Saturday, August 05, 2006

13 July, 1955

Dear Dad

---And so ends the short & not too tragic career of a would-be Naval Aviator. The "stationery" is filched from the Jackets Office, where I am now sitting awaiting a trip to the Admiral tomorrow morning.

In a way I feel quite bad, & yet in another I am quite relieved. At least now, barring a war or act of God, I shall be sure of getting out of the service alive. And just think—a year from this October I’ll be a civilian again!

A Speedy board, I think I’ve told you, is a contraction for Special Pilots’ Disposition Board. This board is composed of the Captain, a Commander, & other assorted Lt. Commanders & such—a total of five men.

I, with five other guys, was ordered to report before the Captain at 1000 Tuesday, 12 July (the night before, I’d seen a movie called Black Tuesday). The captain’s office is located in the Administration Building—the last room on the right in the center corridor. Outside his office is a long grey bench, typical of Naval furniture design. Here we sat. One by one we were called into the office. Each guy would be in there about ten minutes, then he would come outside while the board debated his case. They then would call him back & give him the verdict.

On one side of me sat a young ensign, who would get up frequently & walk up & down the passageway on pretext of getting a drink, or looking outside at the rain, which has been falling intermittently for four days. On the other side sat a fellow NavCad whose shirt, from under each armpit to well below each pocket, was the dark olive drab of wet khaki.

Farther on down sat a guy who wants to DOR, calmly (or apparently so) reading a pocket novel. I also was reading from a book of short stories.

One by one they went in, to come out minutes later, go back in, & come out once more, giving the thumbs up signal. Finally the field was narrowed to three—the DOR, the ensign, & me. The ensign remarked "I guess they’re saving the best for last." The DOR was next. When he came out he told us that they had been highly indignant & tried to get him to stay in, saying that "well, we made it & everyone else makes it—why can’t you?" Hmmmmmmmm. He was forwarded to the Admiral, however.

That left the ensign & me. I knew who was going to be last, but I hoped I’d be wrong & get it over with. In between the dismissal of one & the calling of another into the office, there would be a five minute interval while they reviewed the jacket (wherein are all the records of the student since pre-flight) of the next person.

Sure enough, in goes the ensign. Well, at least now I knew that I was bound to be next, since there wasn’t anyone else.

The ensign got a down—he had wrecked an airplane while at Whiting Field, & had three downs here. He was to be given a depth-perception test before being sent to the Admiral.

And then it was my turn! I was completely over being nervous by this time; either than or in that state of nothing that lies just beyond nervousness. Major Keim, a marine & Saufley’s safety officer, called me in. ("Margason?" "Yes, sir.") From the corridor you walk directly into the Captain’s office—no vestibule or small office between. On the floor was a thick blue or green carpet. Behind the Captain’s desk, in the center of the room, were two large windows, flanked by American flags. Around the room were leather sofas & lounge chairs, with a small table or two between them. Directly in front of the Captain’s desk is a green leather lounge chair. Major Keim said "Stand at attention beside the chair," which I did, looking straight ahead, out through the venetian blinds of one of the windows. The Captain said "Sit down, Mr. Margason," & I sat. The Captain is a thin man, almost gaunt, with greying hair & an almost mean look about his face, which is deceiving.

"Mr. Margason, you are before this board today because you have failed to meet the standard requirements set up by this field. You have received unsatisfactory marks on your F-4, F-4 re-check, & F-12. You are a below average student & show no signs of improvement…." And so on.
After the run-down, the Captain said "We are going to ask you several questions—you may feel free to say whatever you wish."

The questions came fast & furious, mostly from a Commander who sat on the Captain’s left, in the corner of the room. They started with "Why do you want to fly?" To which I answered that I always had, but there was no one reason. "Are you interested in mechanics?" I answered that I understood all the basic principles necessary, but that as for a desire or talent for taking engines apart or putting them back together, I had no great attraction.

"Do you drive a car?" "Do you have any brothers or sisters?" "Do you try to think in a coordinated, analytical way?" I said I tried to.

When it came Major Keim’s turn, he said "You realize, of course, that you have set a new mark in below averages in headwork?" No, I didn’t. "The record up until this time was 32—you have 38. After 16 you aren’t average, after 24 you’re far below average, & after 27 we start watching you." The Captain interrupted to ask how many I’d gotten here at Saufley & was told six, which he remarked was a big difference. Asked why I got so many, I said that I try to do things right, & when I make a mistake, I get irritated with myself & consequently make more mistakes. Also that I learn some things slowly.

"You realize, of course," continued Major Keim, "that the Navy works on a time basis—we only have so much time we can give. Do you think you would be a detriment to the Navy?" I said I most certainly would not try to be, & that all I could do was to try my best. After more questions of a similar nature they told me to wait outside.

Rather than try to repeat the long, court-martial sounding verdict, I will say simply that I got a down. After taking all things into consideration, the facts that I learned slowly, had had bad luck at Corry, & all, they were afraid they would have to forward my case to the Admiral. One of them said "Do you feel a little better now?" And I said "Not particularly, sir." The captain said "You have a very good attitude," & I said "Thank you, sir." "If you have no further questions, that is all." "Thank you, sir," I stepped one step backward with my left foot, did an about-face on my right, opened the door, & went out into the hall….

Your Banished but undamaged son

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