BITS and PIECES # 57

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January 15, 2015 by palamow

BITS and PIECES # 57

Hello again from Luquillo,

Here is my first memory dump of 2015 – Its more family lore, dredged-up from the depths of my mental storehouse of octogenarian (I’m eighty years old today!) anecdotage –you might find that its an interesting read…
I already have a few more stories lined-up for the new year – the titles are purposefully titillating (‘The Sagas of Edna and Sally’, ‘The Mad Bomber’ and ‘Time Marches On), to give you a hint of the fun that’s coming…
So, please stay tuned…

FAMILY LORE

My father was a liberal – not in its current, hackneyed political sense, but instead in the more formal interpretation of the word – he was not limited by established, traditional, orthodox, or authoritarian attitudes or views and, as far as I could determine, he was totally free of any sort of bigotry…
He had one curious, albeit equally admirable quirk, which fit very nicely with those lofty attributes – he absolutely refused to use his celebrity or his connections to further the ambitions or careers of his children. Although he cheerfully forked-over funds to provide voice training, piano and acting lessons for my stage-struck sister, he adamantly refused to open any Hollywood or Broadway doors to ‘grease the skids’ and thus improve her career possibilities. Once she had ‘spread her wings’, so to speak, she was strictly on her own. When initially confronted with this perceived injustice, she was crestfallen. But she soon saw the wisdom of his choice as she pushed ahead with more and more confidence…
In 1952, after graduating from high school, I enlisted in the Air Force, impelled by an inbred patriotic urge to serve in the war in Korea. Dad had many influential military and political friends who would call and offer to enhance my embryonic military career prospects in one way or another – unsurprisingly, he flatly refused all such proposals of special treatment for his son just as soon as they were proffered…
I must note here that this inflexible policy extended no further than his two offspring. For example, in later years he wrote a glowing, two page endorsement for Ruben Arellano, a close friend from my Air Force days. This glowing recommendation helped Ruben to obtain a management trainee position at Barker Brothers, an upscale department store – at the time, an astonishing placement for a Mexican American from East Los Angeles…
Dad made one notable exception to his strict policy – In 1955, the last year of my Air Force enlistment, I was temporarily stationed at Geiger Air Force base in northeast Washington State, awaiting assignment. Dad had just returned to California from New York City after completing the 36th episode of ‘The Adventures of Colonel Flack, a TV series he had starred in on the Dumont network. Enroute to California, he paused for a day in Washington D.C. in response to a tersely worded telegram from Air Force Chief of Staff General Thomas D. White, requiring him to report to Air Force headquarters in the Pentagon to discuss his ‘misuse of Air Force property and funds’…
Mystified, he arrived at the Pentagon, was directed to General White’s office where he was left to cool his heels in the reception area for half an hour. When he was finally admitted to the ‘sanctum sanctorum’ the general ignored him while sorting through some papers. Eventually looking up, he barked “are you Mowbray the British actor?” Dad replied somewhat weakly “Why yes, I am”. General White handed dad a photo taken at Williams Air Force Base, showing him in the back seat of a T-33 jet trainer flying over the Arizona desert. “Is this you” White asked frowning. “Why yes, I’m afraid it is” dad replied in a subdued voice. “Turn it over” commanded the general. When he did so, dad saw that it was inscribed “With grateful thanks and best wishes from the officers and men of the United States Air Force” – it was signed by General White and Harold E. Talbot, the Secretary of the Air Force. The ruse had been a setup to surprise him…
General White had called him to the Pentagon to give him the photo and to present him with a plaque commemorating his service to the Air Force – in the early 1950s, he had written, directed and produced his play ‘Flameout’, recruiting and training a cast of active-duty enlisted airmen who had volunteered to portray the roles of the five characters (4 pilots and a radio operator) in the play. After the play opened at Bolling Air Force Base near Washington DC, the play’s cast, crew and stage sets were crammed into a C-47 cargo aircraft and subsequently toured hundreds of Air Force installations throughout the U.S. and Europe, raising badly needed funds for the Air Force Aid Society…
Shortly after dad’s return to California, he received a telegram from General White, offering to hold open a slot for his son in the first class of the newly formed Air Force Academy, contingent upon my successful completion of a battery of qualification tests…
When I opened and reads my father’s letter describing the offer, I was astonished – the offer was totally unexpected, and my feelings regarding it were ambivalent at best…
A few weeks later, when I had returned home on scheduled leave, I decided (somewhat reluctantly) to take advantage of the offer. Accordingly, I drove to the nearby UCLA campus in Westwood to take the ‘Subject A’ English proficiency exam. A few days later, I drove to March Air Force Base in nearby Riverside, to undergo a rigorous, seven hour battery of tests that, if I passed successfully, would see me enrolled in the first ever Air Force Academy class, scheduled to graduate in 1959…
I received the results in the mail a few weeks after I had returned to my new squadron assignment at a base in Oregon. I had passed all tests successfully! At first, I was elated – then, after sober consideration, and days of soul-searching, I bought a roll of quarters from the airmen’s club steward, and called dad from a pay phone just outside the base’s main gate…
I thanked him for arranging the marvelous opportunity for me, and hoped he wouldn’t think me ungrateful as I informed him that I had reconsidered – I wanted my future successes (or failures) to be ‘my’ specific successes or failures, not tainted by any hint of favoritism. There was a long pause on the other end as he cleared his throat and digested my words – then he said “I’m very proud of you old boy” and continued “I’ll wire General White immediately to thank him for his generous offer, and let him know your decision”…
And so it went – subsequently, I left the active duty Air Force, joined the California Air National Guard, worked the night-shift at Douglas Aircraft’s Santa Monica plant while I attended college on the GI Bill. Subsequently, I earned a BS degree in electrical engineering, got hired by the System Development Corporation (a RAND offshoot), got married and began to raise a family…
Eventually, I was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Air National Guard, and was trained to fly as a weapons system officer in the F-101B ‘Voodoo aircraft…
I’ve never regretted my decision to ‘do it on my own’, nor have I ever lamented my father’s inflexible stance (albeit with that one exception) on how his children should find their own footing in life…
In later years he revealed that he had agonized for days before passing General White’s offer on to me – finally deciding it was an opportunity he could ill afford to deny to his son, regardless of his strict, self-imposed rules against such familial liberality…
And I loved and respected him all the more for that…
© 2015 – Alan Mowbray Jr.

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One thought on “BITS and PIECES # 57

  1. mkhulu says:

    I feel like I knew your dad. I wish I had known him. Sounds very much like my own father. You have led a unique life and married over your head too. Great story, Cap.

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