Trying to nail me to the wall by using the Utapao UFO encounter was really the last straw. If I ever had an inkling of re-enlisting, it was now gone forever. I wanted to leave the Air “Farce” ASAP. I knew the general was truly ignorant concerning my innumerable experiences with aliens and UFOs prior to my enlistment into the Air Force. The Utapao UFO encounter – though prioritized as top secret or higher by the U.S. Air Force – was considered one of my least scary and personal confrontations. If it were not for the idiotic antics of General Abbot I probably would have forgotten about it. Seldom did I write to Nancy telling her about the events of a day’s work although I did write to my young gorgeous wife everyday. Utapao’s daylight UFO event happened only a couple days prior to the commander’s call and I had contemplated several times if I should write about what I had seen. Deep down I knew Nancy would eventually see some type of paranormal event with me, and I really did not believe the Utapao UFO was important enough for her to read about from one of my letters. Abbot, you wasted your time and ego!
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After being assigned to Robbins Air Force Base in Georgia in 1970 I had more UFO experiences although less stimulating, except in one case. During a TDY assignment at an “alert pad” – where we stood at the ready 24 hours a day to launch nuclear bombs and missiles at the Soviet Union – I asked a major who was a pilot of one of the readied B-52’s what his thoughts were about aliens and UFOs. Seldom did I ask for any officer’s opinions, especially if they looked to be over 40. But while in my 20’s, I still liked to hear the advise and stories offered by “old-timers.” Age has a strange perspective on most everything, most particularly – age – predominantly for those we believe are the aged. (Now, I look back and see this officer as being young.) The old major’s reply hit me like a hammer hitting my thumb and still haunts me decades and ages later.
He answered with, “They are the new Europeans…we are the Indians.”
I have to mention here, if you, the reader, have not already recognized that I seemed to have an uncompromising attitude towards military brass. I did. I would go a little further and call it a “chip on my shoulder”. No chip existed before going to Utapao Air Force Base. Shortly after arriving there, I was directed to attend a briefing, a meeting at a level above confidential. As I walked into the briefing room, I noticed I was one of only two enlisted men, everyone else there were officers. A colonel sat at the main chair and officers provided various verbal briefings using visuals provided with an overhead projector via a huge screen. From the start, nuclear weapons movement throughout the world was the main topic. This topic lasted another 40 minutes. From the way the colonel was describing events, we were about to go to war with the Soviet Union. Of course this was stimulating but I already knew our head-butting with the Soviet Union could mean a world-wide nuclear war at anytime. The topic I waited for was the analysis of Utapao’s B-52’s bombing runs over Vietnam. The last two or three minutes of the briefing were dedicated to our involvement in Vietnam.
Just knowing the Vietnam War, or conflict, amounted to nothing more than a footnote was an assault on what I considered decent and right. American men, women, and friends were dying there and many were being physically and mentally wounded. But there at Utapao, the Vietnam War got no more attention than an irritating commercial on television. At that point in my military career, I realized we were not trying to win that crazy Asian war. Americans were dying but not to win a war in Vietnam. I came out of that briefing of August 1969 with a “shoulder chip” and I kept it until I left that geographical theater. If only “Butch” from Jackson Street (named for Confederate General Stonewall Jackson) could have been in that briefing room with me before enlisting in the Marines.
Butch lived in the older but less historic DuPont area of Hopewell, about a half block from where I lived long before we were teenagers. We were friends, but never close. We always talked when we had chance meetings with one another in and out of school. Just one or two days before I left for “boot camp” I walked into Clark and Pritchard’s men’s clothing store in old downtown Hopewell to purchase a shirt. The salesman standing in the shirt department just happened to be Butch. After our normal amenities, he asked me for my neck size.
I answered, “Size 16”
He quickly responded, “I’ve got the perfect shirts for you.”
I answered, “I only need one. I’m headed for boot camp and I wanted to wear a new shirt.”
He asked, “Blue or Green?”
I questioned him, “Why blue or green?
He explained with a sales pitch, “Your eyes look like a cross between blue and green. You should have a shirt color to match your eyes. With your eye color, you really can use both a blue and green one.”
I picked up the two shirts he had pulled out of a stack of shirts and examined them. The green shirt was a bright light-medium green and for some reason I liked it better than the blue one.
My response, “I’ll take this one.”
Butch replied with a question, “Nice choice, how about a new pair of slacks?”
“I have plenty of slacks. All I need is one good shirt to wear to Texas.”
At this point our conversation became serious. I explained to Butch that I was supposed to go into boot camp with another school friend whose name sounded like Bobby Kurkenchapel (not the same Bobby who had missed seeing two flying saucers because he had passed out). I explained this long-time friend had talked with Air Force recruiters and had given them my name and phone number long before my name had come up on the draft list. I further explained how the Air Force recruiter had called Bobby Kurkenchapel in earlier than planned for enlistment to secure specialized training he had requested at the Biloxi, Mississippi air base. My story became longer than I wanted it to be and I eventually included a portion which I had not wanted to disclose to anyone. This anecdote had been close-hold until I revealed it to Butch. It included a friend I had known since elementary school who had called me and asked me to see her at Hopewell’s selective service office. She was an employee of that office and I was afraid she might have some bad news for me. This got Butch’s attention.
He inquired, “Oh, yeah! What did she do?”
I answered him by saying she had seen my name come up on the draft list and just about demanded that I better do something fast. I did. I explained to Butch how I had driven straight to the Air Force recruitment office in Petersburg and informed the recruiter that I was ready for enlistment. I signed a document and one of the recruiters set me up for some tests.
Butch asked, “Did you thank her?”
He meant Cookie, the girl who warned me that my name had come up on the draft list.
I thought for awhile while biting my bottom lip while trying not to say what gradually slipped out, “I don’t think I did.”
Butch came back at me and my answer with, “You ought to send her some flowers or something.”
Butch’s question and comments had embarrassed me and caused me to look for a quick way out of the conversation and the store. In my mind, I thought I would send Cookie a “Thank You” card from Lackland Air Force Base (Air Force boot camp) saying – Thanks to you, I’m here. And then I thought I would add something more serious like – You might have saved my life. (Unfortunately, I forgot all about the note after entering boot camp; it is something I have regretted ever since.) Butch did not hear the full account of our meeting. The looks Cookie had given me while I was in her office bothered me. Upon first seeing me, the squinting of her eyes transmitted a slight scowling look as if she disapproved of something I had done or had not done. I guessed she could not believe I had let myself fall into the precarious situation of being drafted into the Army. After we had talked for a minute or two, Cookie’s expression transformed itself with a sad smile. Her blue eyes reinforced this sadness and portrayed sympathy more than a warning. She must have thought I was headed for the infantry and jungles of Viet Nam. I thought about our conversation while I was talking with Butch.
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