Thurman P. Woodfork

OLD FRIENDS – MEMORIES AND CONVERSATIONS

Woody: 1971
Woody: 1971

The Finland Air Force Station Friends: 1971
The Finland Air Force Station Friends: 1971
I had an e-mail conversation today with Tom Bina, a friend I have not seen in person since 1971. A while back, he sent me a photo he took of me way back then. I’m sitting in the TV lounge of my barracks on Finland Air Force Station, Minnesota, smiling rather widely at the camera, one foot propped up. I look happy and fit; I don’t look much like the alcoholic I was to become. The reason I bring this up is because of something Tom said after we’d had a slight disagreement over politics in our last message exchange.

He said, in part, “Politics aside Woody… I remember you, and I believe you’ve not changed, as a stand-up, do what’s right kinda guy. I’ll always respect you for that…” He went on to say I should run for office. It made me wonder what he sees in his mind’s eye when he reads my messages or just happens to think about me. I’m pretty sure he still sees that avuncular thirty-four year old sitting amiably at the bar, or tending bar, even-tempered and always ready to pass out advice (whether asked for or not), seemingly untouched by Vietnam. That part of me was still hidden inside.

I know when I think of him, I see a picture in my mind of the friendly, eager young airman I knew back in Finland, Minnesota, not the married, 60-something Minneapolis contractor and grandfather he is today. I see the kid who asked me to hold a washcloth to the stitches in his head while he shampooed his hair over the big utility washbasin in the latrine. He had recently been in an accident in his little green MG. It had been violent enough to separate his feet from his still-buckled chukka boots. He was lucky to escape from that escapade with nothing more serious than some scrapes, bruises and the cut in his scalp. He also asked me to go with him to see his insurance agent, more for moral support than anything else.

The day before I shipped out to California, he came back from break early to have one last drink with me before I hit the road. As I was leaving the barracks the following morning, he happened to come out of his room just as I walked down the hall headed for the stairs. He held out his hand to me to shake goodbye, but I hugged him instead. That probably shocked the hell out of him because I was – and still am – not the touchy-feely type, which is why I just shook hands with the other guy who was in the hallway.

It would not surprise me in the least to find that, when Tom thinks of me, he sees his former Assistant NCOIC, that thirty-four year old, easy-going sergeant with the big grin in the picture, not the more-than-slightly soured seventy-five year old retired Lifer and recovering alcoholic writing these words. Just as, when I think of him, I see the happy-go-lucky young airman I occasionally called ‘Bina Bits’. I still see the impish kid who dumped me out of a rowboat into Lake Superior shortly after we met.