Since Memorial Day just passed, this week I wanted to share a memory from my days in the Air Force. I hope you enjoy!
I had joined the Air Force while I was in college, so I was a little bit older than most of the guys in my unit. I was over 21 and therefore I had what was known as Class VI privileges, which meant I could buy liquor and cigarettes. At the time, I was an occasional drinker, and to this day, I never smoked.
On December of 1967, smack dab in the center of the Cold War, I was stationed in Toul-Rosieres, France. Our ally against Russia was in a strategic position and so we had a few American bases there. I was stationed, as an Air Policeman, at American Air Base. Charles de Gaulle was president of France and was anxious to get the Americans out as leftovers from World War II. In fact, he was so anxious he closed down the base while we were still living there. Some of us took refuge in nearby French towns and had to drive to work through loud protests concerning our involvement in Vietnam. The rest of us were living in a barracks with no mess hall support. We had to live off of the k-rations, which had been left behind.
Each night, after our shifts, we would gather together to listen to Christmas carols played off of a recorder. Since we were military, we weren’t allowed to decorate our barracks, besides, we were going to be leaving that home soon. Then one day, I received an artificial Christmas tree from my mother and a set of Christmas lights from my Grandmother. We put up the tree on my footlocker and decorated it with Christmas cards. If the French officers knew about the tree, they didn’t object to it and so it was our only connection to the big holiday that the rest of the world was celebrating.
One evening, while we were gathered around the tree, Chorley remarked, “Boy, I wish I had a bottle of scotch right now,” and the Big Guy, Rene wished he had tequila. That gave me a bright idea. “Why don’t we get some liquor?” I suggested to the rest of the guys.
Sardonically, one of them remarked, “Because we don’t have Class VI privileges.”
I pulled out my Class VI card and said, “Well, I do.”
Cappy and Rene grabbed me and put on my coat and began to drag me out of the door. I yelled, “My hat.” An airman always had to have his “cover” when he was outdoors. Tusa grabbed my hat and roughly planted it on my head. At the remaining Class VI store on the base, we each purchased our booze. I bought some rum, and before we knew it we were back in the barracks enjoying Christmas Eve the only way we could.
Cappy was sipping a glass of gin, seated by an open window, when he placed his glass on the ledge. Casually, he reached for his glass and accidentally, knocked it off the ledge. In his drunken condition, he began to chase after the falling glass; our barracks was on the second floor, just high enough to cause him serious injury if he followed his glass all the way down. Rene was next to Cappy and saw what was happening. Instinctively, he reached out and latched on to Cappy’s shirt, averting what could have been a holiday tragedy. It was a good thing Rene was such a big guy!
While on post, I was chatting with one of the French military police officers, and, wearing a sly smile, he said, “So, mon ami (which translates to my friend), are you fellows enjoying your Christmas celebrations?” He was referring to our drinking in our barracks. He winked at me as if to say, “I won’t say anything.” When I was ready to go on patrol, the bugs were biting like crazy and I gave him my bottle of insect repellant and said, “Merci beaucoup (which translates to thank you very much).” My French was terrible, but he knew what I was trying to thank him for, not turning in my buddies and me for drinking in the barracks. He patted me on my shoulder.
Even though the surroundings weren’t ideal, it still remains one of my fondest memories because I was surrounded by not only fellow airmen, but by people that will forever be friends.