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Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Lemon Juice, That’s Yellow Alert

By Janet Thompson

My husband, with his ROTC Commission, 20 months into my recovery from polio, and our two-month old son headed for Duane’s basic training. The Korean War raged.

Everyone learned the inside scoop about how not to be a proper Air Force officer (not even supposed to carry groceries). Their right hand and arm must remain unencumbered to salute other officers and return the salutes of enlisted soldiers.

What a sight we made, me clutching one arm, Mike wiggling in the other.

Two weeks of basic, then three weeks of radar officer training would equip him to oversee an enlisted-men crew looking for blips (bogeys) signaling approaching enemy planes.

About 2AM one morning, Duane heard an operator excitedly shout, “Lemon juice, that’s Yellow Alert!” Yellow alert was a warning, just one level below red alert.

“Red” meant the enemy planes were on top of us. The drill was: the radar officer in charge called base commander, who called state governor, who called the National Guard and the president. Someone notified Civil Defense. Yellow, unlike Red, meant no one called the president.

“Lemon juice,” however, is simulated yellow alert. For this, no one outside the base is notified. Imagine the base commander’s embarrassment when some green second looie, has just called the governor (who alerted the National Guard and Civil Defense.

Duane received a three-week vacation while the Air Force puzzled what to do with its wet-behind-the-ears officer.

Any other by guy then would have found himself in Korea but because of my physical condition and our infant, this luckily didn't happen.

From Duane’s history, the powers-that-be decided his building business experience would make him a fine base installations officer. This job awarded responsibility for the care and maintenance of all the base property.

In March, our daughter was born, two-and-a-half months premature. Unassisted on the gurney, racing down the halls to the operating room, Sharon weighed two pounds and thirteen ounces.

“She probably won’t live, so don't bother to name her,” the doctors said. In 1953, wives were mostly an Air Force burden. Putting the grayish-looking, fragile infant into an incubator, they moved me into a room where other mothers were nursing and cuddling their babies.

Mike, by then nine months old, wasn't walking yet. Imagine this officer making two trips, first, a baby in each arm and next, hauling groceries and his disabled wife clinging on for dear life.

Buildings and grounds weren't keeping Duane busy. Selling sterling silver flatware and fine china (a-la Tupperware) to young women WAFs for their hope chests was his entrepreneurial answer.

Baby-sitting was a nifty way for the WAFs to pay their down payments. Duane made money hand-over-fist with his captive customer base.

Some of the streets lacked curbing. Finding no available workers, wouldn't any enterprising fellow see guys in the brig sitting around? Soon the higher-ups noticed prisoners joyfully outdoors having a field day, shirtless in the sunshine.

While effective, in the hierarchical Air Force this solution was not “regulation.” Duane was given leave to go home for a couple weeks until they could again plan his future.

Duane’s conservative religion dictated no drinking so he'd never taken a sip of booze. Hamilton Air Force Base, on top of Mount Tamalpais overlooking San Francisco, the bay and the ocean, beckoned.

The crème-de-la-crème of Air Force bases, higher-ups hoped to land there when returning from the Far East. The mucky-mucks decided a “perfect” club officer wouldn't drink up the bar profits.

In charge of the swanky club, Duane’s was heady duty. I hung out at the ritzy pool; the indebted WAFs cared for the children. Duane peddled hope-chest dreams at night.

With extra money and household help, we lived high on the hog. Can you imagine how all the other officers and wives envied us? After all, fresh-out-of-ROTC, second looies are supposed to be compliant, lowest of the low in the Air Force pecking order.

Luckily, before they put a hit out and murdered us, the force declared a reduction in force. Newer, younger (and misfit) officers were allowed to end their tours after completing just a year.

So Air Force duty and adventure was over and again we had permission to return home.

For us, it was a good year, a mighty good year.

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Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Hi Janet,

I loved your story and really identified with it, and you.

Isn't it wonderful that we can remember such a stressful time in our lives with such happy memories?

I remember packing up our station wagon and leaving Pennsylvania with Roy, myself, four kids and a kitten who the kids refused to part with but, who was neither "Car broken" nor did he enjoy riding in the car.

Ten hours later we drove through the guard at the gate of Langley Air Force Base in Virginia and our adventure began.

Here it is now, more than 50 years later and we are still reminiscing about that trip and our Air Force experience.

I can tell by your story that it is still fresh in your mind,too and you relive those times with a sense of longing for "The good old days."

We usually smile and say if we had known then that they were the "Good old Days", we would have enjoyed them more.

Keep writing your stories. They are very interesting to read....

A well-written and engaging story. Your natural sense of humor shines through. I'll bet you are fun to be around.

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