DREUX AIR BASE
The Final Days of Military Service
FIFTY YEARS LATER
A/2C Charles Sibert
© 2009 by Author
Along with many other airmen, I had gone before the promotion board in January for my Airman First Class stripe at Dreux Air Base. I found out that there were 12 A/1C promotions made and I was the 13th on the list to be promoted! The ones promoted ahead of me had been A/2C for much longer than my March 1, 1959 date of rank, as I was told when my First Sergeant spoke with me. He said I had fared well and the next time around I would make it. He said I should extend my enlistment for 17 months. He said Dreux Air Base was due to be closed, and I would be sent home four months early if I didn't extend. I felt I should have been promoted, so I was very angry over this situation, primarily because he had said to me, before my meeting with the promotion board, that I was a "lock" to be a new A/1C. He had sweet-talked me and explained how I could move on up the ladder and would soon be a Staff Sergeant in England with the C-130s who were moving from Evreux-Fauville Air Base in France, to Sculthorpe AFB, England. I was already part of the 322nd Air Division by being stationed at Dreux and, he said, I could do all this with no problem.
My date for return from overseas duty, according to special orders number P1, Dated 3 January 1961 was April 18, 1961. I had less than six months left on active duty, and with Dreux Air Base due to close, my choices were limited: I could either extend my enlistment or be separated from the U.S. Air Force!
We talked at some length about me staying in the Air Force and I showed him an article from the Stars and Stripes Europe newspaper covering how so many advisors had been killed in Vietnam. He sat back in his chair and said Vietnam would be nothing for us to worry about. I said I had enough of his persuasive talk and signed the paperwork to be sent back to the civilian world. Then he turned on me, calling me a no good S.O.B!
As I left his office, I really knew, down deep, that he loved me. (Yeah!)
Readying to go home!
Dreux Air Base, 1961.
Not long after that tense meeting, I received special orders number A-290 dated March 13, 1961 part I (and part II) telling me I was to be relieved from assignment with the Consolidated Aircraft Maintenance squadron, Dreux Air Base, USAFE and was being assigned to the 1611th Air Base Groups (MATS), McGuire Air Base, New Jersey also see page II for separation from the service. I was to be transferred to the Ineligible Reserve Section in accordance with AFR 39-63.
I got all my things in order, sent home my hold baggage, sold my MoPed to another airman and cleared the base in the next few days. I was a real short timer now. I was to report to the USAF Air Traffic Coordinating Officer in Paris April 1, 1961.
Another A/2C, William B. "Hoppy" Birdsong from Kevil, Kentucky, near Paducah, who was in the Air Police Squadron at Dreux, was getting out of the Air Force the same date as I was. One of his squadron friends had a car so Hoppy and I and two other friends were taken by them to Paris for a send-off at Orly Air Base. We were to be at the Paris Air Passenger Center, 9 Rue Littre, Hotel Littre, (Montparnasse District) Paris, no later than 1215 hours (12:15 p.m.) April 1, 1961. Our overseas tour was curtailed due to inactivation of our units.
Car we took to Paris (Birdsong, second from left in hat), 1961.
We all loaded up in Birdsong's buddy's car, heading for Paris on March 31, 1961. After a short ride from our base to the town of Dreux, just 18 miles, we were on the highway to Paris. Some stretches had no speed limit so we rolled on. Hoppy's friends had all received three day passes for this trip. We planned to have a day of celebration around the Littre Hotel area, visiting the numerous bars nearby, then leaving the following day for the United States. We checked in to the Littre and Birdsong and I changed into civvies, we all had some chow there before our day/night romp on the town. Easter Sunday was April 2, 1961 and the streets were already becoming crowded with visitors to Paris.
Our first bar was just up the street from the hotel. It was called the American Bar, and we stayed there long enough for a couple drinks and a chat with the bar girls. Around the corner to the left, and across the street a block or two, we hit the jackpot. There was a nice bar, Cafe Junis, with a jukebox and plenty of young dancing girls. For quite some time there we talked with four people from Switzerland who had come to Paris for the holiday.
Hoppy Birdsong (left) Paris, enroute home 1961. (Barry Archer at right.)
|Going-home party, Olga and Nelly et al.|
Left: Birdsong and Right, Barry Archer in Trenton, NJ.
Near Littre Hotel, 1961.
Nelly Yaermann and her man friend from Basel, Olga and Gilbert Martin from Allschwil (near Basel) were all in the bar having a great time. We shared our fifth of booze with them, took many photos and just really had a super time with them that evening. I finally got a chance to visit them in 1987, and again in 1991. I had found their address in some of my files at home, wrote to them, and made plans to see them after all the years had passed without thinking of them, and that meeting back in April, 1961 at that bar.
(I have been in communication with these friends every year since 1984 now. Even before I went to see them, I wrote to tell them I had found their addresses and was planning to visit them in Switzerland.)
Back to that Easter activity in 1961, we left the Cafe Junis where we had met our new friends, and hit a couple more before we ran out of enthusiasm for bar hopping. We found a restaurant and had something to eat before going back to the l'Hotel Littre. Hoppy Birdsong was wasted. He nearly had to be carried up to his room. I believe he slept in his clothing since he was very unruly, so we couldn't get him undressed. He wanted to be left alone and since it was midnight, we turned back to our rooms for the rest of the night. We were all somewhat inebriated.
In the morning, we all dressed and half-carried Hoppy Birdsong down to the basement for breakfast. After eating and sitting for a spell, we returned to our rooms to clean up and get into our Class A Uniforms. We almost had to stand Hoppy on his head to get him dressed!
At about 1130 hours (1130 a.m.) we gathered at the check-in counter for instructions. Our plane would leave Orly Airport, Paris, and a Staff Sergeant told us the plane would leave at 1600 hours (4:00 p.m.) and that the bus was going to leave the check-in area at 1300 hours (1:00 p.m.) for the airport. We sat out the time before boarding the bus in the snackbar of the hotel basement.
Our buddies from Dreux were going to drive us to the airport, following the USAF bus to the terminal. It was time for the bus to depart the Hotel Littre and we followed it to the airport for the 50-minute drive. We parked, hauled Hoppy inside, and sat him down on a waiting room bench. He resembled a wax figure to all who passed by. I checked in at the passenger counter, and since Hoppy and I were on the same plane I gave them a copy my - and his - orders. I pointed to Hoppy and said he just needed "some more rest!" Hoppy would have to show his own ID card at the gate. I couldn't do that for him, but we were at least on the manifest and were now waiting to get away from Paris.
When the time came to board the aircraft, a C-118A Liftmaster #51-3827 headed for Prestwick, Scotland, Birdsong and I said our goodbyes to our fellow airmen from Dreux and checked out through the exit door, walking through Gate #1 to our waiting C-118A. We waved back to the guys as we went up the steps and into the plane doorway. The flight attendant gave us our seats and I strapped Birdsong into his.
1961 Paris: Going home!
Orly Field, Paris, 1961 plane for home.
My boarding pass from Paris, 1961
The passengers were loading aboard the C-118A, and Birdsong was already out, fast asleep and sawing logs! Soon we'd be airborne. Those C-118A Liftmasters were powered by four Pratt & Whitney R-2800 CB-17 "Double Wasp" radial engines which produced 2,500 horsepower! Each had water injection Hamilton Standard 43E60 "Hydromatic" constant-speed props with autofeather and reverse thrust. A C-118A could cruse at 315 miles an hour and had a range of 3,010 miles! The plane carried 54 to 102 passengers and, in civilian service, it was known as a DC6. Pilot, co-pilot and flight engineer flew the C-118A. Some C-118A models were converted to VC-118As, and one, a VC-118A, for President Harry Truman's use, was called The Independence.
|I'll take a break from my story for an interesting part of history:|
The C-118A Liftmaster #51-3827 that Birdsong and I flew out of Paris to Trenton, New Jersey that April first, 1961, was later converted to a VC-118 for VIP use. It was used during the Vietnam conflict and was the plane that flew President Nguyen Van Thiew of South Vietnam to Taiwan. This VC-118A flew out of Tan Son Nhut airport on April 25, 1975 as South Vietnam was being overrun by the North.
Back to the story, our C-118A was loaded with approximately 75 passengers. We taxied out to the Orly Airport runway 02/20, at 7,874 feet long, for takeoff. The air crew ran through their engine checks and as my fellow corpse snored loudly, and with wheels up, we left Paris for Scotland. Right on the nose, 1600 hours (4:00 p.m.) we had left Paris and would fly approximately 554 miles which would be somewhere close to a two hour flight. France was behind us now, and our Air Force days were getting shorter.
The seatbelt sign was switched on, and of course Birdsong never had unfastened his during the flight. I tightened mine as one of the flight attendants, a Staff Sergeant, prepared the passengers for landing at Prestwick. There was a little daylight left when we landed and the air terminal was well lit with many outside lights. Another airman and I helped Birdsong down the stairs from the plane. He was wobbly and ashen. In the snack bar we found him a seat with us at a table and in addition to making certain he ate something we forced a glass of tomato juice on him. We had been told our flight out of Prestwick to interim stop, Harmon Air Base in Stephenville, Newfoundland, would leave at 1930 hours (7:30 p.m.) once our C-118A had been refueled and serviced.
Back in our C-118A, seatbelts tightened for takeoff, we were ready for the next leg of our trip. The Air Force had opened the Prestwick, Scotland in 1952/53 using former Royal Air Force (RAF) Facilities. The U.S. Air Force Military Air Transport Service (MATS) 1631st Air Base Squadron was the prime user. Engines started, chocks yanked and we were going toward the 03/21 runway, only 6,000 feet long, but plenty of room for a C-118A to take off. This leg of our trip would be 2,175.58 miles and would take at least seven and a half hours. The present time was 1930 hours (7:30 p.m.) and we were already in the air and headed for Newfoundland.
The wax figure, Hoppy Birdsong was beginning to feel a little more human. We had crossed time zones from Paris, but I was still going by my watch. After seven hours of cruising at around 300 miles per hour, our WAF flight attendants reported that we were close to our destination at Harmon Air Base. Harmon was used as a refueling stop for transatlantic military flights. It also supported three Air Defense Command units. We felt the C-118A descending as our ears plugged up, and soon we were on final approach. This would be our last refueling stop enroute to McGuire Air Base just outside Trenton, New Jersey. After a near perfect landing, we were parked at the terminal. It was 0330 hours (3:30 a.m.) by my Waterbury watch.
The C-118A was being serviced for the 1,094.13-mile trip to McGuire Air Base. Birdsong and I left the plane and stretched our legs, eating something at the terminal snackbar. We scheduled to be back in the air at 0500 hours (5:00 a.m.) by my watchkeeping. It was hard to nap on the plane and I was very sleepy and tired. Our Class A Blue uniforms looked tired, also. Here were two Kentucky boys on our way home after finishing our Air Force careers at Dreux Air Base. Looking back at being at İncirlik Air Base in Adana, Turkey back in February of this year, I was fast getting a lot of air miles under my belt.
Harmon Air Base was just about two miles southeast of Stephenville, Newfoundland which is located on the west coast of the island portion of the Canadian Province of Newfoundland and Labrador. The base was built by the U.S. Army Air Force, opening in 1941 in the St. Georges Bay area. First the base was called Stephenville, but it was given its present name on June 23, 1948 for Captain Ernest Emery Harmon, a U.S. Army Air Corps Ace, killed in an air crash in 1933. The base became part of the Northeast Air Command in October, 1950. In April, 1957, the Strategic Air Command assumed control with KC-97 Stratotankers.
Somewhere along the way, Airman Second Class Hoppy Birdsong came alive, uttering, "Was I drunk? Or Dreaming? Did we stop in Scotland?" I laughed at him as we boarded our C-118 at Harmon Air Base for the final leg of our trip to Mcguire. I let him know he was still really out of it as we reached Prestwick! As the plane lined upon on Harmon's 09/27 runway at the beginning of a 10,000 foot stretch of asphalt, I was thinking to myself that it was a few minutes to 0500 hours (5:00 a.m.). "Goodness!" I said to Birdsong as the plane left the runway in a nice climb to altitude, "Are you asleep again?" The body had disappeared into dreamland.
Some three hours until touchdown in the United States now, and maybe tomorrow we'll be officially discharged from the United States Air Force. I kept playing this over and over in my head.
The aircraft commander came on the intercom and told us we'd be on final approach in thirty minutes for landing at McGuire AFB, New Jersey. I doubted very much if Birdsong heard the announcement. The sun was up as the time was 0830 hours (8:30 a.m.) and it was April 2, 1961 by my watch. The good ol' USA was about to be under our feet. Our C-118A made a superb landing on a 06/24 runway (around 9,000 feet in length). By now, Birdsong was awake and stretching as we taxied toward the air terminal. We parked and started to leave the plane. I thanked the WAF flight attendants with a handshake but Birdsong, still in mild delirium had to give them a hug, and a kiss on the cheek. He was finally back among the living.
When our feet touched the concrete apron at the end of the mobile ramp stairs, we were - at last - on U.S. soil! I looked back at the C-118A that had brought us from Paris, France to McGuire AFB here in New Jersey and thanked the Lord for a safe flight. There were signs showing us the route to an area where we would be processed for separation from the service. We were located in a large barracks and had to give those in charge copies of our orders.
Some in the group of airmen were to be separated from service that day, but Birdsong and I found ourselves having to wait until the following day, Monday April 3, 1961. At that time we'd be given copies of our special orders #AB-256 stating that we were to be relieved from active duty and would be transferred to the Reserve of the U.S. Air Force effective that date, April 3, 1961. At that time we'd be assigned to HG. CONAC (IRS) Air Reserve Records Center, 3800 York Street, Denver, Colorado, effective April 4, 1961. Our Air Force Reserve Grade would be the same as our present grade.
We knew just what to do: find a bunk for the night, get some chow at one of the Transient Billets. We signed in and stored our bags and were off to the mess hall for some stateside chow cookin'. Afterward, we returned to our billets and took a nap. How Birdsong fell asleep so quickly was beyond me. He had seemed to sleep all the way from France!
About 1500 hours (3:00 p.m. we were a bit more rested and decided to have a look around McGuire AFB. It was the same as we had seen at other bases, only this time we were home in the U.S. We found the base had been called Rudd Field in 1926 and was built to support Camp Dix, the army base next to it. McGuire AFB was established as Fort Dix Airport in 1937 and was first opened to military aircraft on January 9, 1941. The facility was renamed Fort Dix Army Base on July 3, 1942 and on January 13, 1948 the U.S. Air Force renamed it McGuire Air Base, in honor of Thomas Buchanan McGuire, Jr. (1920-1945). He was a medal of honor winner and was the second-place flying ace of World War II. He died on January 7, 1945 when his P-38 Lightning crashed in the South Pacific on Los Negros Island during an aerial dogfight.
After sightseeing, we had some chow and went to the base movie theatre. A Walt Disney movie, Disney's 17th animated feature, 101 Dalmations was playing, but I don't recall we saw that film. Unfortunate, since 101 Dalmations was the tenth highest grossing film of 1961 grossing $6,400,000 (U.S. and Canada) in its first year of release and one of the Disney Studio's most popular films of the decade!
After whatever movie we saw, Hoppy Birdsong and I visited the snack bar a visit and walked back to our billets. After showers and shaves we turned in, awaiting our separation from the Air force the next day; and Monday April 3, 1961 was there before we knew it! We were due at the separation building at 0800 hours (8:00 a.m.), into our uniforms, and after a rushed visit to the chow hall we came back to gather our bags and sign out at the billets. We would soon be on our way to our home state of Kentucky, no longer on active duty with the U.S. Air Force.
As we left the billets, we caw, in the corners of the bay, huge piles of Air Force clothing discarded by the newly-discharged airmen. Someone had scribbled on the wall above them, "To Hell with the Air Force!"
Right on time, 0800 hours (8:00 a.m.) we were seated in a large room, anxious to be on our way. It was Monday, April 3, 1961, a momentous day for Birdsong and I. An Air Force Officer called the room to order. He said copies of our orders were on a large desk and had a Staff Sergeant call out each row to get up and retrieve them. We were thanked for our service to the country, and as each airman's name was called the person went forward to sign some papers, turning in their ID card. We also filled out a mailing envelope so our discharge papers could be mailed to our home. Then we were directed to another table to receive our transportation flight vouchers. Birdsong and I would be going in the same direction: to Louisville, Kentucky!
I had joined the Air Force August 19, 1957 and now I was an honorably discharged veteran, having served in Turkey and France. I got out a few months early due to the Dreux Air Base closing, and I didn't extend my enlistment. Not getting that Airman First Class Stripe was the basic reason I didn't extend. Being told I was "a lock for it" and then being told I was 13th on the list as 12 were selected to receive their stripes, left a raw feeling in me. It did make me feel better that my Air Force years were now behind me.
There was regular bus service from McGuire into Trenton just 15 miles away. I can't recall whether it was a military bus or a local company's. We did meet two other discharged airmen leaving from Trenton. One was going to Washington, DC. We had flights out of Trenton's Mercer County Airport later in the day. The planes wouldn't leave until around 1700 hours (5:00 p.m.) so the four of us got our heads together and decided to go on to Trenton and sightsee around the town. We hopped the bus to Trenton, three of us in Air Force Blue and one in civvies, and went off to see the wizard.
The bus ride was just that - a bus ride to the airport at Ewing, NJ. We found lockers and stowed our belongings, checking in at the ticket counter for our flight to D.C. We then hailed a cab and rode four miles to the central business district of Trenton. We felt like Marco Polo must have felt as we plied the streets of a strange city on our exploratory visit. I don't believe we missed much as we walked the town's avenues and alleyways. Oh, what fun we had there!
All too soon it was time to get a taxi back to the Mercer County Airport. One in the front and three in the back seat, we rode like kings of the road over the short four miles. The taxi man was paid and we checked in at the ticket counter for any changes in our flight status. All was right on schedule and, to this day I cannot recall which airline we flew on to Washington, D.C., nor do I have any paperwork that reminds me. Was it Mohawk? Piedmont? Capital or Allegheny Airlines? I do know Birdsong and I were on an Eastern Airlines Martin 4-0-4 from Washington, DC to Louisville, Kentucky. All I know is it wasn't an Eastern Airlines plane from Mercer County/Trenton to D.C., because in my mind's eye I know the logos were different on the planes.
"Now Boarding" was the call directing us to our gate and three of us bid goodbye to our fourth airman who was taking a different flight out at the same time. "So long, New Jersey, it's been good to know you," I said as we lined up on 06/24, the 6,000 foot asphalt runway and went airborne in what seemed like a flash. Just 150-some miles to the capital of the United States wouldn't take long by air, and in a little over an hour we were landing at Washington National, which seemed like we were coming in right on top of the capital dome! With the bright lights gleaming around the capital, we could see the beautiful sight even though darkness was setting in.
The 01/19 runway, 6,869 asphalt feet in length, was where President Roosevelt attended the opening ceremony and observed the first official landing on June 16,1941. The airlines drew straws to determine who could land at National Airport first, and American Airlines won the honor. When it opened, National Airport was considered the "last word" in airports.
Wow! We were right there in Washington, DC where Senator "Jack" Kennedy took the oath of office as 35th President of the United States, back in January of this year. Our plane parked next to one of the passenger gates and we three amigos - no active duty now, simply three real live civilians - walked to the passenger terminal with our carry-on bags. We had a photo taken at the D.C. airport (at left) showing left-to-right, Gary Morland from West Virginia, me in the middle and Hoppy Birdsong at right. So on this April 4, 1961 our flight to Louisville would leave at 1930 hours (7:30 p.m.). The three of us had some food, made one of those instant photos in a booth, and rested. Soon we would say "Goodbye," two of us going to Louisville and one to Huntington, West Virginia.
Birdsong and I wished our fellow airman a good flight, and said goodbye. I now believe this airman was Gary L. Morland. I have the photo of the three of us at Washington National but it was never labeled for some reason.
Just then, our flight number was called and Hoppy and I presented our boarding passes and got on board the Eastern Airlines Martin 4-0-4. After climbing the rear ventral stairs into the passenger section and storing our carry-on bags overhead, the flight attendant directed us to our seats and we fastened up for takeoff.
Thoughts were beginning to rush through my head: two airmen returning from active duty in France, were almost home to Louisville and Kevil, Kentucky. Up, Up and away from the same runway we had flown in on. The Eastern Martin 4-0-4 cruised at about 250 miles per hour and it would take us around two and a half hours to reach our destination. This time, though, it was my turn to nap before Birdsong even thought about it! I quickly conked out for the trip home.
The sensation of my ears doing something woke me to find we were on the glide path for landing at Louisville's Standiford Field (on the north/south runway of concrete and some 6,000-plus feet in length. It was a smooth one-bounce landing and the plane taxied up to the Lee Terminal. Being nighttime, I couldn't see much as I only had taken one flight out on a DC-6C when heading to Texas back in August, 1957 for boot camp from this same terminal.
It was dark, and not as well lit as Washington's National Airport, but the engines were shut down, the ventral stairs were lowered at the rear of the plane and the two flight attendants - on at the top and one at the bottom of the stairs bid Birdsong and I good luck and goodbye.
We walked inside the terminal and Birdsong checked with Ozark Airlines for his flight to Paducah, Kentucky, which was the airport nearest his home in Kevil. His flight would leave at noon the next day which was April 4, 1961. I was certainly not going to go on home and leave him until he got his flight to his hometown. I was after 2230 hours (10:30 p.m.) when we checked in at the Berkeley hotel near Fourth and Broadway in Louisville, having taken a cab ride from the airport.
I had once stayed a night at the Berkley in 1959 when I was home on leave from Adana. An old girlfriend of mine needed some reassuring and, of course, it was all I could do for her as I was being a gentleman.
Tuesday morning, April 4, 1961 came around rather quickly and we were up and ready to get to the airport for Hoppy's flight. We paid our last hotel bill when we arrived so all we needed to do was hand in the room key. We had checked our bags at the airport, except for our shaving kits, so we didn't have to carry them around. We hailed a cab outside on 4th Street and we were off to Standiford Field at 0930 hours (9:30 a.m.).
The cab driver let us off at Lee Terminal and Birdsong and I found some breakfast, got our checked baggage, and made our way to the rear of the terminal to the ticket counter and gate for Ozark Airlines. Birdsong got his ticket and boarding pass and we just sat and reminisced about our time at Dreux Air Base. He had a little English sport car convertible at the time and it allowed us to visit many places around the air base. We even drove to LeHavre on the west coast of France one day. We truly were good friends and hated to part company.
Noon came along fast, so we moved over to the Ozark gate. There I said my last goodbye to William "Hoppy" Birdsong, giving each other a "so long pal" handshake and hug. He made his way to the Fokker F-27 Friendship aircraft that Ozark Airlines had been flying for just over a year by then. He waved back at me and stepped inside the plane door. The F-27 was a twin Rolls Royce Dart Turboprop powered high-wing aircraft seating 32 passengers. In 1956, Fokker signed a licensing deal with the U.S. Aircraft manufacturer Fairchild to construct the F-27 in the U.S. The First U.S. built aircraft flew domestically on April 12, 1958, and Ozark started flying the F-27 in 1960.
The engines were started, and quickly Birdsong's plane headed for the runway which was an east-west, 5,000 foot one. I watched as the F-27 left the ground and climbed almost straight up, it seemed, from the west end of the runway, out over the International Harvester tractor factory. That was the last time I saw "Hoppy" although we talked on the phone and I sent letters and cards to him. I was along with my thoughts as I headed out to find a taxi to take me home.
In front of the Lee Terminal, I found a Yellow Cab for my trip home. Mom knew I was coming home but she didn't know the day. The cab ride out to Okolona, a suburb of Louisville only took but 25 minutes. My address at the time was 1264 Lipps Lane, Okolona 19, Kentucky. Our house was just an eighth of a mile east, off Preston Highway and Lipps Lane was another eighth of a mile north of the Okolona Elementary School which was located on Preston highway.
April, 1961 - A/2C Sibert at home from the U.S. Air Force for good. Family (L-R) Carolyn, Me, Mom, Martha, Sonny.
Mom, naturally, was glad to see me safe back home. I had - with the exception of my leave home from Adana - been gone in the Air Force since 5:00 a.m. in August of 1957 when I left for the U.S. Airforce. So as I walked in the door and greeted mom at around 2:00 in the afternoon, my sister Carolyn and brother Sonny were still at school. My stepdad was still at work, Martha, my older sister her husband Ray and my nephews Linnie and Raymond would be coming over for a visit later that evening. I was back home again in Okolona and was ready to begin civilian life once more. I found a job with a local Volkswagen dealer as a service technician and did that line of work straight through until I retired in 1993!
Hoppy Birdsong, my friend from our Dreux Air Base days, went to work for the Kentucky State Penitentiary at Eddyville, KY as a prison guard. His Air Police training in the Air Force helped him get the job. I went to see him at the prison in May, 1963, but he had left for his home in Kevil, KY the day before, so I drove down there, but I missed him as his mom said he had driven back to Eddyville. He didn't know I was coming to see him and cell phones didn't exist at the time. I had mentioned I might drop in on him sometime and it was a good ride for the brand new VW Beetle I had just bought.
Birdsong married a girl from around his hometown and had two kids. Later on he married another woman from near his hometown who also had two kids. He left the prison job and found another job as a jail guard in Little Rock, Arkansas. He lived in Cabot, just a few miles northeast from his work. I had talked to him many times over the years.
In 1987 I took a trip back to Dreux Air Base. It was closed, but a caretaker at the front gate drove me around to wherever I wanted to go. He spoke no English and said that over the years there had been some others who had come back to the base for a look. I used my French as much as I could, and we visited my old quarters and took many photos of all aspects of the base. I sent Hoppy copies of these photos which he enjoyed seeing.
Dreux Air Base had been on standby status when I had left France in April, 1961. The C-119G cargo planes were returned to the states and almost all the personnel were transferred to other bases or were discharged. The base was finally closed after sitting idle for a few years, and was returned to the French Government in 1967.
Continuing with my story of Hoppy Birdsong, we'll fast-forward to the year 1997. He was still working in Arkansas as a Jail Guard. On Saturday May 2, 1998, he came home from the night shift at the jail and cleaned up. He ate breakfast and went out to play a couple rounds of golf. He returned later to dress for a banquet he was to attend that evening. Later, after the banquet, driving home alone in his Pontiac Fiero, he was struck head-on by another vehicle. He was killed instantly at 59 years of age.
I only learned about this a few months after when I had called his home. He had moved to Jacksonville, Arkansas, not far from Little Rock. He was buried in his hometown of Kevil, Kentucky near others of his family. To this day I continue to think about all the great times we had together, playing on the Dreux basketball team and just living and loving life on this great planet earth. I look at the photos of when we were still young men in the Air Force and stationed at Dreux. So full of life, all smiles about everything we did. I miss William B. "Hoppy" Birdsong. I can still see him at the Dreux Air Base front gate, an Air Policeman. I can still see him.
My Air Force Tech School classmate and Air Force Buddy at İncirlik Air Base, Adana, Turkey, Gerald L. Lasserre now lives in Redding, California. I found him on the Internet and received photos and help on this story. I am still looking for others from our days at İncirlik Air Base.
Which takes me back to June, 1958: It was the night after F-100s flew nonstop from the USA to İncirlik and the buildup of planes really started go arrive. Airman Third Class Lasserre and a helper from the parachute shop, A/1C Lowery, went out to park a C-47 "Gooney Bird" that had just landed. Darkness had arrived and A/1C Lowery was driving the jeep leading the C-47 to a parking spot.
Wayne Lowery (right) at Seyhan Dam, Adana, Turkey 1958.
As Lasserre, with one foot on the pavement, stepped from the Jeep with his flashlight wands to guide the C-47 to the parking spot at around 2100 hours (9:00 p.m.) Lowery - for some reason - popped the clutch and sent Lasserre flipping and tumbling to the concrete. He tried to break his fall but landed on his left wrist, breaking some bones. His chin took most of the fall, breaking his Jaw on both sides and damaging some teeth which had to be removed. He spent the next two months at the Wheelus Air Base hospital in Libya while recovering from his injuries.
Upon returning to İncirlik Air Base, he was a crew member for one of the base C-47s #0-476388 until it crashed in Tel Aviv, Israel in 1959 and was then repaired and given to the Israeli Air Force. Jerry then worked for Det 10-10 in U-2 Operations on their T-33 Jets. These were single engine two-seaters that were the Air Force's first jet trainers. He got to go on Temporary Duty in Wiesbaden, Germany a few times to do the physical inspections on the T-33s. Det 10-10 didn't have the equipment to perform them at İncirlik.
Lasserre was on the C-124C #51-5201 returning from Weisbaden to İncirlik after one of his TDYs only a week before it crashed on takeoff March 31, 1959 from İncirlik Air Base. He said the C124C was bringing the mail from Germany to the base and he hopped a ride. He said he witnessed the C-124C crash the night it went down. He was in an area near the flight line and believed all on board to have been killed in the huge fireball that ensued.
The months passed by at İncirlik and he was now an Airman Second Class when he was rotated back to the States, around March 10, 1960 and was then sent to Scott Air Base near Belleville, Illinois. There he worked in Transient Alert and that's where he was given his honorable discharge from the U.S. Air Force active duty on Friday, August 18, 1961.
Once back in California, Lasserre married and had three children. He remarried after his wife died of cancer in 1992 and now lives in Redding in the upper third of California.
Airman Third Class Gary Longboat, also stationed at İncirlik Air Base in January 1960, saw me off for France and mailed my belongings to me in May, 1960 told me he lost my address, and got it back from another airman whom I had written from Dreux Air Base in France. He told me he was sorry he didn't get my things to me sooner.
Doing research for this story I found that Gary had died on October 10, 2000 in New York State, at 59 years of age. He was born March 7, 1941 and was just 19 years old at the time we were at İncirlik. He rotated back to the states in March, 1961. I don't know where he finished his Air Force enlistment. He always had a smile on his face and was liked by everyone there. A photo of him at İncirlik Air Base showing him and another airman seeing me off from İncirlik Air base to my followup duty at Dreux AB, France.
I hope you have enjoyed reading my tales of İncirlik and Dreux as much as I enjoyed putting it together. I spent over a year on this story before sending it to Merhaba-USMilitary.com for the website.
|TWO FINAL PHOTOS:|
This 2009 photo is of Charlie Sibert's barracks #S-452 in 1958-'60. Now it is building 922 and is the Vet Clinic across the street from the İncirlik Air Base pool. "We had no trees around back then, only a gravel street!" Charlie says.
2009 photo: The Oasis Theater, İncirlik Air Base - the same building from 1958-'60 now has an addition out front and a new sign. The Library building is visible to the right in this photo.
There may be more memories coming, and they will be added now and then, so keep checking to see what has been added. Thank you for your interest in how we played a part in the world's "cold war" situation.
If you have questions or comments about this story, or İncirlik circa 1958-1960
I've recently located David E. Laube and for any readers who knew David, I can put you in touch with him. Just click the link in the sentence above to e-mail me.
I still have not been able to contact Bruce A. McAvinew, whom I believe is in California somewhere. But there are many more people I knew whose whereabouts I don't know, so if you were stationed at İncirlik Air Base, Turkey or Dreux Air Base between 1958 and 1961, get in touch.
The End...for now.