Celtic Illumination, part 206, Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes.
I had a good feed with the Marines for breakfast which went some way toward clearing my head although I could see they had the same problem with pillows as we did. It was a little bit strange waking up as I did, dressed as an American Marine, it was like being in your very own movie. Their Sergeant Major took care of me and I have never met a friendlier person. I was given a tour of their set up, introduced to everyone we came across. He then insisted on taking me to the medical centre where I could have my troublesome tooth looked at. The dentist did not fill me with confidence as he walked in to the broom cupboard before finding the actual door to the surgery.
He was a young fellow and had a good poke about inside my mouth. I suppose it was funny as although Danish he could speak English quite well, I think it was the accents that messed up our attempts at conversation, if you can imagine a red neck, a good ol boy and a Viking chewing the fat. All we needed was a banjo, a canoe and a bow and arrow and we could have made another movie. I thought his approach was a little extreme as he announced that he would uncover the nerve and leave it raw, so that it would deteriorate a little, which would allow him to remove it after a day or two. He then handed me some pain killers which should not even be taken into a bar never mind taken with drink. Something definitely got lost in the translation.
I called in to the squadron with the Sergeant Major and introduced him around. The Sergeant Major asked if I could spend some time over with the Marines and Keith said of course I could. I have to admit it was a really interesting couple of days and I was invited to fly in anything I wanted or get over to the ranges where I could play with all sorts of weapons. They were a great bunch of guys and nobody could see any reason for the two groups not to get together so in the evenings the drinking sessions grew longer and more serious. One evening one of our Sergeants, a little Scottish fellow, stood up and started shouting.
We all wondered what on earth he was going on about so listened in to hear that he was accusing the Americans of being tight fisted. It certainly put the dampeners on the evening and it was no surprise to notice most of the Americans slink away. We had words with him as there was no call for what he had said and most of us thought no basis for him to make such a statement. We were not aware that the Americans had really taken his words to heart. It was the next evening when we arrived at the bar that we discovered just how seriously they took his comments.
I suppose the equivalent of our Rock Apes would be the grunts of the Marine Corps. These guys were just muscle, they could lift things, or carry things, or hit things, and after trying to communicate with any of them you soon found out why they were called grunts. It was quite an appropriate name. Two of these grunts stood by the main door into the bar. Two big black men about six foot six each and that’s just across the shoulders. Each of us was presented with a large brown envelope and we were told to empty our pockets into an envelope. We were then to seal the envelope and write our name, rank and number on the front of the envelope. Only after we had completed this task were we allowed in to the bar.
I went in to find my friend the Sergeant Major at the bar. He welcomed me and asked what I would like to drink. I asked for a beer and he in turn asked the barman for a crate of beer. I glanced around and noticed that each one of our chaps, already in the bar, had a crate of beer beside them. The Sergeant Major gave me the crate of beer and said ‘When you have finished that, come and see me and I’ll get you another one.’ They were determined to prove that they were not tight fisted and bought every one of the squadron a crate of beer that night. Of course none of us could finish a crate on our own, we would try, but no one was that good.
Everyone was swopping uniforms. It started off with just hats and berets and ended up with everything being exchanged, trousers, shoes, boots. The evening descended into the usual mayhem and as we were nearing the end of the detachment speeches were made and awards given. I was not expecting anything and was quite surprised to be called out and presented with a set of silver wings. I can’t remember why they were given to me but I do remember that the Sergeant Major asked me if I would come back to the states with them to become their president. Quite an honour to be held in such high esteem, and it wasn’t the first time it had been suggested that I travel to America. If you remember I was tempted with a free flight when I was stuck at Venice airport after my big stagger. Again, it is only with hindsight that I can now see the double top secret cabal were tempting me, testing my resolve.
It was quite a wild detachment; even the aircrew were somewhat boisterous, playing skittles with the ground crew. As they would begin to taxi out the pilots were swinging the aircraft around and trying to blow the ground crew off their feet, which with the state most of them were in wasn’t that difficult. I had gone in to the hanger we were using as an engineering base one morning and all I could see were legs and feet hanging out of boxes. These were large tri-wall cardboard boxes used for packing spare aircraft components. The components had been taken out and the polystyrene packing chips remained and provided quite a comfortable and insulated form of bedding.
Keith and myself had managed to fulfil our little mission and I was glad to discover that he felt as bad about it as I did. It felt as if we were cheating on our wonderful hosts but I suppose all we could do would be to quote Tennyson and say, ‘Theirs not to make reply, theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do and die.’ It had been a really interesting detachment and apart from getting to know the Marines and the Danes I thoroughly enjoyed seeing that part of the world. We only had a day or two to go when I was asked to report to Keith in operations. I came in to operations still dressed as a Marine, as I had no air force uniform left, and was given the worst news possible. A signal had come through from the squadron in Germany. I had been promoted.