|It all started one Friday night. I had the week’s paycheck in my pocket, and we were shooting darts
and drinking beer at Murray’s Bar on Kensington Avenue, just hanging out and enjoying life. Then
Stosh, Stanley Patler, told us that he had just signed up to join the Navy. He said that Uncle Sam
was sneaking up on him, intent on putting him in the Army and sending him to Korea, and that he
would rather go there on a Navy ship wearing a Navy uniform. Wow, that was shocking news.
Stosh was just a little older than I, and if Uncle Sam was breathing down his neck then I would soon
be getting some hot breath down my neck too.
I had just been too busy to think about it. I had recently graduated from high school and was now a
machinist at Standard Pressed Steel making Flexloc nuts during the day, and either attending
classes at Drexel or studying bonehead English or bonehead math at home during the nights and
weekends, and doing little else. The Stosh shock prompted me to check on a deferment. I found
out that an indefinite deferment, for my job, was out. I could only get deferred for the length of time
I had worked there, about 6 months, after which I would go straight into the Army.
I did not want to sleep in a cold, wet, muddy foxhole. Sleeping in a warm, dry, clean bunk aboard a
ship sounded much better. So, since I had been a Sea Scout and liked boating, I decided that I too
would join the Navy. So I went down to 13th and Market Street, where the Navy and Air Force
recruiting office was, to join the Navy. When I got there, there was a big long line for the Navy but
no line at all for the Air Force. So I joined the AF. (I hate long lines; more on that latter.)
Come the day of induction, I went down to the Philly airport and looked around while waiting. Saw
a tired old Resort Airlines DC3, painted gray. The paint was chipped and pealing. It made that
plane look like it was the Last Resort Airline. Ha ha ha. At the appointed hour, they took us to the
aircraft parking area and marched us straight out to that Last Resort Airline plane. Ha ha ha.
We went south to North Carolina? to refuel, before turning right to go to Texas. Hit a storm.
Bounced around a lot. The wings were flapping so hard, the paint went flying off into the wild blue
yonder. Half of the guys got sick, the copilot and one of the stewardesses too. I think it was God's
way of saying: "Welcome to the USAF, ho ho ho."
We landed at San Antonio, Texas, the biggest bull shipping state in the nation. Basic training at
Lackland AFB. Sergeant Billy Bob “Napoleon” (aka Little Billy Bob) was our Barracks Chief.
(Those little guys sure have their complexes.) Volunteered for pilot training. They took us out to
the stables and told us to pile it high. Never volunteer. Got high scores on most of the categories
of the aptitude test, so I had my choice. Chose to be an Aircraft & Engine mechanic. Got assigned
to go to UC Santa Maria, in California, for A&E school, but at the last minute I was red-lined for
mandatory quota. SNAFU.
Went to a “casual barracks”. Did KP and other menial tasks. Was eventually reassigned to go to
Radar Mechanics school in Biloxi Mississippi. I didn't know anything about electronics let alone
radar; and I didn't know anything about Biloxi, except that it was hot and humid and full of rebels
and grits. So I fought tooth and nail to get reassigned to A&E school. Up the chain of command I
went. I ended up with Colonel Somebody, a mean old crusty cuss. After he satisfied himself that I
really did want to go to A&E school and not just get back to Santa Maria, he announced that he
was going to send me to the asshole of the world.
Sheppard Field AFB, Wichita Falls, Texas. Casual barracks, KP and other menial tasks. After a
week or two I was assigned to a squadron and a barracks. My new Barracks Chief was
“Pentecostal Pete”; he was a Pentecost and his name was Pete. He used to stand up on a foot
locker and preach to us, or rather at us. He would always finish with: “I have given you The Word,
and if you do not accept The Word, you will go to hell.” He did not last long and when he left, I was
appointed Barracks Chief.
Sheppard was not a happy place. The town people hated the GIs. The GIs hated the town
people. And the GIs hated the GIs. And the chow was bad. If you donated blood they gave you a
steak dinner. I donated blood once a month. A&E School was OK. The top 3 students were pulled
out a few weeks prior to graduation and sent to jet mechanics school in Amarillo, Texas.
When I got to Amarillo AFB to start JM school, they said: “No can do.” They changed their modus
operandi. They no longer took pulled-out-early A&E students. Now they take guys right out of
Basic Training. They completely changed their curriculum and could not fit us in. Another SNAFU.
Casual barracks. KP, etc. Until they reassigned me to go to Chanute Field AFB, in Rantoul,
Illinois, to go to DC Electricity school. OMG, I fought tooth and nail to get out of going to radar
school and now they want me to learn DC e-lec-tric-i-ty? That was probably the low point of my
But, when I got to Chanute they said that I could not start DCE because I never completed A&E! I
did not have the right Air Force Specialty Code (AFSC), and I did not have the requisite 6 months of
time-in-grade with an A&E AFSC, to qualify for going to DCE school. Another SNAFU.
Casual barracks. KP ... While waiting around for The Powers That Be to straighten out the mess I
was in, I found out that there was a Flight Engineer school on the base. It was a good deal. You
had to go to FE school for 6 months but then you graduated as a Staff Sergeant and was assigned
to a B29 squadron. So, on the off chance that I might be able to wheedle my way into that school, I
went over to their squadron and talked to their First Sergeant. He said that if I had an A&E AFSC
and 6 months time in grade, then I could apply for entry to his school. I told him my story. When he
stopped laughing, he sent me to see Major So-and-So.
The Major told me that he had the power to waver the prerequisites, provided I passed all of the
tests. I passed the written tests. I passed the medical tests. I passed the altitude chamber test.
But when I went back to see the Major, he said that he had just lost the power to wave the
prerequisites. Another SNAFU.
Back to KP ect. And then I thought, what the heck, why not sign up for OCS. I would have to
extend for one more year, but anything was better than KP. So I did it. I took a bunch of tests, got
accepted, packed my bags, went to the orderly room to sign out, and there the First Sergeant
asked me: "Of course you know that once you sign these papers, you will be in the Reserves for 8
years after you get out?" What??? No one told me that before!!! I respectfully declined to sign the
papers, and that was the end of that. Back to situation normal.
KP ... Eventually The Powers resolved the dilemma and I started DCE school. I liked it. So I
signed up for the follow-on AC Electricity school too, got accepted, and later graduated. Finally, I
had a valid AFSC – Aircraft Electrician (AE).
Then I was assigned to go to Korea. One of my fellow AEs, I forget his name, a Kansas farm boy,
told me that he was disappointed that he had been assigned to go to Travis AFB in California,
whereas he wanted to go to Korea and see the world. Welllll, since I have such a big heart, I
volunteered to go to California in his place. We went to see the First Sergeant and told him our
story. No problem. California, here I come.
Travis AFB, near Fairfield, California. The maintenance squadron was quartered in the Sherwood
Forest area of the base. Eucalyptus trees. “The wind was so strong that it blew the bark right off
the trees.” Ha ha ha. The squadron had room for 15 AEs; I was AE #40 - another SNAFU. At first
it was fun. We took turns working. Showed up for roll call and then took the rest of the day off.
Until they solved the problem. Since I had gone to A&E school, they changed me "back" to an A&E
mechanic, aka APG mechanic. So I greased landing wheel bearings and other such menial tasks.
Big problem! In order to get promoted you have to pass a qualifying test in your AFSC. But, I did
not have an A&E or even an APG AFSC! I had an AE AFSC only. How was I supposed to pass an
AE test when I was only getting APG experience??? Hell, I couldn't even pass an A&E test with
only APG experience! Still another SNAFU. This one could be a FUBAR situation!
Fortunately I had heard that one of the gunners on a B-36 must also be an AE. So, on the off
chance that I might be able to wangle my way into a gunner's position on a B-36, I went over to the
B-36 Wing HQ and asked around. I ended up with Colonel White. One of those Ivan the Terrible
types. Everyone cringed in his presence. Except me. For some reason he liked me. There was
nothing he couldn't do, so what he did was to set me up in the Wing Gunnery Office under Major
Hogg (it rhymes with rogue, or else...). There I was to sit until Colonel White could find a way to get
around the facts that I had not gone to gunnery school in Denver, and still had not achieved 6
months of time in grade with an AE AFSC.
So there I sat, at the WGO, writing the Monthly Gunnery Historical Report (a long story) among
other things. But I had one problem – I couldn't spell worth a darn. I wrote the Monthly Gunnery
“Histerical” Report. I never heard the end of it, even though my spelling more accurately described
the situation. Don’t ask. And then, wa-la, Colonel White came through – I was reassigned to the
23rd RB-36 Squadron of the 5th Wing of SAC, with a GWE AFSC!
Now I was in clover. I started off on Major Yager’s crew, eventually making GCC (I never went to
gunnery school and now I was the gunnery crew chief!), and ended up on Major Fager’s (Fearless
Fager’s) crew, the best crew in the squadron. Alleluia! And amen!
I am not of the military persuasion. I want me to be in charge of me. I want to decide what, when,
where, how, and why, for myself. Of course the military doesn't operate that way, so I never
considered reenlisting, despite the fact that I did end up in an enjoyable situation. And they gave
me the GI Bill, with which I got a BSEE at Cal. It changed my life, for which I remain eternally
grateful. I am a big fan of the GI Bill (110$/month) and of Junior Collages (6.50$/semester). State
universities too (35$/semister). And spell-check.
In telling this story in less than 2000 words, I had to omit many interesting side stories. But I will
leave you with this one little tidbit. Wendell Young was a semi incompetent yahoo who made it all
the way to Top Sergeant simply by serving his time and not getting into any serious trouble. I didn't
like him, and he didn't like me. When clearing out of the squadron to resume civilian life, I had to
get his signature. During that formality he said to me: “I know you Kluznick, you just can't wait for
me to die so you can piss on my grave.” I said: “No, Wendell,,, I hate long lines."
How I Became a Gunner In 9 Easy Steps
6 ea. R-4360 reciprocating
engines with pusher props, and
4 ea. J47 turbojet engines.
|aka A&E, RM, JM, AFSC, KP, FE, OCS, DCE, ACE, AE, APG, WGO, GWE, GCC, BSEE
|United States Air Force
Air Force Base
Aircraft and Engine mechanic
Air Force Specialty Code
Officer Candidate School
Direct Current Electricity
Alternating Current Electricity
AirPlane General mechanic, sans engines
Wing Gunnery Office
Strategic Air Command
Gunner, Waist, Electrician
Gunnery Crew Chief
Bachelor of Science, Electrical Engineering
Situation Normal - All F'ed Up
F'ed up beyond all repair.