Posted by Myron Barnstone, edited by Joel Bowers on April 13, 2016
I went for basic training for the Air Force in upstate New York. Immediately, I learned that they were doing a theatrical production that had been written by a young Frenchman who had joined the United States Air Force called, Conquest of the Air. While growing up in Portland, Maine, I had been a set designer at the Jewish Community Center’s youth group and at the Civic Little Theatre. When I learned that the Air Force was gathering talent to produce a musical extravaganza, I offered my humble services.
While I should have been digging latrines and guarding them, I was dating dancers from NYC and having a grand time. My NCOs from basic training were not amused and wanted to punish me for not going through basic like every other airman. As long as I was with special services they were unable to touch me, but, when my stint was over and I had to await the boat that would take me to Okinawa, they tried to find me. I enjoyed the experience enormously and I didn’t regret that I didn’t have practices with my rifle. I didn’t have to march…forever. This befuddled those in charge and they wanted their pound of flesh. So I just made sure I was scarce. They wouldn’t see me. They would come around looking for me but they wouldn’t find me. I never slept in the same place and, when the ship left the dock there I was waving at them form the highest deck. Needless to say, they were furious. If they had found me before I managed to get away, I really don’t want to think about what they would have done to me. The irony was, when I left, I have a picture of me waiving to them from a bus.
I never did what I was supposed to do, which meant I was happy. I was doing something more interesting, more challenging, and something where I was learning skills. But I couldn’t get a promotion because I wasn’t working in the training field I was working for. But I didn’t care much. I wasn’t making much and the improvement in pay wouldn’t have amounted to anything anyway but at least I could be doing something more interesting.
They sent me to a mechanics school in Austin, Texas once I was out of basic. I spent six months there training. I found it absolutely fascinating. I had never had any of these experiences. Hydraulics, mechanics, electronics; they were pretty bloody sophisticated machines. The blades move, you know. They reversed. They danced. They did the hokey-pokey. Some were electronic, some were hydraulic and some were mechanical. To understand how they work and how to repair them, while I never really did it, was fascinating until I got out on the “hot stand.”
Here I was, straddling to nose cone of a B-29 bomber with my arms stuck underneath the cowling over the top of the engine, which was hot. And everything was safety wired. Every nut that goes on a bolt has a hole in it. And it has to correspond with a hole in bolt so you can pass a wire through so when the plane vibrates, the nut doesn’t come off the bolt. When you cut a piece of wire you make a nice blade out of the end. It comes down to a nice, sharp point. So when you reach underneath there you feel a tickle. And when you pull your arm out, the tickling you felt was the wire cutting the hell out of your arms and you are dripping with blood. And the blood is co-mingled with engine oil and you decide, sitting up there in the hot sun, in Texas, that this isn’t much fun.