"Lieutenant, get your bags packed. I need you to go with me to San Francisco."
My CO had called me into his office to tell me this.
"Yes sir. What are we going to San Francisco for?" It was the first I had heard of it.
"It's a committee meeting about transportation. We leave at zero six hundred."
"Yes sir," I said. My hand shot to my forehead in a salute that was acknowledged. It was my dismissal. In an about face I walked from his office closing the door behind me.
"Hey, sarge. Do you know what the captain means by a committee meeting concerning transportation?"
The sergeant smiled. "You'll find out."
"It must be important."
"Very important, Leiutenant," said the sergeant whose grin grew even wider.
"Wonder why he chose me to go. I've only been here for a week."
"Lieutenant Franks usually goes but he is tied up. Left you. You'll enjoy it, Lieutenant." The sergeant chuckled when he said that.
Someithing's not right, I thought to myself. He's enjoying this too much.
"Hey, Lieutenant! Take some civies with you. You'll be gone three days. Give you some time to see some of San Francisco."
"OK. Thanks, sarge."
Returning to my rack I pulled my suitcase from the closet and packed. I began to worry about the assignment. I'd only been out of OTS for a few months. I'd had two weeks leave, which I'd spent at home in Charleston. Then I'd driven straight to Panama City, Florida, for my first posting. The Drone Squadron. I found out it was an elite squadron of a few good men. We manned radar scopes giving directions to pilots, essentially we told pilots where to go. Some of them warranted that even after they were on the ground.
It was our job to fly those jet jockies into oncoming enemy fighters at three hundred miles an hour. We took our boys straight into the path of hostile fighters so they could shoot them out of the sky. The other scopers used computers which were beginning to monopolize the enemy encounters. As I said, we were an elite group. The last of a dying breed. Split second decisions on the ground with the aid of protractors and grease pencils provided hit or miss for jets screaming into the path of the oncoming enemy. Jet on jet practice. Real lives in rocketing tubes of jet fuel. It was nerve wracking.
So this new assignment, even if only 3 days--actually 7 days with travel there and back--was a welcome relief. The night went quickly. I was up and ready on the flight line by 05:30.
"Which plane is ours?" I asked the airman at the desk.
"That one near the hangar. The preflight check is goin on now."
"Thanks," I said dropping my bag by the window. It was an old prop. No jet for us. A huge carrier with four propellers, two on each wing, sat beside the hangar with several airman checking clipboards.
"That's a mighty old plane," I said to the airman.
"Yeah, it's been around a while. That's the one they use on this transportation run."
"Yeah, space is a premium on this run. Goes out empty. Comes back full. You'll be a little cramped coming back."
"What are we bringing back?"
"It's up to the commanding officer to tell you that. Need to know."
"Must be an important run."
"I'm told it is of utmost importance."
'Wow,' I thought to myself. 'A new looey chosen to go on an important mission. A hush-hush mission. I wonder what the heck it could be.' I was nervous and excited to be on my way.
"Oh, there you are." It was my CO.
Saluting, I said, "Yes sir. Lieutenant Croucher reporting, sir."
"Yeah, yeah," he said returning my salute. "Let's leave the formalities for important occasions. We're going to be together for several days. No need to be saluting every time we meet. Got it?"
"Yes sir," I said as my right hand rose smartly to my forehead. "Sorry, sir. It's automatic."
"That's fine. Why don't we go ahead and board."
Several fresh looies were filing in with bags at their sides. The CO introduced everyone before we headed to the plane. The engines were cranking to life as we started up the ladder to the opening. Wind from the roaring props blew my cap off. Down the steps and after it I ran. I made my way against the force of the props cap in hand returning to the ladder.
"Hurry up, Lieutenant. We need to get this plane underway. Flight plans, you know." The CO was casual about it just as he had said.
I found a seat on the bench against the side of the plane. The bay was huge and very empty. We felt every bump along the runway. Without cushions that wooden bench was most uncomfortable as our rear ends bounced unmercifully. We spoke in shouts since the engine noise vibrated throughout our open bay. We stopped at the end of the runway. After a few seconds the engine volume increased and the old crate began to bounce along the stretch of asphalt before us. Our luggage jumped in rhythm to our plane's progress. Finally we felt a lift and a slight turning as the air took us up. I wanted to toss a few cookies but managed to retain them.
The sky welcomed us into the bright morning. Up we flew to our cruising altitude on a heading of WSW. Our mission had begun. The CO moved into the pilot's cabin closing the door. We began to chatter amongst ourselves. We had problems hearing each other since the engines were so loud. The bay we sat in was extremely cold. Our flight was without the simple amenities of heat, food, water and quiet. The topic of our shouting was what our mission was. After continually saying WHAT? and HUH? we decided to rest our voices. Earplugs were used, at least those who had them.
After several hours of goose bumps and chattering teeth the CO emerged from the cockpit.
"OK. You need to get into the seat restraints. We've finished the first leg of our trip. We will be landing in Houston in about forty minutes. We'll be staying overnight, so take your bags with you to the BOQ. I'll show you where to get the best steak in Texas this evening."
He returned to the cockpit. He looked warm.
We landed in Houston about an hour later. We caught a tram to the BOQ and found our billets. The CO kept his promise. We had steaks and many beers. We asked what our mission was. He was evasive but promised that all would be revealed in the proper time.
We stumbled back to our rooms. At the desk the CO asked for our attention.
"We will be leaving at zero-seven-hundred. Don't be late. If you aren't ready we'll have to leave you. Our flight plan is a tight schedule."
"Yes sir, no problem, sir," I slurred along with everyone else.
Nest morning the take off held the added burden of a hangover. Vibrations and loud engines were magnified as our CO watched us. He laughed as we became airborne. One of us lost his breakfst.
"You'll be cleaning that up, Lieutenant," said the CO laughing. He joined the pilots and closed the door to the cockpit.
We headed California way. After about 4 hours the CO emerged. He stood in front of us and began to yell above the engines.
"I know you have all been curious. Our trip will include a comlete tour of the base. It is the first thing on the agenda. Be prepared to make a full report on our tour if it is required in the future. Our ETA is about 30 minutes so get yourselves together and be on good military behavior. Make me proud." He smiled, winked and returned to the cockpit.
A squeal of tires, a bounce sending us a foot off our benches and a second squeal of tires announced our arrival on terra firma once again.
As we came to a stop at the far end of the runway, our CO stepped toward us.
"Hand me my bag, Lieutenant," he said pointing at the black leather one in the corner.
With bag in hand he announced, "We have a tram coming to pick us up. Let's line up outside."
We all grabbed our bags and descended from the plane. We stood in a line along the tamac as the tram apporached. We lifted our bags into the luggage train and climbed in.
Everyone was seated when the tram took off.
"All right people. We begin our tour of the base. We are on the runway at this time. Over there, see the huge siler thing, that's the water tower. Over to your right is the BX. If you need toothpaste or anything else, that's where you can buy it. In front of us you will see the bus which will take you wherever you want to go. You will want to ride that bus to the BOQ and claim a room. And thus endeth the tour of the base. You are on your own until 3 days hence at zero-six-hundred. Go out. Sight see. Enjoy your time in San Francisco."
Puzzled looks spread across every young face. The CO just smiled. As we came to a stop he waved at another captain near the flight office, then hurried over. We didn't see him again for three days.
Our time in San Franciso was a hoot. We rented a car and drove across the Golden Gate Bridge into Sausalito. We vistied the park and hippy filled Haight-Ashbury. We road the vertical streets of the city, which was an adventure to a person from the low country of South Carolina. At night we drank and danced at the local clubs and at the OC. After three days we wearily packed our bags. We downed dramamine to ward off any air sickness we might encounter as we made our way to the flight office. The airman behind the desk checked our names off the light manifest. Lugging bags to the tram we climbed in. The CO was waiting at the plane.
"As you get on you will notice the bay is packed solid. Your benches are there but you may be a bit cramped. Our mission is complete, ladies and gentlemen. Our flight will commence in a few minutes."
He was bright eyed and bushy tailed compared to all of us suffering from excess. He laughed as he signed the manifest and returned it to the airman.
"All right! All aboard. Find a seat and strap in."
Everyone sat and strapped. While the plane rolled down the runway we looked at the freight in front of us. The engines reached their max, we lifted from California soil and winged our way to the east.
'Shit,' I thought as the writing on the boxes began to unfuzz. "Is that what I think it is?"
I yelled above the sound of engine drone.
"What do you think it is?" asked the CO.
"It looks like it spells COORS," I yelled.
"It is, Lieutenant. It is!" he yelled back.
Back in the day, Coors was not sold east of the Mississippi River. Our ride home was packed to the rafters with crates of COORS beer. I had never seen so much beer in one place before. The CO never spoke of our mission to san Francisco again. We took the hint. We never mentioned it again either, at least not until we had drunk a six pack of Coors in our barracks that night.