Tuesday, June 10, 2014

A Flawed Legacy - 7

Itazuke Air Force Base is located on the Southern most island of Japan, Kyushu, just outside of the city of Fukuoka, and that was to become my home base for the rest of my stay in the Far East.

It was there I would meet M/Sgt. Max Miller, who would become my mentor and dear friend for the next year and a half.  He was taking care of the assignment of the dozen other "recruits" who were with me in the flight to the South.  The first thing I noticed were the six stripes o his sleeve. He was a force to be reckoned with - advice I first heard the day I started training at Lackland.  He asked me what I had done so far in my "career".  I told him about backing trailers and the advice the General had offered so he asked me if I knew the alphabet.  "Yes, sir" and with that he led me over to some file cabinets in his office and opened the drawer containing the enlisted personnel on the base.  "Another guy told me he knew the alphabet, but it should be obvious to you that he was wrong as soon as you look at these files."  He was right, they were a mess, but it did not take me long to get them back in order.  Miller did a double check and turned to me and offered me a job in his office,

He also told me that promotions would come along if I kept doing what I had done and he was right.  He left eighteen months later and left me in charge.   I did not have his six stripes but I did have four on my sleeve and an earned reputation in the headquarters.  One of my proudest moments in that span came when the Base Commander came to me and and asked if I would help him as we integrated the first black airmen to serve on our base.  I was about to meet seven of the finest men I would ever meet and three of us became life long friends.  With that effort I was awarded other honors and the most exciting came when they asked me to re-enlist so that I might return to the States - to Lowry AFB in Colorado to undergo training, that changed the old Army definition of skills and qualifications to the new system being installed worldwide for the new, United States Air Force  It was a good move for me as they gave me an opportunity to re-enlist for an indefinite period of time, an opportunity that I would take advantage of in the years to come.

There were six of us from all over Japan and the Philippines who were headed for Colorado and we met at the airdrome outside of Tokyo.  As we were talking about our experiences, an Army Colonel approached us and told us we had one more duty to perform before we left.  With that we were escorted to waiting Army vehicles and wound up at GHQ headquarters.  Then we were taken upstairs and entered an office that was dark, except for a light at the opposite end.  We were seated at this huge conference table and the order to come to stand at Attention.  As we stood, a figure came in from the other side of the room and to our amazement, it was the "Man" as he came closer. As he shock our hands, we realized we were meeting the Supreme Commander, General MacArthur.  He was very formal in his remarks, but he was commending each of us for our service in the Air Force and how important it was for each of us to seriously study the materials we would receive.  He seemed to be saying, the future of the "new" USAF depended on our ability to follow through and execute our responsibilities.  When he left , he shook our hands again and disappeared beyond that light on the other side of the room.  We stood there, confused at first, but amazed that we had come close to meeting such a powerful person!

Lowry AFB was quite a bit different from the bases we had left behind us.  We had really intense instructors and they were committed to the task at hand.  Most of us noted the difference between this effort and the daily activities in our offices back in Japan.  After six weeks of study, we were released for a furlough we could enjoy before returning to Japan.

I was headed for Michigan to see my grandparents and my mother who had quite a surprise for me.  She wan.ted the four of us to drive down to Baxter, TN, to see my sister, Shirlee, who was enrolled at Baxter seminary.  There was a long story about that, but I enjoyed the trip as I was seeing parts of our country I had never seen before.  The joy came in watching my grandparents on their first trip into the Southland.  I still chuckle when I recall my grandfather's remarks at finding what he thought was Cream of Wheat cereal on his plate with his eggs and toast.  "Welcome South, Grandpa, to the joy of having grits with your breakfast!"

I still regret almost ignoring my sister, but the fact was, we hardly knew one another as she had stayed with our parents for the most part, while I lived on the farm.  We seldom had seen one another.

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