Spring Break 1970 at the U.S. Air Force Academy
For our Third Class Spring Break, Porter Nelson and I caught an early Saturday morning hop from Pete Field destined for Wright-Patterson AFB. The plan was to meet some girls that Porter had met the previous summer on the Zone of the Interior (ZI) field trip and had corresponded with throughout the year. We arrived and tried for ten hours to contact the girls who, it turned out, were not as eager to see us as Porter had believed. We were stuck in Ohio in March, all alone.
With the carpe diem mentality of the typical cadet, on Sunday morning we went to Base Ops to see how we could make something happen. Carpe diem, of course, is Latin for “let’s do something else really dumb.” We needed to catch a hop, somewhere, anywhere. There were two flights that day: one to Andrews AFB where we could spend some guaranteed good times at my sister’s house in DC; or a KC-135 direct to Torrejon, Spain.
We decided that this international opportunity was an obvious sign of Divine Intervention and jumped on the plane to Spain, figuring that we could catch a Navy plane to Naples to see my parents—my father being a Navy Captain at Sixth Fleet Headquarters. We arrived in Spain Monday at about 0700 only to find that the Navy desk in the Passenger Terminal was closed until further notice…uh-oh…reality struck–there we were in Spain with no passports, no leave orders, no shot records, no permission to leave the CONUS. Yikes! When we tried to sign up for a return flight to the States, an officious transportation sergeant informed us that there was absolutely no way we would be allowed on a USAF aircraft without the aforementioned documents… and we had six days to get back to the Academy…oops…
It was clear that we had made a very bad decision. Let me say that again– A Very Bad Decision. We recognized that if we ever made it back to dear old USAFA, we would be the guests of honor at a Commandant’s Disciplinary Board and probably be given more demerits/confinements and/or tours in the history of the Academy. If we were lucky, we would, at the very least, be full-time residents of the tour pad for a very long time, probably marching tours until graduation morning 1972. We sat in Base Ops, dejected and scared. Eventually, a captain in a flight suit noticed our unhappy demeanor, and stopped to ask us where we were trying to go. We popped to attention and chorused…”Naples, sir.” He asked if Pisa would be close enough…
Hey, Italy was Italy and a heck of a lot better than where we were. Never mind that it was in the wrong direction. The captain informed the sergeant that we would be riding in his plane and waved off all his objections. We rode the crew bus out to his C-121 Super Constellation which turned out to be a National Guard medevac aircraft on an European familiarization flight. We were welcomed on board by the nurses and doctors and made to feel right at home. It turned out that after the C-121 spent two days in Pisa, it was scheduled for an overnight in Germany, a stopover in the Azores, then McGuire AFB, New Jersey and return to home base on Sunday. The base? Cheyenne, Wyoming! And, would we like to accompany the crew for the entire trip?
Upon landing in Pisa, Porter and I hopped a train to Naples where my parents fussed over us for two days, showed us the sights, and most importantly, fed us and bought us first-class return train fares to Pisa.
Our evening enjoying the bars in Frankfurt remain a blur and all I remember of the Azores is being introduced to (many) bottles of Mateus wine. I cannot even bear the smell of Mateus to this day.
We landed in Cheyenne on Sunday at noon. One of the nurses lived in Denver and offered to drive us down to the Aurora cutoff, the standard location for cadets needing a ride back to the Academy. We stood at the on-ramp to I-25 for about ten minutes and got a ride all the way back to the entrance to our dormitory, signing in off leave with two whole hours to spare.
We calculated that of the eight days that we were gone, we had spent more than three of them seated in an airplane, almost enough time to validate Pilot Training. But it made for a good tale. Good thing about the Honor Code—nobody would have believed us otherwise…!