Sunday, October 5, 2008

Chapter 10 Leaving Hondo

Chapter 10

The day to leave Hondo finally arrived. To my surprise I was ordered to go to Lincoln Air Force Base once again. We had time to prepare, however. I sold the trailer house and sent Addie Leah to Zenith to live with her parents, at least for the time being. Now it happened that she was pregnant with Jeanne who was only a few weeks from arriving, so home was the place to go. This occurred in March, 1945. I now knew that I was to be a crew member of a B-29, and would be sent to the Pacific. We were to leave Hondo Army Airfield in a troop train that would go to San Antonio, thence to Lincoln. It was scheduled to leave on a Tuesday. But all of our duties were finished by the previous Wednesday, so there were a number of days for which I had no duty. At that time, we were allowed to be anywhere within 50 miles of our base without orders, but to be any farther than that required orders. Knowing that I would be going overseas, and that I just seize any opportunity I had to spend time with Addie Leah and perhaps with the baby too, I resolved to find a way to skip the troop train, and hitchhike to Lincoln via Zenith. The problem was as follows; on Tuesday I must sign out at Base Headquarters where the Officer of the Day would check to see that nobody could sign out for someone else; I must also meet the roll call before the train left Hondo.

One of the instructors of my squadron was an Army Captain who had served a long while in Europe. He was a navigator for flying troops into Italy from Sicily and had any number of stories about that invasion.

Three times his plane was towing a glider from Africa to Sicily and three times the cable broke. Two times the glider pilot was rescued, and each time it was the same guy. The third time the cable broke, they flew low over the glider in the water, and he was shaking his fist at them. That was the last time they saw him!

The Captain had some medical problems, and wanted to take time off from the squadron whenever he could. I covered for him each time. If anyone called while he was gone I would say that he would be back soon. Well, guess what! This guy, my good friend, was to be the Officer of the Day on Tuesday. He agreed to sign me out when no one was present.

Now, what about that troop train? This was probably too hard to arrange, but I’d try. Discovering the man who would call the roll, I went to talk to him privately (actually officerly) explaining my problem and how important it was to see my wife and maybe my baby. Hearing me out, he said that is very difficult for him to remember anyone, and illegal to skip any names on the roll. But even he was amazed to see the name Brownlee, for that was his wife’s maiden name, and he would not be able to forget it, no matter how hard he tried.

So on a Thursday I left Hondo, planning to hitchhike to Dallas. The guy who picked me up was going to Dallas, but after going quite a bit more than fifty miles, and army truck passed us, and sitting the back of the truck was my Military Policeman. As I had already left the trailer court, he was very surprised to see me, and waved happily. I had no idea who he was, and ducked my head appropriately. But I had not anticipated seeing anyone who knew me, thus discovering a brand new worry.

In Dallas I bought a ticket for Wichita. The regular seats were sold out, naturally, but one was available in the observation car on the tail end of the train. We were some distance out of Dallas when to my horror two military policemen entered the car. They were checking the identities and orders of every military person on the train. What now? My cavalry training was certainly going to be put to the test. When they got to me one asked “How are you today, Lieutenant? “Fine thank you”, I responded. “Are things going OK for you?” His answer was yes, and with that they finished checking our car, and disappeared.

I now had five wonderful days being AWOL to spend with Addie Leah (still no baby), and Dad and Uncle Mason agreed to get me to Lincoln before the troop train was supposed to arrive. It should arrive there on Wednesday afternoon.

During the Tuesday night, even though it was April, a real blizzard arrived in central Kansas. We left early in the Model A Ford, and immediately had all kinds of road problems. Unfortunately, there were huge drifts across the roads with some frequency, and early in the day nobody was yet prepared to clear the roads. Each block took digging (most travelers had shovels) and a single lane through the drifts was created. Dad and Uncle Mason would volunteer to direct traffic, and managed to shorten our time spent at roadblocks. Despite these heroic efforts, we arrived in Lincoln after the troop train!

A few days later I heard the following announcement over the base’s public address system; “Will Lieutenant Brownlee please report to base headquarters?”

I reported immediately, identified myself, and was told to speak to a specific major, which I did.

He said “Lieutenant Brownlee, were you on the troop train last Thursday?” Concluding that in these kinds of circumstances honesty is the best policy, especially as I could think of nothing else, I responded “No, Sir.”

The Major said, “I did not think you were! Since you came here on your own, you are entitled to mileage”. He was smiling big, for I think he had hoped that I would lie. “Report to the finance office where you can collect your money.” It was roughly 1000 miles from Hondo to Lincoln, and I collected about $80.

Jeanne was born about a week later. I immediately arranged to get a week end off, and hitchhiked to Hutchinson, Kansas. Addie Leah was in the maternity ward. Her doctor was John Brownlee, a cousin of Dad’s, and a much respected long-time doctor in Hutchinson. He had done the honors, and when I arrived he told the staff that I was to spend the night in the maternity ward so that I could be with Addie Leah and Jeanne. The head nurse was outraged, but that’s what I did. I left for Lincoln the next morning. I was now was a father, and was amazed by my emotions.

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