A couple of weeks ago, Dave Hold of Critters Etc. looked up from where he was prodding the ground in search of a tunnel belonging to the critter that was wreaking havoc with one of my four precious apple trees by gnawing at its tender roots.
“You know, Tom,” he told me, “my dad thinks he may know you. You two were at Tachikawa Air Base in Japan at the same time.”
Dave is good at what he does. At the moment, he was poking around for a pesky pocket gopher, but a couple of months before that, he came to my rescue by hauling off a skunk I accidentally caught in a humane trap. I was amazed at the calm way he strolled off with that skunk, still in the cage and on its way to being released in a happy new home — somewhere other than my back yard.
I don’t mind sharing the world with nature’s critters, but you have to draw the line somewhere. I draw it at skunks.
Anyway, I don’t know what Dave thought I would say when he mentioned that Pete, his dad, thought he might know me from a place where I’d been stationed more than 50 years ago. He may have thought I would find it rather doubtful, but he was wrong. I have long since given up being surprised by running into someone I knew a long time ago in another galaxy.
Take Dick Lewis, the Section NCO I worked for from August of 1951 to February of 1953.
I first went to work for Dick at Otis Air Force Base in Massachusetts, and continued to work for him in Iceland after our outfit was transferred up there.
Then Dick was hauled off to the base hospital on Keflavik Air Base and flown back to the States, seriously ill. It was the last I heard of him, and the last I ever expected to hear of him.
In June of 1953 I took a discharge from the Air Force with no intention of ever spending another day in uniform. About two years later, for reasons that aren’t important here, I reenlisted and was sent to Sampson Air Force Base in upstate New York.
Again for reasons that are of no importance here, I decided to go to a school right there on the base. I finished the school, was assigned to one of 11 squadrons on base, reported to the squadron personnel office, was assigned to one of seven sections, strolled through the squadron area to the office of my new section NCO, knocked on the door, was told to enter, and walked into the office of Tech Sgt. Richard E. Lewis, the man I had worked for during my entire last hitch.
I might point out that at the time of which I speak, Dick and I were just two of 865,000 men and women in the Air Force.
How unlikely is that?
No more unlikely than this one, I suppose.
I met Lolly, my wife, when Sam McNutt, one of the other NCOs living in an embassy staff house in Karachi, Pakistan, asked me, “Hey, Tom. How’d you like to meet a couple of nice British girls?”
Lolly and I met, instantly fell in love, were married at a little church right there in Karachi, left Karachi two years later for a base in California, went from there to a base in Utah, then to one on Okinawa, to one in Ohio, to one in Missouri, to another in England, retired, went to college, lived in Texas for eight years, and finally made it to Arizona.
One day in Mesa a friend of Lolly’s was talking to her as I drove them somewhere. She mentioned someone she worked with, but did not mention his name.
Nevertheless, from what she was saying, I had to ask, “Is his name Sam by any chance?”
“Yes. How in the world did you know that?”
And there you go! Forty-four years and 10,000 miles later I met the man who introduced me to my wife. He had only been in Phoenix for about a year, and six months later he was gone back overseas again. The chances of our meeting were kinda sorta small.
Then there was Randy Moss. No, not that Randy Moss. This one was Randall B. Moss, a basic trainee in one of my barracks at Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas. Randy was the best man I ever put through basic training, and believe me, in the three years I spent working as a drill instructor, there were plenty of basics.
Three years and three Air Force bases later, I took over the protocol section in the air terminal on Tachikawa Air Base in Japan. When I walked into my office there sat Randy Moss.
But that’s not all.
I left Tachikawa in 1959, served on five bases in three countries, transferred to Kadena, Okinawa, bought a tiny little house out in the country, and met my next door neighbor.
Randall B. Moss.
I tell you, either one of two things things is true: Either this old world is just chock-full of coincidences, or I am the world’s greatest liar.
Why? Because there’s still more.
Take the guy I met on Okinawa in 1965. For most of my hitch over there we spent time trying to figure out where we knew each other from. “Where” turned out to be my sophomore year study hall in New London, Conn. in 1946. How unlikely is that?
Then there was the first sergeant from my first hitch, who 11 years after I left his unit walked right up to my border clearance counter in the air terminal at Travis AFB, California.
And Tom Reckner, who worked with me in the training office on Lockbourne AFB, Ohio. I sat down right next to Tom in the mess hall on Ramstein Air Base, Germany, eight years after I left Ohio.
There was Chuck Dunlap. Ran across him three times.
And Sandy Walters. Ran across him twice.