Friday, August 12, 2011

FIGMO (F*#K It Got My Orders) at last!

 FIGMO, or "Short Timer" ribbon from a Seagrams bottle
Hear Pat read this entry 

1966 proved to be a pretty easy stretch for me.  I'd gotten used to North Dakota winters by the time Fall rolled around, and knew how to deal with the weather.   First and foremost, you had to get the car ready.  That meant you had to check the block heater... that's a heating element that you install on the engine to keep the oil warm, if it got too viscous the starter wouldn't turn over.  When you see cars with electrical plugs hanging out the grill, that's what they're for.  You actually plug your car into an electrical outlet when you park it.  You made sure that you installed your snow tires, or checked your chains.  Proper tire inflation was a must too, otherwise in the really cold weather you'd have flat spots on your tires until they warmed up.  You bought little, clear, plastic ovals that you stuck on the windows so that when the window was frozen over, you had a place to see out.  On the coldest days the radio speaker would freeze, until it warmed up the thing sounded like you'd blown a transistor.

Dressing for the weather was the most important thing you could do for your own safety.  Getting frost bite was a Courts martial offense, so you made damn sure you wearing Bunny Pants, Mukluks, 3 layers of gloves including heavy mitts, insulated underwear and a gigantic parka with fur around the hood.  If you had to walk more than ½ mile in that weather the moisture from your breath would freeze and ice up the fur, your eyebrows and your nose hair.  I kid you not, your nose hair would freeze!

On numerous occasions we'd hear of a farmer somewhere who went outside, grabbed a pump handle with his bare hands and froze to it.  Someone would have to come out with hot water and help him.

Driving in that weather wasn't as difficult as it might seem since the snow was so cold it never got wet and slippery.  It was just like driving on pavement, but people did get stuck from time to time and that could kill you.  You ALWAYS carried an emergency pack in your car consisting of food, some blankets and some long lasting candles.  Lighting one of those and setting it in the ashtray could warm up the interior of a car enough that you could survive until someone dug you out.

One reason that North Dakotans are so friendly I suppose, is because of the harsh environment.  People have to rely upon one another, you always looked after your neighbor.  If you were going out for instance, you told your neighbor where you were going, the route you planned to take, and how long you thought it would take for you to get there.   If you hadn't checked in within a reasonable time limit, they'd head out to check up on you.  That's just the way it was, you got used to it.

1966 was also the year that the war in Vietnam was starting to ramp up to the point that it became a national obsession.  In March 20,000 people took part in a protest in New York City.  Also that year, numerous war vets attempted to return their decorations to the White House but were turned away.

The musicians of the day were turning out songs protesting Viet Nam, and war in general.  Barry McGuire's “Eve Of Destruction” was the first of many.   I began to sense a change in the usually, friendly attitude of some Minot residents.  There had been reports of scuffles between fly boys and locals at drive in restaurants, bars and other locations.  It got to the point where many of us refused to wear fatigues off base.  I changed into civilian clothes before I left work, and once I cleared the gate I pulled the identification sticker down from the windshield.   Better safe than sorry.

I was beginning to sense an ugly truth about our country's leadership... they had no clue what they'd gotten themselves in to.  The North Vietnamese weren't about to concede defeat to an invasionary force.  They were more than willing to fight to the death, and with Soviet and Chinese help, were a formidable adversary.  They were NOT about to give up, we all saw that but our leaders did not, and consequently nearly 60,000 US soldiers died in a war that never had to happen.

These guys never seem to learn do they?

Now even though I was a fully trained engine mechanic, and even though I was trained on the same inertial guidance system used by the F-4 fighters I was never in any danger of shipping to Viet Nam.  Minot was where I was, and Minot was where I would stay no matter what.  That meant I couldn't get a transfer if I wanted one, none of us could.  If you were a missile tech, you were stuck.  You couldn't get a stripe either, rank was frozen in our career field.  I saw squadron clerks getting stripes, but none of the techs could.  There was seriously no future in the Air Force.

Also I began to see another nasty side of the Air Force.  It seemed like every time one of our senior NCOs was approaching retirement, he'd be called in for a medical exam.  They'd inevitably find some medical issue and kick him out on a partial disability, thereby cheating him out of his full retirement benefits.  It was one of the sleaziest things I'd ever seen.  I understand that today's Air Force has changed completely.  That's nice, but what I saw was enough to make me sick.  I'd had it with the Air Force, I knew I was getting out!

By the time the Spring of 1967 arrived I'd taken several trips back to Michigan to scout out colleges.   I'd receive a generous veteran's benefit which would pay my entire tuition and most other costs.  I needed a school in a town where I could pursue my radio career as well, I had a family to support and needed full-time employment.  I looked into Michigan State, but couldn't be sure I'd get hired.  Same situation with The University of Michigan.  My last choice was the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, but with a job waiting for me when I got out U.N.D it was.

The retention officer saw the "Short Timer" ribbon... the ribbon from a Seagrams whiskey bottle... on my fatigues, and rhetorically asked:

“How do you want it, hell no, shit no or f%#k no?”

“Ummm, hell, shit f%#k no has a nice ring to it, just say that!”

I got my discharge papers on July 5, 1967.   I thought about making some kind of statement when I left, a grand gesture of some kind... maybe take a pee on the AP Booth or something. When my front wheels hit that gate all I could do was put the pedal to the metal, and get the hell out of there.  I kept glancing in the mirror, afraid that I'd see a blue AP truck following me with it's lights flashing and some guy yelling out the window “There's been a mistake, you have to stay in!!!”

After my discharge I was to serve several years in inactive reserve, so I was supposed to keep all my uniforms in good repair.

That night I started a nice bonfire and burned every one of them.

No comments:

Post a Comment