Last week in this space, I took you back to the Summer of 1966, as I spent four weeks in Air Force Basic Training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. I promised I would introduce you to Airman Basic Dimbulb, the pitiful creature that the rest of us were glad we weren’t. His real name was Kaschack, and he was a nice enough kid, raised in the heartland and decent as could be, but there was never a hint of a brain anywhere in his body. The poor guy just never understood a command, nor did he have any redeeming physical capabilities when it came to daily PT or being among the fastest around the quarter mile track.
I don’t remember precisely when we had our first open locker inspection, where the Tiny Angry Man and his hideous minion examined how well we had all arranged every item we owned in our footlockers or on our section of the single eye-level shelf that ran completely around the open bay that we lived in. I do remember being able to see Dimbulb’s open locker from where I stood at the position of attention, waiting for my own locker to be inspected, and thinking to myself, “Oh dear God, he’s going to die…” Sixty-four of us, counting both upstairs and down, had all done really outstandingly well, and then there was the dumpster that was Dimbulb’s footlocker. For about thirty seconds, the Demon and his Familiar simply stood before this sorry little creature and stared at the heap of wadded up uniform clothing and toiletries spilling out over the edges of the container. Dimbulb had the happy advantage of never, ever, realizing that all hell was about to break loose, with himself as the focus of the fury. And he remained completely unaffected by it, even as the Familiar tore into him verbally, all the while smacking his prominent nose back and forth with one index finger. The Demon, in the meantime, flung every item in the locker, one at a time, into a sea of wrinkled wreckage around the hapless recruit. I learned more bad words than I had ever known existed, during the stereo tirade heaped upon poor little Kaschak. Several of them I filed away for future reference. They’ve come in handy down through the years.
Two days later, our beloved T-I had us formed up out front of the barracks for mail call. That was always fun because Tiny Angry Man reveled in butchering our names—and in rolling his eyes dramatically when a giant of a man named Hilton would respond with a high-pitched, lilting “Here, Thir” when his name was called. I digress…in the middle of this funfest, the Familiar came charging out of the Barracks bellowing “Kaschak, get over here!” at the top of his lungs. Kaschak wasn’t much bigger than a bar of soap, and watching him disappear into the barracks with both of the Dynamic Duo flanking him was like watching a scrap of Ivory soap vanish down the drain. We expected to never see him again.
But this became his shining moment…a legend was born and more than five dozen fellow recruits became his protectorate for the duration. How he did it, where he got it from…we never found out, but he had hidden a copy of the current issue of Playboy Magazine under his pith helmet perched on his section of the shelf I mentioned above. “The Kiss” stolen from the lifeguard at the swimming pool by Squints Palledorous in the movie “The Sandlot” two decades later, pales in comparison to the hero worship engendered by Dimbulb’s bold move. It didn’t even matter that the magazine was immediately confiscated and none of us ever got to gaze upon the … uh…the interviews. Yeah, that’s it.
I mentioned daily PT: our PT instructor was a robot. He must have been, because he did things that seemed impossible… twenty-five pushups in about twenty-five seconds, clapping his hands between each one, followed by fifteen one-armed pushups. He conducted his “class” on a raised platform so we could all admire his macho accomplishments…and so he could look down on us. It was during PT one morning that I heard a new phrase—one I’d never heard before: “four-eyes.” I had been wearing glasses for about six years without ever hearing the phrase until one of the PT Monitors—Lifers who patrolled the ranks of sweating recruits to make sure we did everything just right. “Four Eyes…get your (butt) up right now and report to the podium!” Some poor fool was in trouble. Suddenly this pit bull of a man was standing over me and shrieking wildly, “Are you deaf, four-eyes? Get your (butt) up to the instructor right now!” Oh my God! He’s talking to me!
I scrambled awkwardly to my feet—we had been “bridging”, something I’d done since 7th grade—and apparently the Mean Monitor didn’t like the way I did it. I gathered my shame and embarrassment about me and jogged to the podium, where the robot instructed me to do two quick laps…and be back before the next exercise commenced. Well…I was never the fastest guy on the Wyalusing High School track team, but I blazed a personal record in the half mile that morning, earning a smile and a nod from the robot when I reported back to him. Unlike the second day of Basic, as I related last week, I managed to keep breakfast in on this morning. We were a week in and I had begun to feel like maybe I could do this. There were unknown challenges ahead before the Air Force would be willing to turn us loose on the world…and there was the never-ending threat that any one of us at any time could be “set back,” recycled to the first day of Training with some new Flight of incoming Rainbows. We slept fitfully with that terror in the backs of our minds. We drilled for hours, we went to military classes, we shined shoes and commodes, we slowly but surely became of one mind under our hairless scalps…one for all and all for one. Especially all for Dimbulb. The Legend.
Next week, the obstacle course, the rifle range, the PT final exam and the individual Drill performance to determine if we graduated or got set back.
Contact Lloyd Davis at email@example.com