Martinsville, VA

house in Martinsville, VA
This is the house where my family & I grew up in Martinsville, VA

My parents relocated the family in the 1940s from Roanoke, VA, to a small industrial city called Martinsville, VA. It was the furniture capital of the USA and recently built Dupont, which produced nylon for the war effort. It was a prosperous little city but had its drawbacks. The city was divided into three sections: the people of wealth, the “south side” where the not-so-wealthy lived, and the “cherry town” where all the blacks ate, lived and played.

As for me, I was a south side boy. Growing up in the south side was survival of the fittest. You learned at a very young age that nothing was given to you and if you were to make it had to be on your own initiative, and that was being street smart.

I had two brothers, one an intellect and the other a street-smart survivor. So naturally, I leaned more towards my brother, who was a damn good street fighter. He taught me how to fight and how to win. No mercy.

The South side was a tough neighborhood, and the kids I associated with were mostly juvenile delinquents and bullies, having faced the county judge on several occasions for petty theft, breaking and entering, and an assortment of other crimes. I can only remember a few of the kids that didn’t serve time in the reformatory and or later prison. I guess I was lucky in that respect since I was only arrested twice for misdemeanors.

I was a regular at many Honky tonks, knew many of the bootleggers by their first name, and worked for some of them at their distilleries. Those 100-pound bags of sugar sure got heavy carrying them through the woods. I was good with my fists and can’t ever remember losing a fight, dirty or otherwise.

As I got older, I became more thoughtful about my fighting. Martinsville was no different from other small towns where they used to have bare-knuckle fighting behind gas stations and olf tobacco warehouses. That’s where I made my spending money.

We grow up and hopefully get a little brighter. However, my fighting carried over into adult life. More on that later.

I also joined the Army National Guard at age 17. I was in the 129th Infantry Division. The division distinguished itself at Normandy Beach during the second world war. I was honored to serve with one of the veterans that served in the same division and fought at Normandy Beach. That may have been my first encounter with growing up and becoming a responsible individual. That coupled with new high school friends and educational advisors.

I joined the United States Air Force in 1956. A whole new chapter in my life. It’s 1956, and no more high school. What to do with the rest of my life. College was out of the question because my high school scholastic record was way below the genius level. And the fact my parents didn’t have the monetary means to support another kid in college.

They were already helping my middle brother through the University of Richmond. I had always leaned toward the armed forces, especially the United States Air Force. As I reflect back on growing up as a young boy, I always advised my oldest brother, who was in the Air Force.

As I reflect back on growing up as a young boy, I always admired my oldest brother, who was in the Air Force. When he was home on leave, I used to bombard him with questions about military life in general. When we rode in his car, I would always put on his Garrison hat, slump down in the seat, so only my head was visible to any viewing person, and render a “highball salute.” Now his was a few years before 1956.

Now it’s 1956, and I’m 19 years old. Without saying a word to my parents, I went to see the Air Force recruiter, who promptly signed me up. My parents weren’t the least bit shocked, and the following day, I was on my way to Roanoke, VA, to start my Air Force career. In Roanoke, I was given a physical, a number of vaccinations, and a battery of IQ tests. The vaccinations weren’t so bad because I had already received a number of immunizations while in the National Guard.

The other guys were dropping like flies. The tetanus shot was a bear. Needless to say my qualifying tests scores weren’t all that great, marginal at best, but I did score high in mechanics. From Roanoke to Basic Military Training at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas for eight weeks.

In basic training I was made a platoon leader because of my prior National Guard service. I started my military career leading boys in basic training and ended my 30 years military service as Command Chief Master Sergeant providing leadership and mentorship to our men and women in blue.

From Lackland to Military Technical Training School at Lowery Air Force Base, Colorado for 16 weeks. I was placed in the Air Force Specialty Code (AFSC) as a 46230 Munitions Specialist. Later we became known as bomb loaders or bee bee stackers. All of my classroom academic training was on the night shift and the physical hands on training during the day.

I guess they didn’t want us to blow ourselves up the dark. 16 weeks went by fast and I received my first duty assignment to Barksdale Air Force Base, Shreveport, Louisiana. I was melassigned and spent three months performing extra duty for a crusty old sergeant, who did nothing buy preach getting a higher education if I was going to stay in the Air Force.

At that time little did I know just how right he was. I had lots of free time on my hands since the Air Force couldn’t find an assignment for me. I was a regular at many of the night clubs in Shreveport and Shreveport was a wide open city at that time.

I met Elvis Presly one evening at a bar and he was really a nice guy. His music fame hadn’t really taken off and he was still on the ground floor of his career. Finally, I get an assignment to camp Leroy Johnson in New Orleans, Louisiana. The camp was opened in 1942 as the New Orleans Army Air Base. There were no Air Force personnel assigned to Camp Leroy Johnson. I was again melassigned.

Another month at Barksdale and I get an assignment to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, Goldsboro, North Carolina. It’s now 1957. I arrive at Seymour Johnson late in the evening around 7:00 p.m. that’s 1900 hundred hours military time and the town had already closed its doors. Not a creature was steering.

I finally located a pay phone and called the number that was given to me along with my military orders. The Air Police, now the Security Forces, showed up at the bus terminal and transported to a dormitory (barracks) where I was given bedding and taken to a room with a single steel bed and a upright metal clothes cabinet/locker.

My first real indoctrination to barracks life. The next morning I reported to the 32nd Fighter Day Wing orderly room, which was adjacent to the dormitory. I learned later that Seymour was a fighter day wing because the aircraft weren’t equipped to fly and fight at night. There were a few F-86 Saber Jets attached to the wing.

The United States Air Force wasn’t founded until September 18, 1947. So, the Air Force was only 9 years old when I enlisted. After signing in at the orderly room I was taken to the First Sergeant, also called First Shirt, who gave me a lecture on how to conduct myself on and off the base.

Goldsboro was a dry county. No hard liquor. Fortunately, you could buy beer ate age 18. Had this been the neighboring State of Virginia the age was 21. Thank goodness for North Carolina laws. The best thing about being stationed a Seymour was my hometown of Martinsville was only 160 miles away.

I spent almost every weekend hitch hiking back and forth to see my parent’s. The 10 months I was stationed at Seymour I spent almost as much time in Martinsville as I did at the base. Seymour Johnson wasn’t a fully operational wing by any sense of the imagination. I was assigned to Base Supply. I spent my days working in the supply warehouse or cutting grass in the newly developed munitions storage area.

We had no munitions accountability the entire time I was stationed there. My most outstanding accomplishment was building a two state “outhouse”. Luckily we had a river a short walking distance away and that’s where we spent most of our time when not cutting grass.

The fishing was great. One day I got notified that I’m being sent on complex assembling 2.75 rockets. Finally, something I had been trained to do. The day I was supposed to depart for (TDY) to Eglin Air Force Base, Florida to work in the munitions complex assembling 2.75 rockets. Finally, something I had been trained to do.

The First Shirt informed me that he had an Airman, who was recently married, and didn’t wat to go overseas. He asked me if I wanted to take his place and go to Spain. In those days the First Shirt could personnel assignment changes without having to get approval from the Military Personnel Center (MPC) at Randolph AFB, Texas. I jumped at the opportunity. And this is where my Air Force career really starts. From 19957 to 1986 I served over 25 years overseas. Its 1957 and I’m headed for Torrejon Air Base, Spain.

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