Ahhhh...The Memories

Cris Hamilton recalls his tour of Duty in the USAF
with the SR-71 at Beale AFB and Kadena AB, Okinawa

Mon, 26 Mar 2001 18:28
Email from: Cris Hamilton <mqoths@jps.net>
To: Leland Haynes, Webmaster, SR-71 Blackbirds

Hello Leland,
My name is Cris Hamilton,MSgt (Ret.). I had the pleasure of serving with you ( and I remember you too) and a multitude of others in the 9th SRW.  I first came to Beale from Vietnam via Hickam AFB as a SSgt in July 1967 to the NAV Aids Shop (06/67 - 12/71).  After an involuntary cross training tour in Airborne Photo back to SEA, I came back to Beale in May 1973, a TSgt to the NAV shop with the admirable SMS later to be CMS Doc Adams.  I cross trained to the new Logistics field (661X0) in Apr. '76 and left in Aug '77 (a MSgt) for a 4 year tour to Zweibrucken AB, Germany where I retired out of in 1981.  ZAB was a RF-4 Recce outfit that had several ex-Habu's among its personnel, (to name a few: Fred Palatto & Fred King (Photo), Charlie DeBack (NAV Aids) and LtC (later to be Col.) Bill Spacey (Col. Spacey was the 9th AMS Maintenance Officer before going to ZAB). There were others too but my old memory has deprived me of there names. I read with great interest and pleasant appreciation your history of the Blackbird and Okinawa.  It brought back many memories of the "Rock" - primarily fond but at the time was not without frustration and the want to get "back to the world" on the great silver bird (KC-135Q).  I did find one very minor error in the history.  The original TDY's were for 120 days.  I had the opportunity to spend two 120 day TDY's before they were dropped to 90 days (I don't recall when that was for sure but I was at OL-8 from Aug. - Dec. 1968 and Apr. - Aug 1969.  I spent two 120 day, two 90 day, and two 60 day TDY's to KAB in my tenure at Beale AFB. I know others spent more TDY time there than I did because it was based on how your particular shop was staffed at the time.  In 1973 I also was went to OL-SA (Griffiss AFB), 2 weeks after returning from KAB because we didn't have another 7 level in the shop.  A group of us; TSgt John Tibbs, SSgt Terry Wickam, myself and a host of others built a giant snowman beside the barracks. They chased us out of the Alert Hanger we had stayed in. The snowman got front page on the GAFB Newspaper. I  was with that contingent when we went to OL-SB (Seymour-Johnson AFB) when I had to return to BAFB after a week so I could replace the 7 level at KAB.   There were others in the same situation at that time because manpower wasn't the greatest then and the unit was spread thin with mission requirements. As you know, we all kept those Blackbirds flying - with the GI's prerogative: bitchin' and complaining all the way.  In my career I hold 2 Units at the top as the best I ever served with.  One is the 76th Air Rescue & Recovery Squadron (64-67) and the 9th SRW (67-71 & 73-77).  I had the pleasure of spending a total of 9 years with what I consider the greatest aircraft ever built - the SR-71. Some of the fond memories of the Habu that comes to mind for me are:

1. The times we boarded, duct taped, or otherwise sealed up the "T" hanger and Barracks 108 (Habu Hotel) for the typhoons that skirted or hit Okinawa.  The water would be shut off for a few days and we had to do the old Clorox trick for drinking water and eat box meals (lots of beer and boozes instead of water satisfied the thirst).

2.  The bowling alley next door was a frequented place and the side door was a convenient exit for some fun loving GI's to grab a bowling ball and scurry off to the barracks.  I think at one time there was as many bowling balls up on the water pipes in the rooms as the bowling alley had in their facility.  I remember one time a contingent of people (accompanied by the SP's) came over to retrieve those balls so the bowling customers would have a selection of balls to chose from (of course that didn't stop the occasional ' borrowing' that I recall ).  I remember one occasion when Doc Adams, (SMS- NAV Aids), Jerry Massie (SSgt - MRS), myself and a couple others just happened to be in an upstairs hallway late one evening and a bowling ball appeared (out of nowhere). It seemed appropriate to roll it up and down the hallway.  After a couple times of the ball hitting the wall, Doc decided it would be safer in a trash can at the end of the hallway.  Well, lo and behold, as Doc was in the can the ball was propelled at a somewhat less than Mach 2 by someone (not me - we all said) hit the wall on one side careened over to the other side hit a door jam and went airborne dead center into the trash can. Doc was off balance in the can and Doc and the can went crashing to the floor.  Five seconds later as doors began
opening to see what the clatter was all about there was nothing left but a trash can on its side and a bowling ball rolling around.  The bowling ball was later retrieved (by someone unknown to all of course) and appeared back at Beale with an inscription and presented to Doc when he went PCS Shimya AFS, Alaska a year or so later.

3.  Late one evening during one of my tours a few of us were playing a friendly game of Blackjack (of course, since we weren't suppose to be gambling the money was always given back at the end of the game) and 2 fine upstanding Habu warriors had this horse from the riding stables follow them home. This happened more than once. Those horses liked Habus and the riding stables were conveniently located between the Habu Hotel and the Club.  The Habus being trained in the ways of the traditional military manner, thought they should report this to their supervisor.  I don't recall his name, but he was a tall portly gray-haired SMS from FMS and I believe his last name started with a 'G'. Anyway, the Habu warriors thought the best way to report it was to tie the reins to their supervisors door, knock on the door loudly and go off to bed because they were tired from their adventure and surely the senior NCO would know what to do about the horse.  Amazingly, the horse had no difficulty going up the steps and landing to the second floor. They secured the horse; loudly knocked on the door and went quickly off to bed to prepare for the next day.  Shortly thereafter, the door opened and there was this terrible commotion of yelling and hooves on the tile floor - something like (in a booming voice) "What the Hell is going on!".  Our card game got disrupted by the Sarge's inquiry about the horse and the sudden arrival of the SPs because someone reported a horse going into the barracks.  No one knew anything about how the horse got there as we were busy play cards and didn't notice who the horse 'followed' in, let alone how it got to the second floor. It could have been someone who was just passing through and didn't live there, as far as we knew.  The horse wasn't nearly as receptive to coming down the stairs as it was going up, based on the commotion occurring as the SPs were trying to return the horse to its normal habitat.

4.  On occasion we would have a Commanders Call while at the OL.  One of the Crew Chiefs broke his arm while at the OL and the story going around was that he was very tired one evening going from the Club to the barracks and this horse appeared out of nowhere along the way.  Since the horse was there the Crew Chief decided he would take advantage of this and ride to the barracks.  Well, apparently he fell off and broke his arm. Understanding of the situation and the interest Base personnel had about horses 'escaping', he decided it would sound more believable (better) at the hospital to say he fell off a bicycle.  All went well with no further ado.  During the Commander's Call, (I think it was Col. John Storrie, but maybe not) the incident of injury came up along other Commander Call things and the Commander finished the incident report of the crew chief falling off the bike with:

 "No one knows how he got that bicycle up on that horse."

5.  I recall one trip that involved the Launch Van that accompanied the SR-71 on take-offs. The heat and the things that GI minds conjure up when they have time waiting on something, always brings a chuckle to me.  The van had maintenance people and spare equipment from several shops in case a failure occurred prior to take off and it could be remedied on the spot to avoid the dastardly abort.  Usually those trips were uneventful to the stage of boring because the SR was very reliable and most things were caught before it left the hanger.  It was a particularly hot day and waiting back at the hanger was a snack shop that had cooling and tasty popcicles and fudgecicles.  SSgt Billy Walker (Engine shop), an entertaining gentleman in his own right, came up with the idea, as the sweat poured, that a fudgecicle would taste great. The Maintenance Officer, a young Captain that a lot of people referred to as "Capt. Marvel" because some thought the light was on but no one was home. I remember his name but will omit it because he was really a good guy that had not learned the ways of the military. At that point he said to Billy that "He should volunteer to buy for everyone in the van". There was about 10 or 12 people in the van and the fudgecicles/popcicles were only a nickel, so the cost wasn't outrageous.  So, Billy with his ever active mind said, "Why don't we put everyone's name in a hat and draw out a name to see who buys?".  That was
agreeable to everyone so Billy got out his note pad and said he would write down the names on a slips of paper. I was next to him so he volunteered the use of my hat, which was okay.  SSgt Blackmon (Autopilot, I think) was on the other side of Billy and he would verify that all the names were there and fold them up.  Billy went around the van with his eyes and pencil working diligently writing down names. Sgt Blackmon would nod approvingly, fold up the slip and put it in my hat.  When that was done Billy told the Capt. that since he was the ranking member he should do the drawing.  Would you believe the Captain pulled out his own name!  He made some comment as to how he was never lucky at those things and agreed to purchase the sundries when we got back to the hanger.  Billy told me to put the names in my pocket to save in case we did it again the next day. I didn't think a thing about it.  After we got back to the "T" hanger and got our tasty and cooling treat and thanked the Capt. for his chosen generosity, Billy came up to me and said "Maybe the same people wouldn't be out there the next day" and to just throw the names away.  I commented that we could keep them and just  remove and replace as necessary.  At that point Billy shuttled me off away from the crowd and told me to check the names.  The name on first two slips I checked were Capt. (real name) Marvel.  I looked at Billy and smiled nodding my head approvingly and went to the nearest trash can and deposited the ballots but didn't say a thing except to Sgt Blackmon who verified the names and told him that was pretty smooth.  He had got a nudge that went unnoticed by apparently everyone else and being a sharp Habu maintenance man caught on instantly.  We did the same thing the next day and the Capt. didn't catch on until after he had bought the round and was espousing on his bad luck when it dawned on him that there could be something afoul. Fortunately, for me, Billy had the slips and 'fessed up. The Captain was a good guy, the cost was minimal and he was good natured about it but he didn't want to participate in any more drawings.

6.  I recall another incident that happened one trip there when a group of us were playing card one night and a young Sgt. (and his friend) came in the day room carrying a wicker basket about 2 feet tall, he sat it down by the table, sat on the basket and watched us play cards. Someone mentioned the basket and he made some comment about he was going to use it for a laundry basket and the subject was closed.  A few minutes later the SPs arrived with an Okinawan who identified the basket as belonging to his dancer and all he wanted was the basket back and didn't want to press charges.  It contained a Habu snake (real but de-fanged) used in one of the shows at one of the downtown clubs and the Sgt. apparently thought it was a door prize or something.  All of us around the table were a little uneasy upon finding out the contents of the basket and the nonchalant air of the situation but that soon came to pass.

7. The OL also had a pretty darn good Softball team with its own little band as I recall.

I have many fond memories of the 9th SRW, the people and the TDYs involved.  As a Logistics NCO I was put in charge of melding the SR & U2 maintenance organizations into facilities along with TSgt Blackwell from the U2 Log shop in D-M AFB.  Col Alee was the DCM and CMS Bill Reynolds was the DCM Chief.  Along with several able Maint. Squadron people and myself as the Logistics person in charge, under the supervision of CMS Skraggs and Maj. (I've forgot his name for the moment - he lived in Alta Sierra and drove a little Porsche sports car), we put together the first SR & U2 package to go to Mildenhall.  I made three trips to Mildenhall - all as Logistics - and had some memorable times there. New Market, the Charles Hotel; Ely, don't recall the Hotel's name; The Bird In The Hand Pub (where one of our illustrious folks almost caused a small riot when inquiring an equally imbibing British gentleman how they celebrated the 4th of July... but cooler heads prevailed and more bitters was poured); The White Horse Hotel and the Chequers Pub where I learned some of the finer points of playing (including losing) darts.  I recall with happy thought of some of the people I worked with and got to know like CMS Doc Adams, MSgt Bill Donnelly (Nav Aids later to become a 1st Sgt.), TSgt Tony (Rex) Keisling (Nav Aids) SSgt Jim Larmar (Nav A.), SSgt Charlie DeBack (Nav A.), TSgt Lee Abernathy (Nav A. - passed away a few years ago at too young an age), Airman thru SSgt Ken Taylor (Nav A.), TSgt Jim Schliesman (Nav A.), CMS Francis Frank (Nav A.), CMS Don Richardson (Nav A.), TSgt John Tibbs (Comm. - he and I spent many TDY together as the Comm/Nav support), CMS Harold Spies (Comm.), TSgt Jackie Bowles (Comm.), SSgt/TSgt Tommy Walton(Comm), SSgt/TSgt Terry Wickam (Photo), SSgt/Tsgt/MSgt Fred Palatto (Photo), SSgt/TSgt/MSgt/SMS/CMS Fred King (Photo), MSgt Sam Lau (Photo), TSgt/MSgt ret. Wag Sherrow (Photo), Col./BG/MG Pat Halloran (Pilot to Wing Commander, one of my favorite Officers and person I ever interacted with in the AF), Col./BG John Storrie (Pilot to Wing Commander - great guy, helped me out a lot on the 1st SR/U2 package in Mildenhall interacting with officers and enlisted. I ran into him a few times at Bill's Place in Wheatland on a Friday afternoon off where he would come up with beer in hand and say thanks for doing what your doing. Col. James Kidder, (U2 guy from D-M, Vice Wing & Wing Commander - after I left - also helped me a lot with interaction in Mildenhall, great guy down to earth. TSgt Blackwood and I had a few beers with him in his jeans and cowboy boots. Col. Robert Alee, DCM, who talked me into cross training to Logistics Plans when the TWIX came down that it was going to be a new career field.  LtCol. Col Bill Spacey, a good friend and officer - 9th AMS Maint. Officer and was Assist. RM at ZAB, later Base Commander in Crete or Cyprus - somewhere in the Med. Capt./Maj John Small, 9th AMS Maint. Officer early on in my tenure - a good officer and many other Officers and Enlisted that were part of the 9th SRW during the 9 years (2 tours) I was there. I've got to mention CMS Frank Tucci ( OMS) who recently passed on - I had some great TDY's with him.  The civilian Tech. Reps. are not to be forgotten either: Ken Knutson, Bob Elliot, Frank Smith, Dave Nolte and others I can't recall their last names - the list seems endless. Thanks for your Web Page.

Take care.
 Cris Hamilton, MSgt Ret.

Email: mqoths@jps.net

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