A friend posted a video of the Air Force Band doing a Christmas flash mob scene at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. It reminded me of a story that needs telling.
In my first year at the Air Force Academy (you are referred to as a Doolie, 4th Classman, Dilfob, Squat, Numbnut, and other even less gracious names). Doolies are required to perform all manner of odd tasks such as handling the hot drinks at meals (the “hot pilot”), post the comic strip Peanuts on the squadron bulletin board early each morning (a task I included in my novel, “All Fools Down”), retrieve all manner of things at the behest of any upperclassman, and so on.
If you visit the Academy, be sure to witness the Wing formation for a meal. The entire cadet Wing assembles in front of the dormitory building (Vandenburg Hall), marches to the dining hall (Mitchell Hall), enters and is seated and ready for the meal, all within about a 5-7 minute time period. If you’re lucky, the Academy’s band, consisting of a group of musicians who are not cadets, will play a march or two while this is all going on.
One day at lunch, after an unusually uninspired march made us a little less enthusiastic about the whole thing, an upperclassman at my table requested that I do something about the music. “Mr. Bohlin,” he said, “See what you can do about getting us some music with a little more – what’s the word I’m looking for – a little more swagger. A little more zip to it. Think you can do that?”
Surprising him more than a little, I replied that I thought I could. What he didn’t know was that I had a friend in the band. George S. was his name, and George and I went through regular Air Force basic training together at Lackland AFB in San Antonio, Texas. I had happened to run into George right before reporting in as a doolie that June of 1959, and George had reminded me that his Air Force assignment was as a trombone player. Up to then I had lost track of him after basic.
So I got on the phone and reached old pal George to ask him whether he could spice up the music for the next day’s march to lunch. He remembered I’d helped him a little in basic and told me to watch and listen.
Good old George. When the band struck up the Saint Louis Blues in march tempo the next day, every cadet stood up as tall as could be and strutted on along the terrazzo, the level for the main entrances to most of the buildings. When we sat down to eat there was quite the buzz about the day’s marching music.
The upperclassman who asked me to request something with more zip inquired: “Mr. Bohlin. Are you responsible for our much better marching music today? I mean, the Saint Louis Blues. Absolutely terrific.”
Now that was high praise from an upperclassman to a doolie. The Air Force Academy’s Honor Code, “I will not lie, cheat, or steal, or tolerate among us those who do” was in full effect from the moment we raised our hands to be sworn in as cadets.
“Yes sir!” I said.
After a brief look of mild surprise, he said: “And how, may I ask, were you able to accomplish that task?”
“Sir, may I speak freely?” I said.
“Sir, I propose to keep that my secret. Besides, you probably wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”
“Two,” he said, which meant I could go back to eating my lunch. As I did so I noticed grins all around the table. Peripheral vision is a good thing when you’re a doolie, eating at attention while sitting on the last half-inch of your chair.
I was asked to spice up the march music several more times that year, and each time my man George managed to have the band play something that had us all in full strut mode marching to lunch or dinner.
Months later, when the doolies who had made it through their first year to become 3rd classmen were “recognized” as once again relatively normal human beings by their upperclassmen, the cadet who had asked me how I’d managed to get the band to play that music shook my hand and said “OK. You can tell me now.”
When I told him how it was done he smiled, offered me a handshake and congratulations, and said: “I have to go tell the others. That’s some story and you’re one lucky you-know-what.”
Not exactly a flash mob, but I sure got a lot of mileage out of having a pal from basic….