This Web page was updated last on February 5, 2008 by Terry Hicks.
I was paired-up in a room with this guy who was on his way to Vietnam. He wasn't infantry, but some other support MOS. He wasn’t too happy understandably, just leaving his girl-friend and family behind mere hours ago. I knew I wasn’t going to Vietnam myself and tried to console him as much as possible, knowing his MOS wasn’t going to take him out into “the boonies” anyway. Hell, he was a draftee and would be out of the service in less than two years! He didn’t "buy" those words of encouragement.
Next morning, early, we all got on a military bus taking us to Fort Lewis, Washington - for a multi-day layover. We were awaiting a MAC flight (Military Air Command) out of McCord Air Force Base to Elmendorf AFB, Alaska, which is close to Anchorage. All were put up in the typical barracks of the day, old World War II “temporary” buildings, located on Fort Lewis’ North Fort. By the way, this building is still standing to this day, as of November 2002 anyway, and located just west across the gravel/grass of the ROTC summer training camp.
The barracks was maxed-out but I finally met up with my other AIT buddies enroute to Shemya. We immediately set up a little defensive-perimeter in our section - at the end of the second-floor of this dump, managing to get into both corners. There were infantry types up there with us, you name it. All raising Hell since they didn’t have anything to loose. Vietnam bound! You had to really watch your equipment. Being PFCs, we didn’t have to pull any details while there to our relief (transient status), and ended up staying there three pitiful nights. I thought of Jimi Hendrix being from Seattle, a scant 50 miles north. He was an ex-Army paratrooper (101st ABN) roughly around the May, 1961 - June, 1962 era.
Ending up not having to catch a MAC flight out of McCord, we lucked out and were bused to SEATAC instead. After a multi-hour wait, all got on a Alaskan Airlines 727 to Anchorage. Along the way, I looked out of the plane’s window and saw all the snow-covered mountain tops and ranges, as we made our way northward to Alaska. Thought to myself, “I wouldn’t like to go down anywhere along here!”
Being a military-contract flight, the stewardi couldn’t serve drinks, even for those that were old enough. They sure were nice though and provided a nice change of scenery for a change! The end of the flight came all too soon and a military bus whisked us off to another transient-barracks on Fort Richardson. These barracks were in nicer shape than those we had just left at Fort Lewis. They were the typical three-story, cinder-block '50s-style.
It was getting pretty late in the day and I noticed that the July sun wasn’t setting. Wow! What’s going on? All it did was go down enough to follow the horizon and then come back up again, getting dark enough just for the cars to turn on their lights - for safety purposes. I slept for a few hours anyway but at around 2 a.m. the sun woke me up. It’s unnatural to sleep during day-light, so a bunch of us got up and went outside and threw a baseball around. Some guy yelled out of the window for us to get off the grass! In those days that was the rule: "Dogs and GIs keep off the grass!"
At 0730 hours we had to report to some office that told us we’d have to stay at least a week here, and in the meantime, had to pull details. That’s all we needed to hear! I thought when you were in transient-status, you didn't pull details? The good old Army slave-labor routine again. By this time the Air Force had contracted out all their stuff so their Airmen could concentrate and “do their military jobs!” Not the Army. So out came the brooms and mop buckets we were all too familiar with. Emptying out trash cans with tobacco spit in them, coffee grounds, ash-trays, the works! The old NCO there was pretty cool though and didn’t “dog” us too much. He usually let us off around 1630 hours, so back to the barracks we went to change into “civvies” for a trip into Anchorage.
Hitch-hiking into Anchorage was the way to go. The folks along the highway were real nice and understood our situation. Crime wasn't an issue back then. The sun was following the horizon again but we could see real well. Arriving in town, we noticed that the beer was pretty expensive, but since practically all of us were only 19 years old, couldn’t get in to enjoy them anyway. The state of Alaska was real strict back then! So, milling around, we saw a poster indicating that the Turtles were going to be in town - in a couple of days, performing at the National Guard Armory. We decided that this was for us. Still milling around town, I noticed that some of folks looked like native-Americans. In reality, they were "Aleuts" and Eskimos. The shops all had trinkets of the region - like miniature Seals made of real Seal-skin with tusks. I bought one and eventually sent it back to my sister.
A couple more days of details kept us busy. Thank GOD we didn’t have to pull KP there! A fate worse than death itself! KP was a continual threat for soldiers until you reached the rank of E-5. Our NCOIC was always good and again, let us go around 1630 hours. Since it was the night for the Turtles concert, off we went.
Anchorage was a fairly small city back then and we could get around without any problems. We found the National Guard Armory and bought our tickets - which were not too costly either! The majority of the folks in the ticket-line were around our age and the girls were very friendly. Seemed like a small-town mentality. Inside, the Turtles played all their hits of the day. I recall being amazed watching the drummer - with his tricky stick-work. The girls were willing to dance with us and mine freaked out when I told her I was about to spend a year out in the Aleutians - at a place called Shemya. Of course she didn’t know where it was but really felt sorry for me just the same! “Better than Vietnam” she said! Very true! I didn't know at the time but over a year later in the fall of 1968, I was getting my passport to Ethiopia at the Pentagon and heard the same group Turtles on my car radio singing "Eleanor." It flashed back these memories and wished I could have heard them live again! They were really good by 1967-68 standards. But at this time, DC was all Motown! Back to the reality of going to Shemya!
The next day at work, our NCOIC told us we were finally heading out to Shemya! We were glad the work-details were over but on the same token, we all had a sick-feeling in our stomachs about our eminent problem of being "trapped" on a small two-mile by four-mile island, for a year! Actually eleven and a half-months. Most of us were still in our late teens when our civilian counterparts were still having civilian-type fun. I admit that I joined up. But under the auspices of the draft over American male heads then, I knew that I would be drafted in a year anyway. My girl-friend just graduated high-school and was looking forward to going to college. Again, I thought it was a "pimp-out" that guys had the military draft over their heads and the females didn’t.
Bused over to Elmendorf AFB around mid-afternoon the next day, the weather was beautiful, clear, blue-skies. We were in our Class “A’s” and the jacket felt good against the wind. I remember seeing rows of C-141s parked along the far edge of the main runway, all gleaming in their white and light-gray paint scheme of the '60s. Their idle-wings seemed to nearly bend down and touch the pavement in an unnatural manner.
Late in the afternoon, we were finally allowed to board the Alaskan Airlines Boeing 727, which was taking us to the “Rock.” Up the back-staircase we went - in an orderly fashion of course! A year later, that same plane was to be called our “freedom-bird.” But, there was a whole lot of time to wait for that to happen unfortunately! Again, the stewardi were great and friendly during the three-hour-plus flight. Being military-contract again, no drinking allowed. I remember it sure was nice to see the last vestiges of women that would become be a rare site on the island. In fact, “there was a woman behind every tree!” Figure that one out on a tree-less island!
It was dark of course when we finally landed on this remote strip of island called Shemya - having a single 10,000 foot runway that went west to east, or vise-versa. I previously looked up Shemya in an Atlas and saw that it is located slightly above the 52nd parallel, just to the east of the International Dateline. So, the weather couldn’t possibly be all that bad? After all, that’s in-line and slightly above the same latitude as the U.S./Canadian border.
I read in the history books that the runway on Shemya was built shortly after we re-took ATTU in May, 1943. This island was selected since it is one of the few Aleutian islands that is flat. We were interested in bringing the airwar to the nearby island of Kiska, and also to the northern Japanese Kurile(s) islands, specifically Paramushiro, Shimushu, and Kruppu, which was a 2,400 mile round-trip mission. Consolidated B-24's and North American B-25 Mitchell's where the aircraft of choice, of the Eleventh Bomber Command, 404th Bombardment Squadron. Adak housed the naval intelligence for all this, but was a little too far away to stage such long missions. (SOURCE:)
The Flight-Ops building was about as big as a modern-day double-wide trailer. Old though - of '50s-vintage. As a courtesy, all the officers and senior NCOs had smiling personnel waiting for them. Come to think of it, they were probably their own counterparts that they were replacing! I thought I saw this aloof E-8 on the plane. Old looking to boot. Well, this guy was to become our ASA Sergeant Major for the year, making E-9 almost as soon as he got there.
As I quickly learned about the mid/late-1960s Army, each duty station had its own set of “slots.” Much like what the Army Reserves and National Guard has today. I’m not sure how the officer slots went, but this did mean that each station had so many E-5, E-6, E-7, E-8, and E-9 slots at any particular time - that had to be kept filled. Not competitive Army-wide (for promo-points) as it is now. So, the big game was to find out which place had the "stripe" for you, and hoped that you got there before someone else did. Or, the original guy ruining everything by “extending.” This either made or broke you. That’s probably why that E-8 sacrificed a year on the “Rock” for that E-9 billet. Then he’d go to the Pentagon or “the Fort” (NSA) later.
Yeah, I was part of the old Army ASA, MOS 05K20 (or 059). Had the pleasure to serve on Shemya from mid-July 1967 through mid-June 1968. My AIT class - out of Devens - sent a bunch of us to Shemya at that time, a total of six I recall. They split us down the alpha-roster. The first third of the class went to Germany, my third went to you know where, and the last third went to more places in Germany. None to Vietnam. The next month we saw a bunch more arrive!
Anyway, back at the flight-line, we "underlings" eventually got a ride to the Composite building in an Air Force Metro-bus. This bus was a militarized civilian milk truck painted blue. Approaching the building, we noticed an old lethargic looking Husky dog sitting by the Shemya “plug.” That was a slab of concrete with a length of chain sticking out - that someone poured as a joke. In theory, if pulled, the island would sink. It was near the “Bridge to Nowhere,” which was also a joke of sorts. Nearby was a pretty smart looking totem-pole that I thought was neat. We were eventually put in a bay of about fifteen bunk-style Air Force beds and were told to report to the orderly-room downstairs at 0730 the next morning. Some guy had his radio turned on and the song RESPECT, by Aretha Franklin, burned its way into my mind forever.
I noticed that the company clerk was a young-looking SP5! He said that he hadn’t "gone over two" yet. We all figured he was probably a “ditty-dud” "code-bolo" dropout or something. These guys were usually pretty “bullet-proof” and it didn’t pay to mess with them however! We were immediately issued an Anorak-type Army parka that was O.D. green, was insulated, and had a loose and thick outer 60/40 cloth shell. The front of the hood was rimmed with Artic-Fox fur, and had a wire in it so the hood could be bent in such a way as to where only a slit was possible. We where told that was designed this way, so the wind-driven snow could not hit us in the face! We all looked at each other!! Oh, where also told that ice and snow would not stick to Fox fur.
Anyway, we got our papers, told to get haircuts, and started in-processing. In the hall-way out side of our orderly-room, I recognized an Air Force E-4 who was on our plane. He was already on the job! Well, his job for the year was to replace all the locks on the island. He had to start it ASAP! I never heard of an MOS or AFSI of “locksmith,” but they must have had one in those days!
After a couple of days of in-processing, which meant sitting around most of the time, we finally met our First Sergeant and Commanding Officer. We were assigned billeting in the "Jeep-bay." this was a large room accomodating around 8 - 10 bunks. Anyway, since it took sometimes two-weeks to get our clearances “passed” from CCF (Central Clearing Facility) at Fort Meade, we, as you probably could smell coming, were put on detail! What a drag! Here we were, E-3s in the Army, doing dirty work for Air Force E-1s and 2s. The Air Force had a cadre of civilians up there who were making big bucks by the way, to do their stuff. This is how a few contracted and enterprising college kids ended up serving their country! Skimming the cream off it!
It took a couple of weeks for the local ASA staff to figure out which “trick” they wanted us on anyway. Someone was forced to make a command decision. At Shemya, they split the 24-hour mission into "tricks," and those folks on any one of the four tricks [days, swings, mids, and on break] were called "trick-trash." We called the folks who worked straight-days "day beggars!" The trick-chiefs and the other higher ranking sergeants, who were already in for more than one enlistment, were referred to as "pukes" by the first-termers. The whole deal sounded like FUBAR [F_____ Beyond All Repair] to me!
I eventually ended up on Alpha-trick and the rest of my buddies got split up into the other three. My first “watch” on shift was "mids," and what a bewilderment! This whole thing was made worse by the old guys (fresh SP5’s) that were getting short, yelling “jeep” every opportunity they got. This was Shemya jargon for FNGs (F__king New Guys). One of us “NUGS” (me) had to go out on "submarine watch." Seemed so official at the time but after a long time freezing my ass off, I was finally retrieved and later found out it was all a hoax! Thanks a lot!
Talk about a fool! Hey, I was barely 19 years-old and still believed in my superiors! Ha! After thawing out, one SP5 showed me his “short-timers” calendar that looked like a large spiral, starting out at 365, and circling inward in ever-tighter, concentric circles, to double-digit midget, until it hit NUMBER ONE, which had a picture of a naked girl in it - including a strategically placed bulls-eye. I believe the girl was either the pin-up Chris Noel or Barby Benton. Then beneath the calendar was written in big letters the words: “I’m Gone!” Another SP5, with pretty bad black-and-blue arms, kept reminding me that he was "so short, that he could 'free-fall' off a dime!” I figured his buddies had just “tacked” on his new stripes.
Another time - on a mid, a couple of the short-timers tried to convince me that they had just heard, what seemed like, a new and unique signal. And since I’d just gotten out of AIT, I might have heard about it there. One of them even got the linguists in on it from across the hallway. After listening to it for a while and scrunching up my face a few times, I told them I didn’t have a clue! I thought that maybe we should report it? After an half-hour or so still monkeying around with it, they all started laughing. To make a long-story short, one of them had farted into the TNH-11 recorder. I threw some chad at one of them, thus starting my first chad-fight! Guess who had to clean it all up?
Yeah, we all had to endure the age-old lies about when, the micro-wave antenna called "ALICE," fried a Russian plane one day. And how Boozer could out-drink anyone on the island. And if the island ever got taken over, the Air Force APs (Air Police) had orders to shoot us in the head because we had TS security clearances - but were all expendable just the same!
All us "Jeeps" had to pull "house-mouse" quite a bit. This entailed working out of our duty-section for our particular shift, pulling duties such as mopping the floors in the common areas, taking out garbage, washing ash-trays, cleaning the latrines, and being an all-around gopher. During "days," bagged lunches were brought in from the mess-hall back at the Composite Building. So the guy pulling "house-mouse" during "days" had to assist the duty-driver to take the truck back and forth for this. By the way, those bagged lunches came in brown bags, thus coining the term "Brown-Baggers," a name eventually referring to the "straight-day pukes" that didn't work a rotating shift. (You didn't get mess-hall lunches during swings and mids, only on day-shift.)
The new machine, the one we had heard about at AIT, was here all right. It was a very busy “pos” and took some training to master. I was introduced to it early - to my chagrin, but eventually became pretty good with it. Some of the smart-guys, after putting in their tenure, had their ears open one day and managed to swing into a "Skate" “straight-days” job as “tape-apes.” I was one of the dumb-ones. But at about mid-year, an Air Force SSGT who was from a city very near to my home-town, befriended me and saved my ass by getting me on "straight-days" as well, processing stuff from Rivet Amber and Rivet Ball. I was sorry to hear that roughly a year later, one of them went down! Later in March 1968, I got to view high-level traffic involving "Tet," and also the capture of the U.S.S. Pueblo in North Korea.
We all worked a "four/two" schedule. That means four shifts on, two off. Transforming between "days" to "swings" was a piece of cake. But to mids, then back to "days," bad! There were some folks that worked straight-mids who were 98G Russian-linguists. They were a strange bunch - handle-bar mustaches, bedraggled fatigues, the whole gamut! During swings and mids, the "day-beggar - pukes" (as they were called in those days) were gone and the whole environment was less-formal to say the least!
There was a scare for a while that Shemya had a shortage of "Hogs" or 05Hs. I was "sweating-bullets" for a while, but luckily nothing ever became of it. I didn't like taking "live" code. Hell, if it kicked your ass, just turn on the RD-60 and make sure it had ink in it! Right?
In the late summer of 1967, we had to do our annual Army qualification with the rifle - namely the M-14. The more advanced AR-15s and M-16s were used by the infantry units, especially those in Vietnam. By Army definition, the M-14 rifle is a “7.62 MM, lightweight, air cooled, gas operated, magazine fed, semiautomatic shoulder weapon.” It was fairly heavy as much as I can remember, but it was the same weapon we were all trained on in Basic. We also had to “qualify” in the CS gas-chamber - which was a real trip!
I received The Beatles' new album Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in November, 1967, from my favorite female high-school friend. After she graduated high-school, she attended a small college in the mid-west. She pulled no-punches in telling me how she and a girl-friend took a trip to New Port News, Virginia, shacked up with two unknown sailors - just to loose their virginity. Stupid! Any other time I wouldn't have taken it so personal. But being trapped on the “Rock” serving "God and Country," and her being allowed to be free and irresponsible (not having any Draft over her head), I wrote her back a pretty bad letter. That was it for five-years. When I was in college in the early '70s I saw her, strictly by coincidence, again. She recognized me but I didn't her. Being reminded, I told her off again! My then Fianc'e was in ear-shot and wondered what the hell was going on!
Christmas 1967 meant a link with MARS (Military Affiliated Radio Station) for a quick telephone call back home. I did not have a girl-friend anymore and didn't feel like calling my parents. Letters were more than adequate for me. But those guys that were married all lined-up and some had to wait past midnight to get their call in, if they were lucky! I really felt sorry for those that could not witness the birth of their children while being imprisoned on the “Rock.” The next room over from me had some older O5Hs in it, and that was their case. They were great guys and always called me “da kid” for some reason.
Reeves ran a charter service to Shemya that also contracted to carry the mail. Once a week it came, weather permitting. It was a real heart breaker for all when the plane was late! I remember going to the mail-room and purchasing money orders to mail my Army pay back home each month. Back then, when the “Eagle shit,” you had to line-up in alphabetical order, proceed to the pay-officer (who had a .45 Colt on the desk), smartly salute and say, “Sir, SP4 (so and so), RA (whatever), reports for pay!” He would look up your name and pay on a roster, count it, and hand it to you. Then you had to count it back again in front of him. Lastly, you would have to sign your "payroll-signature" on the dotted line! Some times they would mess with you by asking some current news-related question, or "what is your second General Order?” or whatever. This done, you'd have to salute again and smartly leave the area!
Most of the major supplies came by barge, making port every six months or so. The little PX downstairs became a heaven for neat-stuff. Meant more food at the mess-hall as well. That meat was bad though. We called it “mystery-meat” or “gristle-steak.” How about green freeze-dried eggs, milk and ice cream?
Shemya also served as a refueling-stop and emergency-airfield for military and civilian airlines transporting troops to and from Vietnam, Japan, and Korea. You know, the great Northwestern-Route. No one was allowed off the aircraft and all we could here was their take-off and landing noise to mark their presence.
One morning before a day shift, I was in the latrine putting in my contact lenses. This “lifer” Spec 6, who I’ve seen in there before, kept eyeballing me. He wore those “birth-control” issued black-rimed glasses. He took one of my cleaning solution bottles and checked it out, asking what the Hell this was! I told him but he seemed ignorant about what I was talking about. I was a little irritated by his time. I noticed this was the same guy who, after shaving with his electric shaver, continued it up and around his ears and temple. Too cheap to get a haircut I guess. He really looked stupid!
Finally, he said, “it looks like drugs.” Still irritated, I told him “no it isn’t and if you’d come up to the 20th century, you’d know about contact-lenses! And, If you don’t mind, you’re in my space!”
This went over like a lead-balloon. That evening after work, I found a note on my door instructing me to see the “first-shirt.” I immediately went down to his office, knocked on his door, waited for his permission to enter, and stood in front of him at “Parade Rest.” He asked why I was so irritated at his buddy this morning in the latrine. I told the First Sergeant my side of the story and he replied by advising me “hey specialist, be more courteous to a superior next time.” I told him “this guy had no business getting into my face about this whole thing and that he should be more courteous to me!” Back then, the Army was the Army, and you couldn’t win against “superiors.” Hell, most of the NCO's at the time never even graduated high school! This was my first lesson about that, and my name coincidently came up on the duty-roster prematurely and I ended up pulling an extra KP-shift for that month
One didn’t know that one’s body could produce foot-long buggers until you got a whiff of that CS-stuff, and whiff you got! After marching single-file into one of the many derelict buildings, our trick-chief made us do the standard Army “procedure” of taking off our masks, state our name, rank, and RA serial number, then put it on again. One guy got as far as saying “Sergeant, I’m PFC sheeiit.” Our NCOIC, who was a real crazy guy anyway, said “ok PFC shit, get back outside and come back in and try again.” From that time on you could guess what that PFCs name was for the rest of the year! Even when he made Specialist! This unfortunate guy eventually went to Vint Hill Farms with me, bought a used Corvette, and actually stayed there until ETS. With our wages, E4 by then, I don’t know how he managed it.
The real kick about Shemya was that we got "over-seas pay." Could be, was that we were actually closer to Russia (roughly 240 miles) and the Northern Kuril (Japanese) Islands, (around 1100 miles) than we were to Anchorage (1350 miles). For those of us under 21, we were still in the State of Alaska and couldn’t drink - legally - even on an Air Force base! This led to black-market activities and some folks getting busted. I remember getting a bottle of Champagne one break, and my compatriots had other types of drinks. One thing led to another and I vaguely remember being put into the shower with cold water running on me full blast! What a hang-over in the morning! To this day Champaign still gives me a headache! Same way with "White-Port" wine.
Talking about breaks, there wasn’t much to do except go to the “mid-flick,” (I remember the "Flim-Flam Man" with George C. Scott real well) or go to the three-lane bowling alley, the gym, or the ceramics workshop. Yeah, everyone had to do their beer-stein! Oh, there was a photography lab as well, including a dark-room. That was pretty cool for Shemya anyway. The other options were either going beach-combing (weather permitting), inspecting the "Million-dollar Dump," or dragging one of the many empty, left-over WWII 500 pound bomb canisters, back to make a stool out of them. The commander put a stop to that around mid-tour!
On one occasion, I was beach-combing and found a large Vertebra of a beached-whale - long-since dead. I don't know if this whale beached itself and died, or was a fishing-vessel reject and washed-up and decomposed. I got a picture of it but was in color-slide form. I lost all of my slides of Shemya, over the years, to my ex-wife.
You could see the Artic Blue Foxes was well. They usually hung around the stacks of empty derelict WWII 30 and 50 gallon oil/gas drums - still rusting away. Once in a great while, some of the local guys would put on their own rendition of a USO show at the base theater. Rocky was an O5K from Colorado, who played a mean twelve-string guitar!
On a clear-day you could see Attu to the west or Agattu to the south, or even see a Russian “fishing trawler” (yeah right!). Again, Attu could be pretty visible on a good day. I repeat this because there weren't many good-weather days on Shemya! Shortly after I got on the island in July, '67, I took a walk and found the Tundra was in bloom. There is also a cliff on Shemya that is real neat to look at, and is probably the most photographed site.
After a storm, (Williwaw?) you might get lucky and find parts of a tree trunk that washed ashore. That was your only tree for the year! Finding glass-balls (used for fishing net floats by the Japanese and Russians) would be a treasure! One might even find a near-empty Sake or Vodka bottle, or see Japanese or Russian writing on some old wood crate that washed ashore. Seeing a high-flying Russian “Bear” was not uncommon as well!
At that time, many more WWII relics where still on the island, like: • The C-54 wreck along the flight line (wing only) • Concrete pits that once housed big-bore coastal guns • Concrete pill boxes • Wooden WWII theater building [was in bad shape] • WWII Wooden Hangar • Many steel Quonset huts • PCP-Marsden matting all over the place • An old abandoned barge
I only have about ten pictures left of the place. My first ex-wife took off with them (the "Bad Witch").
Talking about storms, they could get pretty bad. The wind-force was measured in "Force-gale" levels. On bad ones, the Air Force had to park their busses and Metros in the lea-ward side of the Composite building, or they would actually blow over! It snowed on one occasion, but we were warned to stay out of “white-outs” - that could kill you! There were ropes for such occasions leading from the Composite building to the theater, gym, and bowling alley. For some exercise, we could skip the bus and walk back from AFJOG if we wanted - weather permitting of course.
By the way, we were told that the Composite building was constructed in such a way, that in case of a catastrophic event, such as a severe earth-quake, the walls would peal outward.
I had two roommates who were pretty good guys. Both were older and were 05K’s as me. One was the “search op” on my trick and the other one was a SP5 supervisor in another collection room. Out of boredom, these guys got to playing poker on breaks, for $5.00 “anti's.” My room thus became the gathering place for all the poker players. There was a kind of dumb Air force Security Cop that used to guard the gate on our trick. Went on breaks with us as well. He did not know how to play and wanted to learn. Well, the regulars told him that they weren’t going to pull any punches just for him. Needless to say, this guy learned poker the hard and very, very expensive way. No one could believe he was so nuts!
These same two roommates were practically chain-smokers. The poker games became unbearable for the smoke. These guys went as far as keeping a candle lit all night in case they woke up and wanted one, they didn’t have to fumble around for a lighter. As a means to keep everyone busy on "off-time," the "First-Shirt" conducted room inspections. He made a competition out of it but I can’t remember what the reward was. I think it might have been getting an ATO (Authorized Time Off), CTO (Cumulative Time Off), or you could be let go early on a mid-shift to see the “mid-flick.” We were pretty well staffed in those days. Anyway, without anything better to do, you could imagine to what extremes this was taken. The floors were waxed and polished like glass! I remember it was hard to keep our windows clean. You could run your finger down the pane and always get a finger full of soot. The Composite building was in pretty good shape then. I read recently somewhere that it was built around 1964, so by the 1967-68 time-frame, it was still pretty new and we kept it that way.
Everyone had a radio in their rooms and AFRN (American Forces Radio Network) kept playing Neil Diamond’s songs "Kentucky Woman," "Cherry Cherry," and "Solitary Man" repeatedly. AFRTS (American Forces Radio and Television Service) portrayed Peggy Fleming as “America’s Sweetheart!” There was a piano over in the Recreation building - adjacent to the Composite building. A fellow 05K, Bob, could play Exodus like you wouldn’t believe. Somebody spent some time on him when he was a kid!
Then there was KP! Always the curse for being below the rank of E-5. Like I said earlier, the Air Force contracted out their KP duty but that didn’t cover the Army’s end of it. We had to pull those torturous 15-hour shifts. It was really a morale-buster cleaning up after Air Force folks that you sometimes outranked!
KP-anticipation was so bad, I could never sleep the night before. The shift started around 0430 hours. When you reported-in, you were assigned to what duty you were to perform that day. The worst, besides cleaning the grease-trap, was pots-and-pans man. A fate worse than death itself! A hot, wet, never ending job! Your hands shriveled up at the end of the shift and you really had to watch out that some of your skin didn’t peal-off due to the hot water and harsh soap used! The best job was DRO (Dining Room Orderly). If you lucked out and got that, the worst that could happen to you was having to work in the NCO and Officer dining room and have to remove all those plates that had cigarettes put out in the left-over food.
We got back at "the system" by filling some of the glass sugar dispensers to the max, then took a piece of paper and put it over the open end, inverted the glass, and put it on the table top, sliding the paper out from under it. Then we simply set the chrome lid on top. The dispenser looked the same right-side up or up-side down. A big mess to clean up afterwards, but the surprise and mad look on the recipient was worth it!
After a few shifts, you got to know the cooks pretty well, especially if they knew you were a good worker. They “took care" of us and it got to be such a good relationship that on our breaks, some of us, enterprising enough, actually bought KP duty. The going-rate was $30.00 a pop, which wasn’t bad money in those days! Three-shifts a month would make me as much money as my Army pay! There were always clients that hated KP worse and were willing to sell their shift and sacrifice the cash. Still, did not look forward to it though.
In the early part of March, the guys I came to Shemya with out of AIT, finally got promoted to SP4. It was bitter-sweet because the year prior to us getting there, most of the folks that got to Shemya as PFCs like us, made SP5 by the time their year was up. Not our luck. The slots were not in our favor our year.
I finally received my PCS (Permanent Change of Station) "liberation-orders" late in May, 1968, informing me of my next duty station at Vint Hill Farms - in late June. By mid-June I went "FIGMO" (F__K, I Got My Orders!). A couple of days later I went "ROD" (Relieved of Duty) which also gave me the authority to start clearing the installation! My flight back to Elmendorf AFB was a nice feeling. It was a bad weather-day on Shemya, but the Boeing 727 "freedom bird" quickly rose above the clouds into beautiful sunshine! Since I had a window seat, the heat felt good through the window. I sat next to a buck-sergeant who had only 18 months in the Army. He was on his way back from Vietnam. I was almost "over-two" and still an E-4. He paid the price though.
I had to stay a couple of days at Elmendorf. I saw some movie about drug dealers in Central America, staring James Garner. Also did some bowling and later, almost got hit by a car. It was my fault. Being on Shemya for a year, I wasn't accustomed to automobile traffic.
I took Alaskan Airlines back to McCord Air Force Base, shared a taxi to SEATAC, and took-off for Chicago - to start my ten-day leave before VHFS. Disappointingly, Vint Hill Farms Station proved to be a "dumping-ground" for excess SIGINT'rs. Well, that’s another subject for another chapter if you're interested.