Archive for November 2009

US Navy

November 18, 2009



USS Mispillion AO-105

From 1960 to 1963 I was stationed aboard the USS Mispillion AO-105, a Cimarron class oiler in the Pacific Fleet home-ported in Long Beach, CA.   The sailors stationed aboard called her the ‘Pissamillion’ since she carried several million gallons of fuel.  It was probably the most interesting and exciting time of my life.  I made two trips to WestPac (Western Pacific) during this time but the most interesting one was when we got a new captain, Capt. Dose, a very senior 4 striper that the navy was grooming for admiral or at least a carrier command.  The Mispillion was a large ship and good training for taking over a carrier.  Capt. Dose was an ex-fighter pilot and looked like he just stepped off a Hollywood set with his leather jacket and aviator glasses.  We got a tribute once from an aircraft carrier that he was once Flight Commander on in the form of a fighter flyover by a formation of F-4 Phantoms.  Anyway, since he was so senior, we got to go places and do things we might not have been able to do. 


On the trip over to WestPac we stopped to watch a whale that was being ravaged by barracuda, we chased waterspouts and came very close to a couple and we stopped for swim call in the middle of the Pacific.  The closest land was 5 miles straight down and we put netting and jacob’s ladders over the side, posted shark watches with M-1 carbines and jumped into the ocean.  Although it was calm, the swells were pretty big and I remember getting exhausted and trying to grab the netting only to have it 3 or 4 feet over my head due to a swell.  Some guys did get in trouble and had to be helped back aboard.  About that same time, the reefer went out and we all gathered on the fantail and ate all the ice-cream we had aboard.     I guess the point of this is, we had fun on this trip and were up for anything.


We generally went to Sasebo or Yokosuka Japan and then joined fleet activities from there.  In our case, that meant refueling Task Groups that were engaged in exercises somewhere in the Pacific.  A Task Group typically included an aircraft carrier and several destroyers and maybe a cruiser.  We would steam along at about 12 knots into the wind with an aircraft carrier conducting flight ops on one side and a destroyer on the other with another destroyer about 1,000 yards behind us in a lifeguard position.  We frequently lost people overboard during these operations and the lifeguard destroyer would pick them up (usually). 


On this trip, we had an unusually flexible and diverse schedule which included a trip around Borneo and then we sailed north to Subic Bay in the Philippines.  We spent a few days there where one of my jobs was to update our charts and I went on base and over to Clark AFB to get new charts.  We had a White Hat club there on the navy base and that’s the first time I heard Ray Charles singing ‘Hit the road, Jack’.  There was also a wide open town called Olongapoo not far from the base where sailors and marines were the primary business. 


We spent some time there and then went further north to Taiwan.  I think we put in at Kaohsiung but whatever the name of the place it was an ominous town and I didn’t like it at all.  You entered the harbor with jagged, jungle covered mountains on either side.  It was narrow with a submarine net across it and, as you navigated through the town, there were buildings with machine guns and AA guns on either side.  It was a time of high tension between the Nationalists and Mainland China and the people were understandably paranoid.  Or, it appeared that way to me. 



Duncan and me Stonecutter’s Island

Our next port of call was Hong Kong and that is the most memorable part of the trip.  We were met on our way to our anchorage off Stonecutter’s Island by several junks owned by Hong Kong Mary (at least that’s what we called her).  Her business was painting ships and we negotiated a price that all of us sailors readily agreed to since this was a never-ending chore aboard ship. Prior to her painting the ship, we had to have a fresh-water washdown to remove the salt from the ship.  I had the Operations crew which was composed of Radarmen, Radiomen, Signalmen, Electronics Technicians  and Quartermasters and we had a firehose to washdown the bridge’s O2 and O3 levels.  We were squirted by a firehose manned by the deckapes (Bosuns) under Jones, a big and very fit black BM2.  My crew turned our hose on his crew just as he stepped out of a hatch and he got it full-on.  He looked up and saw me and took out after me.  I didn’t wait around and as I was running around the O2 level I almost ran into Capt. Dose who was using the urinal behind the bridge.  Capt. Dose nailed me with his eyes and I stopped short and Jonesy slammed into me and almost knocked me into the captain.  I was always in trouble with Capt. Dose.  If I had ever had a Captain’s Mast under him I’m sure I would still be in the brig.  Anyway, Mary’s people swarmed aboard and we furnished the paint and they painted the whole ship using rags instead of paint brushes in just a few days!  

 That freed us up for a lot of Liberty Call on the beach.  The navy had people stationed there to provide shuttle service to shore for the ships in the harbor and they delivered us to shore leave.  Three friends and I hit the beach together and we rented a car and driver to show us around.  It turned out to be a very smart move as we seen things and went places that we would never have found on our own.  I remember Aberdeen Bay where the junks were packed in so tight you could walk all the way across the bay and not get your feet wet.  I’m sure some of those junks had been in the same place for many years.  We saw a hillside covered with a shanty town of thousands right next to the opulence of high-rises and residential buildings.  We went to Repulse Bay, a resort with a restaurant and beach and a shark net across the bay so you could go swimming.  I tried swimming to a platform in the middle of the bay and was exhausted by the time I got there, seems I’m always overestimating my swimming ability.  We finished up the day in downtown Hong Kong at a fancy restaurant where I had Baked Alaska for the first time and last time of my life.  By this time the word was out that there was a typhoon heading in and the signal flag,’ Hotel’, was flying from every ship in the harbor meaning ‘Return to Ship’.  Well, we didn’t want to, so we hung out until it became uncomfortable since everyone knew we were supposed to go back to our ship.  We figured the ship had surely sailed by now so we checked into the British Navy’s China Fleet Club and got cots for the night.



China Fleet Club

We had no more got to sleep than a chief from the ship came in and roused us.  Seems they checked with the China Fleet Club or maybe the club ratted us out, I don’t know which.  Anyway, we made it across the harbor in the midst of the typhoon in a flat-bottomed landing craft and, as punishment, I was assigned visual watch on the bridge all night taking bearings to make sure we didn’t drag anchor.  Well, we did drag anchor, we had anchors for and aft, but didn’t get close enough to Stonecutter’s Island to pose a danger.  I was soaked from the first minute and spent the whole night taking sightings on beacons to keep track of where we were.  I don’t know why the ship didn’t put out to sea like it should have during a typhoon. 

Anyway, that was the most eventful trip I made to WestPac.  We were scheduled to go into drydock at Todd Shipyards in China Basin in San Francisco and we eventually set sail for home.  On the way across, which took us quite awhile since our normal speed was something less than 15 knots, a couple friends and I were staring at the ocean from the bridge after the evening meal and saw a periscope not far away and tracking along at about our course and speed.  We reported it to the Officer of the Deck and all hell broke loose.  He reported it to the captain who notified the Commander in Chief Pacific Fleet (CincPacFlt)  and we were instructed to sit on the submarine until a task group could reach us from near San Diego.  That was somewhat ridiculous since the only sonar we had was a fathometer to tell us the depth of the ocean.  But we spent a couple of days steaming around in circles from where we saw the periscope until the task group got there.  No, they didn’t find anything and I think that just illustrates that there are many different levels of proficiency in the military.  The common denominator is pretty low. 


The three years I spent in the navy and on the Mispillion I would not trade for anything and I think it was the best decision I could have made at the time.  My father-in-law Joe spent less than three years in the Army at the end of WWII and to hear him talk, it was the most interesting and exciting time of his life.  Well, I can understand that.



Aberdeen harbor

Aberdeen harbor

Aberdeen harbor

Family Pictures

November 12, 2009

It occurred to me that a picture is worth a thousand words and I have some pictures that may be of interest to others.  You can also view the pictures I’ve posted to flickr at:

And we have a few at on myspace at:
Also, there is the Geni family tree at: or you can just go to Geni at: and search for Jack Ware.



Latin American Adventures Part 2

November 11, 2009

Did you know they make left-handed bowling shoes?  They do.  And I found a pair on sale at the Albrook AFB Base Exchange for $1.00!  Of course I bought them as I was a fair bowler at the time.  The first time I tried to use them I fell flat on my face.  You see, one of the shoes slides and one doesn’t.  That’s why they come in left or right handedness. Well, I threw them in the back seat of our car and forgot about them until a few weeks later when our car got burglarized.  They got the shoes, which was alright, but I didn’t like the idea of people breaking into our car so I got my Louisville Slugger and told Patty that I was going to catch whoever was doing it.  I climbed up in the scaffolding of a building that was being built across the street from our apartment building in the San Francisco district of Panama City. 

 A couple of hours later, probably 8: or 9:PM, I saw Patty come out of the building and get in the car and drive off!  WTF?!  How am I going to catch the thief if she comes out and drives off in the car?  I jumped down from the building and chased her down the street waving my bat and totally blowing my cover.  She said she got worried about me and decided to come look for me.  Anyway, the point of that story is to illustrate how little control I have EVER had over Patty and how our thought processes worked at that time of our lives. 

 We were young and we had a lot of fun in Panama.   I worked in the Air Force Communications Service (AFCS) in the military’s Southern Command.  We had several Air Force and Army bases and even a Navy and Marine base in the Canal Zone.  Usually on a Friday night, someone in the squadron who lived in Panama City would have a party and we would all meet on the rooftop of their apartment house and have music and drinks.  We frequently would get coconuts and drain the liquid from them and fill them up with Ron Cortez (rum from the Panamanian distillery).  Lots of times these parties would last the weekend.   

Rooftop party

Roger Skelton, Tony Wernhardt and me on a rooftop

On one occasion, Patty and I were invited to a birthday party over near Rodman Marine Base on the north side of the canal.  We partied pretty hard and I was totally soused when we headed home so Patty was driving.  I got sick and hung my head out of the car and puked all over the side of the car.  Patty was mad and then she yelled at me that I had lost my teeth when I puked (I wear a partial that includes my four front teeth which I lost in high school).  I gave her a grin and pulled them out of my pocket so I guess I wasn’t THAT smashed.  I had to get up early to catch a plane to some place in South America, I don’t remember where.  Anyway, it was still dark the next morning when I threw my bag in the car and Patty drove me to Howard AFB to catch my plane.  On the way we had to pass a Guardia Nacionale checkpoint and as we were driving by a guard (who had a couple of buddies with him) blew his whistle.  I told Patty not to stop but she did it anyway and the guard came up to the car and told us that we were supposed to stop and didn’t and he was going to have to give us a ticket …or we could just give him the fine and go on our way.  Well, that was bullshit and we all knew it.  We drove past that checkpoint every day.  I told Patty to go ahead and give him the money so we could go and I wouldn’t miss my flight but Patty refused.  She told him to go ahead and write us a ticket and we’d go to court.  The guard made a valiant effort to convince us he meant business but Patty stood her ground and he finally let us go. 

 While in Panama, I became eligible for re-enlistment and since I didn’t really have a reason to get out (other than that I’d always thought I didn’t belong in the military) and since I was eligible, because of my career field, for a whopping re-up bonus of $7,000, I re-enlisted.  We decided to buy a car with the money and spent nearly all of it on a 1968 Chrysler 300 Convertible with leather seats and all the bells and whistles.  We ordered it direct from the factory in Antique Ivory with black trim.  Not yellow, mind you, but rather ‘not unlike a burnished walrus tusk’.  It was beautiful!  When we got it off the boat it had a dead battery since someone aboard had been playing with it and left the retractable headlights on.  The dealer downtown had it for a couple of days and Patty and I were beside ourselves with anticipation. 

Patty and Traci on the road to ColonPatty and Traci and our new car on the road to Colon

When we finally picked it up we immediately took off on the Trans-isthmus Highway on our way to Colon.  We only got a few miles when we realized that we had to stop and fill it with gas.  Wasn’t a big problem at the time because, on base, gas was as low as .12 cents a gallon.  Believe it!  We filled up and headed into the Interior and spent the day driving through the rain forest.  We stopped several times, once to see where army ants had cleared a trail through the jungle.  We had Traci with us since this was early in 1968.  As we were headed back to the Pacific side we saw a line of cars stopped coming the other way.  Patty was driving and she slowed way down to see what the problem was and just as we got to the other line of cars she saw a huge iguana crossing the road.  Well, she stopped, but not in time, and our front tire had the iguana’s tail pinned to the road.   He was flopping up and down and trying to get away and the other drivers were yelling at us and Patty was trying to figure out how to operate this new car and put it in reverse which she finally did and the iguana went lumbering away into the jungle.  When iguanas run, they get up on their tippy-toes and run like hell for 20 or 30 yards;  but that iguana was huge and when he ran he lumbered from side to side and didn’t make good time at all.  He was probably ten or twelve feet long and looked more like an alligator. 

 Shortly before we ordered the car I had requested instructor duty at Keesler AFB and we got the assignment.  We decided to drive home.   We shipped our furniture and hold baggage and loaded up the car with Traci and about 3 dozen pair (do they really come in pairs?) of cloth diapers and started out.  We had the trip planned so we could hit the border check points in the morning or afternoon and spend the night in the capital city of each country.  It’s tricky since the border closes for siesta for 2 or 3 hours every day and you have to plan for that.  

We didn’t get off to a very auspicious start.  We were happily surprised to see that they had recently opened a brand new paved highway in Northern Panama and as we whizzed along with the top down, people would shout and wave as we passed by.  We waved back and thought the people were a lot friendlier in Northern Panama than they were in Panama City.  All of a sudden, the road stopped!  It just ended.  I took a picture of it and here it is:

End of the road

 We had to backtrack quite a few miles with people laughing and grinning at us all the way to find the riverbed we were supposed to take.  Traci learned her first English word on this trip, “Assholes”!  I had to watch my language after that.  The Pan American Highway at that time was pretty rudimentary and, in anticipation of this, I had ordered the car with 8-ply tires.  By the time we got to San Antonio, Texas, we only had one of them left- the spare.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

 The highest point on the Pan American Highway is “The Pass of Death” before you get to San Jose.  It’s about 10,000 feet and usually draped with clouds and it’s a steep and treacherous drive.  As we approached there was a very long line of cars all stopped in the highway with no southbound traffic at all.  We finally found out from a highway worker that the pass was closed by a landslide and we’d have to backtrack about 20 miles to the last village to spend the night.  We really didn’t want to do that and he said the only alternative would be to take the cat trail that they made when they put the highway in.  He said it was very rough and dangerous but about four of us decided to try it.  We were in the rear of this group and it’s a good thing because we had the largest car and, as we were going up this narrow track up the side of the mountain, the ground crumbled beneath our tires so we couldn’t have gone back if we’d wanted to.  When we finally got to the top of the mountain there was a meadow with a farmer and his family and some livestock staring at us like we were from Mars.  We crossed his meadow and found the track down the other side and eventually came out on the Pan American Highway again.  I was never so glad to see pavement in my life.  I was afraid I was going to lose my new car to that mountain.    

 Costa Rica and Nicaragua are beautiful countries and we really enjoyed the trip through them.  We got some great pictures of Lake Managua and spent the night in the Capitol City of Managua.  The next day we spent the night in San Salvador, El Salvador and got up early in the morning to get an early start because the one country we did not want to spend the night in was Guatemala.  At that time, Guatemala was really a hotbed of violence and anti-American sentiment.  There were frequent shootings of Americans and we didn’t want to spend any time there.  When we got to the Guatemalan border, the guards were very hostile and unfriendly.  They asked if we had any fruit and I said no so they said, “What’s the matter?  You don’t like our fruit?”  They had bandoliers and were armed to the teeth and looked like the banditos in an old Poncho Villa movie.  They asked if we wanted to hire one of them to ride with us and protect us from the banditos but we respectfully declined.  We didn’t stop for anything and went as fast as we could to make it to the Mexican Border before it closed. 

 We spent several days at the Hotel Victoria in Oaxaca Mexico resting up.  The hotel was world famous for its food and accommodations and we really enjoyed our stay there.  We had minstrels serenade us at dinner and we bought silver trinkets and swords at the market downtown.  (I just recently discovered I can’t find those swords, they’re around here somewhere.)  When we got ready to leave we got the laundry back from the hotel laundry and were stunned to see that they had charged us almost as much for the laundry as our accommodations.  Seems they had never seen the fitted diapers we had for Traci and they ironed and folded them.  Three dozen of them and they charged us like they were shirts.

 While driving through Mexico, the roads were straight and sort of oiled gravel or macadam, certainly not what we consider asphalt pavement.  There was no speed limit and you could go really fast.  Patty was driving and we were behind a greyhound-type bus and it was throwing gravel on our new car and poking along at about 70 so Patty pulled out to pass it.  Just after we got past and before we got back in our lane, we had a blowout.  We started fishtailing and were all over the road with both Patty and I fighting the wheel to keep on the road.  When we stopped we saw that the last of the 8-ply tires had found a coke bottle!  It was sticking out of the tire.  We got to Mexico City that day and, to our delight, saw a Colonel Saunders.  It was like we were home already!  We stopped and ordered a bucket of chicken and had to wait over an hour and when we got it, we couldn’t eat it.  It was undercooked, very greasy and had veins and ligaments sticking out of it.  Yecchh! 

 The next day we made it across the border to San Antonio and bought another tire and headed west.  We spent several more days getting to Fowler to see Emmy and Fred and then on up to Oregon for a week or so before getting back into the car to head east for Biloxi, Mississippi and my new assignment at Keesler AFB.  While in Oregon we put our film in for processing at The Old Mill in Springfield and never saw it again so we have no pictures of the trip at all.  Before we left, we had a big family get-together at Pietro’s Pizza in Glenwood and Traci was adorable in her little pink ruffled panties over her diapers.  She got out in the middle of the floor and had everyone’s attention with her little dance and then she bent over and filled her diapers to where it was running down her legs.  Cleared out that restaurant!  We gave her to Don and Theresa to take home as we were staying with them.  She did the same thing in a restaurant in Biloxi a little later when we got there.  Can’t take that kid anywhere!

Latin American Adventures

November 11, 2009

Patty and I spent 1965 to 1968 in Panama and it was a particularly interesting and exciting time in our lives.  Patty was 21 and I was 24 when we got there and Traci would be born there in 1967 at Gorgas Hospital in the Canal Zone (just like John McCain).  Most of the time that we were in Panama; we lived in or near Panama City, not in the CZ.  Our first apartment was in San Francisco, a heavily commercial area, and was right behind a Sears store.  I picked it for that reason but when Patty arrived a few months after me, she pointed out that, though she was used to working at Sears in Eugene, OR and Gulfport, MS, at THIS store everyone spoke Spanish and she wouldn’t be able to work there.  She instead worked at the Balboa Shoe Store and then at the Army Commissary at Corozal.  After about a year, we moved to El Congrejo, an upscale residential neighborhood.  Panama City at that time was nothing like it is today.  I doubt that there were any skyscrapers there at that time; at least I don’t remember them.  If you look at the city now, it looks like Miami or Rio

 We spent time exploring the country and took trips on the weekends to Fort Sherman on the Atlantic side of the isthmus and to the interior to pick orchids in the jungle and to Pina Beach to go body-surfing.  We were very fortunate that I befriended Terry Fuqua when he arrived at my shop.  Terry was tall and thin with curly red hair and a constant grin or laugh. Terry was a native zonian so when he was stationed there he was not considered to be overseas.  His family lived in Curundu and he had grown up there.  He knew all the neat places to go and things to do and we spent a lot of time together.  He took us to a creek in the jungle that, when it rained, turned into an E-ride and you could slide through holes and grooves in the rocks.  He also took us fishing for corbina in the canal.  This was during the time Patty was pregnant with Traci and had a cast on her leg and the cast had to be replaced many times because it would get wet or damaged during our adventures. Patty had a little trouble keeping up.  Anyway, Terry was a lot of fun and we enjoyed our time in Panama and a big reason was because of him. 

 We frequently worked together in a Blue Baron communications van that had never worked from the time we arrived.  The squadron had two of them and Terry and I eventually got them working with some help of a tech-rep from Collins Radio who came down from Cedar Falls, IA from time to time.  The van had HF, VHF and UHF capabilities and was about 25 feet long.  Terry would sometimes spend the evening at Curundu Heights at the Beer garden drinking beer and eating pickled boiled eggs and the next day he would have a gas problem that would peel the paint off the van and send me coughing and gagging outside. 

78-Volcano 2

 Once we took off for a week and went to San Jose, Costa Rica and Patty went on a tour of an active volcano there.  We stayed at a pension run by American expatriates and they were very friendly and it was like staying with family.  We fell in love with the country with its gaily colored ox-carts and the beautiful opera house.  This was fifty years ago so I’m sure it’s nothing like it was now.  The climate was great and we had a wonderful time.  On the way back to Panama City we spent a night or two at Boquete, a resort in the mountains of Western Panama north of  the city of David.  That was a wonderful place with a creek running right through the rooms and very cool and spring like weather- unlike the rest of Panama which was always warm and usually sultry. 

 A lot of the gringos we knew wouldn’t even go downtown because it was a time of some unrest.  In fact, Patty got caught in a riot once where people tried to tip over her car but it was mostly kids and they weren’t really organized that well.  They were on their way to the Presidential Palace to give El Presidente a piece of their minds and Patty was in the wrong place at the wrong time.  It was common for activists to encourage hostility toward the government and the Canal Zone by telling people that, after the revolution, they would be able to have their pick of homes in the Zone and would make a lot of money owning all the commercial and industrial property there. 

 I was gone a lot of the time on trips to almost all the countries in Central and South America.  The U.S. government was involved in providing assistance through what was known as Military Assistance Groups (MAGs) which were attached to embassies in all the countries.  I was primarily helping to install communications systems which would typically be HF single-sideband radios, teletypes or facsimile machines, and the power stations and antennas that made it all work.  I would be working with the military at each country and we would install the stations and then test the network with Washington D.C. and the other countries on the network.  I traveled on the Andes Run which was a weekly trip from Howard AFB in the Canal Zone that went to each country in South America.  The flights to Central America were just as frequent and were all on military aircraft from Howard AFB.   When I traveled, I would frequently go in civilian clothes and the Air Force gave me a clothing allowance to buy suitable clothing for these trips.  Looking back on this now, I see how infuriating this must have been for Patty since she loves to travel and nobody ever gave her a clothing allowance. 

 On one trip to Chile, I was gone for about three months.  This was when Traci was a baby and Patty was left at home with Traci and Josephina, our live-in maid.  (Josephina was wonderful with Traci and had her speaking Spanish before she learned English).  I was working with a group of technicians that were at a secret installation in Vina del Mar, which is very near Valparaiso on the Central Chilean coast.  Think of Chile being a mirror image of California, which it is, with Santiago being Sacramento and Valparaiso being San Francisco and the Andes being the Sierra Nevada.  Even the climate and the crops they grow are analogous.  The site that I was at had very high-tech equipment and a group of technicians that had Air Force Specialty Codes (AFSCs) that no one had ever heard of before.  I was there to work on their communications systems so they could communicate with Washington D.C.  They were spying on the French who were testing atomic weapons in French Polynesia and part of their group was stationed on Easter Island, which is a possession of Chile even though it’s thousands of miles away.  They would monitor the ionosphere for Super High Frequency emissions that accompanied any nuclear detonation with a huge dish antenna.  The Russians had a trawler a few miles off the coast monitoring us.  One of my main problems was with cows getting into the field and using our dipole antenna to scratch their backs on.  They also tripped over and broke our landline which was just lying across the field.   Another problem I had was wiring the M-19 teletype to the Sideband radio and the Crypto equipment so we could communicate with Washington.  I had to get on the line with technicians at Albrook AFB in Panama to talk me through it since the teletype technician assigned at the site was of little or no help.  Teletypes are weird for an electronics guy. 

I found myself with too much time on my hands and so I volunteered to take communications watches with the station personnel.  The other communications technicians assigned there on a permanent basis took issue with that because they didn’t want to have to stand watches after I left.  I did it anyway and they complained to the Captain in charge of the installation who then pulled my security clearance.  I was fine with that until I got a message from the embassy in Santiago that Patty was there on an unannounced surprise visit.  I also got a telephone call from Major Hollis at Howard AFB and he told me that if  I would agree not to make any more trouble, he’d tell the Captain to re-instate me and I could go get Patty.  I agreed.   I rushed to Santiago and found Patty at a restaurant having lunch with the Attaché, Maj. Burris, a David Niven type in a three piece suit and a pencil mustache.  I guess I got there just in time.  Patty had flown in on Lan Chile Airlines and was planning to spend a week with me in Vina del Mar.  She said that on the flight in, just before landing, some of the passengers were passing out ammunition and gave her some but took it back when they realized that she was a gringo.  This was about the time the leftist Salvador Allende was gaining in popularity.  He would eventually win the Presidency but be murdered within a week of taking office with the military seizing power.  This was a time of great concern over Cuban influence in Latin America.  That’s what the MAG teams at the embassies were all about. 


Anyway, Patty and I had a wonderful week together in Vina del Mar and when it came time for her to return I found out that a C-130 with some of our guys that had been at Easter Island was stopping there on it’s way back to Panama.  Major Hollis was aboard but he had contracted yellow jaundice on the island and was pretty sick.  Patty and I found a taxi to take us to Santiago for an exorbitant price and I talked to the flight crew of the C-130 who agreed to take Patty back to Panama.  As the flight took off, Maj. Burris showed up hopping mad.  He was upset because I had put Patty on the plane without clearing customs and said I had put him in a very bad position.  As far as I know, Chile may still think Patty is there since she never left officially.  On the flight home, the flight crew let Patty stay up front in the cockpit with them since there were 30 or so guys in the back that had been on an island for a year and the toilet facilities were pretty basic.  They offered to RON (Remain Overnight) in Lima, Peru since Patty said she’d never been there but Major Hollis put his foot down since he was very sick and wanted to get home.  Patty got some great pictures of the Andes from 30,000 feet as they were flying over since the C-130 had the windows all around the nose and she could lay down on the flight deck and take pictures.   When the flight landed at Howard AFB, Maj. Hollis’s wife was there to meet him and was very mad about Patty being on the flight since Maj. Hollis had told her that dependents weren’t allowed on the flight.  I guess the flight crew saw that differently. 

This is turning into quite a chapter so I’m going to break it here and continue with a Part 2.

Don Hill

November 6, 2009

This story is not about family but it is a story that I like and don’t want it to be lost.  It probably won’t matter to anyone else but me, but since this is my blog, I’m going to tell it. 

 Don Hill was a fellow technician/instructor in the DMSP satellite surveillance program at Keesler AFB in Biloxi, Mississippi in the late 60’s.  He was the same rank as me at that time, Tsgt, and was recruited because he was a tireless worker and a good technician.  He was married and lived in Ocean Springs, just across the bridge from Biloxi to the east, with his wife and mother-in-law.  When Don went home at night, his day was only half over because he had a mobile home park that he and his wife owned and managed and he was always busy fixing something.  He was fun to work with and had a good sense of humor.  He was also a good bridge player, though not as good as me, and that was the source of any conflict we ever had.  We played bridge almost every lunch hour when we didn’t have students in the Transportable Terminal that we taught, a satellite command and control van that acquired and downloaded the Block IV satellites on polar orbits that, even now, are spying on every square inch of the earth’s surface.

  Don was prior service like me but, where I was prior Navy, he was prior Marine. I guess it’s no secret that Navy and Marines don’t get along, probably because Marines are usually running the brigs or are gate guards and they think their shit doesn’t stink.  Ooops, there’s that animosity coming back.  That really wasn’t a problem between Don and me even though he was a typical marine.  He was strong as a bull and short and stocky and very gung-ho about military protocol.  He was a Georgia boy and came from a farm family that I believe was all boys and that is the point of this story. 

 Don told several stories about his childhood and growing up on the farm but the one I liked best was about his brothers and the parachute.  His brothers got ahold of a silk parachute and had the brilliant idea to try parasailing before it was ever invented.  They decided that one of them would strap on the parachute and they would tie the harness to a pickup truck with his wife at the wheel.  The other brothers would hold the parachute open while running across the field and the lucky brother would soar into the air and have the ride of his life.  The brother in harness, we’ll call him ‘Lucky’, told his wife to increase the speed when he nodded his head as they transversed the 40 acre field.  Well, they took off and soon were at a pretty good clip across the field and the faster they went, the longer Lucky’s strides were.  Pretty soon the strides were so long that every time he hit his head would jar and his wife, seeing this, would pick up the pace.  It wasn’t long before he was taking giant steps and things were completely out of control and probably the only thing that saved him was they had come to the end of the 40 acres and his wife had to stop; which she did abruptly and he ended up underneath the pick-up truck.  When Don told this story we roared with laughter and could picture Don and his brothers pulling a stunt like this. 

He told another story about his brothers that wasn’t so funny but gave a very good idea of rural Georgia life in the 60’s.  One of his brothers and some friends were out stealing copper wire off telephone poles when his brother came in contact with a high-voltage wire.  He was at the top of the pole, maybe 40’ in the air, when he hit it.  There was an explosion and it knocked him unconscious but his arm was hooked over the wire so he didn’t fall.  His friends on the ground figured he was dead and, knowing they’d end up in jail if they went for help, ran away and left him there.  He wasn’t dead and he woke up with a cooked arm and still hanging from the pole.  He managed to climb down from the pole and crawl over half a mile to a house.  On the way, as he was trying to crawl, his thumb was sticking up from his totally useless arm so he broke it off and kept crawling. 

When he reached the house the woman that was home freaked out to see him crawling across her yard and called the police and they eventually got him an ambulance and to the hospital.  He lost his arm and was in great pain so they started him on morphine.  Well, he never got off the morphine and he eventually became an addict and after years of drug abuse and the many problems he had, he finally O.D.’d.  I guess the reason for telling that about Don’s brother is to further illustrate who Don was and where he came from.   

 Patty and I partied a lot in those days and Don was frequently there.  He would dance constantly with great energy and effort and would usually go through three or four partners before taking a break.  His face would be red and sweat streaming off him but he would ‘Keep on Chuggin”.  He was one of Patty’s favorites as she loved to dance. 

 I don’t know where Don is now but I doubt that he’s still alive since I worried about him having a heart attack when we were near our ‘30s.  He would surely love to see the New Orleans Saints on top of the NFC as I remember him coming back from a Saints game completely without his voice.  That was about the time Tom Dempsey kicked the 62 yard field goal for the Saints. 


I started out as a child

November 5, 2009

 Family 1947

Yeah, I know it’s the name of a Cosby comedy album. I like the title. I started out living in a tent on Mill Street in Springfield, Oregon. We were living in a tent while building the house I would live in until I left for the Navy 18 years later. Anyway, we were probably very poor but it was a different time and that really didn’t matter as much as it does now. Dad was usually away, up in Alaska since that was where a lot of the jobs were. He never worked in a mill which is what most of the men in Springfield did. He was a painter and an artist and so he went where he could do that. I look back on that time and see the freedom I had and the adventures and I realize it was a great time and place to grow up. I was generally gone from sunup to sundown and I don’t think anyone had any idea where I was. I had chores to do and I had to do them but if I had a free day I was gone.

We had the Willamette River about a mile to the south and the McKenzie River about 3 or 4 miles to the north, both within my range, and I spent a lot of time on both of them. We also had the Beacon Hill to the west with a water tower and a large quarry that was fun to slide down on a sled in winter or on a gunny sack in the summer. We also had two sawmills that were built up about 8’ in the air and so the whole underneath was available for exploring and one mill had a wigwam burner that you could climb in under in the vents and get warm in cold weather or just for a dare. The other mill had a large millpond with logs floating in it that was fun for playing on if you didn’t get caught. The railroad ran north to south and the mills were built next to the tracks. So the railroad had trestles and boxcars to play on too.

The chores generally had to do with firewood. We heated and cooked with wood and heated our water and irons with the cook stove. The water heater set next to the stove and had a pipe going through the firebox and into the tank to heat the water. The irons set on top of the stove above the oven to heat. We had a wood stove in the living room for our main heat source. It was my job to split and stack the firewood. We used between 10 and 12 cord a year and the cheapest firewood came from getting pond-lilies from the mill. When a log is hauled in to be sawed after being in the pond for months or a year, it is pretty water-logged and they cut off the end and drop it back into the pond. This is what we bought and had trucked to our house about 3 blocks away and dumped there for me to split and stack. Hopefully, it would dry enough to burn for the next winter. We also got planer ends from the sawmill which we used to get the fire going before we put the heavy stuff on. I spent the whole summer with a wedge and mall or a single-bitted axe cutting up the wood and stacking it.

When we got Pete back from Korea in ‘52 or ’53 he bought mom an electric range which really screwed up the works! We then had to get an electric iron and an electric hot-water heater and mom, who had used that cook stove to can with and cook about a dozen loaves of bread at a time, had to relearn how to cook with electricity. But one thing it did do was reduce the amount of firewood we needed by almost half.

That was about the time that I got my paper route which included the whole west end of Springfield and both the South ‘A’ hill and the Beacon Hill.  Hills are a big deal if you’re pedaling an old, heavy iron bike with a paperbag full of papers.   I delivered the Oregonian which was a morning paper and I had to get up by 4:30 or 5:AM to pedal downtown to get my papers and roll them. I usually finished up deliveries about 7:AM or 7:30 depending on the weather and then it was time for school. On Sundays the papers were bigger and I had more subscribers so it would take a lot longer and I had to have newspapers dropped in several places so I could get them into my paperbag.

So, I worked hard but I also had a lot of time to do a lot of things. Most of my free time was spent on the Willamette River, which at that time was pretty filthy. A lot of towns upriver dumped raw sewage into it and the mills along the river also contributed wastes of many different forms to the river. I fished a lot but mostly for catfish and since they were bottom-feeders, were unfit to eat. No one ate catfish from the Willamette but I’d haul them home and plant them around the trees for fertilizer. I spent quite a few schooldays skipping school and hanging out on the river; usually with a friend or two. We’d build a shelter from the rain and start a fire and smoke driftwood and be generally miserable all day. By the way, if you’re smoking driftwood, don’t take too big a drag on it or you’ll get flames shooting down your throat.

Once, in the slough behind Long’s Community Market at the end of Mill Street, my buddies and I found a dead body floating in the water. Another time, in about the same place, my friend Dickie Mallam found a stash of guns and ammunition. My godfather, Fred Jenkins, was Chief of Detectives for the Springfield Police Department and he came to tell me he knew that Dickie had those guns and for me to tell Dickie to voluntarily hand them over or he’d get in trouble since they were stolen from a business in Glenwood. I told Dickie what Fred Jenkins had told me and Dickie said, “They’ll have to come and take them from me ‘cause I’m not giving them up”! Dickie’s mom found out about it and made Dickie change his mind about holding off the Springfield Police Department in a gun battle. Dickie was about a year younger than I was.

Another time, my friend Kevan Hardenbrook, who lived directly behind me, went with me to explore the Diamond ‘A’ sawmill which had moved to Canada. They left a lot of stuff behind including an equipment shed filled with treasures. I found signal caps which are cardboard packages filled with gunpowder with metal bands attached. You place them on the railroad tracks to signal the train in an emergency. Or, you can hit them with a sledge-hammer and your ears will ring for months and you’ll have powder burns on your hands and face. I also found a wooden box packed with wood shavings and with about a dozen blasting caps in it. I took that home and put it in my dresser where my sister, Omie, found it and told mom about it. Mom flipped out and I had to take them back.

I think I mentioned in a previous post that our property was about half a city block on Mill Street. My sister Theresa occupied the northwest corner, my sister Ginny had the northeast corner and there was a field and an alley and an outhouse between their houses. Near that alley, between our house and Hardenbrook’s house behind us, was an old, junked model T car. One day I discovered that the gas tank in that car still had gas in it. I got some buckets and a hose and proceeded to siphon the gas out of it. Once I had the gas out I really didn’t have a use for it but I sure didn’t want to waste it. I thought that it would be a good use of the gas to use it to purify Ginny’s outhouse so I poured it down the hole and threw in a match. It exploded and a cloud of black, greasy and foul-smelling smoke poured out and covered the Hardenbrook’s house and eventually the whole neighborhood. It burned for hours and I thought it would never stop. It did clean out that outhouse though. I mentioned it to Mildred Hardenbrook, who is in her late 80’s now, a year or so ago and she says she still remembers it vividly.

People would sometimes cut through our yard as a shortcut to get to Mill Street. My sister Ginny had a dog named Pepper. Pepper was a chow and very territorial and Ginny sometimes chained Pepper in our side yard. One day someone tried cutting through our yard and Pepper chased them and might have nipped them, I don’t remember. Anyway, they called the cops and one of Springfield’s finest came to get Pepper. When he approached her, she started growling and barking at him. He pulled his gun and shot her in the head twice. We kids saw the whole thing! When he took the chain off, Pepper revived and ran off. He then offered free movie passes to any kid who would help him catch Pepper. Pepper headed for the mill and hid under the piers and, though there were a lot of kids looking for her, she remained hidden. She came home later and we took her to the vet. She had a bullet hole in her forehead and another through her jaw. She survived but had trouble with abscesses in her jaw from then on. I don’t remember what happened to the cop but I do remember that mom was hopping mad and complained to the Springfield Police. I think Pepper would have been better off if that bullet had killed her. I’m sure she suffered.

I had an interest in chemistry too. I found a recipe for gunpowder and thought it would make a good propellant for a rocket that I planned to build. I mixed up several batches over a period of time in my bedroom trying to perfect the formula. What was powdered rhombic sulfur and potassium nitrate doing in our medicine cabinet in the first place? Who has that stuff lying around? Anyway, that messed up my lungs pretty bad and I had a cough for awhile. It also turned the paint and curtains in my bedroom black. I wonder now, thinking about that, why mom let me get away with that. She must have smelled it! I never did get the formula right. It always made a lot of smoke and never burned clean enough to give me the confidence to use it in a rocket.

I guess my childhood is why I was always thankful that I had girls.



November 4, 2009

Dort was what I called my sister Dolly. She was ten years older than I and her full name was Dorothy Frances. I called her Dort because it fit her. She loved a good joke and she was a lot of fun. She was married three times, the first right after High School to Roy Buckner, with whom she had four children; Debby, Joyce, Tom and Benny Sue. She lived on Tyler Street in Eugene in an older two-story house with a full basement.
She later divorced Roy and married Bob Boyd, a machinist who worked on dams. She lived near the Grand Coulee Dam where she joined an Indian tribe by virtue of what little Indian blood we have left in the family. A benefit of joining the tribe was that she was able to buy her cigarettes on the reservation and avoid federal taxes. That may have been her sole reason for joining, knowing Dolly. They later moved to Page Arizona because Bob worked on the dam there and then to St. Johns Arizona where they developed a business buying and renting out mobile homes. Dolly thought she was a millionaire and fixed for life with all her real estate holdings but she divorced Bob and, apparently, he ended up with the better half of their holdings and Dolly lost all of her share. She was convinced the Mormons were out to get her and she contacted a nephew who had married into a Mormon family and converted into that faith to try to get him to intercede on her behalf. He called me to see what he should do and we convinced Dolly he really didn’t have that much influence with the leaders of the church.
I don’t know if her desire to get away from the Mormon Church was a major reason why but she then ran an ad in an Australian paper and found a husband in Perth by the name of Bill Sweeney. Bill was pretty well fixed and Dolly appeared to have landed on her feet again but pretty soon trouble developed. Dolly was a lot of fun but I guess a little hard to live with. She made friends easily and soon had a pretty good group of friends in Perth which I guess was OK with Bill until she told them that she felt she was very lucky to find Bill, especially since he was impotent (which she considered a real plus)! Bill was not amused and their marriage went downhill from there. Bill ended up in prison for wife abuse, apparently they take that quite seriously in Australia, and Dolly ended up with his house and a pension.
Anyway, that was Dolly’s life in a nutshell. She died two years ago with her eldest daughter Debby the only family within 5,000 miles of her. I talked to her on the phone the day before she died and she was in typically good humor even though she knew her time was near. I’ve regretted not being able to see her for the last 25 or so years but Perth is really a long ways away, even if you’re in Australia.
Like I said, Dolly was a lot of fun and there are a lot of stories about her that illustrates that fact. For instance there is the one about her trip to the gynecologist. I don’t know why she went to the doctor, maybe it was just a check-up, but Dolly was a little embarrassed to be lying on the examining table with her feet in the stirrups and with nothing on but a sheet. She really didn’t want to get into a discussion with the doctor about ANYTHING so when he came into the examination room she pulled the sheet up over her head so she wouldn’t have to look at him. Well, he wanted to talk to HER, so as he was examining her he pulled the sheet over his head too and proceeded to have a conversation. I’m sure she shrieked and made a bit of a commotion because I’ve seen her do it before.
Another one that is typically Dolly is about the house she had at 1059 Tyler which had always been used as a precinct polling place. When Dolly and Roy bought the house they continued to let it be used as a voting place. Well, one election year my brother Pete and Dolly decided that they would make some home brew which they produced in the bathtub. They bottled the stuff and stored it in the basement which is (you guessed it) where the voting booths were set up. The bottles were exploding and the place smelled …well, like a brewery! It created quite a stir amongst the voters. That was the last year that it was used as a polling place.
Patty and I visited Dolly and her second husband, Bob Boyd, in Page, Arizona one year while we lived in Denver. Bob told us a story about how he had saved Dolly’s Pomeranian, who had been electrocuted from biting an electric cord, by giving him mouth to mouth resuscitation. I don’t know why she would divorce a guy who would do that.
Well, that’s my sister Dolly. She seemed to be able to find the fun side of life and that is what defined her in my eyes.

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