Writing about the “real events” movie I just watched brought back more memories than just the ’62 Cuban missile crisis. I joined the U.S. Air Force (WAF) in 1949, which ultimately led to a tour of duty in Germany, a marriage in Wiesbaden, and a daughter “Made in Germany”, etc etc.
But long before this scenario, there was the basic training from Hell, in San Antonio, Texas. Thirteen weeks of misery. The U.S. Air Force broke off from the Army Air Force in late 1948, and my squadron of WAF was the second squadron of women in the newly organized Air Force, lucky enough to go thru basic in lovely San Antonio. Texas. In mid-Summer. Eeeeeuuuu….
Skipping quickly over the next move to Biloxi, Mississippi, where I flunked out of Control Tower Operator School, I did see, first hand, things I’d only read about and learned something about Southern bigotry. I’d never seen a “Colored Only” water fountain, for example. This blatant racism was quite an eye-opener to a naive white girl from “up North” !!
Ah, but then things got interesting. The Air Force sent me to Washington, D.C. I spent about six months lurching from one department in the Pentagon to another. From the horror of Files and Records to very neat-o Congressional Liaison. This was intended to be an orientation process for me, apparently.
This huge department dealt with all the mail that Congressmen received from their constituents. The constituents’ questions and inquiries were accompanied by a letter from the Congressman, telling our department to find out whatever that person wanted, and draft a letter to the voter on his behalf. The most prolific letter writing requests came from a sassy Senator by the name of Lyndon Johnson. He didn’t leave anything to chance when it came to pleasing his voting blocs.
Finally, whoever was in charge of personnel decided I was the best person to be the Air Force Chief of Staff’s personal secretary. 5-star General Hoyt B. Vandenberg. What a guy–so tall, slim, handsome, classy. Perfectly tailored uniform. Yummy. This was a dream job but I really never appreciated it as I should have until years later, in retrospect. There was just myself and the Liaison Officer, Col. Godfrey T. McHugh, (pompous ass) in the outer office. [Col. McHugh ultimately wound up as Air Force Liaison Officer for President Kennedy] Gen. Vandenberg had a small sitting room complete with every amenity next to his gigantic office. It was just the cutest darn thing!!
I had orders (from the General’s doctor) to serve the General a cup of tea and an apple at a certain time. I prepared the tray in his sitting room galley and went into his office. There were about six men, including Thomas A. Finletter, Secretary of the Air Force, and a lot of bemedaled brass sitting in big leather chairs in front of the General’s mammoth desk. All conversation stopped as I walked towards Gen. V’s desk with my little tray. I was petrified. As I put the tray on his desk, the apple rolled off onto the floor. I was dying. The General leaned over, picked up the apple, gave me his gentle, patient smile and winked. I adored this man. He was a true leader.
There were code names we had to use when the General’s driver called, for example, we could not mention names or locations. The military has always been a little paranoid, I guess. Protocol was a PITA, especially with telephone calls. The less important person was the one who had to wait until I got the General on the line. The secretaries of Edward R. Murrow’s waited, Bob Hope’s waited. The door to the General’s office and galley were always locked. No-one could get into the General’s office until Col. McHugh or I pressed a hidden button under our desks.
General Vandenberg retired long before we were all ready for him to do so, but he had cancer and there was no choice in the matter. Gen. Nathan Twining, Deputy Chief of Staff, whose office door was behind and just to the left of my desk (he’d come roaring thru there sometimes, cigar clenched between granite jaws), took over as Chief of Staff. And I was out of a job. (VIPs bring their existing staff with them)
Col. McHugh asked where I would like to go next. I had been dating an Army major who had recently transferred to Wiesbaden, Germany. So I said, What the heck, how about Germany? So Germany it was. The major and I were not meant for each other after all. But then, along came someone else. And that’s all there is to that.
Oh!! While I was still in “training” I lived in the barracks; however, when I became the General’s personal secretary, it was deemed appropriate that I move off-base with a nice housing allowance, etc. I found a room and microscopic kitchen in a big converted house in Georgetown. Who knew then how *that* suburb would change!! I had an [For Your] “Eyes Only” security clearance, which is one step above “Top Secret”. Again, I didn’t give it a thought at the time, but an “Eyes Only” clearance is a really big deal.
I also have a picture of my squadron marching in front of the reviewing stand and doing a perfect “eyes right”. You can see that famous haberdasher, Harry S. Truman smiling as we went by. Good man, good President.
Ah, those were good times.