Category: "Air Force"
Les Gar Frazier on Jan. 15, 2021

Officer's Clubs located on large bases overseas, where dependents were allowed, were called "Body Exchanges" by the fighter pilots frequenting them back in the sixties and seventies. On these bases were many units and most of the civilian and military members staffing these units were married and had children. The Department of Defense was responsible for the school system and hired schoolteachers from the States to teach the kids. Generally, the teachers were unmarried, young, pretty and possessed a sprit of adventure. Ramstein AB, near the city of Kaiserslautern, in the Rhineland Pfalz district of what was then West Germany was such a base.

Ramstein had a terrific Officer's Club. The large bar had table service and a dance floor where a live band played many nights. Bernie, the bartender, a German National [GN], could yodel and would do so at inappropriate times. I never figured out his incentive except, perhaps, to startled the unwary. There was a large, elegant dining room where the food was adequate and the service superb. One tiny, elderly waiter was rumored to have been an SS Storm Trooper during WW II. I believed that like I believed that the tiny, elderly waiter we had at Misawa A, Japan had been a sumo wrestler. In the basement there was the Vesuvio Restaurant, a dark, romantic Italian restaurant that served excellent food [I'm aware the quality decreased in later years]. The Vesuvio had two strolling musicians. One played the mandolin; the other the violin and they would take requests. The first time I visited the Vesuvio, the duo came over and asked me if I had a request and I replied "play ‘Mandolins in the Moonlight.’" They whispered among themselves and finally told me that they did not know it. I thought it strange that a mandolin player did not know how to play "Mandolins in the Moonlight" but said nothing and told them I've give them a five dollar bill if they would learn it [big money in 1968]. Every time I entered the Vesuvio, I would ask if they had learned the song and they would reply that they had not found the sheet music yet. I finally had my Grandmother send me the sheet music from the states, which I gave to them with a promise of a five-dollar bill when they learned it.

Finally, one evening they came rushing over, beaming, and telling me that they had finally learned it. I placed a five-dollar bill on the table and said, "let's hear it."

To this day, I have no idea what they played, but it wasn't "Mandolins in the Moonlight" but since they stood in front of me, so obviously pleased with themselves, I had to give them the bill. Every time thereafter that I went into the restaurant, the musicians would come over and play their song. After two years of listening to it, it did begin to sound a bit like the song Dean Martin made so famous.

One crowded Friday evening in 1968, I made my way to the bar to have a drink and fell into conversation with a guy standing next to me. He was a pleasant looking fellow who had prematurely gray hair and a charming demeanor. As always happens on foreign shores, the subject of home towns came up. His name was Bob Collins and he said he was from Waitsburg, Washington, where I lived during my 2nd, 3rd and 4th school year. We were both amazed that two guys from the small farming community were having a drink in a bar thousands of miles from home. While I didn't know any of the hometown people Bob knew, Bob was well acquainted with my family in the area.

Bob was an F-102 pilot with the Washington Air National Guard, passing through Ramstein, delivering an F-102 to the Turkish AF. It soon became evident that Bob’s main interest lay with the schoolteachers in the crowded bar. “Do you know which ones are unattached?” He asked me. I pointed out two or three that I knew and Bob immediately left to go hustle the teachers. I left the bar and forgot about the encounter from home.

* * *

In 1970, I left Ramstein for another tour at Phan Rang AB, RVN. En route to my new assignment, I stopped off in my hometown of Walla Walla, Washington. One of my cousins, an attractive divorcee, told me she was dating an old friend of mine, a Brigadier General, with whom I had been stationed, Bob Collins. Since I had completely forgotten about meeting Bob in the bar for a few minutes and since my cousin used the term “…been stationed with…” and “…Brigadier General…,” I had no idea who she was talking about. She insisted I knew him while I insisted that she was mistaken.

When my tour at Phan Rang was over, I again visited Walla Walla and again my cousin insisted she was dating my old friend, Bob Collins. And again I insisted it must be case of mistaken identity.

My new duty station was Mountain Home AFB, Idaho and close enough to Walla Walla to visit on occasion.

* * *

Sometimes, missions at Mountain Home AFB allowed me to overfly Walla Walla. I would come up on 255.4 megacylces, call Walla Walla Radio, an FAA station, and transmit “would you be kind enough to call 529-4066 and tell the lady who answers the phone that number two grandson is passing over head?” Walla Walla Radio always called the number and my grandmother always said “tell him to drop in for a visit.” Right. In a $27,000,000.00 airplane, I’m going to make an unapproved landing, usually at night at an unapproved airport..

                                                                                  [TO BE CONTINUED]

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