Well, Major, What Do You Know?

Richard Franklin Bishop

© Copyright 2014 by Richard Franklin  Bishop  

Photo of C-5A with smaller aircraft.

My Military Life Series (Without Deadly Force)
Part One - Enjoying Asia
Part Three - My Life As A Non-Combatant
Part Four - A Mysterious Disappearance
Part Five - Controlling An English Disaster
                       (Of American Origin)   
Part Six - Well, Major, What Do You Know?                    

I 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 Comptroller was “right-on” in my book.

Well, 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 things:" (Me?). When I asked: Why don't you give this one to some 2nd Lt? After all, these duties are supposed to provide “career-growth” to 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!).

One 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.

Imagine 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.

His “ride” was to be on a brand-new huge C-5A Transport Aircraft of the 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 Four 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).

In about five minutes I could tell he was a “regular” guy 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.

But, I knew that in spite of all this politeness, the other shoe had to fall. And it wouldn’t take long for the “grilling” to start. I thought, just my luck, he probably would start with a “loaded” question that he knew I couldn’t answer. Luckily, the C-5A had landed just before his USAFE Aircraft from Wiesbaden had arrived and the “turn-around time” for the 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 “licks.”

He asked me: “As we’re just now getting a handle on the values of equipment and 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. But, the U.S. Air Force hadn’t paid much attention to double-entry bookkeeping since its founding in 1947 (and I also hadn’t since my college Accounting classes in 1950) so I answered honestly: “No Sir, I don’t know.” Then he said with mock seriousness the chilling words: “Well, Major, 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: “Well, that’s something!” The Wing Commander just grinned. (Now 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 in it).

And, 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.

Then the subject was changed for us as we neared the gigantic Aircraft. The General’s eyes got bigger and bigger as he saw the awesome 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.

Back 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 You” to us both for getting him this unusual “ride.” I’m sure he told his fellow General Officers and even his grandchildren all about it.

I remember him as not only being a real gentleman and a “nice guy,” but as someone who had something in common with me besides "high finance" -- we had both laughed at the same jokes over the years. I regret that we never crossed paths again.

And 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.

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