The ceremony was brief and now we were on our way to the dealership. Our buddy could barely contain his enthusiasm.
“Faster man. I see it. It’s parked over there.” He pointed and we turned into the dealership. We stopped in front of the brand new shiny car he had singled out.
“She’s a beauty, eh boys?”
He was out of the door with a slam. He was caressing the smooth finish as we lined up in front of the newest addition to the Dodge fleet. His eyes were devoted to the sleek metal as he leaned on the driver’s side.
“Here she is. My Super Bee. What do you think, boys?” He looked at us expecting an explosion of admiration. This had been his topic of conversation since learning that he would be graduating with his second lieutenant bars to be provided at the graduation ceremony. This car was his present to himself for becoming an officer in this man’s air force. It was our duty to give him the adulation he so expected.
“Wow!” I said. “That’s a beaut. How much is it going to set you back?”
He frowned in my direction as words of honey dripped from everyone else.
“Got yourself a honey of a car there,” said one touching the super bee emblem on the side.
“What’ll she do?” asked another.
“Open the hood.” Those were the words he had been waiting for.
He reached under the dash and pulled a lever and with a sharp snap the hood jumped an inch. One of the guys reached under the hood to release it.
“Hey! That’s my hood. Step back.” His newly gained authority given to him by the USAF exploded into the air as if we were standing at attention on the flight deck on base. We all took a step back obeying without thought.
He disengaged the lock under the hood lifting it lightly in his hand to reveal a huge V-8 gas guzzling engine. He beamed, his hand waving in a flourish to exhibit the massive thing.
“Eat your heart out boys.”
“Whoa Nellie. That’s a hell of an engine. What’ll she do?”
“Zero to sixty in six point three seconds. And check the interior. Bucket seats and four on the floor,” he said, the pride bursting from his face. “She’s a dream and all mine.” It was love, pure and simple.
The salesman walked up with the key in hand.
“Well, my boy, are you ready to drive this beauty home?” He offered the keys. “She’s all yours.”
Our friend took the keys, his eyes almost disbelieving his fortune. He looked at us as his right hand sprang to the brim of his hat in a precise salute.
“I guess this is it boys. Make yourselves proud. Serve our country well.” Our indoctrination was evident in his last words. He settled into the driver’s side and cranked the car. The roar that filled our hearts with envy. The salesman looked on as he slammed it into first.
His final words slipped by us. “So long boys! Yee haw!” The engine roared. The rear tires spewed rock and sand until he hit the highway with a squeal lasting 10 seconds leaving a layer of rubber on the road and a blue haze in the air. We waved to the vanishing streak.
“Time to go fellas. We have to clear out of the barracks by 2.”
Our journey back to the base was filled with talk of the future and our new assignments. None of us were headed to Viet Nam which was the primary worry of us all. We arrived in front of the barracks long before two. After packing my gear and cinching up my duffle I headed into the hall and the wall phone.
“Croucher, you need a ride to the airport?”
“Yes, I do but I have to call home first.”
My dad answered.
“Hey, dad. I’m heading to the airport now. Should get in around eight.”
“How was the ceremony, son? We would have liked to have been there.”
“Yeah, I know but I told you it wasn’t worth the drive. It only lasted about an hour and wasn’t anything special. They presented us with our certificates and looie bars. Then we tossed our hats in the air after which we spent half an hour trying to find the right hat. It wasn’t anything special. I’m sure looking forward to being home again.” I had been in San Antonio since September and it was almost June. Six weeks of basic and I earned a stripe. Then I had been held over in what was called OT Hold. I was saddled with a job while there until the class started in the new year. It was a twelve week course that gave us a bronze bar to place on our collars. Now, all that was all behind me. My new status as a Weapons Controller, whatever that was, loomed ahead. I pictured myself marching rifle in hand guarding some cache of weapons on base, but what did I know.
“I have a surprise for you son.”
“Is it that TR-3?” I had worked the summer prior to entering service, saving all my salary which amounted to $300. I’d left it with my dad to use as a down payment on a car. I had had my eyes on a Triumph TR-3 and asked him to check into it while I was going through basic. I’d had no idea I would be going to Officer’s Training School at the time. That chance had come through my dad’s sending letters to L. Mendel Rivers over several months.
That was something he had kept from me. He had written letter after letter to our state’s representative who was the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. His letters must have given the Congressman pause because my career in the service was certainly altered by Congressman Rivers’ intervention. I remember it distinctly brought to my attention while in basic training.
“Airman Croucher at ease,” said my flight officer. I had been summoned to his office and stood at ease in front of his desk. “You have a very influential friend I see.”
“Seems Congressman L. Mendel Rivers has taken quite an interest in you, son.”
“I’m sorry sir but I don’t…”
“Quiet. I have a letter here that says you want to go to OTS?”
“Do you have what it takes to complete the training to become an officer?”
He looked at my paperwork in front of him. “I see you are a naturalized citizen.”
“You became naturalized last year. Why did you wait so long?”
“I never thought about it sir until I was told I could not go to OTS unless I was an American citizen. That prompted my decision, sir.”
“You seem to have a good record here in basic. Since you have such good friends in Washington I’m going to recommend you be allowed into OTS. The only problem is the next couple of classes are full. We won’t be able to fit you in until next year sometime. Are you willing to wait here on base until such time as there’s an opening?” He looked me directly in the eye.
“Yes sir. I am.”
‘Since Congressman Rivers seems to think it’s a good idea that you be an officer in the Air Force who am I to say different. You need to keep your nose clean and excel in basic and I’ll make the recommendation. I expect you to make both the Congressman and me proud. Do you understand me?”
“Yes sir. I understand fully.”
“All right, then. I don’t want to hear from you or the congressman again. Is that understood?”
“Sir!’ I said coming to attention with a smart salute. He waved a salute back at me. I pivoted in an about face. In my enthusiasm I circled around to face the captain again. He looked at me, shaking his head, and dismissed me with his hand. I attempted the movement again with success and marched out of his office. I wanted to click my heels after I closed the door but controlled that desire until I left the building.
It had been a long wait but all that was past and I was boarding a plane to Charleston. I smoked my long cigar on the plane while looking out the window. I was an officer and proudly wore my uniform of blue. My second lieutenant bars shone on the collar of my form fitted blue blouse pleated front and back. We had all gone to the uniform shop in San Antonio to buy our uniforms for after OTS. Since we were all in the best shape we would ever be we spent an exorbitant amount on the tailored uniforms which fit our trim physiques to a tee. I was a newly graduated officer proud to be wearing blue. It was an honor I thought as I watched the Charleston airport grow larger outside my window. The bump and squeal of tires was a wonderful feeling as I unbuckled my seat belt. Home and Myra were the two most important thoughts in my head.
My parents and my girl were there to meet me. The reunion was filled with hugs, tears and smiles. It was good to be home.
“Do you have much luggage, son?” dad asked.
“Only the one bag,” I pointed it out as it approached.
He grabbed it waving me off and we walked to the car.
“I am so glad to be home,” I said taking my girl’s hand. ‘So good to see you all.”
The ride home was filled with talk about the last nine months. I was so busy talking about myself and my experiences that I didn’t realize we were nearly at the house.
“Close your eyes, son,” said dad. “I told you I have a surprise for you.”
“Oh yeah. My TR-3,” I said with a smile.
I closed my eyes as we turned onto our street keeping them closed until we stopped in the driveway.
“You can open them now,” said dad.
Before me in the driveway was a brand new MGB painted British Racing Green with a black convertible top. My mouth dropped and my eyes sparkled. I was speechless.
“It isn’t a TR-3 but I thought it would do you. Got a really good deal on it. Had to use the money you left as a down payment and the monthly payments aren’t too bad. I think you will approve.” He looked at me a big smile on his face which mirrored mine.
“Like it? I couldn’t be happier! Thank you so much.”
I looked at my girl and she looked at me.
“Want to go for a ride?” I asked. She said yes. Dad tossed me the keys.
“We won’t be long,” I said. The car cranked easily. I pushed in the clutch, shoved the gear into reverse and we drove off into long ago memory.