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A Wife Banned By the Air Force

By JOHN GOULD / October 22, 1993



A DOWN-MAINE adage runs that if you keep anything long enough you'll find a use for it. I've had this tale around since 1958! What makes me think of it is that our Air Force has decided to let the ladies be bombers. This has been cheered as a gallant victory for the gentler gender, and personally I'm all for it. But were I a young lady and were I offered a chance to pull the trigger, I would seek some escape clause permitting me to retire to the deep woods and grow hogs. Lack of patriotism, valor, honor, and/or duty are not contributing to my reluctance. I just wouldn't like the idea. But if the ladies desire, I'm willing. The tale now brought forth from long ago runs thus:

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I was minding my own business one morning in 1957 when the tocsin sounded from the ramparts. Thinking 'twas the dinner call, I raced myself to the house to be told the telephone demanded my urgent attention. My wife said she thought it was a general, and the name sounded like Loring Grindstone. I didn't know any General Grindstone. She was close. The gentleman said he was the wing commander at Loring Air Force Base in Limestone, Maine, and I congratulated him warmly on his preferment.

Our town of Limestone is up in Aroostook County, far beyond the North Pole, and men stationed there have likened things to Siberia. This fellow was a brigadier general named William K. Martin, and he said the base was going to have a wingding in January, and he hoped I might attend with the purpose of regaling some 500 officers with a few Maine yarns that would lighten the despondency of an Aroostook winter. He said this was to be a monumental wingding, because it would include the first lady officers in the history of the Air Force. I asked him if he would tell me what a wingding is.

It would be a social evening, he said, and besides the officers at Loring a number of nonresidents would come from the distant early warning stations in Manitoba, Canada, and several of the semiautomatic ground environment locations, and possibly an odd one from Washington or Singapore. General Martin made this sound like something of an honor, so I said I'd make an outstanding exception and be his guest.

``Thank you,'' he said, ``and I will send my plane down to get you. Could we pick you up at the Brunswick Naval Air Station?'' The Brunswick facility was just one town away from us, so I said that could be arranged, and I added, ``We have some friends in Fort Fairfield, and maybe we'll spend a couple of days with them.'' Fort Fairfield is the next town to Limestone.

At this, General Martin fell into silence, and it was about five seconds before he spoke. He said, ``I have to explain that the Air Force does not fly women.'' In 1957, that didn't amount to a big argument one way or the other, so I told him, ``Doesn't matter - we'll drive up and have a few days away from the farm.''

And we had a good holiday. General Martin was but a youngster, as the Air Force at that time was too new for old soldiers. He was known as ``Wild Bill'' for some valor displayed earlier, and he gave us a tour of the base. One plane, heavily guarded, was ``loaded,'' and we just walked around it, which is as close as I've been to atomic potential. We went into the cockpit of an identical bomber, and after Wild Bill disconnected the ejection lever we tested the pilot's seat. We also inspected the big refueling planes, which were fairly new then, and were shown how the bombers get gasoline six miles in the air.

The banquet was tasty, and the company in festive mood. There were some lady officers there, and I felt they were uneasy at their freshman efforts, so I told a few Satchell-Eye Dyer stories just for them. An after-dinner speaker doesn't have to work too hard to entertain folks wintering in Aroostook. Satchell-Eye is the man who invented a gadget so he could look right through a wall.

When we get home, I chanced to bump into Captain ``Chuck'' Wyman, who lived in our town and was the commanding officer of that Brunswick Naval Air Station. I told Chuck how the Air Force couldn't fly my wife. ``Wish I'd known,'' said Chuck. ``The Navy is older, and we've scrapped some foolish rules. I'd-a snuggled you into my CO plane and set you down on the Air Force runway with a big smirk on my nautical face! Been a great treat to make Wild Bill wilder!''

That rig Satchell-Eye perfected came to be known as a window.