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"Optimism (light) is the power that ultimately defeats fear (darkness)."

Saturday, September 10, 2005

USAF and RAF Collide, 40 Years Apart

An out of the ordinary day today when it comes to recounting things that happened to me during my time in the Air Force. I was chatting with a few co-workers about some music that was playing in the background from her stereo - "Rockin' Into the Night" by 38 Special. It just jumped into my head why this song is so much a part of me.

... some time ago ...

In USAFE there is a NATO exercise that happens every year called Flintlock. It is a treat if you get the OK to "play nicely with others". I think, for the most part, Flintlock was in England the whole time I was stationed at Rhein Main AFB in Frankfurt, Germany.

The year that I got my chance was in 1984. It wasn't too cold, and it is NEVER too hot there! But this one evening, getting oh so bored playing spades, or hearts, or were we playing poker? Never mind, we were dead-to-rights BORED. It was a slow day for flights. A few were on some short sorties, and I volunteered to help on recovery. Any chance that I could get to stand by an active aircraft, on the tarmac, my butt was out there!

I teamed up with the "Follow Me" driver. He needed to pick up a power unit (MD80) and a fire bottle. The whole time we drove around, we had his boom-box (remember the good old days?!) on the seat and 38 Special, BOC, and the Scorpions were CRANKED. Needless to say, when the Italians came cruising by, we got an odd sort of look in our direction.

Well, our Hercs came home, he "sticked" 'em in to their spots, and we went back to the hangar.

... the next day ...

Now, it's rare to have history collide between two people that live a few cities, states, or provinces apart. In the military this can happen a little more often than most, 'cause in the end there are only so many bases and so many mission profiles! The odds really begin to become astronomical when the collision is over generations, and two countries military air forces. The most amazing collision came for my Dad and I when I was on this particular TDY known as Flintlock '84.

Now, when TDY, and there is a specific mission profile to be followed, and this profile requires that there be a tad bit of secrecy, you keep your trap shut. It so happens that on this Flintlock mission, we were to be as secretive as possible. There were quite a few things going on around the world, it was still the Cold War, and on an open line you never mix two pieces of information that can link one element of the mission to another - like your location and the actual mission name (code name or otherwise, not wise!).

... the next day ...

I was up kinda early because I new I'd have a little time to walk around, take some pictures of the base, and generally snoop around this old time RAF base (no flightline shots, dang!). In fact, the next day a few of us were going to take our other half day off and go on a short trip. Something tickled my mind when I was eating breakfast - Dad was stationed over here in WWII as an RAF Radar/Radio guy. My Dad was born in Manchester, England. He served in the RAF, and was stationed somewhere in southern England - where, I had no clue. I do know that I was pretty close to sorta south, so, maybe it is only an hour drive and I could just take a picture of the gate of the base where he was stationed.

Dang, I'll call home. There is a phone box outside the Enlisted Club/Pub here. I'll just hop right on down there and call home. Sweet! Dad can give me some directions and I'll tell the guys we should make a small detour so I can do a little "recon" for Dad!

It'd be a great day that day! Time to explore!

I walked around the base a little and snapped some photos. It was soon lunch time so I wandered back across base and went to the chow hall. The US Army was there en masse since this was an Airborne Mission - and we flew them into the drop zones. The computer nav systems that I support light the "green" and "red" lights over the jump doors. The Army serves a TON of food, I can tell you. One bummer is that since they carry 40lb packs, weapons, and chutes, they need some heavy foods - that's bad for us "toolbox pilots"! Damn lucky that this TDY was short - all the beer, Army food, and some slow shifts I was gonna weigh a mite more than when I arrived!

After lunch, I wandered down to the phone box and called my Mom and Dad. When I call home, no matter who answers, someone else is always quick to pick up! Mom answered first and called my Dad to pick up. I told them why I hadn't called at the regular time on the weekend (they worried, I knew that, 'cause they love me).
Side note: remember, this was during the Cold War (might I remind you) and there were folks in Germany that hated us and routinely placed bombs under USAFE forces vehicles, outside bases on railroad tracks, ya know, jerks! That is terrorism too, ya know. Hmmm, people have hated us for a long time. Naw, that's right, everyone in the world just wants to give the USA one great big "group hug"!
We talked a little about my last week. And then I asked the million dollar question, "Dad, you were stationed in the southern part of England in the RAF, right?" He answers, yes (duh, that's right Steve, state the obvious first). My next words are for all the marbles, "Dad, I'm at a base right now in England, kinda near Norwich outside a town called Kings Lynn. Do you know a base called RAF Sculthorpe [i mispronounced it as skull-thorp]. I want to see if you can give me directions on how to get to the RAF base where you were stationed, since I am here."

The line was very silent.

I started to think, DANG!, I didn't use enough money for this call, or there is some sort of delay going "across the pond" as Dad likes to call it. But, then I hear him take a slow breath and my Mom says, "Stan?"

[i can only laugh now, as i always do when i remember this, 'cause i know Dad is dumbfounded right now on the other end - i'm clueless - and he is very speechless, which is very uncharacteristic!]

My Dad says the real money question, "Is it spelled S-C-U-L-T-H-O-R-P-E ?"

I scream out, "Yeah! That's it!"

He says, "OK, it's pronounced [shull-thorp], and I can give you directions."

Whew, cool, this will be sooooo cool! I can get in the car with some friends, they'll think this is pretty cool, and then we can have a pint and talk about the cool day trip we took!

I then say, "Great, I have a pen and some paper, how far away is this?"

He says, after a huge pause, "After you hang up, face the pub, turn to your left, walk down the street a bit and then turn right. Now, you'll walk for a little bit and turn right, then left, look up, and those big ugly buildings are my barracks."

Silence ... on my end of the line now ... Doh!

"NO WAY! I AM ON THE BASE!?!?!?!?!"

We all start laughing!

I get a "long distance hug" from Mom and Dad on the phone. I get more information. I tell him the houses we are staying in. He tells me to go into town because Norwich [pronounced nor-itch, folks] is pretty this time of year. The mustard fields are bright green and yellow - they just seem to go on forever. I can barely remember much as we run all over that town!

Well, except the fact that I'm seeing things my Dad did almost 40 years before me during World War II. He was in the Air Force (the Royal Air Force). He defended his country. Bombers, fighters, escorts, transports, all sorts were in and out of this small, quaint part of England. Later, he traveled thousands of miles, changed his citizenship to become a US Citizen, an American (we aren't hyphenated, my friends, uh-uh, he wells up every time he hears the Star Spangled Banner, says the Pledge of Allegiance, or hears The US Air Force song because of my service in the USAF), he's changed careers and worked for United Airlines, met my Mom, had all of us - you know, the usual.

... back to today ...

As I started out saying, collisions across generations, countries, and air forces is amazing. Wouldn't you say?

Stay Tuned to ...


At 2/04/2006 09:22:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was at Sculthorpe from May 1954 to June 1956 and we always called the Base -- "Skull - thorpe". Odd, but I never heard it called any other way - on base or off base.

At 2/04/2006 09:33:00 AM, Blogger LinkedInUSAF said...

Oh, well, my Dad being born and raised there, that's his pronounciation. He was stationed there in WWII.

At 4/20/2006 06:56:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I lived there for four years (80-84) and at another local base and continued to visit through 89 and never once did I hear it called anything, but "Skull-thorpe". My Mum was English and we hung out with many locals and it was always called that. Don't know why it was every called anything different.

On another note, I hung out with some of the guys from Rhein-Main during Flintlock 84. I probably know you or you probably know the people I did :)


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