My Next brush with the military
The $4800 annual salary that sounded like such a huge amount of money during my conversation with the superintendent turned out to be not quite the financial bonanza I had anticipated. After all deductions my monthly salary was about $310. I had never had regular income before and went wild that year. First thing I did was to get rid of my year old '63 Rambler American that I had gotten the previous summer with money saved up by working in the steel mill. I’d managed to put nearly 40,000 miles on it in less than a year, driving coast to coast and border to border in the little Rambler. I traded it for a top of the line 1964 Buick Electra 225 convertible. Monthly car payments were $107.37. Rent was another $75 and since I ate all my meals out it did not take long to use up $310 in monthly salary before I paid my phone, utilities, gasoline, trips to Pittsburgh every other week, etc. By the end of my first year teaching I had gone from debt free to $10,000 in debt - more than double my annual salary!
On my visits to my parent’s home of course I would date. One gal was a stewardess named Judy. I told Judy to come to see me sometime and sure enough one Friday my phone rang and she said she was at the Baltimore airport waiting for me. By this time (spring), unable to keep up the payments I had sold the Buick and bought a '64 Rambler convertible with a “twin stick” shift. One stick was to change gears, and the other was to place the car in or out of overdrive (an extra gear for better gas mileage at highway speeds). A white button on the top of the overdrive stick would take the car out of overdrive and provide a passing gear.
Baltimorewas only 45 minutes away so I drove down to pick Judy up for the weekend. She was gorgeous but not a Phi Beta Kappa. She saw my briefcase with my initials embossed (ARN) and asked me what ARN stood for. I said, tongue-in-cheek that I'm really not a teacher, that's just my cover. I'm actually a spy and ARN is my code name. She said, “REALLY?"
She then asked me about the white button on top of the overdrive stick and I said, "Well, since I'm a spy, this car was built with an ejection button. If I push it you will be ejected."
She said, "Wow!" Before the weekend was over I had wound a tale worthy of a James Bond movie script, about the Russians being after me, that she had to have a complete secret background check before I was allowed to date her, and if she ever doesn't hear from me, she should go to the FBI and report me missing. I'm sure I told her other ridiculous stuff that I can't remember and after that weekend I really lost interest in her, as my bills were catching up to me. In an effort to get out of the financial straits, I had the gas in my apartment turned off, stopped driving to Pittsburgh on weekends, and even had my phone taken out, as my college friends were all over the country and my phone bills were higher than my rent.
Several weeks after the weekend Judy caper, on my way to school I stopped at the post office - I received my mail in a box there - and discovered a paper that said I had a registered letter awaiting me. I said, "Oh, no. Here I am 21, Draft Status 1-A... this has to be my draft notice. If I have to go to Viet Nam I want to fly, not march." So I called in sick and headed for Willow Grove Naval Air Station, about 50 miles away, to see if I could get into Naval Aviation, about 50 miles away. It was a Monday morning and as luck would have it, when I arrived there were 11 men getting ready to take the entrance exams so they just added me as the 12th (somebody had not shown up). The person in charge probably had quotas to fill as she was most accommodating.
The next two days were w fun whirlwind. After the morning taking exams we were given thorough physical exams that included everything from invasive body cavity checks to reaction times, color blindness tests, eye and ear inspections, and as they say, “the full Monty.” We were fed well and got to sleep in the BOQ, military speak for “Bachelor Officer’s Quarters.” The second day included more tests and then a dress-up in an orange flight suit complete with pilot equipment including a large knife that was, as a pilot wise-cracked, “In case we meet the enemy.” Then we were each taken on an airplane ride in a T-33 trainer, a small two-person aircraft. We flew around eastern Pennsylvania and it was like a Disneyland ride.
After the two days of mental and physical tests were completed only three of us had passed everything that qualified us for pilot training. We three were told we had one more interview (with a psychiatrist!) then we were to return home while they ran our background checks and within 4-6 weeks we'd hear from the Navy telling us when and where to report – most likely Pensacola.
My conversation with the psychiatrist was interesting. He told asked if I had any unusual fears or nightmares and I said I had a strong feeling I was about to get drafted. When he made a note and asked how long I’d been having these feelings I said that a draft notice was awaiting me in my mailbox. He made notes and said not to worry, that since I’d passed all my exams my draft status would be changed from 1-A to 1-Y until my background check had been completed. I never knew or really cared what 1-Y meant and only recently discovered the classification is designed as, “Registrant available for military service, but qualified only in case of war ornational emergency. Usually given to registrants with medical conditions that were limiting but not disabling (examples: high blood pressure, mild muscular or skeletal injuries or disorders, skin disorders, severe allergies, etc.). Class was discontinued in December, 1971 and its members were reclassified as 4-F.”
I was so pumped driving home! I'd beaten the system and would live every boy's dream - to fly! I went to my mailbox, pulled out the notification and went to the desk to retrieve the registered letter that was from............ JUDY! She had not heard from me, my phone had been disconnected, and she did not want to go to the FBI until she tried the registered letter. I laughed then it hit me... MY GOD! WHAT HAD I DONE?????????? Planes get shot down over Viet Nam and pilots are taken prisoner!
The father of one of my students was a lawyer so I went straight to him and remember saying, "Will you quit laughing and tell me what to do???"
He told me that officially I could not sign up until they did the background check... that protects the Navy and gives the applicant a "cooling off period." He said to just ignore their letters that invited me to show up as I had not made a commitment. By virtue of the fact that I was 1-A, and told the psychiatrist that I thought my draft notice was awaiting me, they changed my classification on the spot to 1-Y. I used to say that it meant I'd be called up after women and children. But my second brush with the military ended in my not serving just as the first had. I often wish it had been different, but by this time I’d blown an opportunity to serve in the Army Medical Corps and now blown an opportunity to serve as a Naval Aviator. But I would try once more. After my move to Utah and marriage I simply could not find a job so I applied for pilot training in the Army. During my physical I was rejected due to a hearing loss probably suffered as I’d taken up target shooting soon after my return to Utah.