PART 3

We are talking about the three kinds of events that leave behind unforgettable memories. The third kind: those moments we never forget because they’re truly life changing. Let’s talk about a couple of those.

My buddies and I came back from Iceland when our hitch in the Air National Guard ended, received our discharges, headed home, and returned to work. Luckily, in just two years back at the chain store I’d left for the Guard, I was made assistant manager and construction on my own store in Groton had started. I was 23 and set for life.

One April afternoon, going to the bank with a deposit, I passed the local recruiting office. They were changing the window and I stopped to take a look — it was an Air Force scene. What happened at that moment was something that was really startling.

When I saw a large radar antenna almost identical to one we’d set up in Iceland it was as though someone flipped a switch in my head. Out of nowhere I remembered why I’d loved military life, even though our outfit had been a terrible dud. I remembered the feeling of being part of something far more important than myself. I made up my mind that I belonged in a uniform and I was going to be back in one.

Crazy? Maybe. Life changing? You bet! - For the better!

Barely 60 days later I was on a base in upstate New York, completed my physical and written tests, and been selected — believe it or not! — to attend Yale for nine months to learn Mandarin Chinese. It was a very highly classified program and required a top-secret clearance. I was very surprised when 105 out of 175 men who volunteered were ineligible for that clearance. The remainder were told we would be given two weeks of spoken Mandarin Chinese classes, two classes a day, and would be tested twice daily. Then the highest scoring 35 would go to Yale. About then, it finally dawned on me to wonder what I’d be doing if I learned to speak Chinese. What a shock when I discovered I’d be sitting on a mountain wearing headphones and typing out whatever the Chinese were saying. Talk about dull!

I went to everyone on the base, including the base commander, and was told that the program had the highest priority in the Air Force and they lacked the authority to release me. In the classroom the next day, a two stripe airman said, “You guys better be motivated because when you get to Yale you’re gonna need it.”

As I handed in my test paper I said, “Hey, man! I’m not motivated about this crap.” And guess what? The two-striper wrote a note to a three-striper, who took me out of the program! Certain I had to get elsewhere fast, I asked for rush orders to get me off the base. No such luck! Even though I didn’t know what it was, I got into the only tech school on the base — General Instructors School, became a drill instructor and then an active training NCO.

So what was so “life changing” about that? Five years later, without that top-secret clearance I would not have been sent to the embassy in Karachi during the U-2 program.

And? -- Hey! Where do you think I met Lolly?

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