Saturday, February 28, 2009

Inky Finger Tips and Old Memories

A little over a month ago, I applied for a temporary job with the Census Bureau and took the qualifying exam. About 10 days ago I received a call offering me a position as an enumerator which I accepted. That means I'm a counter of some sort working in the field, possibly interviewing families although I think that part of the job won't come until next year which is the official U.S. decennial census year. This year involves all the preparation for the census itself.

My training was scheduled and rescheduled. I asked a few questions and know that my work will be in the area where I live and the job is part-time for 12 weeks. I figure that the income will finance a couple of east coast trips we have scheduled this year. So, what does all of this have to do with inky finger tips and old memories?

Before I can start training, I had to go in for fingerprinting and the filling out of forms. My appointment was yesterday (Friday) afternoon. The line was appropriately long but moved right along. The pleasant lady who took my prints was very talkative and had a lot of questions as she was rolling my fingers one-by-one on the ink pad and applying them to the cards on which the prints were recorded.

She asked me when was the last time I had been fingerprinted. I thought for a moment and told her the only time I could remember was when I enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve in March of 1956. She then asked me about that service; how long, where and that kind of stuff. That's where most of the memory kicked in.

I was 18 when I enlisted for 6 years in the Marine Air Reserve. I was assigned to VMA-222, a fighter squadron at Grosse Isle Naval Air Station down river from Detroit. After testing, I was given an MOS of 6600 which classified me as an air radio technician. The squadron flew AD-4 sky raiders, a prop driven plane that served yeoman duty in the Korean War. (In fact, one of my brothers and a cousin had served in the same squadron in Korea.)

Yes, The Ancient One was a weekend warrior in his youth. I had enlisted under the Reserve Forces Act of 1955 which required that at some point during my 6 years of service, I was to do 180 days of active duty training. The rest of the service would be in the form of one weekend a month and 2 weeks during the summers. But there was a loophole in the law; it did not say when that active duty was to take place and the squadron leaders seemed to be oblivious to the fact that I had not gone to boot camp or been designated for my active duty training. (The loophole was closed in late 1956 or possibly 1957 when the Act was amended to state that new recruits were to be assigned specific dates for their active duty at the time of enlistment.)

In my case, the fact that I had not been called up for my 180 days of training wasn't discovered until the fall of 1961. I had moved to Chapel Hill, NC to attend graduate school at the University of North Carolina. To complete the final 6 months of my enlistment, I was assigned to a squadron based at the Naval Air Station in Norfolk, VA. That was when it was discovered that I had not done my 180 days but since I had less than that amount of time left in my enlistment, the Commanding Officer decided that it made no sense to send me to boot camp at the end of my term of service.

Yes, I was among a small cadre of Marines who volunteered to be available if my country needed me but never went to boot camp or received any combat training. I did get pretty good at removing and installing the radio gear in the AD-4's and that's what I did on my service weekends and summer training for 6 years. These are the memories evoked by my inky fingertips yesterday afternoon.

One last memory of that time. One morning, as I was getting ready to leave for my weekend training, my father (the original cantankerous old curmudgeon) saw me as I came down the stairs in my uniform. He looked up with a mischievous grin on his face and commented: "This is protecting me?" Dad's been gone over 44 years now and I still miss his sense of humor. At least I think he was kidding.


josie2shoes said...

I loved this bit of reminiscence, Leon! How amazing that you managed to serve your whole term of military service without ever attending basic training! Isn't is fun how those long-stored memories come back so easily when something triggers them? I had to chuckle at your Dad's comment. My son is an air traffic controller, first serving in the Air Force and now working for the DOD at Ft. Campbell. He hated to wear his glasses as a young person and I often ask him now, "But do you actually wear your glasses when you're landing aircraft??" :-)

Charles Gramlich said...

Good memories. I enjoyed this.

Darlene said...

My son was in the Navy Special Services as a musician. He had an audition and was waiting to be inducted with the next group coming through. As he waited he started a letter to us and the last sentence was, "It isn't so bad, Dad. I am doing just like you told me - I just do what I'm told." "Oh, oh - here they (the group of inductees) come now" The next paragraph began after he had spent a week in boot camp. "It's a world of s___t, if you know what I mean."

Maybe you were lucky.