Friday, June 6, 2014

A Flawed Legacy - 6

Six of us were assigned to JAMA, Japan Air Material Area, and we were assigned to a group that was concentrated on recovering government material from the islands that we had abandoned as the war ended.  Each of us were interviewed and sent to the areas where they assumed we would be utilized. They asked me about my work experience and I said that I had grown up on the farm so the only thing I could really do was milk cows and drive horses and tractors.  Since they did not have cows and horses, I was sent to the Motor Pool and came face to face with the "tractors" that pull trailers and the Sergeant who headed the section to which I was assigned, M/Sgt Simonetti from Philadelphia.  I will never forget him.

He tossed me some keys, pointed to a tractor and said, "Let's see how good you are."  Ha!  I had never driven one of these, but it was worth a try.  I took my time arranging the seat and searching for something that would tell me how the gears were arranged.  There was no "arranging" the gears on the farm tractors I had driven, but I found a plate that gave me the info I needed.  I started it up, pulling the gear shift into the first gear and Simonetti waved me on.  Slowly, I inched it ahead, got it into second gear by "double clutching" as I had heard others explain and that worked also.  I drove around the circle of equipment in the middle of the yard and when I got back to Simonetti, he told me to turn it off.  "You really haven't had much experience, have you?" he asked and before I could answer, he went on, "You did good, kid.  Are you any good at backing trailers?"   Aha, when Grandpa or Blake were gone and our tractor was sitting there, I had had fun backing our one trailer into places that had always troubled Blake.  "Yes sir," I replied.   Pointing to the trailers that were parked nearby, I added, "Those are bigger than the ones I have backed before, but I know how to do it."  "Good, son.  You have got your first job in the Air Force."

He would teach me how to connect the tractor to the trailers and with that, I was in "business".  He also took me to our Captain and introduced m as "our new yard master".  So that was my job for the first six months of my Air Force career.

Back at the barracks, I soon learned why guys would leave the barracks in the evening and come back bragging about what they were doing.  Not wanting to reveal how naive I was, I followed a couple of them one evening and they came to the edge of the base and a hole in the fence which they would walk through - and break the law, and on they went to a nearby house and disappeared.  It wasn't long before they came out and headed back to the barracks.  I knew one of them well enough to ask what they were doing and the guy laughed.  "You really do not know?"  "We were just doing what every 'red blooded' guy has to do, regularly."  I wasn't that naive.  I had heard about "houses of ill repute" but that was the first one I had ever known about.

My job parking 18 wheelers took me no more than 2-3 hours and afterwards, I got busy cleaning up the messes that were everywhere.  The Captain noticed me one day and took me aside, explaining hat was "gook" work and suggested I come into the office and be available to drive other trucks as needed.  It was an interesting assignment as my "regular" job had caused quite a stir about me.  Some referred to me as Simonetti's "boy" but I didn't worry about that.   I knew the Captain liked me as well.

Then, came my break.  The base General's driver did not show up, so they sent for me to go to the barracks and get dressed in my "Class A's" - the uniforms we wore for inspections or parades.  As I headed back to the Motor Pool, the car was sent for me and I headed for the General's office.  He was a nice guy, asked where his regular driver was and I had to explain that I did not know.  We left for Tokyo with him pointing the way.  I had been to Tokyo, but always on a train.  We drove to the GHQ headquarters and before he left, he left me with two passes, one for lunch and the other for dinner and was on his way.  I spent the afternoon walking around downtown Tokyo, checking in with GHQ every other hour on the hour to be sure the General was still involved.  As it turned out, he was "involved" all day and into the night.  As we got underway, he asked me if I would like a beer and I was scared to answer.  "That's OK, one beer won't hurt your driving and I've got a few in my bag." 

We were halfway back to the base when he asked, "Do you know what happened to my regular driver?"  "No, sir."   "Well, it's my opinion that white boys are not what we want chauffeuring brass," but you have done a good job and you need to be doing something better with your life.  I plan on transferring some of our excess people off of our base and I'll be sure you name is on it.  Make sure you get a better job when you get there.  Do you understand?"  "Yes, sir."

The following Monday, I was on my way.

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