One cool Tuesday evening in April 1948 when I was 16, we finished work at the Victory Theater in New London, Conn., around 10:30 or so. A friend and I strolled into the bus station restaurant to have a cup of hot coffee before we headed home. We were sitting at the counter nearest the floor-to-ceiling windows, which fronted onto the main street of town, when an unexpected stir filled the almost empty station.
Through the double doors, along with a pair of state troopers and two or three assistants of some kind, came none other than Senator Robert A. Taft of Ohio, the son of President Taft, who had served in office back before World War I. He was the current Republican presidential nominee.
To my utter amazement, Senator Taft sat down next to me, introduced himself, shook my hand, asked my name, said he was pleased to meet me, and ordered a cup of coffee as people began pouring into the station to catch a glimpse of him.
Talk about startling! How many times has a presidential candidate come into a restaurant and sat down next to you? I was — to say the least — more than just startled. I was dumbfounded.
The two Connecticut state troopers took up stations behind Taft, as two people I recognized as being from the New London Day, where I had worked until earlier that year, showed up to interview the candidate and take some photographs.
The next day, on the front page of the Day was a photograph of Senator Taft having a friendly cup of coffee with teenager Tom Garrett. To my utter amazement, the caption not only contained my name, it gave my address at 220 Huntington Street. Can you imagine how many questions I had to answer in school about that?
Finally, let’s take a look at what happened one night in December 1959 in Karachi, Pakistan, as I took up my duties as the entire working portion of the Military Air Transport Service in that nation.
My job required a top-secret clearance because I was a part — a very small part! — of the U-2 Program, something no one ever told me, but which I soon figured out. My duties included meeting all U.S. military aircraft that arrived at the military airfield 14 miles outside the city. After which, I unloaded their passengers, cargo, and mail, and usually loaded up more of the same.
On my very first nighttime drive out to the airbase, on a narrow but paved country road, I was tootling along at 40 mph or so when the biggest, blackest behemoth of a heavily loaded flatbed truck I had ever seen in my life appeared out of nowhere, coming straight at me WITH ITS LIGHTS OFF!
I just barely managed to shoot off the side of the road into the desert, where I braked, stopped, and asked myself what the hell that was all about.
Getting no answer, I got back on the road, and asked the same question of our office clerk the next day.
“Believe it or not, Sahib,” Hasan said sarcastically. “Those dull-witted fellows say they drive without lights to save electricity.”
I never drove out to the base again at night! If an aircraft was coming in at night I drove out there during the day and waited for it to arrive. And then I waited until daylight to drive back into Karachi.
Being startled is bad enough. Being dead creates a more lasting problem!