It has been a long time since I last added to this blog. For those wondering, it had nothing to do with the defeat of the Chicago Cubs by the Arizona Diamondbacks. Really...it didn't.
I spent most of the time between the Cubs defeat and now taking care of my sister's place and animals while they were in Europe. I don't like their keyboard, so I didn't do much typing there. But something came up in a conversation last night and I thought I would expand on it here.
I mentioned to an online friend that I had met a number of famous people during my military career. Most of the people I met were down-to-earth folk who just happened to make a lot more money than me, doing something I couldn't do. And some of them were arrogant idiots watching the clock, waiting for the moment they could leave and get on with their lives.
I may have met 12-15 people who would be easily recognized by the world. There may have been more, but this blog is about three particular people.
The first one who stands out in my mind is Bob Hope.
I met him in 1985 at Elmendorf AFB just outside of Anchorage, Alaska. Bob loved the play golf and he really liked the course at Elmendorf. During a stopover in the Anchorage area, he came to the base to play a round of golf. My boss at the time, tagged me with being his escort while on the base. I had no problem with the tasking and met Hope's party at the clubhouse for the course. As we walked out to the first tee box, a group of admiring fans had already gathered and were waiting for Bob to appear. There was a round of applause, which Mr. Hope acknowledged as he approached the tee.
I was leading the way through the crowd for him and when we got the tee, he and other three people in his group teed up and sent their first shots down the fairway. Bob had told them what to expect on the first hole, which I believe was a dog-leg to the right. When it was Bob's turn, he setup, went into his swing and let loose with a nice drive down the center of the fairway, placing the ball in perfect position for an approach to the green. He then turned to fans, did his "Ho-hum" routine, winked at me with a smile and headed towards his second shot, swinging his club in his hand as he walked the course.
His game was cut short after the third hole due to weather, but he seemed to enjoy the short game he had.
Prior to Bob Hope teeing off at the first hole, my boss pulled out his camera and took a shot of me and Mr. Hope. It's one of the few photos of me I really like, and having the late Bob Hope standing next to me makes it somewhat special to me.
See the photo of Bob Hope and me here.
The second person who comes to mind is Dean Paul Martin. He was the son of Dean Martin (if you don't know who he is, google him) and had joined the Air Force Reserves to become a pilot. After he received his commission, he was assigned to Undergraduate Pilot Training at Columbus AFB, Mississippi. I happened to have been stationed there in the Public Affairs Office at the time.
When he arrived for training, myself, my boss, the base commander and deputy wing commander got together with him to discuss how we would handle his time on base. Lt. Martin said he didn't want any preferential treatment (and he got none, graduating somewhere around the 70 percent group). I then asked him how he wanted to handle any publicity. His response was, "Do what you would normally do." Well, we wanted to publicize his training and he and I agreed that I would arrange photo sessions and interviews of him during milestone events of his training and that I would be the releasing authority for anything regarding him and the Air Force. His publicity people agreed, as long as they were provided with copies of all photos (released and non-released images) and news releases for each event.
So, as time progressed for Lt. Martin's training, I would get a phone call about an upcoming event, and when it happened, I would be there with notebook and photographer. One of the things which was previously agreed on, was no outside media coverage other than what I released, would happen with him. At the time, I was in good favor with the local media and had asked them to not ask for time with Lt. Martin unless I offered the time. They agreed and left him alone to concentrate on training.
On the day of his first solo flight in a jet aircraft, his girl friend at the time, arrived to watch. She was Dorothy Hamill, the gold medal winning figure skater from the 1976 Olympics. I had gone to the compulsory events in Innsbruck, Austria when I was stationed at Aviano AB, Italy and had seen Dorothy skate in those events. It was really cool to be able to meet her.
I arrived about 30 minutes before Lt. Martin was scheduled to take-off and he introduced me to Dorothy and I was able to chat with her for several minutes. The one thing I remember from that meeting was her legs. They were the most powerful looking appendages I had ever seen! Talking to her was great and she made me feel like a friend whom she had known for a long time. I was able to get some good shots and good quotes for a news release and things went back to normal for me until just before Lt. Martin's graduation.
He asked to meet with me prior to graduation regarding his family and friends who would be attending the ceremony. We also discussed holding a press conference before the ceremony, so the news media could have some live time with him. During that discussion, Lt. Martin mentioned to me that he had asked Dorothy to marry him and she had said yes. He wanted to know if he should say something about it during the press conference. I told him it was up to him and then he told me I was one of the first people outside of family and friends he had told. Well, the local media all showed up for the conference, they got answers to their questions and a couple of days later, it was graduation time.
On that day, our office was inundated with requests for photographers and video crews from all over to attend the ceremonies. After a request from Lt. Martin, no media were being invited to the ceremony and I was passing that on to each requester. It wasn't until the National Enquirer called and wanted to send out a photographer to get a photo, that things got weird. I told the editor (whose name I won't mention here) that I would be releasing photos of the graduation the following day and he said it wasn't good enough. He threatened to send a photographer anyway, because there was nothing I could do to stop him. At that point, I informed him if I caught anyone representing his paper on the base, I would have them arrested and detained. I also told him the base was a close area to civilians and any unauthorized people coming on base would be violation of federal laws. He didn't like that, and threatened to ruin my career and other strange things. When he finished with his rant, he hung up.
About 20 minutes later, I got a phone call from one of the photographers of a local newspaper asking if he could come on base to photograph Dean Paul Martin's graduation. I told him it was a close ceremony and he said, "Well, there goes $2,000." I asked him if he had been contacted by the National Inquirer and he said he had. I felt bad about telling him no and him loosing out on $2,000, but I also felt good about the fact that this person had an open pass to the base (several of the local media had passes which allowed them access to the base without me being required to escort them) and still asked me and honored my request not to photograph the ceremony.
Several years later, I was saddened by the news that Lt. Martin and another person had died in an aircraft accident.
Then there was Billy Joel.
The entertainer's arrival at Clark AB was a surprise to my office. It was probably a surprise to a lot of people, but the office I worked in was one of the few offices which needed to know things like famous people coming to the base. One reason for that was, the Public Affairs Office (PA) was the only office authorized to setup tours of the base and a few other things.
Well, all the offices on Clark knew that. And the fact that the PA shop was assigned under a higher headquarters on base than any other wing office (we were assigned to a numbered Air Force...13th Air Force to be exact) made some of the other offices a little jealous, I think. But that morning at the wing staff meeting, the Morale, Welfare and Recreation officer stood up and announced that Billy Joel would be arriving on base within the hour. He also announced that Joel would give a USO sponsored concert for all the base people that evening and in the meantime, he would be provided a tour of the base. This was news to my boss and a heated exchange ensued between my boss and the MWR representatives.
When the wing staff meeting completed, my boss came back and headed directly to my office. "Bear...Billy Joel is arriving on base in 35 minutes. Meet up with the party at the MAC terminal and represent PA during the tour Wing has setup. If they have any problems, fix 'em." And he was gone. I grabbed my gear, took a taxi to the terminal and told the waiting party I was the PA rep for the tour. I got a few sneers from some of the base officials waiting for the arrival. But my job was, my job, and I was going to do it.
When Billy Joel arrived, I did what I normally do, I stood in the background and made sure nothing out of the ordinary was going to happen, and waiting for the fire to put out (which never came). The group went to a variety of workshops around the flightline and then headed to the local AFRTS station (the on-base Armed Forces Radio and Television Service station). While the group toured the station and Billy Joel was interviewed by one of the television reporters, I had gone into the wire service room to check what was going on in the world. You see, the date was January 16, 1991, the day before the start of Gulf War I. As I looked over the wire reports, one caught my eye. It talked about the assassination of body guards of Yassir Arafat. I quickly read it, then stuffed it in my pocket to give to my boss later.
When Billy Joel finished his interview, it was off to the dining hall for lunch. After giving him time to talk to some of the folks working in the dining hall, food was served and I sat down with members of the Joel party (Billy was with the brass of course, along with his manager and some of the band members). We talked about what was going on in Kuwait and all during the meal and at one point, I mentioned what I read in the news release. As soon as he heard what I said, a Joel party member called to Billy and motioned for him to come to our table. When he arrived, the guy told me to show Billy the news report. I did, and he quietly read it, then looked at me and asked, "What do you think this means?" For the next 15 minutes we discussed the report and then it was time to go elsewhere.
Since the group had to have time to setup their gear for the concert, the final place to visit was set for right after lunch. The wing operations people had arranged for two of the base aircraft to be available for Billy Joel and his group to get a close look at. They were F-4E and F-4G Phantom II fighters. Earlier, I had contacted my boss and asked him if he could rush through an orientation flight request. He tried, but was unsuccessful due to the time differences and red tape we had to go through to arrange one. When Joel climbed into the cockpit of the E model F-4, I climbed the ladder on the other side and the first thing he asked me was, "Can I get a ride?" I apologized to him that I was unable to arrange it in such short notice, and stared at the man who kept Billy Joel's arrival a secret to my office while I said it. That captain got my point.
The party then went to the departure end of the runway to watch aircraft take off. Clark AB at the time, was hosting a Cope Thunder exercise. The exercise was designed to give pilots a realistic training environment for an armed conflict. We had a bombing range with "smokey SAM" which imitated surface-to-air missiles, and an area where mock dogfights using hi-tech gear to determine the victor was used. The exercise participants were broken into Red and Blue forces with missions for each force.
When the two vans carrying the Joel party stopped, the only person to get out of the lead van was Billy Joel himself. I was in the other van and decided I would get out and answer any questions he had. There we were, the two of us standing 30 feet away from F-16s (exercise participants from other bases) taking off for their missions. Each aircraft taking off was part of a ground strike package as evident by the 25 and 50 pound practice bombs on the wings. As each pilot pulled up to take-off position, they would each turn, look our way, and salute. Billy Joel returned each salute, though I am not sure the pilots were saluting him (which is most likely) or saluting the staff vehicle we were standing next to. Either way, Billy Joel watched a half dozen or so aircraft depart. Then, during a quiet moment (quieter than they had been), he turned to me and over the noise of the active runway pointed to an aircraft taxiing up and said, "Sarge...this is why we are going to kick Saddam's ASS!" He emphasized the last word. We looked each other straight in the eye and we both smiled. And then, with a short beep of the horn of the lead vehicle, he got in his van and I got in mine.
Back at the stadium where the group was let out to finalize setup, Billy Joel walked over to me, shook my hand and thanked me. He then asked if I was going to the concert. I told him I wouldn't miss it for anything.
That evening, I listened to Billy Joel's Storm Front concert, courtesy of the USO, knowing war was around the corner.
The next morning, Joel and his group departed for Subic Bay Naval Station about 50 miles from Clark. He was giving his concert there when the first aircraft took off in Saudi Arabia for targets in Iraq.
Those are my most memorable meetings with the famous folks. Most of those meetings were in an official capacity due to my job in the Air Force. Good or bad, they were all something to remember.