When I got to Dreux Air Base, France in January 1960 I didn’t think about any sports. Having been in Turkey for over two years before coming to Dreux Air Base, France I wondered just what the French ladies were like. Low and behold I began seeing a eighteen year old English school girl. After a few months we parted company and it wasn’t long before I had myself a French Moped bought from an Airman I worked with.
Now with economical transportation I visited many areas around the base. Working 24 on and 48 off I was never really tied to the base. I never went to the movies although I visited the library some. The service club was not my hang out but the snack bar was somewhat. Now when I met some French folks that summer of 1960 I had some places to visit and I did. What wonderful Moped rides I enjoyed that summer.
There was a surprise inspection one week end when I was away from the base. The Captain who was in charge of the inspection team asked Jim Myers (my bay mate) why there were no shoes out under my bed. Myers replied “They’re at the shoe shop”. After a season of laughter from all present the Captain said “Tell that Airmen to have shoes out next time”!!
Some time in early September that year I got word from a Kentucky friend, an Air policeman, that there was to be a base basketball team. Seems like a 1st Lt Jimmy Skelton of the 7305th CAMS, was to assemble a base team for the’60-‘61 season.
My Kentucky friend Billy Birdsong the Air policeman, had been a star guard for Heath high school near to Kevil his home town. Billy was not even six foot but he was very fast driving to the basket and was a very good jump shooter.
Some time that September all ball players who wanted to play for the Dreux Plainsmen met with Coach Skelton in the base gym. I had played basketball for my high school team so I was one of the airmen at the meeting. I believe there were some twenty candidates who showed up that first night. Names were taken along with the Airmen’s basketball experience. Some fundamentals were run thru along with some crib shots and wind sprints.
We candidates began to practice regularly at least twice a week. Due to my work schedule I did miss a few practices but that did not seem to hamper my progress. After some three weeks or so there were only 15 of us left on the team. Coach Skelton had played for the legendary coach Hank Iba at Oklahoma State University. Ironically Coach Skelton was the same age as me.
We ran the same plays that Coach Skelton himself used while playing at Oklahoma State. One of the most unusual things he did when he called time out was to have us lay on the floor facing him while he addressed us as he knelt on one knee. He said Coach Iba did that for his players believing they would be better rested. I thought it worked very well. I will say our team was in tip top condition for we sure did run a lot.
roster that began the 1960-1961 Dreux Plainsmen season
1st Lt Jimmy L. Skelton--------------------7305th CAMS
1st Lt John F. Shockley --------------------this Hq
Ssgt Willie Byrd Jr. -------------------------2nd AACS Sqd
Ssgt John L. Shoemaker-------------------this Hq
A/1c Emmitt R. Bowling -----------------10th Troop Carrier Sqd
A/1c John C. Lynch -----------------------this Hq
A/2c William B. Birdsong ---------------7305th Air Police Sqd
A/2c Lawrence Crump -------------------7305th Supply Sqd
A/2c James E. Farrell --------------------this Hq
A/2c Alvin Lynch ------------------------7305th Air Police Sq
A/2c Richard L. Mann ------------------ 7305th CAMS
A/2c Charles L. Sibert -------------------7305th CAMS
A/3c William E. Chapman-------------- 7305th Supply Sqd
A/3c Thomas Foster Jr. ----------------- 7305th Supply Sqd
A/3c Jackey M. Martin ------------------10th Troop Carrier Sqd
There was an exception to this rule for we traveled to Bitburg, Germany on the 11th of November to be TDY for 5 days. Why was this you ask, well we were going to play in a tournament there. I recall our first game against Bitburg which was very close to the end but we lost by a few points. At one of the game timeouts I believe it was Willie Byrd who asked Coach Skelton to take him off guarding one of their better players. Coach Skelton asked Willie why, to which he replied “He gets up so high on his jump shots that his behind is in my face and he needs a shower” to which there was a roar of laughter.
I didn’t get into the first game but when we played our second game the next night I saw a few minutes of action. I almost had to come out of that game due to equipment failure. The top button on my game shorts was missing and all I had was a slipping belt buckle to try to hold them up. Thank goodness the game shorts I had to wear, the only uniform pair left in the equipment duffel, fit me very tight. Again we lost a tight game and with two losses we were done in this tournament.
The next day we all went to Frankfort, Germany by bus, thanks to Coach Skelton, to see the US Army’s championship football game which the Mainz Tigers won. The next day it was fly back to Dreux Air Base.
We were scheduled to play an away game at Laon Air Base north east of Paris on the 3rd of December so we left Dreux Air Base on the 2nd. I recall everything going smoothly until we turned east toward Laon after passing around Paris. Remember it is winter time and the sight of snow was normal to all of us on that flight. The C-119 began to rise and fall due to us being in a very heavy snow storm with snow flakes as big as ones fist.
We all started looking thru as many of the aircraft side port holes as possible at the intense snow showing up when the landing lights were switched on. Just then the aircraft crew chief ordered everyone to tighten their chutes. He said if this gets worse and we keep losing altitude there is a possibility we’ll have to leave this plane by parachute. After some intense moments of panic the C-119 leveled out and we all breathed a sigh of relief. Soon we were out of danger and all of us were praying for a smooth landing. Sometime later we landed at Laon Air Base and all was well. We did win that game and a snow storm didn’t affect our play one little bit.
When we landed safely at Dreux Air Base the next day we all had a story to tell to our fellow workers. I believe Evreux came to play the next game at our base. We lost that game as Evreux had a good squad that year. When January rolled around and some of our players had been rotated stateside we decided to call our season finished. We had a 500 season so we felt pretty good about our selves. Toul-Rosieres won the USAF France playoff tournament. That secured them a spot in the USAFE championship to be played that year in Adana, Turkey. All players & others would be housed at Incirlik Air Base my former air base in Turkey.
One of our Dreux players was picked up to play on the Toul-Rosieres squad as he was only TDY to Dreux from the Toul-Rosieres AACCS. S/sgt Willie Byrd Jr was that player. Actually there was another Dreux Air Base player going along with S/sgt Byrd to Adana, Turkey.
This is a brief story about the Dreux Air Base basketball team that I was a member of for the years of 1960-1961. I believe there was a base basketball team in 1961-1962 made up of the Alabama Air Guard members who had been sent to Dreux Air Base for some ten months. Without them I doubt Dreux would have had a traveling basketball team as Dreux Air Base was being drawn down and there were very few permanent party airmen remaining. There could have been a few of them on the 1961-1962 roster.
Playing on the 1960-1961 Dreux Air Base basketball team was a pleasure I’ll not forget. I have spoken to my former coach, 1st/LT Jimmy Skelton who lives in Kansas City, a few times in the last few years. Like I said we’re both 82 years of age and we both recall the 1960-1961 Dreux Air Base basketball team with pleasure. Coach Skelton made sure each member of the team received a blue snap up award jacket with leather sleeves. I literally wore that jacket out from 1961 on.
This story will be followed up by a story relating what took place at the February 1961 USAFE basketball tournament held in Adana, Turkey.