Thursday, June 24, 2010

Bury me not in Deer Trail, TN

This is a story from ancient history, back in the days when men were men and they wore the pretty blue uniform of the US Air Force.

I learned how to program computers in the Air Force, a time quite well spent. In fact, it gave me my livelihood and helped me develop a passion which I still love to pursue to this day.

Being an enlisted man, in addition to my duties as a computer programmer, I was expected to help with other tasks such as litter patrol and mowing grass. As it turns out, though, there was a way to avoid such mundane use of my time.

I learned from the sergeant who ran the laundry room (we turned in our dirty sheets each week and were issued a clean set for our dorm beds) that he was also in charge of funeral detail.

Once a person has served in the United States military, they are entitled to a military funeral. Lots of folks take advantage (well, their surviving relatives do) of this entitlement, and that means the military branches have an obligation to provide the services.

I was stationed in south Georgia. That Air Force base was responsible for providing funeral detail for a three-state area. The sergeant, that day in the small building which smelled of hot, clean sheets and overwhelmingly of fabric softener, told me that his bugler had just been transferred to another base.

I not only played trumpet in high school, I had also played in the drum and bugle corps while I was in tech school at Keesler AFB, yet another of my "get out of mowing grass" exploits.

When I told him I could help him out, he excitedly described how easy it was, how great for me to get out of all other details, and how fun the trips could be. So, I signed up and became the bugler for funeral detail.

I became quite proficient at finding just the right spot from which to play Taps at the right time during the interment. I needed to be close enough so they could hear me, but I also needed to not be visible. It was okay for me, not too heart-rending a task, because I was separated from the actual ceremony.

After I had performed my duty for half a dozen funerals over a matter of months, we were notified that we were going to Tennessee. Since we were in south Georgia, it would be our longest trip to date, requiring an overnight stay.

We rode in an Air Force-blue school bus (it wasn't used for school, but that's the kind of bus it was--no comforts of long-distance commercial buses, just a typical school-bus-looking kind of vehicle) for hours after leaving the base before dawn.

Deer Trail, Tennessee. I don't remember exactly where it is, but it's not where Google claims it is. It is in the far northeastern reaches of the state, miles from anywhere of any size, and a center of commerce of the least impressiveness.

The funeral was held in the elementary school with burial in the cemetary a few blocks away. I got the sense that there was one school, one cemetary, and one dirt road which constituted in-and-out access. I remember we left the same way we came in.

Once we completed our assigned duties, we got back on the bus and headed for Sevierville, TN where we would be spending the night. It was, back then, a lovely little town which thrived on the tourist trade for those heading to the Smoky Mountains.

We stayed in a motel of the sort which costs little, offers about the same, but is suitable for arriving late and leaving early.

The person in charge of the detail, always an SP (this is an Air Force person, the Air Force's version of a policeman), was a woman. She was a little bit wild, and since she was in charge, we followed her lead.

We ended up playing strip poker in one of the motel rooms we had rented for long enough to discover that it wasn't all that much fun with seven guys and one girl, and then we went down to the swimming pool.

The pool was located on the side of the motel away from the office, thereby offering little in the way of supervision by the motel staff. Yes, there was skinny dipping.

Amazingly, nothing happened which caused embarrassment to the USAF. Or, more correctly, no one was caught in an embarrassing situation. I left before the party was over and went up to my room, but everyone made it onto the bus in the morning for the six or seven hours on the bus to get back to the base.

It's a pretty tame story, all in all. It's all I had this morning, though, so there you are.

1 comment:

Lynilu said...

Isn't it interesting that a story classified as "tame" today, was rather scandalous "back in the day"?

The times, they are a-changin'!