AWOL! What’s AWOL?
It was the dead of winter in 1959 and I had just turned 20. I was having a rough time with my sophomore engineering classes at the University of Detroit. My counselor even suggested (?) I might want to sit out for a semester and decide what I really wanted to do with my academic career.
Since engineering students were required to take ROTC, I was discussing the situation with my Air Force ROTC instructor who mentioned the Air Force had an Aviation Cadet program I qualified for. It required one year of intense physical, academic and flight training, but, at the end, I would have my wings and be commissioned as a Second Lieutenant.
It sounded better than sitting around waiting for the fall semester to start, so I put in my application. After a battery of tests and a physical, I was accepted into the program and assigned to Aviation Cadet Class 60-09N. I was to be sworn in at 10:00 a.m. at an Army post in downtown Detroit on May 4, 1959 and would be transported to Lackland Air Force Base the very next day. Wow!
I arrived at the Army post at 0930 on May 4 and found about 30 other victims also being sworn in for various other services and military programs. We were herded together by a grizzled old Master Sergeant and administered the oath by an army Major. Then we were assigned lockers and cots and told that we would be bussed the next day to the airport at 0800 for flights to various military bases around the country. We now officially belonged to the U.S. government!
I thought “Woohoo!” I could have one more date with my girlfriend before disappearing behind the barbed wire. A few hours later, I was in St. Clair Shores, Michigan knocking on my girlfriend’s door. She rushed out and said, “Where have you been? Call your dad. Everyone has been looking for you!” Kind of a strange greeting, but I went in and called my dad. He said, “Don’t move. I’ll be right there.” Gosh, joining the military sure gets everybody excited! My dad arrived, and we sped back to the Army post. It seems that the Master Sergeant had been searching all over Southeast Michigan for me.
The Master Sergeant introduced me to some very colorful language and accused me of personally trying to sabotage his military career. He introduced me to the term AWOL and said that I had set some kind of record by going AWOL within an hour of being sworn in. I thought about mentioning to him that he had never told me I couldn’t leave the post, but his red face and visions of a firing squad gave me pause. Fortunately, I never heard any more about it, caught my plane the next day, graduated from cadets a year later, and married my girlfriend a week after that. Life is good, AWOL not withstanding!