Last month, as I watch tennis matches at the U. S. Open, I was struck by the speed of the serves, one player’s range was 120 – 140 mph, and I remembered another incident involving a baseball pitcher who had a fast ball and an Air Force colonel who liked to watch him pitch.
Fast Balls and Other Objects
In 1964, I was an Air Force Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) stationed at Dow AFB in Bangor Maine. I had changed careers from medicine to journalism and broadcasting and was supervising the Directorate of Public Information. The office served as the base’s point of contact for the public and tasks included publishing a weekly newspaper. In addition, a critical responsibility, for those of us with the necessary background clearance, was to create and protect the documentation of classified operations on a base within the Strategic Air Command (SAC). My office was in the headquarters building, down the hall from the Wing Commander and Vice Commander, both colonels.
One day in October 1964, the vice commander came to my office and requested, “Alex, tomorrow I want you to cover for me.” I was only prepared to ask the colonel: Where? I would never ask another critical question: How? That was my responsibility and method of choice. NCOs sometimes “deviate” from standard operating procedures to get things done and are prepared to take full responsibility for failure without putting the officer at risk. That’s why NCOs are considered the backbone of all military services. All commanders are aware of this and know NCO’s will always protect their backs.
The vice commander’s request was forthright and full of excitement. “I’m a St. Louis Cardinal fan, and tomorrow Bob Gibson is pitching. When ‘my man Bob’ comes off that mound the batter sees two frightening things – Bob’s big frame in his face and a blazing fast ball. By the time the batter decides which one to hit, or avoid, the catcher has the ball. Damn, that’s exciting.” His enthusiasm stirred the entire office, and he continued, “I want to come hide in your office with the television set, and I don’t want to be disturbed unless SAC orders a launch of those B-52 bombers.” He just turned and walked away.
My office was large enough for his purpose, primarily because of the safe for classified documents. Three of my Airmen seemed eager to help the colonel ‘cut the corner’ and immediately volunteered to take care of the matter.
When I reported for work the next morning the office was transformed. My crew had visited the hospital, and using my name as the requesting party, obtained three bedside screens, a bedside stand, and a few sheets. They created what appeared to be an extension of the locked safe and then fashioned an official looking sign that read RESTRICTED AREA. Of course, another NCO with top secret clearance positioned his desk to seemingly protect the temporary area, while also allowing him to watch the ball game. When the vice commander arrived, I only asked that he do two things: mute the TV sound and temper his excitement. St. Louis won that day.
When we reported for duty the next morning we found a box of three dozen doughnuts, other pastries, and an unsigned thank you note – from someone. We had some notion of the donor, possibly the vice commander, most likely from someone smart enough not to sign thanks for something that never happened.
Good memories are treasures that we horde for ourselves.
Sometimes they are the only currency that can buy peace of mind.
They give us safe passage to where we were once content.
Good memories are not exhausted by time.
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