Don’t Get a Sun Burn


You think you know someone. You’ve sat across from your brother-in-law at countless holiday meals. You raised your kids together, although far enough away that you only saw them four or five times a year. You know George loves Monterey, but you didn’t know the whole story.
You knew he’d been in the military, but you didn’t know he was in the air force. You thought he had been drafted, but he had to enlist to become a pilot.
It was the seventies. The Viet Nam war had just ended. George joined to get the GI bill so he could go to college. He was from Iowa, too, with lots of siblings and not much money.
He wanted to fly, but one question on the flight physical disqualified him.
“Have you ever had sinusitis?” they asked.
“Yes,’” he said.
George was told no to becoming a pilot.
Our uncle (sis and I) was a control gunner in WWII. He was drafted into the army and chose the air corps. When he had trouble breathing at high altitudes, the army doctors drilled open his sinuses.
They don’t do that anymore. Instead, George got sent to Monterey to learn Korean at the Defense Language Institute. Once he was done, he was transferred to Eglin AFB in Florida where he became a supply clerk. He stayed two years and didn’t speak any Korean. Then he witnessed a drug-related assault at the base. He went to his NCOIC, a non-commissioned officer in charge, and reported it.
“Now that you have disclosed this,” the NCOIC said, “you are no longer safe at this base. You can transfer to another base or get an early discharge.”
George took the early discharge and went back to Iowa. He enrolled at U of I in Iowa City. He met my sister on the first day of classes. They’ve been together for forty-one years, married for 38 and a half.
George always wanted to get back to California. He and my sis moved to Hayward in the 80’s and then moved with their daughter to the Santa Cruz Mountains in the 90’s. They had a son a couple years later. George put in his time in Silicon Valley. Now he is retired.
I learned all this at lunch on a Monday in Pacific Grove. It started with his comment, “Did you know you can be arrested for getting a sun burn while in the service?”
It’s because you are government property.

Who knew? I need to ask more questions.

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