Today's Featured Biography
John King Jack King
I attended BHS my senior year of HS, having moved from the Chicago area in August, 1963. Being a bit shy in those days, I didn't make too many friends, but I did manage to finally get a "letter" in sports, signing on to assist Coach Swoboda in football equipment organization and pre-Gatorade player hydration during the games...Ha! My best friend during that year was Mel Whitworth, who is missing on this website, but is residing in SW Washington. Sign up, Mel!
After spending most of the summer of '64 back in Glenview (NW of Chicago), I got back to Bellevue in early August w/ no college plans and no interesting job prospects. So...I decided to see the world for a few years and I joined the U.S. Air Force on August 20. The Vietnam war had not broken out yet, but the infamous Gulf of Tonkin "incident" occurred that month, creating the justification for the eight-year, very costly conflict that seemingly no one supported but the industrial-military complex. I often wonder what our participation would have been had JFK not been taken from us on that sad day in Nov., 1963, during our senior year at BHS.
Well, I went into the AF hoping to be trained as a meteorologist (I had a passion for tornados since junior high), but found out early on (after I had signed on the dotted line, of course) that I didn't have sufficient HS math and science classes to qualify...my terrible HS study habits had caught up w/ me in a hurry! My career field choices were really interesting...ground radar tech, cook, or air policeman. Wow, was I excited! Well, I selected the lesser of the three evils and chose radar technician.
So, on August 20, 1964, THE day the Beatles first performed live in Seattle, I was winging my way to steamy south Texas. After spending six weeks at basic training in San Antonio, TX (try to imagine learning to march in formation and running obstacle courses in heavy, oversized fatiques and pith helmets in 110 degree heat...I ended up even skinnier than I was @ BHS, if that was possible, haha), I went to Biloxi, MS (Keesler AF Base) for five months of radar tech training (the 1964 Civil Rights Act had been passed by then but the city was very much deep South and they still had separate bathrooms and bus sections for the "coloreds"), then on to my first duty station on the "Pine Tree Line" (so named as part of the Air Defense Command's system of radar stations back in the Cold War days) in the upper Peninsula of Michigan, Calumet AF Station.
Our graduating class out of tech school drew assignments to many far flung locations, from arctic Alaska to Death Valley, CA and Olathe, KS, but I was destined for the snow country of Michigan's "U-P". If you've seen the movie "Fargo", you have an idea of what the local populace was like, and still is today("Let's go town, eh!"). During my 15 month assignment there, the highlight of my tour was meeting Barbara, the love of my life and now wife of nearly 43 years (gawd, we're getting old!). Barb and I met during the summer of '65, at one of the many weekend dances at the local Armory in Calumet, MI on the Keeweenaw Peninsula of the U.P. The local band in the area, the Kinetics got the joint jumping w/ standards of the day such as...For Your Love (Yardbirds, I think!), Gloria (Van Morrison and Them, b4 Van broke away on his own), Satisfaction (the Stones...duh!)and many Beatles hits of the day. Shortly after our marriage, just about all the radar techs got orders for new duty stations, w/ most of the single guys going to "Nam", and the three married ones going to West Germany(we were the lucky ones!). So, I was finally off to see the World!
We spent three wonderful years in upper Bavaria very close to the East German/Czech border. We did not live in American housing, rather choosing to live off base, "on the economy", w/ German landlords, so we could learn as much of the "Deutsch" language and culture as possible(I had taken two years of high school German and remembered maybe five words). West Germany was still recovering from WWII, and lacked many of the modern conveniences we took for granted. In our first apartment in Hof, for example, we had a small, coal burning in-unit stove to heat the entire apartment. We also had to heat the bath water w/ coal brickettes each time we wanted to bathe! It was vastly different from the comforts we were used to in the U.S., but the highlights during our tour were much greater than the inconveniences.
Well, we did take advantage of the strong dollar in those days and we saw alot of Europe during our tour (Denmark, Sweden, Holland, France, Italy and Monaco), along w/ making close German friends who we still are in contact with today. We revisited our friends in 1985 and again in 1998, during post-HS graduation trips w/ our oldest Elise, and our youngest Joseph. You can easily see the continued strong connection w/ our early adult years in Europe.
Our most memorable trips were to West Berlin and Rome, for different reasons. Our trip to West Berlin was a four-day trip via air from Nuremburg over the Thanksgiving Weekend in 1968. While we were living fairly close to West Berlin via the autobahn (Eisenhower started the U.S. nationwide interstate highway system in the '50s after witnessing the efficiencies of Germany's autobahn during WWII), we couldn't travel by car because U.S. servicemen could not travel overland through East Germany, since it was part of the Soviet Bloc during the Cold War.
West Berlin (located deep within East Germany before the collapse of Communism in 1989) had been completely rebuilt after WWII, except for an old bombed out church, Ludvigskirsche, in the center of the city which was left as a memorial and reminder of the ravages of the great war(WWII). West Berlin was full of life and gaiety in preparation for the upcoming Christmas season, with Christmas decorations and bright colored lights adorning the city. Barb and I enjoyed the nightlife with our friends that we traveled with from our airbase, including ice skating, browsing many shops and dining in some of the old restaurants.
We were fortunate to go on a guided bus tour of East Berlin, and the experience was like going from color photos to black and white! After surviving the severe scrutiny of the East German border guard checking our passports and military IDs at Checkpoint Charlie, we slowly made our way into the historic past! Many sections of East Berlin still stood crumbling from the war's bombs more than 20 years prior. No smiling people on the streets, no lively stores or shops, no holiday decorations or lights. A real testament to the Communist regime and a telling precursor of the regime's failure 20 years later. We came home from our trip thankful and humbled by what we had witnessed of life on the other side.
Just prior to our return to the U.S. in July, 1969, we were fortunate enough to visit Rome in April of that year. We took a one week package tour that was sponsored by our airbase church. We traveled by train and stayed in a small hotel two blocks from the Vatican, meals included. The total cost of the trip was $70 per person!! Last of the great travel deals from the old days! The problem was the deal was so great that the small hotel we stayed in was overbooked, and Barb and I ended up in a room measuring about 6' x 10', and a sagging bed hardly big enough for one person, much less two!
I complained immediately to the front desk, but there were no better rooms available during our stay. Frankly, I don't remember all the cramped nights we spent in that little bed, but I do remember the gigantic, long-neck bottle of Chianti wine the hotel delivered to our dinner table that evening, as a peace offering to my complaints. The dinners were memorable...always soup, salad, pasta, meat entree, and a small dessert. The Italian wine soothed the nerves pretty well, also.
We visited the Vatican the day after our arrival, and had an audience w/ Pope Paul, where he blessed the many sets of souvenir rosary beads we had purchased before the service. We were overwhelmed by Rome's historic monuments scattered throughout the many districts of the city, especially the Colosseum and it's catacombs.
Well, we obviously got our $70 worth during that week, and we haven't even talked about the partying that went on during the train rides to and from Rome.
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