Author: Frank Maio
I enlisted in the USAF after taking my sweetie to the drive in movie that was playing “Strategic Air Command” with James Stewart and June Allison that would be June 1955. I knew then that the Cold War was very much in the minds of the populace at that time. “Boris” was a bad guy and we had to stay prepared, just in case.
“Boris”, the villain in the popular 1950s cartoon series Rocky and His Friends created by Jay Ward and Bill Scott, represented most American’s attitude toward the Soviet Union in those times. The memory of having to drop to the floor and cover up beside our desks was imbedded. The ironic thing about all that was that I was attending a Parochial school three blocks from the US Capitol Building and I thought that just if they decided to drop the ‘A’- Bomb on the Capitol, we would be toast before we got to the floor. I stated that to the Nun in the class one day and was quickly rushed to the hall and taken to the office. It was a call to home, asking my parents to stop me from filling the class with terror. And so, I asked no more questions about that.
Upon graduation from High School and not really having a direction, I did indeed join the USAF, being flown to Sampson AFB in Upstate New York to begin basic training (August 5, 1955). For some reason I took to the military way of life and worked hard. Upon graduation, I was called in and asked if I would like to become a drill instructor. I still had that movie embedded in my brain and wiping noses of tender recruits was not on my radar (no pun intended). So after my turning down that offer I was sent to Biloxi, Mississippi, Keesler AFB for radar ops school. The intent being that I would watch a radar screen and detect the “Boris'” coming at the US. There are certain training events that I am not at liberty to discuss, but part of that training was at Fort Bragg and Benning and some time at Fort Ord.
The Lost APO
I was then sent home for thirty days
and was told to report to Manhattan AFS, Coney Island, New York for travel to an APO that had NO destination. I gave my orders to the good clerk and he scratched his head and asked me to go the big wall map and find the red bulb on the map that indicated my APO. Nothing there, I reported and was told to find my barrack and report back in the morning. This went on for almost three weeks, much to the concern of the young clerk. My only duty was to report, sign out and go into New York. Found the USO and was able to get tickets to shows such as “No Time for Sergeants”. Then one morning the young clerk told me to pack my duffle and stand ready for shipping, so for two days I camped out at McGuire AFB waiting for orders. After two days they put me on a C-54 for Rhein Main in Frankfurt, Germany, with the “Maybe they can find that @#&* APO.
The Found APO
After arriving in Frankfurt and getting billeted, it was once again, check in the morning and sign out for the day. If this was what life was going to be in the Air Force, life will be good. And NOT at all what I was told it was going to be. After three weeks of German Black beer and “Sightseeing”, I was told that it was some place in Italy and it was off to Aviano AFB, maybe they can find out where it was at. And indeed they did, “APO 251 is located down the road about 50 miles”. Located near the town of Campoformido (formidable camp), the 629th AC&W (Aircraft Control and Warning) Squadron was located on a very small Italian Air Force property across the road from a WWII airfield.
What a beautiful location! The first two weeks I woke up and looked out the bay windows and saw train tracks and farms, then one day the sun came out and the Italian Alps were there. Upon further investigation, I found out that the barracks had been used by the Luftwaffe had been their
previous boarders during WWII. There were iron railings going up the stairs to the various bays, and at the bottom of each rung there was a swastika. The outside of the building still had pock marks from Allied warplanes. Took a while to get into the way things worked. Assigned a shift and crew and started the first phase of being a “scope dope”. Just as I was getting the hang of it we were told to prepare to take down the site, truck it to Aviano AFB and bring it back and set up again. This was to happen a few times.
On some weekends when our shift had three days of we would drive up to Trieste on the Italian/Yugoslav border. Our drinking hole was a place called Mario’s, the owner was a GI
who had decided to stay in Italy after the war. We could always get drunk and sleep on the floor. This is still a little fuzzy, but one night we decided to go for a swim in the Bay of Trieste and of course we were drunk. I remember as we went into the water we could hear voices in a strange language hollering at us. With the sound of gunfire and a few shots across our bow, it was one quick sober up. It appears that we had swum out into Yugoslavian water space and someone was trying to tell us that fact. We went back to Mario’s and talked it over, went back to base still shaking.
Italian Language School
It made sense since we were serving as a teaching liaison in Radar Operations and Maintenance. The Italian Airman was for the most part good natured and fun to be around. The only time that presented itself to be a problem was when you had to be one-on-one with a man who was in a heavy wool uniform that was not clean, but that was standard fare for them.
There were times when I wondered what was going on. Every other month or so, I was sent to Livorno (Pisa) aka Camp Darby. We were sent to unload ordinance, i.e., 500 Pounders, which were unloaded from a ship put them on pallets for the train ride to Aviano. One TDY we were put in ten man tents with a few airman from Aviano. After the fourth day this one young gentleman came in took off his one piece fatigues and stood them in the corner. The very next day it was the same thing and he was given a reminder that bathing is a very GOOD thing, as we had to sleep with the tent flaps open. It didn’t work. As you may have guessed, the next day it was the same thing. It was voted on and a blanket party was in order. So the young gentleman was wrapped up and someone found some lye soap and a hard bristle brush and for the remainder of this TDY, we had a very clean young man.
July and August of that year we were working full time taking down and putting up the site and you had the feeling that something was going on. More of the same in September, except there was a certain air of urgency with what we were doing. The first of October, all leaves were cancelled; dependents shipped home and a stand-by for orders came down.
The radio that was being monitored in Hungary told of a revolution between the populace and the Communist regime. All of a sudden the work unloading bombs and working on the
site became real. Now the site was fully functional and all eyes on the Austrian/ Yugoslav border. There was little to no evidence that aircraft were being used in the first couple of days. It was so tense in the Ops shack that a couple of fights broke out between some of the married guys. It would be different if we were to knowingly go into battle, but sitting here in a dark room watching for a possible air attack to take us out of the picture was nerve wracking. But in the end we stood down and it was the same thing different day routine again. There would be NO involvement of US forces in Hungary.
Starting the year 1957 found us with very little to except watch a Swissair Flight out of Zagreb, Yugoslavia flying almost a straight line to Berne, Switzerland. By mid-summer we were taking the site down and putting it back up again. There was no particular rhyme or reason again for all this work, and we grunts always complained anyway. By the middle of August we had taken the site down and left on the tarmac at Aviano. Then, early one morning we received word that we would be going to Aviano permanently.
Pack Your Bags and Say Good-bye to Italy
We did not have any Idea where we were headed, but we were going. This time, there was a
little less strain of going off to war, but we wondered anyway. On August 21, 1957 we drove up to Aviano, off loaded our gear, were assigned .30 Winchester M1 Carbines and told to stand-by to board the C-124’s (old Shaky’s) that were already partially loaded with our radar gear.
Wearing our blue raincoats and carrying our duffle bags we loaded up on what then was a monster of an airplane. You entered through this open mouth double door in the front and when those doors close you feel as if you have been swallowed up. We still had NO idea as to where we were going. Sitting along the bulkhead in straps for seats, the pilot started the engines and we taxied to the end on the runway, only to have him turn off the engines. We started backing up and I could see outside the window that we had been pushed back over the crash barrier. The pilot came on the intercom and stated that he “really was not happy with the load, and we would need the entire runway for takeoff”.
Needless to say, this is not anyone in their right mind would want to hear and we became a little nervous when the pilot started the engines again. He ran them up so high that the wings were going up and down like a bird. We lurched a few times and started a very, very slow roll. I am now straining my neck to see out the window and I notice that the yard markers are going by very slowly. As we picked up speed I could see the final marker coming up and there was a thud sound as the crew pulled up the wheels and a sudden drop. I said to myself, “this is it”. I took one last look out the window before closing my eyes and we had passed over the barrier on the other end, just enough. That was more than an experience. It took the crew almost four hours to get to cruising altitude.
We were over the Adriatic Sea when the pilot came on again and said that we would need to refuel in Athens as we had used more than our share getting to cruising altitude. And our final destination would be Incirlik AFB in Adana, Turkey. We landed in Turkey in mid-afternoon and began deplaning our gear. We did not pay much attention to the time, but knew we had been working a good few hours.
Once emptied, the planes took off for Germany and we found out that it was around 10 O’clock at night and it was still light out. We found our un-air conditioned fabric Quonset
huts. Some of us were left out to guard the supplies. This was going to be quite different from Italy, no load of bricks was needed. The next four days were sweltering and we lined up for salt tablets a few times during the day. Sleep was very hard to come by because the day and night temperatures were about the same.
After we completed putting up the OPS hut, we stripped down to bathing suits and brogans, to work inside. The next phase of our lives was about to begin.
[Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of posts about life in the early Cold War era. Frank Maio tells us: “I was born in Washington, DC on August 4, 1935, lived most of my younger years in
the City and moved out to the Maryland suburbs at 16 and attended DeMatha Prep High School in Hyattsville, Maryland graduating in 1955. Having received a partial scholarship to the University of Maryland, in Journalism and had made plans to attend. As is the case at that age when you have difficulties at home you act accordingly. Moved out of the house to the Volunteer Fire Department whereI was a member. As stated in the article I had seen the movie “Strategic Air Command”, turned down the scholarship and joined up.
After 8 years I decided that rank could not be made and so with family in tow, I came home struggled through 8 years of night school and was accepted as a Computer Systems person with the National Science Foundation. Worked there until 1985, transferred to the Department of Agriculture retiring from Federal service in 1997 with a grand total of 38 years counting military. Diagnosed with Lymphoma that same year went through the whole deal and was declared free of Cancer in March of 1998, my wife informed me that I had always wanted to teach, and so it began, retiring this past May. Am presently a house husband here in the little burg of Great Mills, Maryland.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.]
 POPULAR POLITICAL CULTURE: ROCKY AND BULLWINKLE AND THE RHETORIC OF THE COLD WAR; TRISCHA KNAPP; http://cuwhist.files.wordpress.com/2010/09/rocky-and-bullwinkle-cold-war-allegory-presentation.pdf