes of between 25,000 and 35,000 feet. If they painted us on their RADAR, they would try to intercept us with their F-86 jets. The Spanish Government put us up in expensive hotels in Palma on the island of Mallorca in the Mediterranean Sea, a playground for the wealthy and hundreds of horny, beautiful women from all over the globe.


 

We would take off from the Palma airport; penetrate Spanish air space, sometimes being intercepted, sometimes not, and then land at the American base at Torrejon, just outside of Madrid. If we wanted, we could refuel, go back to Palma and fly the same mission the following day.


 

Whether I went back to Palma seemed to depend on the number of labor chair orders I had from the Ramstein secretaries/schoolteachers.


 

The labor chair was a decorated three of four-legged chair with handgrips on the sides of the seat. Evidently, labor chairs had been used by the Portuguese for child bearing in the past and were now a popular room decoration item. The chairs came apart and were sold in boxes with brightly decorative seat pillows. Once, I had six boxes of labor chairs in the back seat of the T-33 with me and I've never owned a labor chair in my life.


 

An acquaintance at Ramstein had a Chinese girlfriend from Taiwan coming in to visit him. Since he was already dating a Ramstein schoolteacher, he asked me if I would take her off his hands while his Chinese visitor was in town. The schoolteacher, besides being a very attractive woman, was also a very nice person and I told the guy I would be happy to take over for him. Some how, I assumed he had cleared the arrangement with her but found out later he just expected me to charm her into my arms. This was never to happen because the schoolteacher didn't know about the Chinese woman and was truly fond of the guy trying to get rid of her. Before I became aware of the unknowns of the triangle, the schoolteacher approached me at the Officers Club bar one evening and introduced me to a young lady, also a schoolteacher, from the southern US, traveling in Europe. Since I was unaware of the devious trick being played on her, I thought she had approached me to jump-start a relationship - so I invited the two of them out to dinner.


 

During dinner, two things became apparent: the schoolteacher being cuckolded had no designs on my body and she was, in fact, attempting to introduce the other young woman around in hopes of getting her to stay on at Ramstein as a teacher by showing her the sights and the eligible bachelors.


 

"Eligible bachelor" probably needs to be defined at this point. There's an old Air Force maxim that states, "some married guys who go TDY [Temporary Duty to another station] become TDY bachelors," i.e., they forget that they are married. Ramstein was the crossroads for military aircrews in Western Europe and the Officers Club bar was filled with TDY bachelors almost ever night and especially on the weekends, hustling whomever they could. "Eligible Bachelor" on the other hand, meant that the guy had no wife. A "Class A Bachelor" meant that he had never been married and a "Class B Bachelor" meant that he had been married and might have kids. Class B Bachelors usually carried baggage and some of the schoolteachers avoided them. I was a Class B Bachelor but thanks to my Phan Rang lawyer and my ex-wife's desire to remarry quickly, I had only child support to pay. But I was to find out that my ex-wife had run up $8,000.00 in credit card bills, a significant sum in 1968, and the credit card companies came to me for payment. I wrote them letters, including copies of the divorce decree, highlighting the part where it was written that she "... would be responsible for any and all debts contracted by..." her. Each credit card company wrote me back, noting, that they had no contract with my ex-wife, that the credit cards were initiated by me [as they were] and I was therefore responsible for their payment. So, I had to pay for trips to Las Vegas she had taken, jewelry she had purchased, tires she had bought [16] and encyclopedia sets [4] she must have used to gain knowledge in screwing ex-husbands.


 

The other teacher at dinner, the one on the tour of Europe, was a small attractive southern belle. In fact, much of her manner could have been taken directly out of Gone With The Wind. She was part Scarlett O'Hara [Vivien Leigh] with a sensual, lively twist and part Melanie Hamilton [Olivia de Havilland] with a virginal, demure impression.


 

The teacher was able to secure a position at Ramstein and had her parents sell her car and send her clothing. She didn't seem to have any hang ups over Class B bachelors and we got along quite nicely. The cuckolded teacher, of course, found out about the Chinese girl and went on about her life, a life that did not include me - or her ex-boyfriend ever again.


 

Southern Belle and I carried on a most unusual romance for a year and one-half. At least it was a romance on my part, I will never be sure about hers. To use an old cowboy expression, I tried to "cut her out of the herd" on several occasions but could not. She always had another guy or two she was seeing - maybe more. There were times that she would go out on a date only later to wake me up in my quarters as she was undressing. She was absolutely the most loyal person I knew as long as she was facing me, but it seemed if turned my back, all fealty melted away. Once we went with two other couples on the train to Paris for a long weekend. While there, she told me she would be attending a base-wide party at another base with a guy who was stationed there. It was the same base where the other two couples were stationed. "Good Lord," I said, "you're shacked up with me here in Paris and next week, you're going to a party that they are sure to attend? Don't you think they will wonder about your morals?"


 

"I don't care what they think, I'll do as I please." And as far as I know, she went to the party.


 

Our relationship would surge, retrogress, surge, retrogress and on each retrogression, our relationship crumbled a bit more. Once we were lying in her bed and there was a soft tap at the door. A voice whispered her name and told her who he was. My God, I recognized the voice and the name because I worked for him at Misawa AB six years before. He was a TDY bachelor and I had no idea they were even acquainted. We didn't answer the door.


 

Finally, my two-year tour in NATO was coming to a close. I went to personnel and put in for an F-105 assignment to Thailand. A few days later, personnel called and said "We see you've put back in for Southeast Asia in the F-105. You've got over two thousand hours and one combat tour in the F-100. If you want to go back to the war, you'll have to go in the F-100." I agreed and orders were cut to send me to Luke AFB, AZ for a short refresher course with follow-on orders to the same base I had been at on my previous F-100 tour: Phan Rang AB.


 

After the refresher course, I went to Texas to visit my Mom and had talked Southern Belle into meeting me in Dallas when her Ramstein school let out. Part of my incentive was to ask her brother to accompany us, as he had never been out west. Without her brother, she arrived in Dallas and I took her to meet my Mom and brother's family who lived in Lone Star and Mount Pleasant respectively. The visit ended, we boarded the airliner to fly to Los Angles to pick up my car. Her brother, who was already on board the airplane, joined us. After spending a few days with friends, the three of us headed for Luke AFB, near Phoenix, Arizona, to pick up some flying equipment that I had left there.


 

When we arrived at LAX, my friend's wife and three boys met us and took us to their home. My bud, who had been with me at two different stations in the AF had resigned from the AF and was flying for an airline. He came in a couple of days later. I had lost a bag on the flight; so the two of us went back to LAX to see if it had arrived [it had not, I picked it up 13 months later]. Going back to his house, he stopped at an unknown house and said "come in here, I want to show you something." He had a key, so we let ourselves into the house and met his girlfriend, Lois, sitting on a couch watching TV. I was dumbfounded, I had no idea he was backdooring his wife and was furious at him for what he was doing and for taking me there. I railed the entire way back to his house and he promised to quit seeing her. Lois was a senior stewardess and my friend was a junior First Officer, so Lois was able to bid the trips that he was on. I ran into them at Clark AB, Philippines a couple of weeks later and it was obvious he never had any intention of agreeing to stop seeing her. My ex-friend's wife eventually found out about the liaison and divorced him. She used her alimony to become a successful RN.


 

In Phoenix, we put Southern Belle's brother on the plane for home, visited friends and attended a couple of parties. A few days later, we were on the road to Walla Walla, Washington, my hometown, to visit my grand parents. My car, an unairconditioned Porsche [air was not needed in Germany where I bought the car] was sweltering, as it was June of 1970.


 

In Walla Walla, Southern Belle charmed my grandparents so thoroughly that when I was getting ready to take her to the airport, they told her that they hoped to see more of her. She was evasive in her answers. At the airport, we had coffee in the airport coffee shop and promised to keep in touch. Back then, one could approach an airliner, so I walked her to the airplane steps, said goodbye and she was gone. After she left, I went back into the empty coffee shop where the lone waitress was working and also minding her child, and asked for a date. It turned out that the waitress was a single mother, a student at Whitman College in town, unattached and willing to go out.


 

Early that evening, as I prepared to go out, I called Southern Bell at her home to see if her flight was uneventful. It was and she also suggested that we should get married on my return from Viet Nam. I was stunned. Having tried to woo her unsuccessfully for the better part of two years, her suggestion caught me by total surprise. I agreed that it was an excellent idea; chatted for a while then called the waitress and told her I was unable to make our date.


 

Viet Nam was a terrible place to be stationed and I was in no hurry to arrive at my duty station. My year's tour started from the moment I left CONUS [Continental United States], so I hung around Clark, a way station, for as long as I could. Finally, after two or three days, I was told to be on the next airplane for Cam Rahn Bay, a base only 26 miles from my final destination of Phan Rang. At Cam Rahn, I hopped a C-130 and had the pilot radio ahead that a new F-100 pilot was inbound. Several guys, including the Chief of the Command Post [CP], who said I would be taking his position, met me. I had already found out that the experience level was low and that I was one of the high F-100 time men on base and was surprised that I would be going to the CP. In fact, only one guy, Jim Chestnut, had more F-100 time than me and he was running Stan Eval [an office that checked the proficiency level of other pilots]. I had been in Stan Eval at Luke and assumed I would work for Jim. Not so, my job for the entire year was as the Chief of the Command Post with an additional duty as a Stan Eval check pilot.


 

I was assigned to the 612th Tactical Fighter Squadron for flying and the other guys meeting me on the flight line were there to take me up to the squadron hootch and get me settled in. "Let's go by the post office first to check mail." I could see the red flag was up and the guys had already checked their mail but they ran me by to check [none for me] and recheck theirs and while there, I opened a postal box.


 

As was the custom for a new arrival on entering the hootch, booze was brought out and we started to drink whiskey and beer. The 'squadron welcome drink' was the Harvey Wallbanger, but I couldn't stomach the stuff, so I had beer. The days crossing the Pacific and the drinking in the Philippines caught up with me very quickly, so I told the guys I was having a severe sinking spell and needed to crash. I was taken to an empty room, painted black, and was told it would be my room. As a Major, I did not have a roommate. I hit the pillow and was instantly asleep.


 

Two things caught my eye as I was leaving the bar area [also called the Day Room]. One was a bulletin board with two photos of round-eyed women [Caucasians] tacked on it along with at least two hand-written letters along with some profane graffiti scribbled over one of the photos. I asked, "what the hell is this?"


 

And someone answered, "that's the 'John Deere Board.'" I had heard of Dear John Boards but had never actually seen one before. It was reserved for those who received Dear John letters and wanted to share them with the squadron. I was too woozy to study the board and entered a hallway that would lead to my room.


 

Along the wall, I saw where some one had kicked a hole, down low, through the wall into one of the rooms. Once again, I asked, "what the hell is that?"


 

One of the guys showing me to my room told me that the Operations Officer [second in command of a squadron], Pete Knight, was just a little fucker and didn't need anything as big as a door to get into his room. So a hole had been kicked through the wall, near the floor, to facilitate his entry. I had heard of Pete Knight, he was one of the X-15 pilots who had flown high enough in the airplane to earn Astronaut wings [50 miles above the earth's surface]. It surprised me to learn that Astronauts were pulling combat tours. I had assumed that they had their own little piece of the Air Force cut out and tucked away for them at Edwards AFB and never ventured far from there.


 

My second tour at Phan Rang in the F-100 was very much like the first one. The main differences were that the F-100 was configured to carry more ordnance and we were flying missions into Cambodia and Laos, something we didn't do on my first tour. We flew many night Close Air Support [CAS] missions and the nights seemed darker but that may have been because I was two years older and as one ages, one needs more light to see the same things as a younger person.


 

One bright spot was that I was receiving mail from the Southern Belle and she wanted to get married in New Orleans in October of 1971. That was fine with me as I planned to ask for an assignment to England AFB, Alexandria, Louisiana, just to the north of New Orleans. We also planned to meet in Bangkok over the Christmas holidays of 1970, but as the date grew closer, her letters became fewer. She did send me a brochure from the tour agency with which she was booked. But neither airline nor the arrival times were listed, just the itinerary that included the date of arrival.


 

Puzzled over the lack of communication from the Southern Belle, I left on R & R to the Siam-Intercontinental Hotel in Bangkok on Sunday, 20 December. There was a tourist office in the hotel and I produced the brochure and asked the man on duty when I could expect her airplane. He said "oh, that been cancelled."


 

"No," I said, "you misunderstand me, the flight is due tomorrow, at what time will it arrive at Don Muang [Bangkok's international airport]?"


 

"That tour been cancelled," he repeated. I thought we were having a communications problem, so the next day I went out to Don Muang and hung around customs as airliners came in from all over the world. About midday, I went back to the Siam Intercontinental to see if I had somehow missed her arrival. Surprisingly the tour agent was standing in the lobby, in front of his office, and said, "I look for her too." I went back to the airport and spent the rest of the afternoon unproductively at the customs exit.


 

That evening, she still hadn't arrived and I managed to telephone the BOQ [Bachelor Officers Quarters], where most of the teachers lived, at Ramstein. The BOQ was three stories high and only one phone line and two instruments, in the hallway on each floor, serviced about 20 rooms on each floor. The worst room to have assigned was the room next to the telephones. Even though it was mid day in Germany, I could tell by the hostile tone, the woman who answered the phone was pissed. When I asked if she knew Southern Belle, she said, "yes, she's touring Austria with some guy" and hung up.


 

Uh-oh, I thought. Things are not going as well as I thought. The honeymoon was over before it ever started.


 

When I returned to Phan Rang, the Dear John letter was waiting for me. But the Dear John bulletin board had disappeared and I wasn't all that certain I wanted to share my news anyway.


 

As it turned out, a puppy I kept in my room contracted rabies while I was gone and there was quite a bit of excitement to keep me from dwelling on useless letters from past girlfriends.


 

My tour finished, I led a flight of six F-100s back to the States. The old bird carried the air war in the south for eight years and was now being retired in favor of the F-4 and A-7. Oddly, the F-100 is seldom mentioned as a participant in the war although at one time, four bases, in the south, all had F-100s.


 

FORTH TOUR: My next duty assignment was Mountain Home AFB, Idaho on the Snake River plain in south central Idaho. It was an isolated location but only fifty miles from the State Capital, Boise, where I spent my Junior and High School years. The base was being equipped with the new F-111F that was called a "fighter" but was in reality a medium bomber. It had two engines and two crew members who sat side-by-side. One could move the wings back and forth, between 16 degrees and 72.5 degrees, by a handle located under the sill, on the left side depending on the flight conditions. At the time, it was the fastest operational "fighter" in the inventory and perhaps the world.


 

When one reported on to a new base, one had to go though a base processing. Many stops at many different base agencies were required, as an example, the hospital. When I took my medical records by the hospital, I went to the Flight Surgeon's office to complain of episodic tinnitus I'd been having while stationed at Phan Rang. As was the procedure with pilots, who were treated as prima donnas, I was seen immediately. The doctor said they had no ENT [ear, nose and throat] physicians on base and filled out a consult for me to visit a Otorhinolaryngologist [ear, nose and throat] clinic in Boise.


 

My appointment was two weeks later and when I presented myself at the practice of three established, well-known ENT physicians, I was asked to fill out several forms and then shown to an examining room. My blood pressure, pulse and temperature were taken although I told the nurse I was there for an ear problem, not a physical.


 

In about 10 minutes, my physician, Jean Peters, walked in. At least I thought she was Jean Peters, she looked so much like the American movie actress, it was startling. She introduced herself as "call me Kat, [her name was Kathleen and she had sparkling blue eyes]" and started asking me more questions about my tinnitus. Like trying to explain an irritating but intermittent vehicle noise to an automobile mechanic, I had no tinnitus the day. She examined me, which I thoroughly enjoyed and thinking the tinnitus might be occupation related, she asked me my profession. When I told her I was a fighter pilot, stationed at Mountain Home AFB, it was obvious she had never treated a fighter pilot before nor did she know where Mountain Home AFB was located. I found out later that I saw her during her first week at practice, having just attended the House Ear Institute in Los Angles, California. She had been in Boise about two weeks, getting settled in a condo her three associates had leased for her.


 

Nothing abnormal showed up in her examination, so she scheduled a CAT scan for the following week - if I was available. I assured her I would make myself available.


 

I lingered in her examining room for as long as possible and had the impression that she was in no hurry to get on with her routine of seeing other patients. During my drive back to Mountain Home, I convinced myself she was as interested in me as I was in her. She had no rings on, but that didn't mean much. Fighter pilots seldom wear rings either, especially around airplanes, as they can catch on projections and can rip one's finger off. But during the exam, she had suggested that my wife or I jot down the circumstances of any onset of tinnitus and when I told her I wasn't married, she raised an eyebrow.


 

When I returned to find out the CAT-scan revealed no abnormalities, Kat told me she was unmarried and that her favorite sport was water skiing. I told her that water skiing was also my favorite sport and that I had a boat, trailer and tow rig and "would you like to go water skiing with me sometime?" She accepted and we made a date for the Saturday after next [my appointment had been on a Friday]. This gave me a full week to look for a boat, trailer and tow rig and learn to water ski - as I had never been on water skies in my life nor had I ever owned a boat of any kind.


 

Finding the boat and trailer was easy. A Sergeant departing for an overseas assignment had a boat and trailer in the "Lemon Lot [a secure on-base lot where AF members could display cars, motorcycles, boats, RVs, etc. that they had for sale]." He called the boat a "Watermelon Seed" because of its shape and it had a 125 hp Mercury Black Max outboard motor attached to it, a very large engine at the time. On Sunday, the sergeant towed the boat to Strike Dam on the Snake River, a few miles from Mountain Home AFB, and demonstrated how to use it. We did not have skis but he explained how to use the boat to pull skiers. To my thinking, the water was too cold for any kind of sport since it was late spring. I asked the sergeant if he would be available to tow the boat to/from the AFB the following Saturday if we could agree on a price. We negotiated a price and he agreed to deliver and retrieve the boat.


 

Saturday morning turned out to be rainy and windy, but Kat met me at the Mountain Home Post Office, we had breakfast at a local restaurant.


 

I mentioned a party I was having that evening but she didn't seem interested so I didn't press it.


 

We took my Porsche to Strike Dam where the boat was in the water with MWR [Morale, Welfare, Recreation] ski equipment on-board. She stripped down to a sort of short-legged wet suit affair, filling it out magnificently, and took up a starter' s position in the shallow water. I gunned the engine and just about tore her arms out of their sockets. I circled back, threw her the rope and did the same thing a second time. "Maybe if you didn't accelerate so fast?" She asked when I tossed her the ski rope. Finally, I was able to drag her up and out of the water and pulled her back and forth for several minutes. Then, passing close to the trailer, she let go of the rope and coasted into shore. When I pulled into shallow water, she said "okay, the water's too cold to stay in and it's your turn."


 

Knowing this was coming, I said, "Jeeze, you know I forgot to bring my swimming suit and I think it's too cold anyway. Why don't we go to my house and get something warm to drink?" She agreed and I used a pay phone to call the sergeant to come pick up the boat.


 

Before leaving for SEA and while stationed in Germany, a friend of mine, Seb Arriaga and I, had flown a T-33 up to Copenhagen to look at Danish Modern furniture. I picked out enough furniture to completely furnish a one-bedroom house and I put it on layaway, picking it up as I was leaving Germany. The furniture had been in storage until I rented a house in Mountain Home, so everything was brand new. Since the furniture had been in storage for a year, I had teak oiled it over and over until each piece shined.


 

Part of the furniture included a bright orange, yellow and black wool rug that just about covered the entire living room floor.


 

Kat was taken by the interior opulence of my house. We sat around, drank coffee and I showed her how to play Liar's Dice, a game we often played in the AF to while away the boredom of some duties. "Kat, " I said again, "several of us are getting together this evening for a party, why don't you stay for it?"


 

She started to protest, saying that she didn't have the proper clothing and didn't want to drive the 60 miles to her condo to change.


 

"Not a problem, " I said. "The party is casual and we're holding it right here, so there's no need for you to change." So, we went shopping to pick up a few items I'd missed; the usual treats always present at any AF party: booze, ice, cheese dip, crackers and peanuts. When we retuned, I suggested we rest for a while because the cold weather and skiing had sapped our, and especially her, strength.


 

I insisted she use my bed which she definitely did not want to do, but finally relented and when I showed her the bedroom, she was intrigued by the colorful, heavy Spanish bed spread on my king sized bed. The bed spread had been a gift from a Spanish friend whose Mom lived in Madrid. I still have the bedspread and it still looks brand new.


 

I retired to the living room couch and awoke in an hour or so to Kat getting a glass of water. We sat out the nibblies and exactly at 1800, the doorbell rang. Unaccustomed to military punctuality, she found it hard to believe that everyone coming to the party, about 20, had arrived at my doorstep at the same instant. She was also unaware that at parties involving fighter pilots and fighter navigators, everyone talks at the same time and no one listens. She sort of stood in one corner, open mouthed, until all the guys, married and unmarried, started hitting on her. She loved it and joined the fun.


 

After the party was over and since we'd been drinking, there was no question of Kat driving back to Boise, so again she took to my bed wearing some silk pajamas I'd picked up in Japan many years before but had never worn. I returned to my couch. At about 0400, she came into the living room, woke me up and said, "come to bed..."


 

Both our schedules were hectic and it was difficult for us to get together but managed it about once a week. She had my house key and would let herself in, change and meet me at the base when possible.


 

At one point, TAC [Tactical Air Command] Headquarters had asked for volunteers to fly the AT-28 in Vientiane, Laos and I went to my Ops Officer, Ron Crozier, and suggested we put in for the assignment since we both had flown the T-28 and he spoke French [many of the Laotian officers spoke French] and I was "unencumbered." TAC picked both of us to go; Ron because he spoke French and me because I was "unencumbered." The assignment orders came directly to the squadron and by-passed the Wing Commander, Colonel Lynwood Clarke.


 

When Colonel Clarke found out we had applied for and were accepted as AT-28 pilots, he was furious and called us to his office. He called us "...traitors to the wing because we're trying to staff and equip this wing with a new airplane." Col. Clarke was a gentleman but berated us at full volume. Since Ron was a Lieutenant Colonel and I was a mere Major, Col. Clarke was looking at Ron while he yelled at us. I felt it prudent not to tell the Wing Commander it was my idea and sat on Col. Clarke's couch with my hands folded in my lap, pious expression on my face while Ron took the major hits.


 

Military orders are not easy to read unless you are trained in the acronyms, initializations and specialized language used by the people who write the orders.


 

I had left a copy of the TAC selection orders lying on my kitchen table and Kat, who was to meet me at the Officers Club, had let herself in and thought I had left her a message. She picked up the orders and was able to decipher the language sufficiently to think I was headed to Laos - and threw a shit-hissy when we met later at the club.


 

She calmed down when I told her I wasn't going to Laos, but something was lost in our relationship, never to be recovered. A few months later, I put in for and Col. Clarke agreed to let me take a temporary assignment to Takhli Royal Thai AFB, Thailand flying the F-111A. I had told Kat of my request for assignment and she didn't seem to have a problem with it.


 

I left for Las Vegas, Nellis AFB, to downgrade to the F-111A in October of 1972. I could see no reason for the downgrade requirement as the left seat of the F-111F was practically identical to the Nellis and Takhli based F-111As. But Las Vegas was a fun spot to visit and the Air Force had, as usual, packed a one-week's course into three months. Kat came down once to visit me and we took in the show "Fiddler on the Roof."


 

We said our goodbyes and promised undying love of each other. As I boarded the airplane to take me to Thailand, Kat was probably one of the least significant things on my mind as I was thinking about what lie ahead. The "12 Days of Christmas" bombing campaign of North Viet Nam had just concluded a day or two before and we were told to expect a renewed and more intense bombing effort into the North Vietnamese heartland. As it turned out, the bombing, which included B-52s, was so devastating to the North Vietnamese, they were forced to the conference table. All of our follow-on bombing was restricted to Cambodia and Laos.


 

Three months into my tour and having few letters from Kat, I received a letter from a friend telling me Kat had gotten married to an engineer on the Columbia River dam projects and moved away. While I wasn't particularly despondent over the news, there's always some question about one's adequacy.


 

Later, I found out that while the guy was an engineer, he was not employed, fired from his job and an alcoholic, living with his mom. When Kat found out she married a deceitful lay about, she divorced him only to have his mom talk her son into suing for alimony. It was not granted.


 

FIFTH TOUR: Two years later, I met and married another Boise girl. Twenty-nine days later I left for a one-year tour in Thailand. It never occurred to me, even with my unsuccessful background with women while on foreign shores, that I might have a problem.


 

We've been married for over 30 years at this writing.


 

Readers of my stories may wonder why I have not mentioned women. They may think fighter pilots live celibate lives if my stories are any kind of yardstick. Such is not the case. I personally have enjoyed many healthy relationships with women but unlike the war novels available in the bookstores, American women were in very short supply during my duty tours in South East Asia [SEA]. In-country LBFMs [Little Brown Fucking Machines] were available for a few greenbacks or military script - but they also carried a health hazard. Not AIDS, as AIDS was unknown during the SEA war years, but other sexually transmitted diseases such as syphilis and gonorrhea. In fact, during the entire length of this country's involvement in SEA, anyone stationed there will tell you that there was a strain of syphilis [or gonorrhea] so virulent, so infectious, so unspeakably loathsome, that those infected were imprisoned on some tropical island, never to return to America again. Of course, this was nonsense, there were no Americans ever held against their will for medical reasons on any tropical island. Personally, I think they are being held on Borneo...


 

This story has nothing to do with the hot, steamy, illicit sex with LBFMs in either Viet Nam or Thailand where I was stationed on five different tours but covers the opposite end of the spectrum: the most devastating news a combat member can receive: the dreaded, unimaginably horrifying "Dear John" letter from home. Sometimes we referred to a Dear John letter as a "John Deere" because it was like being run over by a tractor.


 

I suppose a definition of a "Dear John" is in order at this point: it is a communication from home that your wife/girlfriend has decided that the relationship is not working out and she is breaking it off. Out of my assignments in SEA, I received a Dear John on three different tours. I believe this may be some kind of record only because I've never met anyone who has had to suffer through more.


 

Civilians may have a different meaning for the words, but in the military, my definition has been used since at least WW II and is probably being used in Afghanistan and Iraq at this writing in late 2003.


 

FIRST TOUR: My first tour was a six-month assignment as a Forward Air Controller eventually assigned to a small village 60 miles north of Saigon, Republic of Viet Nam, named Song Be. I did not receive any Dear Johns on this tour because I wasn't close enough to any woman back at my home station of Misawa AB, Japan to warrant one. I had two girl friends at Misawa in fact. One was a Japanese schoolteacher who taught Japanese Customs and Traditions to American grade school students at Misawa. She also taught Spoken Japanese for the University of Maryland College Extension Service we had on base. She once told me that she could not attract a Japanese boy friend because with her two teaching positions, she made so much money that any local Japanese man dating her would lose face. We do not have the "lose face" concept in America and the closest thing I can think of that might be similar would be some sort of great and continuing embarrassment.


 

My other girl friend, an American schoolteacher at Misawa, wanted to get married and at age 26, I was not ready. She had been married before, was two years older than me and found that she could not have children. So, she was to me, just a roll in the hay. Later, she took an assignment in the American Embassy in Saigon and was killed in a bomb explosion.


 

While in Saigon, I visited various bars that catered to the tourist trade. Like Japan, bar girls were available for sex. While they might be dressed in the national dress of Viet Nam, the Ao Dai, they all wore a sort of clinical jacket: white, buttoned tight at the collar and down the front. The jackets were made of a smooth, soft fabric like barbers and doctors sometimes wear. My guess would be that they were dressed in that manner to show that they were hygienically clean.


 

Once, in a Saigon bar, I had bought a lady of the evening a drink called "Saigon tea," it was supposed to be whiskey but everyone knew that the girls drank colored water to increase the bar's profit margin. This particular girl had a lazy eye. I could tell when she became bored as we chatted in pidgin English because her eye would start to wander. I found that by slapping the bar, I could startle her and bring her eye back into focus.


 

Another time, walking down crowded Tu Do Street, I could see a ight smell." When I mentioned the encounter to some friends later that evening, they knew the woman I described and told me that she was indeed a French whore.


 

At Song Be, there were no American women but there were young Vietnamese nurses assigned to the military hospital there. Some were cute so I volunteered to teach an English course to them. I spoke absolutely no Vietnamese, but the Staff Physician spoke fairly good English and would interpret. We Americans called him Doctor because he had graduated from Medical School, but because he attended school in Hanoi, the local Vietnamese commander called him an "administrator."


 

Like most of the Vietnamese at Song Be, the Doctor and the nurses were all Roman Catholics - as was the military commander. The military commander, a lieutenant colonel, forbade any fraternization between his nurses and the Americans. One of the nurses and I got on quite nicely but were unable to ever be alone. Her name was Co Sau and on subsequent tours in Viet Nam, I would sometimes buzz Song Be and would always attract the attention of the local Forward Air Controller [FAC] or Army unit who would come up my frequency to ask what I was doing buzzing the town. I would tell them that I was saying hello to Co Sau and if they'd be so kind, please run by the hospital and tell her that Dai Uy, pronounced die we [Captain] and on a later tour, Trung ta [Major] Les was in the area. I never heard whether she received any of my messages and have often wondered what happened to her when the communists occupied her country.


 

English class at Song Be, circa 1962 - 63. Co Sou is the fifth from the right and the physician is the first on the left. I don't know who the kids are. If a camera was brought out, every kid who saw it would run over to get in the picture.


 

SECOND TOUR: It was said, that when returning to the States from an overseas tour, that if one could go for one year without getting married, one no longer felt compelled to marry. I made it for eight months before finding myself married to the friend of a squadron mate and his wife, Leslie and Bill Barbena. My duty station was Luke AFB near Phoenix, Arizona and my job was as a fighter gunnery instructor pilot, teaching young pilots how to fly the F-100 aircraft and use it as a weapons platform.


 

I had arrived at Luke in the spring of 1963 and immediately saw that many of my students were Air Force Academy graduates of 1959 and later. These kids were my contemporaries. The handwriting on the wall told me that if I did not increase my level of indispensability to the Air Force dramatically, I would be left behind in promotion cycles. I chose to attack my limited use to the AF on two fronts: education and combat. Education because I was on a directed duty assignment to Luke for four years and would not be going anywhere and combat because a volunteer combat assignment always looked good on one's promotion's records. Before ever marrying, I told my intended bride that my Air Force duties had to come first, the family second. I explained that because of my lack of education, I could easily be passed over for promotion and needed to increase my education level and later, my combat tours, at the cost of a normal eight to five work schedule. She agreed without hesitation and joined me in the night classes I was taking.


 

The first hint of marital discord arose when I was scheduled for early morning flights. Because the briefings could come as early as 0430, it was necessary to arrive at the squadron, ready to fly about one hour before. My wife liked to stay up late and couldn't understand why I would not want to join her. Although I tried to tell her, she had absolutely no idea how demanding a student mission could be and the associated need for rest before briefing and leading three students who may have a combined total of 25 hours in the airplane, and the airplane, the F-100, was not an easy airplane for a student to fly. I was to find out that my wife was a person who had to have constant attention and flew into a rage when I put in for and was accepted for an A-1 Skyraider combat assignment [the Skyraider was a WW II vintage propeller driven airplane, but still an awesome fighter-bomber] before my four year Luke assignment was up. The assignment was eventually canceled but an F-100 combat assignment was offered and I accepted it much to the anger of my wife. When I left for Viet Nam, we were barely on speaking terms. In fact, at Sky Harbor airport, when I was leaving, movie star, Peter Graves arrived amidst great adulation. My wife ran over to join in the crowd, leaving me to board without saying goodbye.


 

Viet Nam was the world's loneliest place. When I arrived at my duty station of Phan Rang AB, one of the first things pointed out to me was a flagpole by the post office that could be seen from our squadron operations. "When they run up the red flag, it means the mail has been posted," offered one of the squadron pilots. That had an ominous ring because I knew that historically, "running up a red flag," meant "no prisoners will be taken." Mail was brought in and posted seven days a week.


 

The F-100 experience level was very high during this tour and most of the pilots had wives who understood that part of the military marriage game included long separations. Yet, the occasional Dear John would come in and the recipient would have a few down days and then return to duty.


 

When the red flag would go up, anyone seeing it would make the announcement and as many as could get together would crowd into the squadron van, a bread wagon like the ones used by UPS, and rush to check mail. Twice, I saw squadron pilots haul those long and thick, white legal envelopes out and hide them on their person. On the way back to the squadron, the guys with family mail would be laughing and sharing the contents of their letters with other riders while those who had received the legal sized envelopes would sit in stunned, glazed silence. Once back at the squadron, the guys with divorce papers would tell our commander, Lt. Col. Ken Miles and he would always loan the pilot his assigned pickup truck to visit the legal office. I've passed the legal office more than once, surprised to see the commander's pickup parked there but the commander on duty in the squadron. Colonel Miles never shared the misfortune of anyone's Dear John with other members of the squadron.


 

I had passed though Clark AFB, Philippines on my way to Phan Rang and put an expensive one-carat diamond ring from the BX on layaway for my wife. When I had it paid off, I wrote the BX and had them send it to her in the States. My wife had been writing me less and less and about half way through my tour, I found the big fat legal sized envelope waiting for me.


 

I immediately called the BX at Clark and asked that the ring be sent to me, not to my wife. The sales lady in the jewelry section told me that the ring had gone out a few days earlier and there was nothing that could be done.


 

I borrowed the commander's pick up and went to the legal office. The Staff Judge Advocate [lawyer] that I saw certainly had seen many of them and took them personally as his attitude was "if she wants to fuck with you way over here in Viet Nam, let's see what we can do to fuck with her back in the States." An attitude that truly pleased me. According to my lawyer, The Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act of 1942, a law that was passed to protect servicemen on foreign soil by delaying any civil litigation if they can show their military responsibilities precludes their proper representation in court. I could show my military responsibilities precluded proper representation in court and was able to dictate the terms of the divorce, especially since my wife had been "back-dooring" me and had a Luke instructor lined up, ready to marry [he thought she was divorced]. Unfortunately, the Luke instructor was assigned to Phan Rang and was killed on his first night mission. So my now ex-wife married the lawyer who handled her case. Since the lawyer was about 20 years her senior, she may have been one of the first to be called a "trophy wife."


 

I wrote my ex-wife and asked that she send the diamond ring to me. She never did and I have no idea what ever happened to it.


 

THIRD TOUR: When I left Phan Rang AB, Viet Nam, my follow-on assignment was to the 1141st Special Activities Squadron, Ramstein AB, Federal Republic of Germany. My records were marked "Counter Insurgency Qualified" due to my first tour in Viet Nam and since the 1141st Special Activities Squadron sounded a bit like The Studies and Observations Group (SOG) -- a joint Special Operations unit that included members from the Air Force, Navy SEALs and Special Forces in Viet Nam, I never questioned the assignment. Only after I arrived at Ramstein did I find out that I was to be a staff officer in NATO, the worst possible assignment I could have drawn. There was no urgency, no initiative, and no excitement. Just a bunch of old geezers coasting their way to retirement, shuffling paperwork in a headquarters that had no responsibility, no mission with every American, German and Canadian holiday off. I was so horrified at the prospect of spending two years pushing worthless paper; I went to personnel and put in for an F-105 assignment to Thailand. I had heard that the F-105 community was short of pilots and hoped my tour could be curtailed to flesh out the shortage. Personnel told me I would have to complete the two-year tour, no exceptions, and once the tour was drawing to a close, I could reapply.


 

So I was stuck in a place I didn't want to be doing a job that anyone with 20/400 vision and a fondness for repetitive, useless fucking paperwork could do. The only perks were the types of flying available and the secretaries and schoolteachers stationed at Ramstein.


 

T-33 jet trainers [single engine, tandem seated, subsonic airplane] were made available to jet qualified pilots to keep proficient. We could take the airplanes to any western European air field that was an Airdrome of Entry [had customs], had 5,000 feet of runway, jet fuel and low pressure oxygen.


 

The Spaniards like to use us for "Faker missions." Faker missions were where we tried to penetrate the Spanish Air Defense System at altitudes of between 25,000 and 35,000 feet. If they painted us on their RADAR, they would try to intercept us with their F-86 jets. The Spanish Government put us up in expensive hotels in Palma on the island of Mallorca in the Mediterranean Sea, a playground for the wealthy and hundreds of horny, beautiful women from all over the globe.


 

We would take off from the Palma airport; penetrate Spanish air space, sometimes being intercepted, sometimes not, and then land at the American base at Torrejon, just outside of Madrid. If we wanted, we could refuel, go back to Palma and fly the same mission the following day.


 

Whether I went back to Palma seemed to depend on the number of labor chair orders I had from the Ramstein secretaries/schoolteachers.


 

The labor chair was a decorated three of four-legged chair with handgrips on the sides of the seat. Evidently, labor chairs had been used by the Portuguese for child bearing in the past and were now a popular room decoration item. The chairs came apart and were sold in boxes with brightly decorative seat pillows. Once, I had six boxes of labor chairs in the back seat of the T-33 with me and I've never owned a labor chair in my life.


 

An acquaintance at Ramstein had a Chinese girlfriend from Taiwan coming in to visit him. Since he was already dating a Ramstein schoolteacher, he asked me if I would take her off his hands while his Chinese visitor was in town. The schoolteacher, besides being a very attractive woman, was also a very nice person and I told the guy I would be happy to take over for him. Some how, I assumed he had cleared the arrangement with her but found out later he just expected me to charm her into my arms. This was never to happen because the schoolteacher didn't know about the Chinese woman and was truly fond of the guy trying to get rid of her. Before I became aware of the unknowns of the triangle, the schoolteacher approached me at the Officers Club bar one evening and introduced me to a young lady, also a schoolteacher, from the southern US, traveling in Europe. Since I was unaware of the devious trick being played on her, I thought she had approached me to jump-start a relationship - so I invited the two of them out to dinner.


 

During dinner, two things became apparent: the schoolteacher being cuckolded had no designs on my body and she was, in fact, attempting to introduce the other young woman around in hopes of getting her to stay on at Ramstein as a teacher by showing her the sights and the eligible bachelors.


 

"Eligible bachelor" probably needs to be defined at this point. There's an old Air Force maxim that states, "some married guys who go TDY [Temporary Duty to another station] become TDY bachelors," i.e., they forget that they are married. Ramstein was the crossroads for military aircrews in Western Europe and the Officers Club bar was filled with TDY bachelors almost ever night and especially on the weekends, hustling whomever they could. "Eligible Bachelor" on the other hand, meant that the guy had no wife. A "Class A Bachelor" meant that he had never been married and a "Class B Bachelor" meant that he had been married and might have kids. Class B Bachelors usually carried baggage and some of the schoolteachers avoided them. I was a Class B Bachelor but thanks to my Phan Rang lawyer and my ex-wife's desire to remarry quickly, I had only child support to pay. But I was to find out that my ex-wife had run up $8,000.00 in credit card bills, a significant sum in 1968, and the credit card companies came to me for payment. I wrote them letters, including copies of the divorce decree, highlighting the part where it was written that she "... would be responsible for any and all debts contracted by..." her. Each credit card company wrote me back, noting, that they had no contract with my ex-wife, that the credit cards were initiated by me [as they were] and I was therefore responsible for their payment. So, I had to pay for trips to Las Vegas she had taken, jewelry she had purchased, tires she had bought [16] and encyclopedia sets [4] she must have used to gain knowledge in screwing ex-husbands.


 

The other teacher at dinner, the one on the tour of Europe, was a small attractive southern belle. In fact, much of her manner could have been taken directly out of Gone With The Wind. She was part Scarlett O'Hara [Vivien Leigh] with a sensual, lively twist and part Melanie Hamilton [Olivia de Havilland] with a virginal, demure impression.


 

The teacher was able to secure a position at Ramstein and had her parents sell her car and send her clothing. She didn't seem to have any hang ups over Class B bachelors and we got along quite nicely. The cuckolded teacher, of course, found out about the Chinese girl and went on about her life, a life that did not include me - or her ex-boyfriend ever again.


 

Southern Belle and I carried on a most unusual romance for a year and one-half. At least it was a romance on my part, I will never be sure about hers. To use an old cowboy expression, I tried to "cut her out of the herd" on several occasions but could not. She always had another guy or two she was seeing - maybe more. There were times that she would go out on a date only later to wake me up in my quarters as she was undressing. She was absolutely the most loyal person I knew as long as she was facing me, but it seemed if turned my back, all fealty melted away. Once we went with two other couples on the train to Paris for a long weekend. While there, she told me she would be attending a base-wide party at another base with a guy who was stationed there. It was the same base where the other two couples were stationed. "Good Lord," I said, "you're shacked up with me here in Paris and next week, you're going to a party that they are sure to attend? Don't you think they will wonder about your morals?"


 

"I don't care what they think, I'll do as I please." And as far as I know, she went to the party.


 

Our relationship would surge, retrogress, surge, retrogress and on each retrogression, our relationship crumbled a bit more. Once we were lying in her bed and there was a soft tap at the door. A voice whispered her name and told her who he was. My God, I recognized the voice and the name because I worked for him at Misawa AB six years before. He was a TDY bachelor and I had no idea they were even acquainted. We didn't answer the door.


 

Finally, my two-year tour in NATO was coming to a close. I went to personnel and put in for an F-105 assignment to Thailand. A few days later, personnel called and said "We see you've put back in for Southeast Asia in the F-105. You've got over two thousand hours and one combat tour in the F-100. If you want to go back to the war, you'll have to go in the F-100." I agreed and orders were cut to send me to Luke AFB, AZ for a short refresher course with follow-on orders to the same base I had been at on my previous F-100 tour: Phan Rang AB.


 

After the refresher course, I went to Texas to visit my Mom and had talked Southern Belle into meeting me in Dallas when her Ramstein school let out. Part of my incentive was to ask her brother to accompany us, as he had never been out west. Without her brother, she arrived in Dallas and I took her to meet my Mom and brother's family who lived in Lone Star and Mount Pleasant respectively. The visit ended, we boarded the airliner to fly to Los Angles to pick up my car. Her brother, who was already on board the airplane, joined us. After spending a few days with friends, the three of us headed for Luke AFB, near Phoenix, Arizona, to pick up some flying equipment that I had left there.


 

When we arrived at LAX, my friend's wife and three boys met us and took us to their home. My bud, who had been with me at two different stations in the AF had resigned from the AF and was flying for an airline. He came in a couple of days later. I had lost a bag on the flight; so the two of us went back to LAX to see if it had arrived [it had not, I picked it up 13 months later]. Going back to his house, he stopped at an unknown house and said "come in here, I want to show you something." He had a key, so we let ourselves into the house and met his girlfriend, Lois, sitting on a couch watching TV. I was dumbfounded, I had no idea he was backdooring his wife and was furious at him for what he was doing and for taking me there. I railed the entire way back to his house and he promised to quit seeing her. Lois was a senior stewardess and my friend was a junior First Officer, so Lois was able to bid the trips that he was on. I ran into them at Clark AB, Philippines a couple of weeks later and it was obvious he never had any intention of agreeing to stop seeing her. My ex-friend's wife eventually found out about the liaison and divorced him. She used her alimony to become a successful RN.


 

In Phoenix, we put Southern Belle's brother on the plane for home, visited friends and attended a couple of parties. A few days later, we were on the road to Walla Walla, Washington, my hometown, to visit my grand parents. My car, an unairconditioned Porsche [air was not needed in Germany where I bought the car] was sweltering, as it was June of 1970.


 

In Walla Walla, Southern Belle charmed my grandparents so thoroughly that when I was getting ready to take her to the airport, they told her that they hoped to see more of her. She was evasive in her answers. At the airport, we had coffee in the airport coffee shop and promised to keep in touch. Back then, one could approach an airliner, so I walked her to the airplane steps, said goodbye and she was gone. After she left, I went back into the empty coffee shop where the lone waitress was working and also minding her child, and asked for a date. It turned out that the waitress was a single mother, a student at Whitman College in town, unattached and willing to go out.


 

Early that evening, as I prepared to go out, I called Southern Bell at her home to see if her flight was uneventful. It was and she also suggested that we should get married on my return from Viet Nam. I was stunned. Having tried to woo her unsuccessfully for the better part of two years, her suggestion caught me by total surprise. I agreed that it was an excellent idea; chatted for a while then called the waitress and told her I was unable to make our date.


 

Viet Nam was a terrible place to be stationed and I was in no hurry to arrive at my duty station. My year's tour started from the moment I left CONUS [Continental United States], so I hung around Clark, a way station, for as long as I could. Finally, after two or three days, I was told to be on the next airplane for Cam Rahn Bay, a base only 26 miles from my final destination of Phan Rang. At Cam Rahn, I hopped a C-130 and had the pilot radio ahead that a new F-100 pilot was inbound. Several guys, including the Chief of the Command Post [CP], who said I would be taking his position, met me. I had already found out that the experience level was low and that I was one of the high F-100 time men on base and was surprised that I would be going to the CP. In fact, only one guy, Jim Chestnut, had more F-100 time than me and he was running Stan Eval [an office that checked the proficiency level of other pilots]. I had been in Stan Eval at Luke and assumed I would work for Jim. Not so, my job for the entire year was as the Chief of the Command Post with an additional duty as a Stan Eval check pilot.


 

I was assigned to the 612th Tactical Fighter Squadron for flying and the other guys meeting me on the flight line were there to take me up to the squadron hootch and get me settled in. "Let's go by the post office first to check mail." I could see the red flag was up and the guys had already checked their mail but they ran me by to check [none for me] and recheck theirs and while there, I opened a postal box.


 

As was the custom for a new arrival on entering the hootch, booze was brought out and we started to drink whiskey and beer. The 'squadron welcome drink' was the Harvey Wallbanger, but I couldn't stomach the stuff, so I had beer. The days crossing the Pacific and the drinking in the Philippines caught up with me very quickly, so I told the guys I was having a severe sinking spell and needed to crash. I was taken to an empty room, painted black, and was told it would be my room. As a Major, I did not have a roommate. I hit the pillow and was instantly asleep.


 

Two things caught my eye as I was leaving the bar area [also called the Day Room]. One was a bulletin board with two photos of round-eyed women [Caucasians] tacked on it along with at least two hand-written letters along with some profane graffiti scribbled over one of the photos. I asked, "what the hell is this?"


 

And someone answered, "that's the 'John Deere Board.'" I had heard of Dear John Boards but had never actually seen one before. It was reserved for those who received Dear John letters and wanted to share them with the squadron. I was too woozy to study the board and entered a hallway that would lead to my room.


 

Along the wall, I saw where some one had kicked a hole, down low, through the wall into one of the rooms. Once again, I asked, "what the hell is that?"


 

One of the guys showing me to my room told me that the Operations Officer [second in command of a squadron], Pete Knight, was just a little fucker and didn't need anything as big as a door to get into his room. So a hole had been kicked through the wall, near the floor, to facilitate his entry. I had heard of Pete Knight, he was one of the X-15 pilots who had flown high enough in the airplane to earn Astronaut wings [50 miles above the earth's surface]. It surprised me to learn that Astronauts were pulling combat tours. I had assumed that they had their own little piece of the Air Force cut out and tucked away for them at Edwards AFB and never ventured far from there.


 

My second tour at Phan Rang in the F-100 was very much like the first one. The main differences were that the F-100 was configured to carry more ordnance and we were flying missions into Cambodia and Laos, something we didn't do on my first tour. We flew many night Close Air Support [CAS] missions and the nights seemed darker but that may have been because I was two years older and as one ages, one needs more light to see the same things as a younger person.


 

One bright spot was that I was receiving mail from the Southern Belle and she wanted to get married in New Orleans in October of 1971. That was fine with me as I planned to ask for an assignment to England AFB, Alexandria, Louisiana, just to the north of New Orleans. We also planned to meet in Bangkok over the Christmas holidays of 1970, but as the date grew closer, her letters became fewer. She did send me a brochure from the tour agency with which she was booked. But neither airline nor the arrival times were listed, just the itinerary that included the date of arrival.


 

Puzzled over the lack of communication from the Southern Belle, I left on R & R to the Siam-Intercontinental Hotel in Bangkok on Sunday, 20 December. There was a tourist office in the hotel and I produced the brochure and asked the man on duty when I could expect her airplane. He said "oh, that been cancelled."


 

"No," I said, "you misunderstand me, the flight is due tomorrow, at what time will it arrive at Don Muang [Bangkok's international airport]?"


 

"That tour been cancelled," he repeated. I thought we were having a communications problem, so the next day I went out to Don Muang and hung around customs as airliners came in from all over the world. About midday, I went back to the Siam Intercontinental to see if I had somehow missed her arrival. Surprisingly the tour agent was standing in the lobby, in front of his office, and said, "I look for her too." I went back to the airport and spent the rest of the afternoon unproductively at the customs exit.


 

That evening, she still hadn't arrived and I managed to telephone the BOQ [Bachelor Officers Quarters], where most of the teachers lived, at Ramstein. The BOQ was three stories high and only one phone line and two instruments, in the hallway on each floor, serviced about 20 rooms on each floor. The worst room to have assigned was the room next to the telephones. Even though it was mid day in Germany, I could tell by the hostile tone, the woman who answered the phone was pissed. When I asked if she knew Southern Belle, she said, "yes, she's touring Austria with some guy" and hung up.


 

Uh-oh, I thought. Things are not going as well as I thought. The honeymoon was over before it ever started.


 

When I returned to Phan Rang, the Dear John letter was waiting for me. But the Dear John bulletin board had disappeared and I wasn't all that certain I wanted to share my news anyway.


 

As it turned out, a puppy I kept in my room contracted rabies while I was gone and there was quite a bit of excitement to keep me from dwelling on useless letters from past girlfriends.


 

My tour finished, I led a flight of six F-100s back to the States. The old bird carried the air war in the south for eight years and was now being retired in favor of the F-4 and A-7. Oddly, the F-100 is seldom mentioned as a participant in the war although at one time, four bases, in the south, all had F-100s.


 

FORTH TOUR: My next duty assignment was Mountain Home AFB, Idaho on the Snake River plain in south central Idaho. It was an isolated location but only fifty miles from the State Capital, Boise, where I spent my Junior and High School years. The base was being equipped with the new F-111F that was called a "fighter" but was in reality a medium bomber. It had two engines and two crew members who sat side-by-side. One could move the wings back and forth, between 16 degrees and 72.5 degrees, by a handle located under the sill, on the left side depending on the flight conditions. At the time, it was the fastest operational "fighter" in the inventory and perhaps the world.


 

When one reported on to a new base, one had to go though a base processing. Many stops at many different base agencies were required, as an example, the hospital. When I took my medical records by the hospital, I went to the Flight Surgeon's office to complain of episodic tinnitus I'd been having while stationed at Phan Rang. As was the procedure with pilots, who were treated as prima donnas, I was seen immediately. The doctor said they had no ENT [ear, nose and throat] physicians on base and filled out a consult for me to visit a Otorhinolaryngologist [ear, nose and throat] clinic in Boise.


 

My appointment was two weeks later and when I presented myself at the practice of three established, well-known ENT physicians, I was asked to fill out several forms and then shown to an examining room. My blood pressure, pulse and temperature were taken although I told the nurse I was there for an ear problem, not a physical.


 

In about 10 minutes, my physician, Jean Peters, walked in. At least I thought she was Jean Peters, she looked so much like the American movie actress, it was startling. She introduced herself as "call me Kat, [her name was Kathleen and she had sparkling blue eyes]" and started asking me more questions about my tinnitus. Like trying to explain an irritating but intermittent vehicle noise to an automobile mechanic, I had no tinnitus the day. She examined me, which I thoroughly enjoyed and thinking the tinnitus might be occupation related, she asked me my profession. When I told her I was a fighter pilot, stationed at Mountain Home AFB, it was obvious she had never treated a fighter pilot before nor did she know where Mountain Home AFB was located. I found out later that I saw her during her first week at practice, having just attended the House Ear Institute in Los Angles, California. She had been in Boise about two weeks, getting settled in a condo her three associates had leased for her.


 

Nothing abnormal showed up in her examination, so she scheduled a CAT scan for the following week - if I was available. I assured her I would make myself available.


 

I lingered in her examining room for as long as possible and had the impression that she was in no hurry to get on with her routine of seeing other patients. During my drive back to Mountain Home, I convinced myself she was as interested in me as I was in her. She had no rings on, but that didn't mean much. Fighter pilots seldom wear rings either, especially around airplanes, as they can catch on projections and can rip one's finger off. But during the exam, she had suggested that my wife or I jot down the circumstances of any onset of tinnitus and when I told her I wasn't married, she raised an eyebrow.


 

When I returned to find out the CAT-scan revealed no abnormalities, Kat told me she was unmarried and that her favorite sport was water skiing. I told her that water skiing was also my favorite sport and that I had a boat, trailer and tow rig and "would you like to go water skiing with me sometime?" She accepted and we made a date for the Saturday after next [my appointment had been on a Friday]. This gave me a full week to look for a boat, trailer and tow rig and learn to water ski - as I had never been on water skies in my life nor had I ever owned a boat of any kind.


 

Finding the boat and trailer was easy. A Sergeant departing for an overseas assignment had a boat and trailer in the "Lemon Lot [a secure on-base lot where AF members could display cars, motorcycles, boats, RVs, etc. that they had for sale]." He called the boat a "Watermelon Seed" because of its shape and it had a 125 hp Mercury Black Max outboard motor attached to it, a very large engine at the time. On Sunday, the sergeant towed the boat to Strike Dam on the Snake River, a few miles from Mountain Home AFB, and demonstrated how to use it. We did not have skis but he explained how to use the boat to pull skiers. To my thinking, the water was too cold for any kind of sport since it was late spring. I asked the sergeant if he would be available to tow the boat to/from the AFB the following Saturday if we could agree on a price. We negotiated a price and he agreed to deliver and retrieve the boat.


 

Saturday morning turned out to be rainy and windy, but Kat met me at the Mountain Home Post Office, we had breakfast at a local restaurant.


 

I mentioned a party I was having that evening but she didn't seem interested so I didn't press it.


 

We took my Porsche to Strike Dam where the boat was in the water with MWR [Morale, Welfare, Recreation] ski equipment on-board. She stripped down to a sort of short-legged wet suit affair, filling it out magnificently, and took up a starter' s position in the shallow water. I gunned the engine and just about tore her arms out of their sockets. I circled back, threw her the rope and did the same thing a second time. "Maybe if you didn't accelerate so fast?" She asked when I tossed her the ski rope. Finally, I was able to drag her up and out of the water and pulled her back and forth for several minutes. Then, passing close to the trailer, she let go of the rope and coasted into shore. When I pulled into shallow water, she said "okay, the water's too cold to stay in and it's your turn."


 

Knowing this was coming, I said, "Jeeze, you know I forgot to bring my swimming suit and I think it's too cold anyway. Why don't we go to my house and get something warm to drink?" She agreed and I used a pay phone to call the sergeant to come pick up the boat.


 

Before leaving for SEA and while stationed in Germany, a friend of mine, Seb Arriaga and I, had flown a T-33 up to Copenhagen to look at Danish Modern furniture. I picked out enough furniture to completely furnish a one-bedroom house and I put it on layaway, picking it up as I was leaving Germany. The furniture had been in storage until I rented a house in Mountain Home, so everything was brand new. Since the furniture had been in storage for a year, I had teak oiled it over and over until each piece shined.


 

Part of the furniture included a bright orange, yellow and black wool rug that just about covered the entire living room floor.


 

Kat was taken by the interior opulence of my house. We sat around, drank coffee and I showed her how to play Liar's Dice, a game we often played in the AF to while away the boredom of some duties. "Kat, " I said again, "several of us are getting together this evening for a party, why don't you stay for it?"


 

She started to protest, saying that she didn't have the proper clothing and didn't want to drive the 60 miles to her condo to change.


 

"Not a problem, " I said. "The party is casual and we're holding it right here, so there's no need for you to change." So, we went shopping to pick up a few items I'd missed; the usual treats always present at any AF party: booze, ice, cheese dip, crackers and peanuts. When we retuned, I suggested we rest for a while because the cold weather and skiing had sapped our, and especially her, strength.


 

I insisted she use my bed which she definitely did not want to do, but finally relented and when I showed her the bedroom, she was intrigued by the colorful, heavy Spanish bed spread on my king sized bed. The bed spread had been a gift from a Spanish friend whose Mom lived in Madrid. I still have the bedspread and it still looks brand new.


 

I retired to the living room couch and awoke in an hour or so to Kat getting a glass of water. We sat out the nibblies and exactly at 1800, the doorbell rang. Unaccustomed to military punctuality, she found it hard to believe that everyone coming to the party, about 20, had arrived at my doorstep at the same instant. She was also unaware that at parties involving fighter pilots and fighter navigators, everyone talks at the same time and no one listens. She sort of stood in one corner, open mouthed, until all the guys, married and unmarried, started hitting on her. She loved it and joined the fun.


 

After the party was over and since we'd been drinking, there was no question of Kat driving back to Boise, so again she took to my bed wearing some silk pajamas I'd picked up in Japan many years before but had never worn. I returned to my couch. At about 0400, she came into the living room, woke me up and said, "come to bed..."


 

Both our schedules were hectic and it was difficult for us to get together but managed it about once a week. She had my house key and would let herself in, change and meet me at the base when possible.


 

At one point, TAC [Tactical Air Command] Headquarters had asked for volunteers to fly the AT-28 in Vientiane, Laos and I went to my Ops Officer, Ron Crozier, and suggested we put in for the assignment since we both had flown the T-28 and he spoke French [many of the Laotian officers spoke French] and I was "unencumbered." TAC picked both of us to go; Ron because he spoke French and me because I was "unencumbered." The assignment orders came directly to the squadron and by-passed the Wing Commander, Colonel Lynwood Clarke.


 

When Colonel Clarke found out we had applied for and were accepted as AT-28 pilots, he was furious and called us to his office. He called us "...traitors to the wing because we're trying to staff and equip this wing with a new airplane." Col. Clarke was a gentleman but berated us at full volume. Since Ron was a Lieutenant Colonel and I was a mere Major, Col. Clarke was looking at Ron while he yelled at us. I felt it prudent not to tell the Wing Commander it was my idea and sat on Col. Clarke's couch with my hands folded in my lap, pious expression on my face while Ron took the major hits.


 

Military orders are not easy to read unless you are trained in the acronyms, initializations and specialized language used by the people who write the orders.


 

I had left a copy of the TAC selection orders lying on my kitchen table and Kat, who was to meet me at the Officers Club, had let herself in and thought I had left her a message. She picked up the orders and was able to decipher the language sufficiently to think I was headed to Laos - and threw a shit-hissy when we met later at the club.


 

She calmed down when I told her I wasn't going to Laos, but something was lost in our relationship, never to be recovered. A few months later, I put in for and Col. Clarke agreed to let me take a temporary assignment to Takhli Royal Thai AFB, Thailand flying the F-111A. I had told Kat of my request for assignment and she didn't seem to have a problem with it.


 

I left for Las Vegas, Nellis AFB, to downgrade to the F-111A in October of 1972. I could see no reason for the downgrade requirement as the left seat of the F-111F was practically identical to the Nellis and Takhli based F-111As. But Las Vegas was a fun spot to visit and the Air Force had, as usual, packed a one-week's course into three months. Kat came down once to visit me and we took in the show "Fiddler on the Roof."


 

We said our goodbyes and promised undying love of each other. As I boarded the airplane to take me to Thailand, Kat was probably one of the least significant things on my mind as I was thinking about what lie ahead. The "12 Days of Christmas" bombing campaign of North Viet Nam had just concluded a day or two before and we were told to expect a renewed and more intense bombing effort into the North Vietnamese heartland. As it turned out, the bombing, which included B-52s, was so devastating to the North Vietnamese, they were forced to the conference table. All of our follow-on bombing was restricted to Cambodia and Laos.


 

Three months into my tour and having few letters from Kat, I received a letter from a friend telling me Kat had gotten married to an engineer on the Columbia River dam projects and moved away. While I wasn't particularly despondent over the news, there's always some question about one's adequacy.


 

Later, I found out that while the guy was an engineer, he was not employed, fired from his job and an alcoholic, living with his mom. When Kat found out she married a deceitful lay about, she divorced him only to have his mom talk her son into suing for alimony. It was not granted.


 

FIFTH TOUR: Two years later, I met and married another Boise girl. Twenty-nine days later I left for a one-year tour in Thailand. It never occurred to me, even with my unsuccessful background with women while on foreign shores, that I might have a problem.


 

We've been married for over 30 years at this writing.


 


Back to the list

You need to be signed in to like or leave and read other users comments. Sign in here.