By Major Les Bradford

Major Les Bradford

I arrived at Rhein Main AFB Germany in December 1954 and I left Dreux AFB , France in October 1959. So I had quite a long stay in Europe. It was long enough in fact to get married ,and have two daughters and a mother in law.12th Troop Carrier was about the best assignment of my 20 year career. Fresh out of Aviation Cadets and categorized by the AF as "U," I arrived at Rhine Main in January, 1955. As "Category U," I was only allowed to fly 4 hours a month for flight pay. There were about 10 of us "U" officers and some went to Wiesbaden. We were a bunch that refused to sign a four year commitment to stay in the AF after being commissioned. Never knew what "U" meant but it was probably for "Undesirable", "Unworthy," or maybe just plain "Ugly." Found out later that it was interpreted differently by different commanders. Some thought that "U's" were to stay away from any kind of office job and just fly, but at Rhine Main we got office jobs. Mine was Wing Material. Best part of that was that I was issued a super sensitive restricted area pass, with all the colors of all the areas on base. Looked like a Mexican salad and made me feel like a wheel since most high ranking officers were restricted from many areas. LT/Col McConnell was my boss and Captain Smith was also. Miss Boehm was a German National clerk and took advantage of my "new guy" (FNG) status. She would direct phone calls with involved supply questions to my desk and then watch me cringe. My time in that office was short, miserable, and because Miss Boehm was "so nice" to me I was falling in love with her and Col McConnell disapproved. I flew seldom and therefore knew few flying crews I do remember one C-119C pilot, Capt. "Pat" Patterson. He was memorable because he looked like "Red Ryder" from the comic strip. As Louis La Amour would write, "Pat looked like somebody to ride over the mountain with." And that's about all I remember of the flying days there except there was concern about runaway props (Hamilton Standards) on the 4360 engines. I don't recall seeing any C-82s and I wouldn't have a chance to become more familiar with anything there because I was moving out. One morning Col McConnell said "Brad, I'm sending you down to (somewhere that sounded Droodge) France as a member of the advanced party. You'll be getting the base set up for our wing (60th TCW) when it moves there. How soon can you pack? They are cutting your orders now." I knew he was separating me from Miss Boehm. Because what did I know about advanced parties.

Next day after a sad goodbye to Miss Boehm I was wheeling my new 54 Ford v8 through central Europe. I did quite well finding my way until I came to the city of Dreux. I spoke no French and after several attempts at asking for instructions "on the economy" as it was called in those days, I started do drive in ever widening circles until I came to the main gate of "Droodge." It was a one day drive but now it was late at night. This was memorable! No one was manning the gate which looked like an out house. In the glare of my headlights I could see a very muddy road that lead to some vague black shapes on the horizon. It was a little scary! Had there been an uprising? No lights! Were the messerschmidts attacking? I tooted my horn. "Wake up everyone, 2/LT Bradford is here to advance your primitive butts!"

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Then I noticed that a single wiggling dim light was probably coming up that mud road and headed for me. As it drew nearer I could see the grill of a very beat up 53 Dodge pick up truck and it had the paint scheme of an Air Police vehicle. I couldn't believe that the police were allowed to run with one very dim head light. An Airman climbed out and saluted me and went on to explain there was a power failure. He said if I followed him I would not get stuck. He lead me to headquarters and with flashlights he helped me sign in to the 7305th Air Base Squadron. The CQ was sound to sleep on a cot and we didn't wake him. Then with the same instructions to follow his wheel ruts the patient AP led me to the BOQ which was a new building but lacking supplies. With his flashlight we found a cot and a striped mattress. "I guess there are no blankets sir," he said. He didn't mention there was no pillow either, or sheets. But I was dead tired and used my issue overcoat as a blanket and rolled up something I dragged from my B-4 bag as a pillow and slept as an advanced party member should........soundly. I think this was in May, because I didn't keep a diary.

I can't remember too clearly the proper sequence of what happened next. I do remember that I was assigned as POL, Laundry, and Salvage Officer and some other title having to do with the fringes of Supply. I do remember that my NCO in Salvage was one to watch. He was in the Army and had too many connections for me to keep up with him. And he was forever in deep trouble with his wife! I think his name was Calley. The A/2C was the king pin of Salvage and the operation rotated around him. (Later on the C-119s that had crashed in Germany were put in "My" salvage yard.) In laundry I had a steady NCO that I relied on. Even so, one time when we were waiting in the laundry quonset hut to meet an unreliable French outfit and tell the delivery guy "Shape up or ship out," we both got drunk and went to sleep on some bags of dirty laundry. The contractor came and went, never touching the bags we had chosen as beds. Needless to say we continued to get complaints. POL was tricky because things were more accountable. I had an NCO there who always had a sly grin and was always chewing on a match stick. One of our responsibilities was to issue gas rationing tickets to people with cars. I just knew by the look on this guy's face that he was doing something illegal with these tickets. I think his name was Brubaker. Some day I will figure out what his scheme was. An A/3C was also in this outfit. He would call me "Brad." I never said anything. Then one day the Supply Squadron which we were in had an inspection and Lt/Col Dufor and I had to inspect the ranks. When we came to A/3C he said right in front of the Col and me " Hey Braddy Brad, how's it going?" The good Col never mentioned it but I was sweating it out. Col. Dufor had been a Fighter pilot in the WW ll Eagle Sqdn. a great guy but understandably burnt out. I didn't get assigned to a 60th TC flying squadron until around the Fall of 1955 and that's another story. I didn't mention that when I arrived at Rhein-Main I had an "attitude." I had trained as a fighter pilot......a "jet jockey." My first assignment was actually going to be George AFB as a tow target pilot. (guess somebody wanted to kill me!) Hell, it was ok with me. But one of the student officers came to me and asked if I would switch with him because he didn't want to go to Germany and he had friends at George. I said that sounded good too and we switched even though I didn't know what lay ahead. So when I ,"Jet Jockey Les," found myself expected to fly that lumbering C-119 I developed my attitude. Later on I began to love that old beast and trusted it in any kind of weather to get my butt safely back to Earth. And I thought the world of the Characters that made up the crews, and we flew great missions!

One day Lt/Col Duff, our 12th Squadron CO. told me that I was to report to the OSI office. As usual with the military there were no details of why so I tried to review in my mind everything I had done wrong and thankfully couldn't come up with much. Had been in a few wild parties but couldn't think of a thing that would require an OSI investigation. Still I was worried and dreaded the thoughts of being tortured by Bubba. I hopped into my car and drove across the base. I found the OSI office and walked in. I was dressed in class A's and removed my hat. The Airman receptionist said I could have a seat because it would be a few minutes. The office was quite bare as I remember, no photos on the wall or paintings of the French countryside. No magazines. One of the two doors behind the receptionist opened and two male civilians stepped out. One was slim, slightly bald and dressed in a suit. The other, so help me,was dressed in among other things, a trench coat! I couldn't help but grin to myself even in my nervous state. Trench Coat left the room. The Airman told the guy in the suit who I was and I was given the once over. Probably looking for the bulge of a shoulder holster I thought. Suit motioned for me to come into his interrogation center. I entered another stark room, probably 10 by 10. Suit went around the desk and plunked down into the swivel chair. Although there were other chairs, I was not offered a seat. Then in a swift sure motion, Suit reached into his breast pocket and whipped out a leather folder and thrust it in the direction of my face. "I am agent ( I forget the name) of the Office of Special Investigation.!" To this day I don't know what possessed me but I reached around back to my wallet, opened it to my ID card, directed it toward his face and blurted out, "!/LT Elmer L. Bradford , 12th Troop carrier Squadron." I suppose that was received as impudence. I placed the wallet back in my hip pocket and poker faced Suit got down to business. "On (such and such a date) you were the aircraft commander on aircraft (such and such a number) bound from Wheelus to Athens Greece. Do you recall this mission?" I replied that I did after thinking for a moment. "A portion of your cargo was Top Secret Film. Do you recall the film?" I replied that I did not. " I was nervous again and thoughts of Leavenworth crept into my mind. "Well, you did sign for it did you not?" "No sir," I said. Thought I had better throw in a few "Sirs" now and then. Suit went into a lengthy description about how classified material is to be transported and controlled. " In the absence of a courier, the Aircraft Commander is supposed to sign for any Classified material listed on the manifest." I was beginning to sweat. Suit was good! But I still didn't know what the "charges" were. How could I sign for something that I knew nothing about? "What happened to the film sir?" I asked. "It was pilfered!" came the reply. Now I was really upset. I added that the pilot seldom saw the manifest. We checked the tie downs, and weight and balance sheet and unless it was dangerous or priority material it was not important what we were hauling. I was playing dumb. Strangely enough he seemed to buy this. But to think that someone on my crew might be a spy bothered me and I asked him about that possibility. Suit then went into "Good Guy Mode." "Don't worry Lieutenant, we pretty much know it didn't happen on your airplane. But we did want to talk to you to see if you could shed any more light on the situation. Thank you." And that was it. My sweaty shirt felt cold as I stepped out into the light breeze and climbed back into my car. I was free! Never again heard a thing about the film.

When I was reassigned to stateside duty all five of us landed together in New Jersey. I had also brought a Citroen DS -19 that ready for my retrieval at the Brooklyn Naval Yard. My four "Dependents" stayed in transient housing in Fort Kilmer and I caught a GI bus to Brooklyn. I'm 80 years old now and am amazed that I would have the energy to get off a long trans Atlantic flight and even consider getting the car and continuing on to my home in Middleboro, Massachusetts But that was plan "A" and not one complaint was heard from my new family.

With the DS-19 crammed full of luggage and restless people, we lit out for New England. It was dusk when we left Fort Kilmer. As we approached the George Washington Bridge, I did my tourist guide best to point out the Empire State Building which was brightly lit up and quite obvious. It was the only thing I knew about NYC. But I was careful to add that we wouldn't be going anywhere near it and would skirt the entire city. It was maybe a half hour later that we were hopelessly lost and reaching the end of Manhatten Island ! By now I was getting very tired, the kids were fussing and things weren't going well with some folks suggesting I wasn't too bright. Somehow we made it out of that claustrophobic maze of skyscrapers and we finally called it a day somewhere in Connecticut. We got to my home the next day and my parents got acquainted with their new grandchildren and in laws.

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