It was the summer of 1952. I was but 16, so Mom had to sign for me. I was sent to upstate New York for Basic Training. I had no idea what would take place. All of us kids seemed to be a bit nervous or, at least, unaware of what we would be in for.
After preliminary tactics finished, we were sent to our respective rooms. I was in a four-man room with kids I’d never seen before in my life. No one talked at all for the first few hours. We simply had to make do with what we had. I got the upper bunk.
I met the first African-American in my life. His name was Robert Bradley, as I recall, and was a nice, soft-spoken kid. We became acquainted, and life was beginning to look less scary.
It was bad enough when the next morning we went on our soon-to-be-daily commitment – running a two-mile jaunt on a concrete roadway. Soon, we heard a loud whistle, and everyone turned around.
It was the call to slow down; two kids had fallen to the ground and couldn’t make it any further. Both were released immediately, and we continued to run the rest of the way.
That first event led to a lot of discussion on what we’d be in for in the coming two weeks.
Two days later, around 0130 hours, I was summoned to the Technical Instructor (TI)’s room by one of his helpers. I had no idea what was happening.
The TI was a sergeant, a three-striper, I recall, who asked me, “I understand you used to be a boxer. Is that right?” I told him that was when I was 12. He smiled and said, “Well, I want to see what you got. I want to box with you.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. This guy was not very tall, but with his short-sleeved shirt on, his muscles were as big as my legs. I was nervous.
He stood up and took a boxing position. I knew right then he wasn’t fooling. He told me to take a position, and I did, mostly to obey orders rather than commence an attack.
He flipped a left to my head, but I moved faster, and the advance went by my head. “C’mon, box,” he said, “Let’s see what ya got.” He moved from side to side as I followed his punches accordingly.
Suddenly, he pushed out a fast left hand that caught the side of my face. Without thinking, I threw out a quick right hand that caught him on the left side of his face.
It didn’t take me long to see my Air Force career ending with a right hook. He stopped the fight, then and there. He smiled, somewhat, and had one of his helpers return me to my room.
I lost the few hours of sleep left that night but was glad I was still in the Air Force. I told none of the guys in my room about the private meeting I’d had with the TI. Two days later, we were eating breakfast in the chow hall when suddenly in comes our TI with his two companions. I turned my head the other way to avoid eye contact, but he slowly walked his way towards our table. As he introduced himself, I rose out of respect and greeted him with a good morning.
I stiffened as I saw a black and blue left eye glaring back at me. “I just wanted to thank you for the favor you did me the other night,” he said.
I bent my head in a thank you position, but no words came out. He smiled, spun around, and left our table with his cohorts.
Apparently, my roommates got wind of the story from other sources because they broke out in laughter as soon as the coast was clear. I hardly was in a mood to join their good cheer.
It was a full first week at training camp to the join the Air Force. I wouldn’t want to go through it again; however, I did find that the TI was quite a gentleman, after all. I heard later that he was the toughest trainer of most of them there, at the time.
Thank God, I made it through more than 22 years with the Air Force, serving in both Korea and Vietnam.
Boxing? Oh, no. I gave that up years ago!