Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Civil Air Patrol

There are major disruptors in life. Disruptors being events like a death in the family, loss of a job or moving your home. 

Our house in Carol City
The first such disruption in my life (that I remember) was in 1960 when we moved from North Miami, Florida to Carol City, Florida. Those towns were only a few miles apart so geographically, it wasn't far but psychologically for me, it was huge. My family moved into a house that we actually owned and didn't rent, so this was really and truly ours. Of course, I also left all my friends behind and no one had yet invented Facebook or email or even the Internet at that point, so I may as well had moved to the moon. The move also meant a new school and all the angst that accompanies such a change.

It didn't help that the move happened well into the school year, so I was introduced into groups that already knew one another. Fortunately, we did know one family in the area, the Wissers who had been family friends for years so gratefully, there was at least one connection to stability.

One of the oil tanks Deb's Dad built
While all this was happening, my wife's father was finishing up his work in Guayaquil, Ecuador where he was building oil storage tanks. When he moved his family back to the United States, see if you can guess where they ended up. Yes, even though they had moved from Ohio to Ecuador, when they came back, there they were in Carol City!

And then, in one of those bizarre coincidences one reads about in the comics, my future wife and I attended the same school, Carol City Junior High, at the same time - for about three and a half months. I have the mental image of the two of us crossing paths in some hallway or of her pushing me out of the way to get a drink of water from the fountain.

Carol City Junior High
But there was no meeting, no premonition, no nothin'. We did not meet then, not for another eight years, actually, even though we lived on the same street 169th Terrace, we were ten blocks apart and you know... ten blocks is a long way. So I was left to my own devices and they were pretty limited.

Somehow (!) - I don't mean to be vague, I just don't remember - somehow, I was introduced to the Civil Air Patrol. Many people don't even know it exists, but the Civil Air Patrol is quite important in the aviation world. It is the official United States Air Force Auxiliary and does things like search and rescue missions, disaster relief and the training of cadets where such training prepares them for an introduction to the US Air Force.

Unfortunately, all this happened during a period of almost no family photography. Twenty or fewer photographs a year leaves a lot of gaps. I compare this circumstance to what my grandchildren enjoy. They have had at least ten photos of them taken every day of their lives. They have tens of thousands of photographs of each of them along with hours and hours of high definition video. There is no gap in their growth or the sequence of events in their lives. Things are different now.

Civil Air Patrol Seal
But I have no photos of me in uniform, or on the flights I took, or of the events I attended. Oh, well. We met in the evenings at Carol City Junior High and learned the discipline of marching in formation, the basics of aerodynamics, flight theory and military structure. It was only the adult members who participated in search and rescue, but we actually got to fly!

We had training missions in light aircraft like Cessnas and Piper Cubs. But my most memorable flight was in a Douglas DC-3, one of the most famous aircraft ever built. This was a twin-engine airplane first introduced in 1935 that was so stable and so well designed that there are still DC-3 aircraft in active service.

Douglas DC-3
Let that sink in for a moment. They stopped production in 1942 and they are still operating regularly seventy years later. Not just for show, but working, seventy years later. I'm very proud to have had the opportunity to fly on that aircraft.

We also served as guides during air shows especially at Opa-locka Airport which was right next door to Carol City. Then, during the Cuban Missile crisis, we spent days preparing food and other packages for servicemen and other possible survivors of the imminent nuclear war. I wonder what ever happened to all that stuff we put together since the war never took place.

While I was with the CAP, I became First Sergeant, where I learned a little about leadership. Being part of that group was a good experience. One high point was an awards ceremony we had at the McCallister Hotel in downtown Miami. They bused us down there and thrust us into an adult environment, I was about 15 at the time. The waiter comes around and asks us what we want to drink, so naturally I order a scotch and soda expecting to get hit upside the head. But he doesn't even blink and brings it with everyone's cokes and 7-Ups. Of course, all the cadets want a sip and of course no one liked it. It was scotch and soda.

I never joined the Air Force, I went into the Navy instead. You can read about that elsewhere in this blog-thing. But a sure reason (other than my commanding presence) for becoming First Platoon Leader in the Navy Boot Camp was what I had learned about leadership from the Civil Air Patrol. How about that!       

Bob Deeter (right) Me (left)
Update March 12, 2018 - Regarding the coincidence of my wife Deb and I both attending Carol City Junior High long before we knew one another, I checked to see where our home rooms were. It turns out I was in Room 214 and she was in Room 216. So, it's not an absolute certainty but a pretty good bet that we saw each other. I do remember this one girl tripping me...