I began my four years in the U.S. Air Force on Sept. 1, 1950. I was assigned to a supply room at San Antonio’s Lackland Air Force Base.
Lackland was the largest air force base in the world at the time. It trained all of the airmen who joined. Additional bases were opened later when Lackland was overwhelmed with new trainees.
With some 4,000 of them assigned to our squadron most of the time, some of them were bound to get homesick and go AWOL.
Often these folks were from California, New York or some other place far from Texas. They usually would be caught by military or civilian police and jailed until someone from our squadron was sent to bring them “home.”
This TDY (temporary duty) was usually for two lucky guys who would travel by plane or train to pick up the fugitive. This was popular duty because they would get to stay at a nice hotel and wouldn’t be working for several days. And, two guys could easily handle one runaway.
So, I was elated when I got orders assigning me to TDY. Then I looked more closely. It was to pick up an AWOL trainee in Corpus Christi —about 130 miles away — by myself.
There would be no train ride, nor would I fly with a companion to California or New York. I would bounce along by bus to the Naval Air Station near Corpus, hand my papers to the Marine guards at the brig and pick up a young trainee who happened to stand about a foot taller than me.
I showed my papers to the Marine sergeant at the gate and he yelled at a corporal: “Go get the flyboy.’’ The Marine police aren’t known for mollycoddling prisoners, particularly flyboy prisoners. So, our trainee was required to run in place while he waited to be turned over to me.
I had reluctantly checked out a .45-calibre pistol and handcuffs at Lackland’s Military Police headquarters before boarding the bus. I had fired a .45 only once at the firing range earlier and hoped never to fire one again.
Before heading back to San Antonio, I took my prisoner to a diner for a hamburger. He protested because Corpus Christi was his home town and he didn’t want to risk running into a friend and having to explain the short guy with a .45 strapped on.
I told him not to worry. “If one of your friends shows up,” I said, “I’ll just shoot you.”
He smiled a little, and so did I.
I was more than happy to turn him over to the Air Force police back in San Antonio along with the .45 and cuffs.
Contact Ted at firstname.lastname@example.org.