1955 to 1958 Marriage, Flying and Learning


Editor’s Comment: In the story of my life I was never going to write about my marriage, but as I have posted in the last two weeks I have come to understand that I have to talk about them because they were a part of my life. So here it is the way I saw it.

Ellsworth AFB

The night I arrived in Rapid City there were a bunch of people, off duty Airmen, who were leaving a nearby bar. The bar had just closed and these guys were really drunk and acting very drunk. The bar had waitresses that were mostly local Indian girls and you could tell a couple of them were pregnant.

I didn’t like what I saw and did not feel good about Rapid City that night. I’ll go through some of the details of my stay at Ellsworth, but I’ll start about being lonely.

It was still summer when I arrived in 1955, I was an Airman Third Class and excited about actually working as a radar operator. I was assigned to Charlie Crew and was excited to get to work. I had just turned 18.

The 740th was an Air Defense Command (ADC) radar site attached to Ellsworth AFB in South Dakota.  I say “attached” because Ellsworth was a SAC base, (Strategic Air Command) during the days of General LeMay.

Being in the ADC and not SAC was an ideal situation for us because we didn’t have to partake in all the rules and regulations that General LeMay had set for the SAC.

We didn’t have to line up for parade events and be inspected, we could stay in bed while an inspection was going on because the 740th was a 24/7 operation and the inspectors wouldn’t know if you just got off a midnight shift or not.

Our call sign was “Rollerskate” and an ADC fighter squadron of F-86D’s was also based at Ellsworth with a call sign of “Campaign.”

When I arrived at Ellsworth the SAC had B-36 bombers and C-124’s that were part of the MAC (Material Air Command.)  I think the SAC call sign was “Ragtime” and I can’t remember any call sign for the C-124 Globemaster’s.  I think it was in 1956 when the first B-52’s started replacing the B-36’s.

My entire life I had wanted to become a pilot and while I wasn’t a college graduate there was a way to become one by making a certain rank and passing some severe tests. That was my plan.

I took a thirty day leave in September 1955 and before I knew it, I was married. That may sound funny to you, but that’s what happened. I was engaged and I had bought the ring when I was on leave before I went to Tech school in Biloxi, but I didn’t know any date had been set.

My girlfriend had conspired with my mother to railroad me into getting married while I was on leave. I didn’t put up much of a fight and I was really lonely in South Dakota and I thought I loved her. I really did, as much as an 18 year old kid can.

For some reason or another my mom had got rid of all my clothes and sold my 1941 Ford. It was in her name because when I bought it I was only 16. I really had a fit about that.

So with no clothes, no car and no money, I got married in my Class A Khaki Air Force uniform. My fiancé was Italian and she kept saying for me not to worry about anything, it would all work out.

The wedding party was held in her mom and dad’s back yard and it was really nice and a lot of Italian’s showed up. I didn’t know about the custom of pinning money and giving the newlyweds envelopes and we got plenty.

I can remember us sitting in her bedroom sitting on the bed counting the money. I think we got about $3300.00 in 1955 money. That almost $30,000 today. Now I knew what she meant when she said, “Don’t worry about the money.”

With our newly found fortune I was able to take her to San Francisco when San Fran was one of the most beautiful cities in the world.  We went up on the same train that had taken me to Parks AFB in January of that year, but this time it was a different adventure.

I’ll just say this about the honeymoon. When you are an 18 year old kid/man and you have sex, legal sex, for the first time, sex without having to worry about anything happening to you, sex that even her mother and father wants you to have, it is the greatest feeling in the world. I like all married couples on their honeymoon, we made her mother and father as happy as we could as often as we could.

After the honeymoon we decided she was going back to Rapid City with me and I would live Off Base with her. What an adventure.

The wedding money paid for all this to happen and we were as happy as two peas in a pod as we started our married life together.

I learned something about Rapid City while we were looking for an apartment, some Rapid City residents didn’t like airmen. There would be signs in their yard that said, “No Salesmen and NO Airman.” We finally found a cute little attic apartment rented by a married older couple. He was a truck driver and was away from home a lot and she was a very nice lady. They had a very large black dog named Blackie.

Because I lived off base and was married I received an increase in pay to $137.00 per month. Our little one bedroom attic apartment was $65.00 per month. A lieutenant at my squadron knew I didn’t have a car so he let me borrow his VW while we were looking.

Then he offered to sell me his 1950 four door Packard for only $300.00 and I jumped at the chance. That’s what you do when you’re 18, you jump before you think or check things out. To make a long story short, that car would get 200 miles on a quart of oil. I would have a case of oil in the trunk.

More than anything in the world, my wife wanted to have a baby. You have to understand this was 1955 and that’s what girls did after graduation. They got married and had kids. Being a mother was a good thing respected by all of society.

Almost all women were stay at home moms. In fact I still don’t like that term, stay at home moms. I think instead of stay at home moms, women who are mothers and work should be called ‘not at home moms.”

Every month my wife would cry her eyes out when she found out she wasn’t pregnant. (Didn’t I explain that nicely?”)

She cried for almost six months and then it happened. She was pregnant. Oh happy day!

For some reason or another we would always run out of money two or three days before payday. Our main drink was Kool Aid and our main dishes were spaghetti, ground beef and potato’s and eggs. I wasn’t allowed to eat at the base chow hall and we literally starved for a couple of days each month.

The guys on my crew would sneak sandwiches to me and I would take them home for dinner at times. Then there was Blackie. You know the dog from down stairs.

Our landlady would feed him like a king. She would fry him an entire round steak and then open her back door a yell, “Here Blackie.” At which point she would toss the freshly fried round steak out the door.

One night we were really hungry and I was working the midnight shift so I couldn’t get a sandwich back until the morning so while I was taking some trash out I noticed our landlady frying Blackie’s steak for that night. I immediately went around the corner and then peeked back to see when she would throw the steak out. My plan was to beat Blackie to the steak without her knowing about it.

I would have given him half, if I got it. But there was no way I could beat that dog to that steak without shooting him. I tried at least three times while I was there.

As time went by and before the baby was born I received a promotion and I started working some part time jobs. I washed cars at a gas station when I could, I cleaned yards and mowed lawns when I could and the I decided to become a Mason shoe salesman.

When you order the Mason shoe kit you only get a two inch cross section of a shoe and some sheet to mark a customer’s shoe size. With that and after reading the training manual I went out and started making cold calls.

Mason Shoes would send you an actual shoe after you sold I can’t remember how many shoes, but when I did they wanted me to sell a dozen more before I got my sample shoe because of my age. I think I may have been 19 by then.

I really got mad at Mason Shoe and thought they were trying to take advantage of me because of my age and I think I got another promotion to Airman First Class. I sent them a letter resigning and telling them off. That made me feel good.

My wife had our first child in November of 1956 and, as per that time, I wasn’t in the delivery room watching anything. It was considered off limits to men. We waited in the outer waiting room or in a bar waiting to celebrate the birth.

We (men) would buy a few cigars with blue bands and pink bands. As soon as we knew what the baby was, we passed the appropriate banded cigars around and had few drinks in celebration. There is no way on earth that anyone would ever get me to watch a birth. NEVER!!!

In those days and I hope now, the waiting period was thirty days before having sex, after the child is born. We waited thinking, no we waited and didn’t think. The first time I touched her she got pregnant again. Nine months later she had our second child.

I was in a state of, I would call it nervousness to put it mildly. After the thirty day wait we didn’t ever think lightning could strike again, but it did. After the thirty days she was pregnant again and now I went into a state of complete shock. I was twenty years old, we had three children under 2 ½ years of age. She was pregnant 27 months out of 29 months. How’s that for a record.

My only salvation was work and I worked my butt off. I learned everything that could be learned about radar operations and then intercept controlling. I would volunteer for extra shifts and I learned something I had never done before. I learned the fish and hunt.

I didn’t like fish, but our neighbors did and my wife and I would go fishing with the kids still in diapers, I hunted pheasant, ducks, turkey, deer and antelope and while I was the worst shot in the world I managed to get a turkey for Thanksgiving, enough pheasants to learn pheasant is better that anything baked or fried, but I never got a deer.

I shot an antelope and gutted him out in the field and skinned him when I get home. As a city slicker I was learning and doing things I never dreamed of but I never acquired a taste for antelope or duck.

When I thought had the time and rank to apply for flight training I found out I couldn’t because I was married. That really got to me and I was very unhappy about that, BUT somehow I salted away enough money to take flying lessons.

After taking the required ground school and started the flight training I was shooting landings with my instructor. I had a total of nine hours of flying at the time. I was making landings so good the only way we knew we were on the ground was by hearing the tires screech. They were really good landings. They were touch and goes that is you land and then apply power and take off again.

I had just made another great landing and my instructor told me to make it a full stop and taxi over by the parking area. I did thinking the day was done when he gets out and looks at me and say, “You’re ready to go.”

I begged him to get back in and let’s do one more together, but he maintained I was ready to solo. With that I sucked it up and taxied to the end of the runway and took off.

As I made my left turn on the downwind I looked down and saw him down there looking up at me. I felt good. I turned left to the base leg and the left on the final leg.

Before we go any further there is one thing you are taught while flying and that is to never squeeze the stick real tight. In fact you are taught to barely hold the stick with two fingers. If you squeeze tightly you end up fighting your own muscles and nothing gets done.

Back to my final approach. Without knowing it, I started squeezing the stick more and more the closer I got to the ground. By the time I touched down my own strength was preventing me from moving the stick.

I bounced on the right wheel, up in the air and bounced on the left wheel and while this was going on I was heading off the side of the runway. At that point I had two choices. Crash off the side of the runway or apply power and take off again. I applied power. Understand, all this happens in a split second.

Once I was airborne again I had solved my immediate problem, but I was back in the air and had to land again. My second attempt wasn’t as bad, but it was bad. I was able to come to a full stop and taxied to my instructor and he read me the riot act.

He got in and we took off and I was just fine. I made some great landings and we called it a day. I took another two hours of dual training and then I soloed again and never looked back. I was a pilot. I continued my training in navigation, aerobatics, cross country flying and when I took my FAA exam, I passed with flying colors.

I learned something about soloing in an aircraft. When you are in the air alone, there is no one on earth who can help you get down. You must do it on your own. Think about it. You could be stranded in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, in a raft, but there is always the possibility someone may sail by and save you. When you’re flying it’s just you and God.

NEXT: 1956 – 1958 Ellsworth and My job