Thurman P. Woodfork


Airman Thurman P. Woodfork
Airman Thurman P. Woodfork

Airman Thurman P. Woodfork
Sergeant Thurman P. Woodfork
This is what I wrote to Andy [Andreacchio] in response to his story about how he got drunk on his twenty-first birthday and tried to start a cattle stampede through his camp. They were somewhere out in the wilds of Texas near a jerkwater town whose one claim to fame was that Billy the Kid had escaped from their jail. Fortunately, the cattle were not in a running mood, even when Andy climbed aboard one.

A guard heard him shouting at the herd and called the MPs, who scarfed him up before he could do any damage to himself, the cattle, or the camp. Not being Andy, I didn’t manage to do anything anywhere near that exciting.

Ah, youth! I remember going into the orderly room at my first PCS duty station out of tech school, the 661st Radar Squadron, and demanding a new pass. That was on 4 April 1955 on Selfridge AFB, MI. The old pass had ‘Minor’ stamped completely across it in big, bright red capital letters. For you Army people, us Air Force guys kept our passes with us all the time, and could leave base when we were off duty without having to ask for permission. Eventually somebody decided to drop the carrying of passes altogether. I don’t remember when that happened, but I think it was not that long after I got rid of that big red ‘Minor’ on mine.

The First Sergeant, for some reason, seemed to be amused by my seriousness in wanting to be seen as an adult. Probably because I looked like I was fifteen. Actually, it was the Sergeant Major I spoke to then; he was the only Sergeant Major I ever saw in the Air Force. The First Sergeant, who I assiduously avoided, was one of those fast disappearing old ‘Brown Shoe Corps’ types who still believed in taking hapless miscreants out behind the barracks and kicking the shit out of them. The CO put a stop to that, although the First Shirt managed to sneak in the odd jab to the short ribs from time to time.

I definitely remember the first time I got drunk. I was supposed to go into Detroit with a couple of other guys, and was all spiffed up in my Class A Blues. But, as luck would have it, I got waylaid in the barracks by a couple of comedians who, when I said I didn’t like the taste of liquor, fixed me up with a couple of ‘Mixed Drinks’ in a water glass. “This will take away the bad taste,” they said. Lord knows what they mixed up in that glass, but my buddy, Wes Ruff, an ‘old’ guy of twenty-four, found me wandering about the ground floor later and decided I’d never make it to Detroit.

He and another guy hauled me up to my room, which was on the second floor. One of the last things I remember is one of them saying, “My God! He’s puking whole beans!” Apparently, I had made a stop in the chow hall at some point where it seems I ate supper without bothering to chew anything. I vaguely remember being washed off. From the look of my undershirt on the floor by my bed the next morning, I must have puked all over myself. Fortunately, they had already gotten my uniform off before I erupted. They even hung it in the closet.

The next morning, I was awakened by the barracks phone ringing off the hook, and like an idiot, got up and answered it. It was the First Sergeant looking for a substitute KP. In those days, you answered the phone by giving your name and rank, as in, “Barracks Two, Airman Second Class Woodfork speaking, Sir.” Having identified myself to the vulture, there was no way I could just hang up and ignore the call after I found out what he wanted. Not that I would have dared to anyway at that point in my young career even if I hadn’t given my name. Especially with that First Sergeant.

You can imagine what a day I had pulling KP with the monster hangover I was carrying. The Mess Sergeant actually took pity and let me sleep in the back for an hour after lunch, so you can see what kind of shape I was in. Mess Sergeants are not prone to be kind to KPs; I must have been a pathetic looking sight. He even released me before he let the other KPs go. What does not kill us makes us strong, so they claim. Given a choice by the time I got off KP, I believe I would have taken death. It was years before I answered another barracks phone.

Ruff and the guys never let me forget that first drunk, and it was a long time before I took another drink. I became the semi-permanent designated driver for our group, which suited everybody else just fine since they could all get bombed and still be reasonably sure of getting back to the base alive. Even when I did start to drink on a fairly regular basis, I could make two last all evening. After Fifty-odd years, I still remember Ruff’s full name, Wesley Randolph Ruff. He was one of the good guys who took this then bright green youngster under a protective wing and showed me the ropes.