USAF - Reflections of the Past by
Maurice James Sharkey II
November 2009

I enlisted in the USAF on June 9, 1961 immediately after graduating from Blanchet High School in Seattle WA. I was still 17. I didn't know what I wanted to be when I "grew up" but electronics interested me and the Air Force offered me training as a Radar Repairman. I completed Basic at Lackland AFB, San Antonio TX in August and took a train to Keesler AFB, Biloxi MS as an A3C. I arrived in Biloxi 3 days shy of 18 and discovered there were 92 bars in the area and if one could reach the bar one was old enough to drink.

After completing the basic electronics portion of a 49 week electronic school in January 1962, I went home to Seattle on leave. The trip included a ride from Biloxi to Norton AFB, California, a hop on a C54 to Larsen AFB, Moses Lake WA, and a 220 mile hitchhike to Seattle. The return trip included a ride to Portland Ore, a hop on a C119 to Scott AFB, IL continuing on to St Augustine FL. During the trip from Scott, we had a manifold fire so we limped along at 2000 feet on one engine for the last few hundred miles. Then I hitchhiked 500 miles back to Biloxi. There I completed the rest of my 30331 GCA Radar School in August and made A2C in the process. On several weekends during this period friends and I visited New Orleans, including a weekend at Mardi Gras.

My first assignment was at Kingsley Field Klamath, Falls OR, so I took a train home to Seattle via Chicago in July. The only seat on the Chicago-Seattle run was in the VistaDome because the train was full heading for the Seattle Worlds Fair. In Seattle, I visited the Fair and friends before catching a ride South. At Kingsley Field, my unit was a detachment of 2034 Comm Sq at McChord AFB, Tacoma WA, There I bought a '51 ford convertible and used it for a year traveling between Klamath Falls and Seattle and the surrounding areas.

I immediately volunteered for overseas duty in Japan or UK. I was at Kingsley during the Cuban crises in Oct 62. Overnight, our base went from (18) F101B Vodoos equipped with Genie air-to-air Nuclear missles with (2) in the hot Barn and (2) on the ready pad, to (44) fully armed and ready F101Bs that required 24 hour armed guards on the flight line. On the lighter side, some of us rented houses off base and converted them into party pads. Eventually we got into some hot water for this, but it was great while it lasted. I spent several weeks in mid 1963 on TDY at McChord AFB (F106s and C124s) and Paine Field, Everett WA (F102s) while training for my next radar rating (30351). Each base had some unique equipment associated with my career
field. While at Kingsley, I observed on Radar and SIF the YF112? (the fighter prototype of what became the SR71) during intercept test flights between TX and the Bering Sea. This aircraft could make the intercept and be half way home looking for fuel, before any of the fighters at Kingsley, McChord or Paine could arrive on Target. In August 1963 I went home on leave with transfer orders to Det 2, 2nd Mobile Communications Group (2-2 MOB) at
RAF Sculthorpe (KB50 Tankers) near Kings Lynn UK.

After a flight from Seattle to London on a 707, I took a train to Kings Lynn and got a ride to Sculthorpe. I was there about two weeks when I was sent on TDY to join my GCA radar team at RAF Alconbury (TAC Base) between Peterborough and Cambridge. Our team consisted of a Tsgt an A/1C and two A/2C radar repairmen. After about six weeks at RAF Alconbury we moved our system to RAF Chelveston (Standby Base) near Northhampton for two months where we lived in WWII Neissen (Quanset) Huts. It was here during a dinner that we learned about John F Kennedy's assassination on November 22, 1963. In late December we moved our system to RAF Brize Norton (SAC Base B47s). We stayed in the flight crew barracks with the enlisted crew of a TDY KC37. Here we were authorized to have booze in the barracks. During this period I saw a B58 Hustler arrive after making a trans-Atlantic speed record. It had popped many of its fuselage rivets and had to undergo extensive repair. I also watched numerous KB50s do touch and go practice. They were prone to manifold fires so it was not unusual to see them landing with an engines burning and the crash crews in pursuit. It was easy to imagine they were B29s returning from WWII bombing missions.

We worked hard and played hard. I spent my off time in Oxford, staying in a quaint hotel near the square. I visited RAF Molesworth and other bases in the area. When the work was finished at Brize Norton in late February, we were recalled to RAF Sculthorpe. There we were notified that the base was being deactivated and that our unit was moving to France. Our team had discovered an eleventh century roadhouse that was still operating as a hotel on the town of Touchester. The owner was a grand oold guy who loved yanks and was a terrible poker player. We always tried to route our travel through "twoster" and spend the night. We could park our equipment inside his stone-gated compound and have a great meal. The kitchen crew
was overseen by his wife. The rooms were plastered stone with tiny high windows and crooked walls. On cold nights the shilling metered heaters were a must in each room. We almost never had to pay for the stay with our own money. In retrospect, the man was rich and probably let us win at poker as a way to show his appreciation for the U.S. participation in WWII. I found my experiences in the UK to be good in every way. The people, the land, the history.

We spent March and April repairing our equipment and readying it for transport. One of the things we did was to degunk the conformal coating from every plug-in module. This had been added sometime after manufacture and was beginning to cause problems. We worked in a Neissen hut with the doors open and an aircraft heater blowing air through the building. We started with Carbon Tetrachloride, but half way through this was replaced with Trichlorethylene because the Carbon Tet was foud to be cancerous. Later the trichlor was also listed. After working each day ones sense of smell was totally warped for hours.

We spent weekends in Norwich (American Club) and Great Yarmouth on (the coast) with some very nice ladies. In those days people could buy and install their own 45 RPM records in the pay jule boxes of every club. As our base was closing we could buy records for a nickel apiece. One of our guys, Carl Waldrop, loved the record "Act Naturally", a country western. It was corny but funny so we bought a lot of copies and put the record into every place we hung out. Then we would play it several times a night to let the everyone know that 2-2Mob was in town. The record was not available in the UK, but a few months after our unit transferred to France, the Beatles released their own version of Act Naturally. I swear this is true.

The 2-MOB group had a war-time mission of being able to send equipment and personnel by air to any air strip in Europe or Near East Asia within 24 hours to establish self-sustained communication and Navigation systems for 30 days. During that period additional teams would follow and set up a full operational air base (Comm & Nav) that were self-sustained for up to one year. Our peace-time mission was to replace base GCA Radars while they received factory upgrades. Our equipment included a two-trailer MPN11 GCA system, two 2-1/2 ton Army style 6x6 trucks, one with a mounted maintenance van, and an International C120 4x4 crewcab. The MPN11 included search and precision radars, IFF/SIF, three each VHF and aircraft UHF Radios, three operator consoles, a 100 line phone switchboard, power regulators, a 7.5 ton air conditioner and a full set of ready-spare replacement modules plus built-in test equipment. Everything but the IFF/SIF equipment was tube-based discrete circuitry.

Throughout my total of 15 months TDY in Europe, my team travelled on verbal orders of the commander because our paper orders were seldom able to keep up. We would have each host base contact our headquarters to get confirmation of our status. Our supply chain was equally fragmented. Since our chain of command went through our detachment in RAF Sculthorpe, through our group headquarters in Toul Rosiers AB in France, directly to USAFE, we had a difficult time with supplies, and promotions. But it did have advantages as well. To overcome the supply issue, we would requisition the entire 30 day stock of each Radar unit we replaced before we would set up our equipment.We also had some other clever ways of obtaining hard-to-get electronics from each base supply.

In April, we began shipping some of our equipment to Europe by air cargo. We would take it by truck to bases like RAF Upper Hayford and load it on cargo planes. In early May 1964, I was part of a 34 truck convoy that moved the rest of our detatchment's equipment to South Hampton. There it was transported by US Army Corp of Engineers ships to Cherberg France and then convoyed to Dreux AB by a team from 1-2MOB at Evreux AB. The trucks cargo included equipment plus beds, paint, lumber and other supplies we would need at Dreux. One truck, full of paint rolled into a canyon enroute from Cherberg. The driver was thrown out and survived, but the truck arrived at the base on a tank retriever trailer. It looked like a toy that had been twisted and crushed and then painted in multi-colors.

Immediately upon return from South Hampton to Sculthorpe, about 10 of us were transferred to Dreux AB as an advance party. We travelled POV to Dover, took the ferry to Calais and then drove to Dreux. The base had been in caretaker status since 1958 when the Alabama National Guard had used it as an F86 base. DeGaulle decided it interfered with Orly Field, so it was put in caretaker status. We arrived on a Monday evening only to discover that Monday was free beer night at the club. There were 10 of us and about 14 others at the club. They opened a 16 gallon keg of Parkbrau beer and we drank during dinner. Someone asked how long the free beer lasted and we learned that it was three hours or beyond til the keg was empty. We asked what happened if the keg went dry before the three hours was up, and were told they would open a new keg. But the bartender also said that they had not opened a second keg in over a year. Coming from the land of 4 hour pub calls and beer served in pints, this became an instant challenge. We missed getting a third keg by ten minutes. Then someone had the bright idea of going into Paris, so four of us piled into a WV bug and did. In the course of the night, I found myself alone in Pigalle, very drunk, with a terrible headache and no way to find my buddies. I spoke no French and had no French money (US and UK only). Somehow I found a train station, managed to exchange some money, took a train to Evreux , and hitchhike back to Dreux. My main memory is bouncing down a tree lined road in a 2 cylinder sardine can. I arrived at the base at 0900, still drunk and had to find the barracks I had only visited for a few moments, and then get to the Margarrite (Hanger/Hardstand site) about a mile and a half away. I beat the other three people in the VW, but I wanted to die I was so sick. It turned out that almost any amount of Parkbrau beer could give one a headache. We never cracked a second keg after that.

Our detachment was combined with the 1st detachment from Evreux, increasing our unit form about 65 to 140 personnel. Also using the base was an Army Signal Corps which occupied an area on the back side of the base. They were similar in size and had a similar mission, except they support the Army and we supported the Air Force. The rest of the base consisted of about 120 permanent party in the caretaking organization.

Our barracks was a two story building with open bays on each side of a central hallway. In the UK we had two man rooms. The interior was filthy, so one of our first work details was to scrub and paint everything inside. We then positioned the lockers so that they formed 4 person bays with two large wall lockers per person. It was only a short walk (150 feet) from our barracks to the NCO/Airman club. It was a half mile to the chow hall. Since all of us were on separate rations, we seldom went to mess.

Two things occurred shortly after our unit arrived. First there was a national strike by the electrical workers so, they pulled the plug. No worry, we have huge diesel generators positioned around the base. Oops, per the joint tenancy agreement, these were also controlled by the strikers. Solution, we had an inventory of about one hundred 5000KW 10000KW mobile generators that had to be tested on a regular basis. With 8 hours we had supplied power to our
barracks, the club, the theater, the mess hall and the dependent area trailers.

The base commander was a Lt Colonel and our detachment commander was a captain (our officers consisted of three captains). The commander had implemented a base curfew and we all had permanent passes. We were written up every time we came through the gate after curfew. Our captain told the duty seargent to accept the AP reports and then "file" them. The base commander asked us to provide power to his HQ and to the AP barracks. Our captain agreed to the HQ but claimed we did not have enough equipment to support the whole base and still meet our mission
readiness. Shortly after the first electricity strike was resolved, a French crew arrived at our, now occupied barracks and said they had instructions to paint the interior, When we told them it was already painted they threatened a major strike. We told them the barracks was considered a secure area due to manuals and other mateials that were secret. A compromise was reached, when they were allowed to lounge about outside for three weeks collecting pay as if they were painting the barracks.

The NCO/Airman club had a lot of surplus cash from the prior units patronage. When we arrived they served really great food for very low prices, beer was only a dime and the best liquor was only a quarter a drink. There was also a non-sponsored gambling casino in operation. In 1964 the USAF decided to ban gambling so the slots and table were removed. Sometime that year the Officers club burned down, so the few officers on base joined the NCO/Airman club. It worked out ok, but was never as carefree. As soon as our full detachment arrived, the unit hired a woman to teach an spoken French class. I signed up with the memories of my Paris venture fresh in mind. About half-way through the course my team was sent TDY to Chateauroux AB. Upon arrival we discovered the transit barracks was run-down and about ten miles from the air strip. After staying there one night I was told about a great mess hall right next to the flight line that served 4 meals a day. It was located in the Deols Hotel which I discovered was a transient billet for air crew. When I told the manager that my team provided 24/7 service on the radar system next to the main runway, he gave us two two-man rooms in the hotel.

We stayed at Chateauroux for 82 days and really enjoyed the accommodations. I have two memories of Chateauroux that stand out. We were there in the summer, so it was hot. But when it rained the dirt turned to a red gumbo mud that stuck to everything. The GCA site was surrounded by dirt/mud. One Saturday an Army Dump truck pulled up and the driver asked me where I wanted the gravel? He explained that they were repaving some of the aprons and they had a bad batch of asphalt that had to be dumped immediately. I asked how much and was told they had about 50 truckloads. I asked how would we spread it if I let him dump some at our site. He said they would be happy to grade and roll it, so I told him to bring it on. Within hours we had over 25 truck loads dumped spread and rolled over the entire site including the side road. I then pointed at the TACAN site and told him he was welcome to do the same there. They fished by the end of the day. Everyone commented on the improvement over the next few days, but no one ever questioned how it came about. I didn't admit a thing except to my teammates. The other memory is about bugs. Sometime in June or July we began to find tiny bugs I call pencil leads (bits of mechanical pencil lead) throughout everything in our trailers. These critters could fly, but they liked to crawl over every thing. We would find them stuck under scotch tape and virtually in everything. Then a couple of weeks after the pencil leads appeared we were infested by large yellow/green striped June Bug type flying beetles. These critters seemed to be attracted to our search radar. They would swarm in circles in time with the antenna rotation, and eventually die of
exhaustion or radiation. We had to shut down the system once or twice daily to sweep the bodies off the trailer roof and away from the equipment. They began to stink shortly after death. This lasted about ten days. After that, no more pencil leads and no more june bugs. From Chateauroux, we returned to Dreux AB to service our system.

In October I went on Leave for about two weeks. I caught a hop from Evreux AB to West Berlin. Once there I was told by the Air Force that my leave papers included Germany but not W. Berlin and that I would have to go back. The clerk then told me I couldn't get out until the next day which would give me time to check with the Army. The Army clerk was happy to amend my leave papers to include West Berlin. That night I caught the duty train going North. Everyone had to give their papers to a duty Army Lt riding the train. The train was full of military and dependants, including a high school team going to Hamburg for a foot ball game. The train moved out of W. Berlin to Potsdam where the engine was exchanged with an East German locomotive. We travelled through E. Germany at night. I vividly recall how dark the countryside was, except for radio antennae lights and the occasional dismal station. At each station the train passed through were Russian soldiers in their pink and brown uniforms and E. German Vopo Guards looking eerily similar to WWII soldiers. All were armed with AK47s and side arms. Some held large Alsatian dogs on leashes and the train had high fences topped with barbed wire on both sides. The people on board mostly ignored the outside activity, but I was totally fascinated by the occasional war damaged buildings we passed that were still unrepaired or razed 18 years after the end of the war. At Bremman the locomotive was exchanged with another from W. Germany
as we passed back into W. Germany. In Bremerhaven our train cars were loaded aboard a ferry that took some of us to Denmark and by train on to Copenhagen. There as I passed through customs I had to register with the Danish housing authority and was assigned to a bed and breakfast hotel. That evening I went to the main square by the water and was delighted to find
that They were celebrating a National British Tattoo week, including an authentic British pub. I had found a home. I later met a nice Danish girl who became my guide for the next several days. She took me to most of the interesting sites and museums and of course the waterfront piers. We also toured the Touborg brewery for four hours. This brewery grew its own crops, made its own bottles, brewed the beer, and shipped it on its own trucks and vessels around Europe. It was very impressive. After a great week, I caught a hop on a U.S. Embassy C47 from Copenhagen to Wiesbaden W. Germany. And the next day caught another hop back to Evreux AB I caught a ride back to Dreux in an Air Force truck.

Shortly after returning from leave, on October 14, 1964 I was injured during a scheduled intra-detachment basketball game. My right eye was struck by someone's finger as several of us went up for a rebound. Immediately after the stinging stopped, I noticed some matter inside the eye. I was transported to the Evreux military hospital that evening and keep immobile for three days in a bed. During this time blood spilled into the vitreous fluid of the eye and blocked all frontal vision. I only had a small sliver of peripheral vision out the right side. The blockage started to clear up about five years later. It caused me to re-learn a lot of things. My brain learned a new way to judge depth, by comparing sequential views as the head moves in place of binocular vision. I had to learn to shoot a rifle left-handed, and hold my head differently so the left eye could see line up on things like pistols, pool cues and everything else that required alignment.

After my discharge I was awarded a 10% disability. 45 years later, I still have residual traces that wave around the inside of my right eye like brown seaweed. As my left eye was the weaker of the two, I have worn glasses ever since the accident.

On November 20, our radar team was ordered to transport our GCA system to 2MOB Headquarters in Toul Rosieres AB in NE France. There we spent about two weeks working on our system under the "supervision" of others. We found that we could not get parts or assistance. While we were there we stayed in a transit barracks that was really run down. In addition for about 10 days the mess hall served hot dogs or chicken for lunch and dinner every day. Base Morale was lower than anywhere I had ever served.

Around December 5, we were sent back to Dreux AB without our GCA system. At Dreux, we were issued International Harvester 1600 and 1700 5 ton commercial trucks as replacements to our M series 6X6 vehicles. Just before Christmas we were sent back to Toule Rosieres AB to retrieve the system. Upon arrival, we discovered that some of the equipment had been cannibalized by other CGA teams. We loaded everything we could find and headed back to Dreux. Enroute, the truck I was on broke a fan belt just outside the city of Vitry, This entire area of France was considered unfriendly (communist) to Americans and was off limits to U.S. military personnel. We limped into the town square and parked our truck with a search antennae in the bed and a large international orange and white checkered hitched behind. The other half of the system went on ahead behind the second truck to am Army helicopter base. Paul Sharpe and I locked the truck and walked across the street to a small hotel in our fatigues. We rented rooms, and immediately changed into our civies. Then we went down to the hotel's restaurant and ordered a meal in broken French and German as no one there admitted to understanding English. We enjoyed a fantastic meal of beef brochette smothered in onions and peas plus other side dishes. We then moved to the bar in the same room and had a friendly delightful evening talking in three languages to several local folks. They bought us drinks and treated us as family. The next day a mechanic showed up and repaired the truck while we had a great breakfast. This was the friendliest experience I had in France and it was in an off-limits zone. Go figure. The rest of the trip was uneventful, if taking a big Blue Air Force truck with half a GCA radar system through Paris is boring. We had a lot of strange looks as we drove past the Arc de Triumph, The weather was cold with snow and ice on the roads, so the progress was slow. But we made it back to Dreux AB.

From January to mid-May 1965, we were stuck at Dreux AB. Over these months we put our GCA system back in order as parts arrived. During this time we were skipped over for scheduled deployments to Libya and then the Hebrides Islands. I always felt that our radar had been sabotaged at Group because other teams were jealous of our deployment record. There were six other systems and typically only two or three were serviceable at any given time. We were able to keep some of the M series 6X6s, including our operations van. However truck parts were hard to
come by through the Air Force. We discovered that the Army Signal Corps on our base had a similar problem getting electronics parts. In short order we a  black market trade was established that resolved both needs.

Because Dreux AB was in caretaker status, it became a drop zone for flights of C-124 cargo planes. Often we would have formations of three C-124s fly over and drop one bean bag parachute as a drop marker. This could go on for hours, one bean bag at a time. On weekends the base was also used as a drop zone for sky divers.

My detachment had a lot of career people in specialty fields. Unfortunately for all of us, rank was difficult to make in the Air Force during this period. After WWII a lot of flying officers went back to civilian life only to be recalled for the Korean conflict. After it was over many of the officers wanted to make it a career but were rifted out. They had an option of becoming NCOs and after 20 years of service, retiring at the highest permanent rank they had attained. The end result was that there were so many NCOs that there were few openings. The armed forces agreed to give up their Warrant grades in order to add two higher NCO grades in an attempt to rectify this. The Air Force agreed but neither the Army nor Navy did. Ultimately all three services got the Super NCO grades, but only the Air Force lost its warrant officer ranks. Even so, My team leader TSgt Harris, had made his rank during 18 months of the Korean war and had been waiting
for a promotion for 17 years. We also had A2c airmen with up to 14 years time in grade. I had over 3 years Time in grade in a P3 career field. But I couldn't draw pro pay unless I reenlisted for 4 more years. Meanwhile, our counterparts in the Army Signal Corps were making TSgt in three years. Because of this, and the lack of support from our group, I decided to leave the Air Force.

I received orders to proceed to McGuire AFB in New Jersey in mid-May 1965. The flight left from Orly Field in Paris. The plane was a chartered Pan Am Boeing 707, carrying military and dependant personnel. On take off, many of us noted that the plane rolled almost the full length of the 10,000 foot runway before lift off. When we were on final approach at McGuire, the pilot told us that we had lost some tires on take-off and that we would be landing on foam as precaution. We landed without incident, but there were two tires on fire and a lot of anxious dependants on board.

At McGuire I was notified that my records had not arrived from Toul Rosiers, so I had to wait. It took ten days for them to arrive. During this period, I only had one uniform, my class blues. Each day I reported for separation and was diverted to do office work. I operated the base locater position which consisted of verifying that people were assigned to the base for credit company inquiries. One night I went to Philadelphia with two others and visited the sights. Finally, on the tenth day, I got my separation papers and travel money.

I left the base, went to a used car lot and bought a '57 Dodge Ram 2-door for $400.00. that evening I drove to Philadelphia and paid a brief visit to the second wife of my half-sisters' father. I then drove all the way to Madison WI, before I began to see "dragons" on the road. I rented a motel room and slept round the clock before continuing on. I spent the next five days driving to Seattle. During the trip I passed through Montana where I had to take a 40 mile detour through a muddy at night. I followed a road grader. Later the next day, I saw two tornadoes to the south at the same time. It was a scary drive for about an hour. I was glad to get beyond that area. Two weeks later I was working as an electronics technician for an aerospace company (EDC). I tested and repaired signal conditioners and logic modules that were used on the Saturn 5 rockets and command rings of the Apollo program. I have touched things that are on the moon. The Air Force had prepared me well for the future.

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