January 19, 2019
Chased His Shadow
Back in the day, when our version of the Viet Nam War was young, middle 1960's, I was slowly losing my status as a college student. The Army latched on to that and began calling me for a specific reason; I had a pilot's license.
• working as a country school milkman and dairy worker,
• going to the Wausau, WI., version of the University of Wisconsin,
• working at the then Wausau Airport as a janitor,
• taking flying lessons to secure a pilot's license, and
• slowly sliding down the pole of student status by failing my classes.
Too much work, no study time, and not knowing how to study properly, cemented my demise. The local Army recruiter kept calling and telling me what a great thing was at my disposal; becoming a helicopter pilot for the Army!
Girls loved officers in uniform and helicopter pilots were high on their list of favorites. The Army had a great helicopter training program in Germany, which in and of itself was a great opportunity; I'd be in a foreign country with beautiful women who loved American pilots. I'd get to fly helicopters and be the envy of my former classmates, and a warrant officer! People would salute me!
But, I better sign up now before I was drafted, once that happened, there was no telling what would happen. I signed up all right. I volunteered and went into the Air Force. I knew where pilots were going, helicopter pilots in particular.
After training in Germany they went non-stop to Viet Nam and the killing fields. Funny thing, after my Air Traffic control and radio operator training I was sent to Chanute AFB in Rantoul, Illinios for six months and was then re-assigned to Germany. Ha! Another funny thing, I was stationed a half-mile from the Army's helicopter training school. I had made it there after all, sort of.
One of the best things about being in Germany was becoming friends with other airmen. Many of us arrived at about the same time, overlapping by a few months. We were stationed there for three years, which was the rest of our Air Force time. Two of my best friends became Worth Reis and Richard Findtner. We spent almost all of our off time together. We were all radio operators mostly on different shifts but with plenty of free time together.
We traveled together occasionally, smoked so many joints together we lost count, and enjoyed listening to music while stoned and going out to eat under the influence of marijuana. It was great.
Unfortunately being a part of the Strategic Air Command (SAC), we were also stationed with the Army. That meant when they had field training, we had to go with them as air support. Didn't matter if it was spring, summer or winter we spent at least two weeks in the field, in tents, or unused German army buildings as our living quarters. Nice...not!
But our friendships grew. We stayed up late some nights and talked until sunrise, or smoked joints until we fell asleep and turned each other's record players off depending on who fell asleep first. We played flag football together, basket ball, and some softball, though I watched those two sports and cheered my teammates rather than play.
These times were also my introduction to using a camera. Reis and Findt and I were kinda like triplets; going everywhere together. Reis and I especially hung out a lot together. He was my best friend after high school during that time.
Then one day, Reis and Findtner's time was up. Their tour of duty was over. Poof, just like that they got their orders, and away they went, back to the States. I was so hurt I could not face them and say good-bye. They didn't know it, but I could not say farewell without crying, so I wasn't there when they left. I pretended to be sleeping.
Findtner and I did get one visit in after the Air Force. Then we never met again. I traveled to California to find Reis but chased his shadow down the coast and never saw him again.
Until last week. If Facebook has one major saving grace it is reuniting old friends. We texted for a few days and then called each other and talked for over an hour. It was like we had never left each other. Our connection still worked, and is still working. It is a marvel, a gift, a wonder of science, and a joy of the heart.
This is the short version of our story. A new chapter begins now. We are planning a get together and will re-unite sometime soon. The 49 years between our last meeting has gone up in a puff of smoke. Now there are a million stories to tell, to listen to, to marvel at our different adventures. OMG there will be sleepless nights of talking so much we will be reduced to hoarse whispers with sunrises to watch as we recall our lives and compare our notes. How lucky can we be?
I can hardly wait.