Thurman P. Woodfork

HOW NOT TO MEET A GENERAL

General Benjamin O. Davis, Jr
General Benjamin O. Davis, Jr

Woody’s Mom
Woody’s Mom
After finishing my tour of duty in Vietnam, I transferred directly to Clark AFB in the Philippine Islands, where I remained for a month or so before taking a hop, Space Available, back to the States on leave. On the return trip to Clark, I got hung up in Japan, getting bumped repeatedly. It seems there was an extraordinary run of married officers hauling their families around SEA. Of course, they needed the seat more than I did, RHIP and all that, plus me being a single, raggedy-assed GI.

Anyway, when I saw I wasn’t going to make it back to Clark on time, I checked in with the Security Police at the terminal, showed them my orders, and requested that they tell my squadron where I was and let them know that I’d probably be delayed. They said that they’d take care of it, and gave me a slip showing that I had reported to them.

I spent about another week reporting to the terminal, getting bumped, and heading back into town to enjoy the night life again. I even found a great soul food restaurant – greens, grits, and all. Not that I like grits, but that’s another story. Anyway, I finally got a flight back to Clark and strolled into the barracks, nearly flat broke but content as hell. I was told to report to the commander yesterday. Apparently, they had people staking out my room to alert them if and when I showed up.

I trudged on over to the Orderly House and reported in as directed, only to have the Old Man demand to know where the hell I’d been. That sort of surprised me, since I figured the Security Police in Japan had advised the squadron where I was. Besides, somebody lower down the ladder usually took care of errant AWOLs.

Unbeknown to me, the SPs in Japan had not contacted my squadron. When I didn’t report back from leave on time, the squadron called my house to find out where I was. I guess they figured that, once I finally got back to the States, I’d said to hell with SEA and decided to stay home and join Jody. When 5th Tac called my house looking for me, my mother, quite naturally, became concerned because she knew that I’d left in ample time to get back to Clark before my leave was up (IF I had taken a commercial flight). She didn’t know anything about the uncertainties of ‘Space A’.

However, what she did know was General Benjamin O. Davis’ family, and she called them to find out if the good general could be prevailed upon to help her locate her mysteriously vanished son. Since my luck was running that way, of course the general was happy to oblige. It was my further good fortune that General Davis was then commanding 13th Air Force, which was headquartered, naturally, on Clark Air Force Base. He called over to my squadron and inquired as to my whereabouts, thereby stirring up quite a bit more interest on their part in locating me ASAP.

Of course I was in Japan boozing it up, blissfully unaware that, not only was General Davis on the lovely island of Luzon, he was taking a personal interest in my activities. So, when I finally showed up on Clark, cheerfully worn out and sated, I found that the squadron brass was more than a little concerned about me. The first thing out of the CO’s mouth was, “Where the hell have you been? General Davis has been calling here looking for you.” This surprised me no end, since up until then, I’d had no idea General Davis was even aware of my existence.

I told the Old Man where I’d been and showed him the slip the SPs at the air terminal in Japan had given me to prove that I had made an effort to notify the squadron of my situation. The date showed that I had arrived in Japan four days before my leave was up. He took the slip and kept it, telling me that I could go back to the barracks and to be sure and call home: Mother Dear was worried. I heard nothing more about the matter from the squadron. I suppose that was due to the General’s interest in my welfare.

Having discovered my mother’s part in this little drama, I immediately phoned home and told her that I was fine and to check with the Red Cross if I ever disappeared again, not start bugging generals. General Davis, in particular, was not the type to view AWOL airmen with any degree of favor. Her reply was, “Well, he found you, didn’t he?”

I didn’t bother to explain that nobody had found me; I’d managed to eventually wend my weary way back home all by my lonesome. Meanwhile, my commander had called Gen. Davis’ office to tell him that the prodigal had finally returned, hung-over, but healthy.

One benefit from the whole flap was that the brass thought that the general and I were personal friends, not knowing that I had never so much as laid eyes on him in the flesh. Naturally, I made no effort to disabuse them of that notion.

Some months later, I did have the privilege of meeting General Davis when he inspected the shop on Lily Hill, where I was NCOIC at the time. He made no mention of my extended leave, but he did ask some pretty sharp questions about the equipment. Fortunately, I was long recovered from my hangover, because somebody had given him a very comprehensive briefing on the radar gear.

All in all, it was a felicitous ending to a well-deserved leave.