AWOL


Paul Marion Fleetwood

Copyright 2016 by  Paul Marion Fleetwood

 

Photo of a C-47 port engine.


 I went AWOL to see my sweetie (and got away with it).

It was the winter of 1952 at Ethan Allen Air Force Base near Winooski Vermont.  I was a lonesome Airman who had been away from home and my sweetheart for way too long.  Constantly bored with the winter and mundane duties of working in the Crypto room, I was always looking for a way to get back home by hook or crook.  My sweetie lived in St. Louis some 1200 miles away and I didn't have "leave time" or money to get back there often.  But somewhere around December 1952 an opportunity presented itself.

One of my buddies who worked on the flight line told me about a flight that was going to Chicago and suggested that I might be able to get a hop there.  I thought it was worth a try so I hastily arranged a work plan that would allow my buddies to cover for me if I went AWOL for a few days. Then I went over to the flight line to see what I could find out.

When I got there I found the CQ (clerk who ran the office and who had a copy of the days orders) and struck up a conversation with him.  I asked him if it was true that some Air Force pilots were taking the Governors airplane, (an old converted C-47) to Chicago for an engine overhaul.  He said yes they are if they can get the port engine started.

I asked him if it would be possible to get a hop to Chicago since I had a 10 day leave and needed to get to St. Louis and that would be a lot closer than Vermont.  He said he would ask them when they got there and let me know.  I said that would be great and that I would hang around until he found out.

We just chatted for awhile until he had to go to the restroom and he asked me to sit in for him until he got back.  While he was gone I picked up a copy of the days orders from his in-basket and I erased the name of some fellow who had a ten day leave and typed in my name. Serendipity! That way I could show the officers who were piloting the plane that I had a furlough and maybe they wouldn't object to taking me along.

Well they didn't object and I got aboard.  The pilot and the copilot and a mechanic were the only others aboard and they all rode in the cockpit.  That left me all alone in the governor's quarters which was furnished very nicely and included a comfortable bed.  I enjoyed it very much.  However the enjoyment  had to wait awhile because the left engine wouldn't start.

It was cold blustery day with snow on the ground and I was about to despair thinking they would never get the port engine started.  I thought sure they would give up but 'thank you' it finally roared to life and we were off.

I just prayed that we would make it to Chicago with out major problems and as I lay on the bed I read from my new Bible.  Sometime that year I had bought a copy of a new translation of the Bible called the New American Standard.  I enjoyed it because it was so much easier to read that my old King James version.  I had planned to take it to my mom and dad who lived in Doniphan, Missouri, about 180 miles south of St. Louis

Well, we were on our way and finally landed but when I got off we were not in Chicago.  We had made an intermediate stop at Olmstead AFB in Pennsylvania.  I never did find out why we stopped there but after some more agonizing minutes while they tried to start the engines again we finally headed out again.  

Since I was not in contact with the cabin I had no way of knowing just what was going on but I finally could tell by looking out the window that we were getting close to a large metropolitan area but it was now pretty dark.  Then after a while I begin to wonder what was going on.  It seemed to me that we were just flying circles over Lake Michigan, if it was Lake Michigan.  This went on until I really started getting worried but finally we flew straight and landed at O'Hare Field in Chicago.  Then I found out what was going on. 

They told me that the radio had stopped working and they couldn't find the airport.  Finally they got it working again and radioed the Field and asked them to turn on the high intensity lights to help them pick out the airport.  This they did and they let me out in a section of O'Hare where the military controlled things.

Well, there I was walking around in this big room with pilots coming and going and I was wondering what to do next.  So far so good but still 300 miles or so from St. Louis.

Then Providence stepped in.  "Hey Ramrod what are you doing here".  I couldn't believe it!  I looked up and there was old buddy Roland Freels.  He called me Ramrod for that was one of my nicknames in the service.  I said to him "what are you doing here"?  He told me that when they broke up our AC&W Squadron, he had been transfered to the control room there at O'Hare.

I said to him, “Roland I need to get to St. Louis.  How far is it from O'Hare to the train station”. It was getting late and I didn't have enough money for a hotel. I really felt concerned about what I was going to do for the night.

Again Providence stepped in with an amazing chain of events.  Roland suggested that I talk to a couple of Air Force ROTC Captains from Notre Dame that were there waiting for their Major to return from some place he had gone for a few minutes.   He said they had been out flying a trainer aircraft most of the day just to get some air time.  He even said that maybe they would be willing to fly me to St. Louis.  I thought “fat chance” but what the heck, faint heart ne'er won fair lady.  So I went over and sat down by them and struck up a conversation.

I told them my predicament and explained how badly I wanted to get home to see my sweetheart.  They kicked around the idea and said they really would like to get in a little more flying time but thought the Major would want to get back to Notre Dame before it got too late and besides that the weather was really getting bad and it had started snowing.

Well, when the Major came back he sure didn't want to go anywhere except back to South Bend.  But he said if they really wanted to go and set down at Scott Field near St. Louis then he wouldn't care as long as they took him back home first.  Well they were willing and I certainly was but they would have to get permission from the base Colonel and get a new flight plan approved.  

Roland called the Colonel and got permission for them to fly to Scott and then he lied a little bit.  He told them that the Colonel said that he would appreciate it if they would give the airman a ride home.

 They gave me a parachute and we took off after they made a flight plan to South Bend and Scott Field.  The weather kept getting worse and was really snowing when we landed in South Bend.  They all got out and went in to the weather center to see if they could fly on to Scott.  The Major stayed there and the two Captains and I continued on.

As we traveled on I was wondering how I would be able to get from Scott Field Illinois back to St. Louis where my sweetie lived.  It was alread dark and snowing.  I remembered that the 131st fighter wing was stationed at Lambert Field at the St. Louis Airport.  The main runway ran right next to McDonnell Aircraft Company the place where I worked before I joined the Air Force.

I suggested to one of the Captains that perhaps they could refuel at the fighter wing facility.  They kicked it around and radioed the facility and asked if they would give them a fill up.  The Air Force agreed to do so and they landed on the main runway of Lambert Field.

As they were taxiing down the runway just as they were passing McDonnell's buildings I asked them to let me out.  They stopped long enough for me to take off my chute and jump out right there in the middle of Lambert and run toward the gate in to McDonnell's building--number 42, where they kept their flight test aircraft.

Because I had worked there I knew my way through the building and out the other side toward the parking lot where the guard shack was.  I didn't have a badge which would have kept me from being able to come in but I didn't need a badge to get out to the parking lot.

My dad worked in that building on second shift so I just waited outside the gate until he got off work at Midnight and caught him as he was leaving work.  He was quite surprised of course but it didn't take me long to take him to where he stayed and then borrow his car.

I wasted no time getting to my girls house at 2013 North 13th street in North St. Louis.  I was one happy airman for a few hours before I had to head back to the base.  I couldn't stick around very long because I was AWOL.  Luckily I managed to get back to base without getting caught.   Not many months later I married that girl and we lived happily ever after!

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