I’ve mentioned before that I first got interested in the Rim Country when I was given three Zane Grey books for Christmas. Two of the books took place during the French and Indian war, and had nothing to do with Arizona, but the third one was The Riders of the Purple Sage, which happens right here along the Rim.
As soon as I started reading about the Southwest I wanted to know more about it, but all I could really do was read books, pay attention in history class, and see a couple of movies. It was all great stuff, but there’s a big difference between reading about a place and actually going there to see it for yourself. So I began wondering how I could get out here and have a look around.
Boy was I shoveling against the tide!
I was born on Staten Island in New York City. The farthest south I ever got was the southern end of Staten Island, 16 miles from the spot I was hatched, and for a long time it looked like that was as far south — or west — as I was ever going to get.
But then a ray of hope emerged. Mom, who was a widow, ran into a fellow named Harry Johnson and I learned that I was about to have one great guy for a stepfather. And Mom told me that we were going to move out of New York, which really got my attention. There’s a whole lot of space in these United States, and it seemed to me that when you were as far north and east as I was, it was almost impossible to move anywhere except south and west.
Ho! Ho! Ho!
Take a ruler. Put one end on New York City, aim the other end at a 45 degree angle northeast, and draw a line. Right on that line you will find New London, Conn., a nice place to grow up, and a big improvement over New York City, but not exactly part of the Great Southwest.
But I was young, and there was lots of time.
Just as I was graduating from high school two of my older brothers — Bill and Charlie — convinced me to join the Connecticut Air National Guard. The reason was simple — Korea. Charlie had been there during peacetime and hated it, and now that there was a war going on over there, he told me, it was a really great place to stay away from. Bill, who was already in the Guard, was honest with me. He told me it was likely that the outfit would be called up, but I’d be a lot better off in the Air Force than in the Army.
So I joined up, thinking that they were right. And also that I might just derive a little side benefit too. If we were called into active duty we would have to go to some Air Force base for training, and if you look at the locations of Air Force bases, you’ll see that a lot of them are in the South or Southwest.
How could I lose?
Sure as heck our outfit was alerted for federal service just after I enlisted. They didn’t tell us where we were going to be stationed for training, but I kept my fingers crossed.
You never know ...
Take a ruler. Put one end of it on New London, Conn., aim the other end at a 45 degree angle northeast, and draw a line. Right on that line you will find Otis AFB, Massachusetts, where I spent a happy, carefree year freezing my tail off and wondering how the %$#@! this was getting me closer to the Southwest.
Ah, but then we were alerted for overseas ...
This time I knew I had them. Korea may not be part of the Southwest, but it sure ain’t part of the Northeast either.
The Air Force began sending in regulars to fill in some of the empty slots in our outfit. Two new guys showed up in my duty section. I hoped that maybe they came from somewhere out west and could tell me a few things from personal experience.
Jimmy Mochynski came from Uniontown, Pa. Steve Waverczyk came from Chicago.
Well, at least that’s west of Connecticut and New York.
“But,” I thought, “to get me in Korea they have to stick me on a train and send me across the country.” I knew they weren’t going to let me drop off in Arizona for a two-week tour, but I could at least look out the train windows, even if they sent us by the northern route and we passed through Utah.
Take a ruler ...
Yeah, they did it again.
I got out of the Air Force a year later, discovered that I should have stayed in because I was cut out for military service, and re-enlisted. And this time I really had them!
Part of my re-enlistment package was an ironclad guarantee that I could pick my base, and I knew that both Willie and Luke were smack dab where I wanted to be. Then, at the main recruiting station in New Haven, the Army captain who ran the place called me into his office, closed the door, and made me an offer: One stripe on my sleeve in the Air Force or a gold bar on my shoulder in the Army.
I guess he was a little miffed when I took the one stripe because the next thing I knew I was heading north toward Sampson AFB in upstate New York, a basic training base.
Then, like a fool, I volunteered to become a drill instructor before it dawned on me that as a DI I was very likely to spend my entire career right there in sunny upstate New York.
But barely a year later, came the unexpected news they were going to close the base. I was given seven bases to choose from, and let me tell you, I chose carefully.
Guess what happened?
Take a ruler ...
But this time, draw that line in the opposite direction!
Wichita Falls, Texas.
I finally saw the Southwest with my own two eyes.
It was worth waiting for!