What You Don't Know Can Hurt You

YOUR TURN

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I'll bet there's one old saying that you don't agree with any more than I do, the one that says, "What he doesn't know won't hurt him."

Wrong!

I learned that while I was in charge of Border Clearance at Travis Air Force Base out in California. Never have I met so many people who were absolutely devastated to learn something they "didn't know."

Border Clearance is the department of Passenger Service which checks things like passports, visas, and immunizations.

I don't know how many families I had to tell that they were going to spend six weeks at Travis before they could travel onward. Usually, sadly enough, it was a wife and her children on their way to join a husband overseas. No cholera shots, you see, which required a series of three shots given two weeks apart. I never found an easy way to let them down. I don't think there was one.

We also checked several other things in Border Clearance, things that were listed in the part of the Border Clearance Manual that was classified "secret," things I can't tell you about, but that made for some interesting moments in my life.

I remember one time when a group of seven or eight civilian construction people showed up at our counter with orders to travel to Pakistan. Their itinerary would have taken them through Hawaii, Guam, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, both Calcutta and New Delhi in India, and then, finally, to Karachi, quite an experience for a batch of construction workers, especially since they would have stayed overnight in Hawaii, the Philippines, Thailand, and India. It was, in fact, the trip of a lifetime for anyone.

Their passports, visas, and immunizations were all in order, but I knew something they didn't. "Sorry," I had to tell them, "you can't fly to Pakistan from here. You'll have to turn around and go to an Air Force base on the East Coast."

"What? Why?"

"Do you have a secret clearance?"

"No," one of them said. "What the hell would we be doing with a secret clearance?"

"Sorry, can't tell you why. I'd like to, but I can't."

Wow! Talk about a storm of controversy! First I had to field all their anger. Then an Army Major showed up waving six or eight arms and getting all huffy. He, unfortunately, also did not have a secret clearance, so I couldn't tell him why either, despite all the arm waving. Next came an irate Army Colonel.

He did have a secret clearance, so I just opened the "Border Clearance Manual" and let him read it for himself.

The civilians had to turn around and travel three thousand miles back to Charleston, S.C. Don't tell me that what you don't know won't hurt you!

Along the same lines, a United States Customs man worked with me on some days and on others at the San Francisco docks. One day he showed up laughing like a fool.

"What's up, John?" I asked him.

"I was walking along the dock this morning in my street clothes when some sleazy-looking character strolled up to me, showed me a perfume bottle, told me he had just smuggled it in on the ship docked right next us, and offered it to me for ten bucks."

I rest my case.

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