There is always another story associated with those I have been sharing since May 2015, as Stories of the Month, and in books about a wonderful life. I call related memories Side Stories. This is a side story of an event presented in my second book, Forks in the Road, about some episodes from my 20-year military career in the United States Air Force.
Side Story: Part I
On January 2, 1958, I reported to Gunter Air Force Base in Alabama to attend the School of Aviation Medicine. It was a time before satellites, so the Air Force maintained several radar sites, ‘listening posts.” Some were in remote areas of the world, away from normal base facilities and operations, including medical services. Because there were not enough doctors to attend these sites, the solution was to create a cadre of highly trained medics who could provide routine and emergency medical care, much as EMT’s and Physician Assistants do today.
Each morning as approximately 50 of us gathered to march to classrooms, Sergeant Edwards initiated our formation. He was a long and lanky man who unmistakably resembled French General Charles De Gaulle, and he called the group to attention. Instead of addressing us in English to say ‘Attention, Attention, if you please,’ he put his open palm on his hat, imitating General De Gaulle, and commanded – – – in French: “Attencion, Attencion, s’il vous plait,” followed by a four line verse and a laugh that was so distinctly odd as to defy immediate description. Over the next five months the rest of us tried to describe his morning offering, and our consensus was the combined roar of an elephant, the meow of a stray cat in distress, the bray of a jackass, cushioned by the siren of an ambulance — leaving the scene. Sergeant Edward would then take his proper place in the formation as we composed ourselves for the march, under the direction of the ranking sergeant. But, since we allowed him to do it every morning, we also questioned the wisdom of 50 top Air Force medics.
Sergeant Edwards also was, by his own account and trophies, one of the best ping-pong players in the Air Force. Even when defeating an opponent, he was not too distracted to voice his objective to return to duty at a certain base in England.
Side Story: Part II
Six months later I was assigned to a base outside London. After only four months there as a medic, I was selected to a team of information specialists that toured bases in Scotland, Germany, France, Norway, and England. One night I attended a movie at one of the bases in England. When something happened that provoked laughter from the entire audience, we heard a sound that caused a fellow traveler to ask, “What is that?” I answered, “Wow, he made it to England. That is Sergeant Edwards, my classmate from the School of Aviation Medicine. No other human could duplicate that sound.”
When the movie ended, and as the credits rolled, I stood and loudly announced, “Attencion, Attencion, s’il vous plait, Sergeant Edwards, please report to the rear right exit.” He immediately recognized that it was a member of his medical school class and he let our that sound, which stunned and amused the exiting crowd who laughed – – at the laugher.
He and I had our last reunion.