Memories of Dreux
by James O'Brien
An airman in the 11th Sq. 1956-1960

A/3C Jim O'brien

Correct spelling of all names in this article are to the best of my recollection. Please excuse me for spelling any individuals name incorrectly.

I arrived at Dreux AB, as a young airman in early 1956, I was a very ill at ease A/3C. apprentice aircraft mechanic, fresh out of tech school at Sheppard AFB, Texas, and with an English accent. I was unsure of myself and what the future would hold for me in the air force. That would soon change with my first encounter with someone from the 11th Squadron. At the wing in-processing center a S/Sgt. in fatigues introduced himself and welcomed me to the squadron and told me he was the NCOIC of unit supply. His name John Burns, was friendly and such a nice man, he immediately put me at ease. This brief encounter was to set the tone for my entire time spent at the base and I have nothing but enjoyable memories of my first air force assignment. As we walked to the parking lot I noticed that Sgt Burns was wearing a green baseball cap with "60" embroidered in white on the front, and driving a Jeep. I was impressed, I had never seen anyone wearing a unit cap before or getting to ride in a military Jeep. I was very happy and oh, how I coveted that baseball cap.

We drove straight to the orderly room and Sgt Burns introduced me to the First Sergeant, M/Sgt. Harold Wilkerson, the big stick as all referred to him. I met the Chief Clerk, S/Sgt. Tucker, and the orderly room clerk, Amn Guinn. Next the Adjutants, Capt. Franklin, with Lt. Kittler, all welcomed me to the squadron. Then it was off to the barracks were I received my bedding and foot locker, then assigned a bunk and a wall locker. The next morning I rode to the flight line with a couple of guys I had met in the barracks, airmen Tom Bonner and George Stramp. They took me in to see the Line Chief, M/Sgt. Cascadden, who in turn introduced me to my Flight Chief, T/Sgt. Jim Rossow and his able assistant A/1C. Wendell Snyder. Tool kit was issued, and so began my adventure with all associated requirements and responsibilities in maintaining C-119 aircraft.

Most of the enlisted aircrew at that time were T/Sgt or S/Sgt and a few airmen A/1 C. Rank among the ground crew was about the same except for the lower ranking airmen and senior maintenance staff who were M/Sgts, our Maintenance Officer was Capt. Geller. My first task was not to be with aircraft, but rather as an on-call shuttle driver of a "deuce and a half' running back and forth across base to the 60th Field Maintenance area where heavy and periodic maintenance was carried out on our aircraft. Immediately, I told my flight chief Sgt Rossow that I did not have a drivers license or worse, know how to drive since I had never been around vehicles. When M/Sgt. Burnett Assistant Line Chief heard about my dilemma he got a hold of airman Bonner and told him to teach me. Wrong move, Bonner was a good guy but no teacher, we ended up with me driving a weapons carrier into the trunk of Capt. Glasscock's car, he was one of our pilots, and was most upset. Result, I bought the wrecked car, Bonner lost his status as a driving instructor and A/1C. Snyder taught me the rules of the road and the proper way to drive a vehicle without hitting anything.

After my driving experience I started to assist the skilled mechanics on the flight-line. I was soon to realize that aircraft maintenance was a tough business and taking care of piston-engined transport aircraft, labor intensive. The work entailed inspecting, repairing, and servicing, all outside regardless of the weather, it was very rare if you could get the aircraft into the hangar to do a job. It was varied to say the least and it never ended, there was always something that could be done to the airplane. But it gave me great satisfaction and I enjoyed the challenge.

Jim's Airplane

I was Jim, bloke, ob, and limey, I answered to those nicknames one time or another and I enjoyed the friendliness in maintenance and held a variety of jobs, line mechanic, crew chief, then best of all being on a flight crew. However, soon after I got my five level, I think one of my most proudest moments at that time was when I was made a "Crew Chief" and got to put my name on the AFTO Form 781. I now had my own airplane that I was responsible for, the aircraft, C-119 G, 53-7833. Of all the airplanes I worked on and flew in during my time in the air force, it is today the only aircraft tail number I can recall and with great pride. There is a picture of MY aircraft in the Pictures From Charles Sibert collection, green nose and two green tail flashes, all nice and shiny and with no engine oil on the booms.

Drinking beer in Munich

While in maintenance, I went on a couple of temporary duty assignments. First was to Neubiberg AB, near Munich, Germany to take care of aircraft involved in troop drops, then later to the civilian airport in Athens, Greece for 60 days. Both were enjoyable deployments but Athens best of all. I was part of the consolidated ground crew made up to support mission aircraft deployed there. Team members came from all three squadrons and field maintenance at Dreux and was a mix of disciplines working on all wing aircraft no matter what unit they belonged to. The senior NCO of the detachment at that time happened to be S/Sgt Will Ramey and his lead S/Sgt Steve Stevens both from the 11th and great NCOs to work for. There was a lot of overtime and many long days but we all pitched to get the job done, it was teamwork at its best. Our main tasking was 50 hour aircraft inspections but more importantly, we had to make sure all the mission aircraft got off on time. We went to work very early in the morning, then after things were wrapped up, we, the lower grade airmen were released for the rest of the day, returning in the late afternoon to meet the inbound flights.

We had fantastic weather and great living conditions. Each squadron leased a self-catering villa for their people that was close to the beach. The villas were staffed with local ladies responsible for all household chores as well as doing our laundry. We had vehicles, but I never was allowed to drive them off the airfield, all were well aware of my driving skills. The entire team had great camaraderie and all enjoyed being there. My fellow team mates from the 11th were airmen Ken Foster, Tom Green, Rich Lynn, Virgil Roark and Jack Spears. Soon after returning to Dreux I was told that my security clearance had been adjudicated and my request to go on flying status had been accepted. I now would begin my training as a flight engineer.

Of course like all other fine young airmen at home station, I had my share of extra duty: CQ, KP, and those other rotten little duties as assigned, but one chore we all hated most, picking up rocks between the runway and taxiway. This in preparation for the construction of the base golf course. Nevertheless, the one that "beats the cake" for me was being part of a GI chain gang. When we walked both sides of the road between the main gate and the community of Dreux, our assignment, pick up all trash supposedly tossed out of cars by wayward GIs and their dependent families residing in the Dreux town vicinity. This, we were told was in order to help foster good relations between our two nations. The "Head Ganger" of our little group was S/Sgt. Charlie ??? also from the 11th and he was not the least bit happy either, shepherding along a troop of whining GIs.

At the time I arrived at Dreux we were sharing our marguerite, ramp and other facilities with a detachment of C-119s from Sewart AFB, Tennessee. These aircraft had enviable flashy paint schemes, unlike our more sedate paint work. They departed for their home station soon after my arrival. I also saw the arrival of the 309th Troop Carrier Group from Oklahoma equipped with C-123 aircraft in midsummer 1956. But then, for some reason, in midsummer 1958, the aircraft were moved back to the States.

When the 309th left, many of their people stayed at Dreux and some joined us in the 11th. Among them Lt. Col. Shanklin, M/Sgt. Bundy. and T/Sgt. Glenn Pippin, they subsequently became our Commander, First Sergeant and T/Sgt. Pippin became my Flight Chief. A few months later when S/Sgt Ben Jackson and I were getting initial flight checks in the C-119 from T/Sgt. Bob Larrick, the Flight Crew Examiner, Lt. Col. Shanklin was the Aircraft Commander. This was some sort of a special mission to Athens, then on to Ankara and Istanbul in Turkey, returning to Athens. Over the next 12 days our mission included moving all types of air freight, including commissary supplies, high priority cargo, mail and passengers to the numerous bases and sites throughout the eastern Mediterranean. It was long, and a great trip, since both Ben and I both passed our flight checks. But as ever, the best journey is the one home, it was good to be back with my family.

Being on flying status, not only was I responsible for the servicing and carrying out all required maintenance on the aircraft when away from home station, I also would have loadmaster duties. To this end, T/Sgt. Louie Purdue, a top-notch NCO from the 309th taught me more than I knew about aircraft weight and balance, use of the load adjuster and completing the Form F. Other loadmaster requirements included the proper rigging of the aircraft for parachutists and dropping supplies. I flew with S/Sgt. Bob Crowell making several airdrops using the aircraft monorail aerial delivery system. Since on most of our missions we only had a crew of three, pilot, co-pilot and flight engineer, so it was nice to have another crewmember along to help out.

I have nothing new to add to the experiences other enlisted crew members at Dreux have already written, (been there done that) except of the great relationships that grew between officer and airman, which happens only among flying personnel. Being an important member of a flight crew on military transport aircraft was very rewarding. The flying and seeing the wonders of Europe, North Africa and the Mediterranean area, was a fantastic and telling experience. I enjoyed every minute of every flight, life was good.

Chateau Le Barre

The day my wife and daughter arrived in Paris, Shirley and Bob Vanasse, also Al Troan, all of the 11th met us and graciously drove the six of us plus all the luggage to our new home in Bob's VW bug. It just a little crowded but such a nice gesture. Upon my families arrival I left the barracks and we went to live in a chateau in the village of Les Chatelets. The place was huge, with beautiful wooded grounds and a lake. When we moved in there were nine other air force families already residing there. It turned out to be a pleasant and friendly place to live. We were fortunate, stayed four years and in many ways sad to leave. Also, my oldest daughter Angela, attended the village school and my youngest daughter Joanne, was born at the base hospital while we were there.

I had many acquaintances but few close friends in the squadron. Married and being a "Brown Bagger," living on the economy then being on flying status, I never had much of an opportunity for socialization or to develop a kinship with the other young airman who lived in the barracks. However, my family and I have nothing but wonderful memories of our mutual friends and time living in France. Our tour at Dreux will always be remembered fondly.

Now, as an old GI, I can proudly say. "The 11th Troop Carrier Squadron was the best outfit I ever served with in the US Air Force."

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