I arrived at Sampson Air Force Base in Geneva, New York, June 4, 1955, at 7 p.m. after riding the train from Ashland, Kentucky for two days. First, they made fun of my last name, calling me “Corn-hole.” I remember getting up at 5 a.m. each morning, seven days a week, after cleaning the barracks until midnight. Never enough sleep – I think I averaged four hours of sleep per night. Any time I had off, I sneaked into the woods next to the barracks, curled up behind a rock, and slept for an hour or two. No one ever caught me.
We got fitted for uniforms. A clerk put his fingers around my waist, not a tape, and said “28.” I knew I didn’t wear a 28, but I put my 30-inch waist in them anyhow. My shoes were one size larger than I usually wore. I had blisters continuously. I knew better than to complain. Just before we left Basic, they sent us to get properly fitted for uniforms. I had gained 17 pounds, so all of mine did not fit properly and had to be exchanged. One man in our Flight lost 64 pounds in 11 weeks!
During field training, someone let some mustard gas loose close to us and didn’t even care that the wind was drifting toward where my Flight was sitting. Sixteen of us got mustard gas blisters on the inside of our mouths and in our noses before we could get our gas masks on.
We slept with our billfolds in our pillowcases because someone with a razor blade was slitting open the pillows and taking money from some of the men. I was accused of stealing it, because I always had money. That was only because I wasn’t old enough to drink and most spent their money on booze. I had to write down the serial numbers of all the bills I had and show this list to the training instructor every time there was missing money. I loaned a lot of money out, and most of it I never got back.
One Sunday we had turkey in the chow hall for lunch. By 2 p.m. we were loading sick men into ambulances, buses, trucks and cars. Two thousand men were hospitalized with food poisoning, and two died. They had put the frozen turkeys out to thaw on Tuesday and didn’t cook them until Sunday morning.
When I left there on a train in August 1955 it was like getting out of jail. I wondered if the rest of my time in the Air Force was going to be like that. Fortunately, it wasn’t, and I retired from the Air Force June 1, 1976.