You're in the Army Now ... and Out Again

(1 of 2) Grandpa Charlie's army picture
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On January 25, 1955, I left civilian life behind for two years. From the induction center in Alexandria, Virginia, our crop of draftees boarded busses for Fort Jackson, South Carolina. After a short time there to get uniforms, very short haircuts and inoculations, we were on the move again for basic training. And where do you suppose that was?

If you guessed Fort Gordon, Georgia where your dad is stationed you'd be right. We learned to march, fire a rifle, do push-ups, peel potatoes and do all the things a good soldier in those days needed to know. The eight weeks there were strenuous ones ... there seldom was a dull moment. Before I knew it, basic training was over. Next, I would be headed to the army signal school in Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. But not before two weeks of leave!

Several of us chartered an airplane and flew from Augusta's Airport to National Airport in Washington, D.C. We piled off the Constellation airliner. There, waiting on the tarmac, were Mom, Dad, and Ellen. It was a moment filled with hugs and kisses a-plenty. And like all military leaves, it was way too short. You children know this firsthand. Remember how quickly the time passed when your Dad came home from Korea.

At Army Signal School in New Jersey, ten men ... all college graduates with Top Secret clearance ... assembled to start learning about electronic countermeasure equipment. That's a fancy term for radar jamming. Warfare has changed so much, children, that I won't even try to explain what it was all about. At the time, it was very "hush-hush".

The Signal School was pleasant duty. We had leaves on the weekend. I was able to see my Mom and Dad, and Ellen once or twice. The last of those weekend leaves from Ft. Monmouth was an especially happy one. I went to College Park to see my dear Ellen graduate from college.

They say "all good things must come to an end," and the Signal School was definitely a "good thing that came to an end". After our eight week sojourn in radar countermeasures school, it was time to pack up our duffel bags again. This time we were headed across the country to Fort Huachuca, Arizona. And there I stayed for the rest of my two years in the service. There would be no more weekend trips home.

Every week, ten more soldiers arrived from the Signal School until finally our unit, the 68th Signal Company, was fully staffed.

All this training and all these soldiers were aimed at a field test of a system to jam radar on bombers. It was a war game. Each day, an Air Force B-47 bomber took off from Phoenix on a make-believe mission to drop an atomic bomb on Tucson, Arizona. Our role was to jam the bomber's radar so the pilot couldn't find Tucson. I'm sorry to report, children, that we failed every day. In a real war, Tucson would have been bombed into oblivion.

I spent very little time operating a radar at all. Shortly after arriving at Fort Huachuca, my first sergeant asked if anyone could type. I volunteered and was immediately made the Company Clerk. No guard duty ... no KP (kitchen police) ... no radar. I held that job until another opportunity presented itself. Fort Huachuca needed someone with journalism experience to replace the editor of the camp newspaper, the Fort Huachuca Scout. That was the job I had until January 24, 1957 --- the date of my honorable discharge from the Army of the United States.

Before we say "farewell" to Fort Huachuca, there are a couple of highlights to share with you.

Remember the make-believe atomic bomb the Air Force was dropping on Tucson everyday? Well, our countermeasures guys were scattered all over southern Arizona with our jamming machines. The headquarters of that operation was on a tall mountain near Tucson ... Mt. Lemmon. And that's where I was stationed for one spring and summer. As Company Clerk, I was helicoptered from one radar station to another delivering mail to our guys and doing any necessary clerical work. I also made a run three times a week to an Air Force base in Tucson and I would run errands for the guys ... picking up books at the PX, sending out mail, and so on. The rest of the time I was free to read and listen to classical music and jazz. Our Company was packed with college educated men. We shared our interests. So it was, I was exposed to a broad range of suggested books. One of my friends, Vern Friedli, was a great jazz fan and he had a splendid collection.

When I took the job with the Fort Huachuca Scout, I moved back to our base leaving behind one of the most idyllic times of my life.

The Scout was printed at a most interesting place ... the print shop of the Tombstone Epitaph in Tombstone, Arizona. Twice a week, we traveled to Tombstone in the course of preparing the paper. Once for typesetting and proofreading ... and once to pick up the papers after they were printed. The rest of the time, two other members of the staff and I would write the stories, assemble pictures and do the page layout work that is part of preparing a newspaper. The Epitaph was published by a former fighter pilot named Clayton Smith. After the Korean War, he retired in Arizona and bought the paper which he and his wife operated.

Many years later, Grandma Carolyn and I visited Tombstone. We went there to view Halley's Comet. Its location in the middle of the desert afforded a great view of the Comet. I stopped at the Epitaph to say hello to Clayton, only to learn he, his wife, and two daughters had died in the crash of their private plane. They had crashed into a mountainside less than 50 miles from home. The paper is now operated by the University of Arizona as a journalism school project. After learning the news about Clayton and his family, I told the young lady in the office why I was visiting and recounted the times when we published our Army newspaper there. She immediately invited Carolyn and me to go into the print shop area and look as long as we liked. I showed Carolyn the equipment we used. It was a wonderful old paper that goes back to the 1880's. Happily, the College keeps it alive.

After leaving the Army, I worked in Tucson for awhile at a radio station that was just going on the air ... KAIR. I was the evening deejay, Chuck Brailer, and I played a collection of jazz and album music. In the '50's, rock and roll was just getting started and becoming popular. Being a deejay wasn't my cup of tea. Besides, it was time to head home to Washington. Ellen and I had been apart far too long.

She was, by this time, working in radio. Ellen pulled the music for a wonderful overnight radio program sponsored by American Airlines, "Music 'Til Dawn". It featured classical and light classical music. Ellen was responsible for assembling the music and preparing the music list for the announcer.

Women were not widely accepted as announcers in those days ... it was mainly guys with rich baritone voices. Too bad! Ellen had a lovely voice ... still does ... and with her intellect, she could have enjoyed a great career in broadcasting. She just came along too early.

When I returned from Arizona, I got a job with a recording studio. It was there I made a contact that would eventually lead me to the Westinghouse Broadcasting Company ... the company I worked for until the day I retired.

By the fall of 1957, Ellen and I had broken up. A major chapter in my life was over. Some time later I heard that Ellen had left WTOP, worked for awhile for a lawyer, and then disappeared from my life altogether. She had moved to Los Angeles.

I didn't know it then, but 12 years later my path would lead to Los Angeles, too.