was stationed in England and had been enjoying every minute of it. As
a newly promoted Major in the US Air Force, I felt that, after
achieving "Field Grade" rank, I had finally "arrived"
in my career as a REGULAR Officer. Later, leaving my normal job as an
Accounting & Finance Officer to accept the higher job as Base
“right-on” in my book.
so much for that "heady," euphoric feeling; a few extra
"additional duties" (now twenty-three of them, to be exact)
put my feet squarely back on the ground. Because, you see, the
"promotion" didn't scrape these functions off me at all.
They (The Chain of Command) said: "Someone has to do these
When I asked: Why don't you give this one to some 2nd Lt? After all,
these duties are supposed to provide
young, inexperienced Officers. The reply was: "Oh, we couldn't
give that to a 2nd Lt. That's too much responsibility for that level
of experience (a highly ironic answer because I had had the exact
same duties as a Second Lieutenant, years before!).
Sunday morning, I answered the Telephone and involuntarily
straightened up as I heard the voice at the other end of the line. It
was the Wing Commander, a full Colonel, who said: "Dick, I think
you'd better come over to my Office because I have a surprise guest
here whom you wouldn't want to miss." I said: "I'll be
right there, Sir." Since my Wife (Elfi) and I lived in Base
Housing, it was only about ½
a mile away and only took me 20 minutes or so to put on my Uniform
and arrive there.
my great surprise, when the Wing Commander introduced me to a person
whom I had seen in pictures several times but never had had the
occasion to meet. It was a Lieutenant General (three Stars )
from the U.S. Air Force Headquarters in the Pentagon, who was
transiting our Base; having arrived from visiting the Headquarters of
USAFE (United States Air Forces in Europe), Wiesbaden, Germany. He
was on his way back to the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and our Wing
Commander, unbeknownst to me, had done him the Honor of arranging
something really unusual for even a General Officer.
“ride” was to be on a brand-new huge
Military Airlift Command (MAC) that was also transiting our Base at
the same time. It had landed a couple of hours ago. Since the
Aircraft was still so new, he would be on his way with a travel
experience that few of his peers could match. Hardly even any of the
Star Generals around him in the Pentagon had been aboard this
Aircraft to look at it, let alone to have traveled on it as a
passenger. And he acted mighty appreciative as he literally licked
his lips in anticipation of the journey (which, at the time, was
comparable to being invited to travel as a visiting Astronaut along
with John Glenn into outer space).
about five minutes I could tell he was a “regular”
and didn’t have a mean bone in his body. He was really polite
and we got along capitally. During our conversation over coffee in
the Wing Commander’s nice, comfortable Office (now a VIP
Passenger Waiting Room), I found out that he knew all about me
because Hq. USAFE had briefed him on the mission of RAF Lakenheath
and that I was new to the position of Base Comptroller; having been
all of about 10 days on the job, so far.
I knew that in spite of all this politeness, the other shoe had to
fall. And it wouldn’t take long for the
to start. I thought, just my luck, he probably would start with a
“loaded” question that he knew I couldn’t
Luckily, the C-5A had landed just before his USAFE Aircraft from
Wiesbaden had arrived and the “turn-around time”
C-5A would be minimal or a matter of an hour or so yet. So far,
because of the “small talk” together with the Wing
Commander and I, he couldn’t quite get at me. With the Wing
Commander driving, it was in the back seat of the big Staff Car on
the way to the Aircraft that the General got in his
asked me: “As
we’re just now getting a handle on the values of equipment
buildings in the overall Air Force, do you know the values of the
plant and equipment on the books here at RAF Lakenheath?
Now I probably should have known the answer to his question, having
been the RAF Lakenheath Accounting & Finance Officer before.
the U.S. Air Force hadn’t paid much attention to double-entry
bookkeeping since its founding in 1947 (and I also hadn’t
my college Accounting classes in 1950) so I answered honestly:
Sir, I don’t know.” Then he said with mock
the chilling words: “Well,
what do you know?” And
I smiled and said: “Sir,
I know what time your Airplane leaves.”
Then he laughed a small “Ha, Ha” and said:
that’s something!” The Wing Commander just grinned.
this wasn’t as impertinent
as it sounds. There was an anecdote going around in the Air Force for
many years with the exact
same two lines
besides, it was Sunday and we could tell that he was in an
exhilarated mood heightened by anticipation. We were just "role
playing" for an instant in time - no way would he grind me into
pieces over this tiny little bookkeeping issue in front of my Boss,
the Wing Commander.
the subject was changed for us as we neared the gigantic Aircraft.
The General’s eyes got bigger and bigger as he saw the
size of the behemoth outside the car window. And then he looked
aghast at the boarding stairs - imagine climbing outside
stairs up to the top of a three-story building.
at the Staff Car, the last I saw of him, now a small figure at the
top of the boarding stairs, he turned, pointed at the Aircraft, and
waved a “Thank
to us both
for getting him this unusual “ride.” I’m
told his fellow General Officers and even his grandchildren all about
remember him as not only being a real gentleman and a “nice
guy,” but as someone who had something in common with me
"high finance" -- we had both laughed at the same jokes
over the years. I regret that we never crossed paths again.
I thanked the Wing Commander profoundly for letting me participate in
this “surprise” visit -- especially for letting me share
the credit for the General’s getting his thrilling ride.
won't know where to send it.)
Bishop's Biography and Story List
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