John Palcewski's Journal

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Warrior Days
forioscribe





Fifty-two years ago on this date I entered the ranks of the US Air Force. Not too long ago I got into a correspondence with one of the officers I worked with at the 4128th Strategic Wing, on Amarillo AFB, Texas. That’s me, at far right.

Excerpts:

Many thanks for your detailed and interesting reply. This exchange is triggering all sorts of things I thought I'd forgotten. Half a century is a long time! By the way, I'm still hoping you might have a higher resolution version of the group shot. That image made quite an impact on me!

I don't recall the name of the sergeant at far left, or the face hidden in the back row, but in l-r order that's Airman Larimore, Airman Foote, Maj. Harps (??), Sgt. Stanko, Col. Bolton, Maj. Liberty, Maj. Gibson, Capt. Lockerman, Sgt. Boyette, and Airman Taylor. I'd love to be able to make out the stuff that's on the table, which I recall came from the place where they packed crewmembers parachutes. Two or three long tables joined together. Also remember the big map. The light fixture has significance because it, or another like it, was opened up by a spook hunting team sent in to search for electronic bugs. They found a pencil inside. Which might have been placed there to see if the team would find it. Or at least that's what Airman Larimore thought.

The unpleasantness with Col. Bolton came shortly after Carla, Maj. Leon Hensel's daughter, asked me escort her to her 17th birthday party at the Officer's Club. How I got socially involved with her and her father (at his insistence, by the way) is a long story that toward the end became quite disturbing.


But anyway, as Carla and I walked into the club we passed a round white linen-covered table at which sat Col. Bolton and a woman I presumed was his wife. Bolton appeared startled when he recognized me. I nodded, quietly said "Colonel," and Carla and I continued on to the party.

The following Monday at Intelligence Division they told me Col. Bolton wanted to see me immediately. I entered his office. He glared at me, ordered me to stand at attention, asked me what in hell I was doing at the Officer's Club. I explained that I'd been invited to Carla's birthday party and that the Major had said it was OK.

"Listen to me carefully, Airman," the colonel said loudly. "I don't give a good goddamn what the Major told you, you committed a serious breach of protocol. Now if I ever see you at the club again, I'll have you up on charges for disobeying an officer's lawful order. Do you understand that?"

"Yes, sir. I do."

"Now get the hell out of here."


As for how I got involved with the Hensels, one afternoon the Major came to my scoring room and said he had a serious--no, profound--disagreement with the scores I had given to one of his navigation legs and bomb runs. He wanted to see for himself precisely how I went about these evaluations. Half an hour later he grinned, vigorously shook my hand and congratulated me, because, he said, I had just conclusively proved to him that the scores were correct.

He then suggested that one of these days I should come over to the house for drinks, or even for dinner. I just nodded casually, thinking he couldn't have been serious about it, given that it would be a violation of the UCMJ regulation forbidding officer/enlisted fraternization.

A week or two later he stopped me in the hallway and said, "Hells bells, John! When are you going to come over and break bread with us?"

I stood mute. I didn't know what to say.

"Okay," he said, "let's nail this down. Are you free this Saturday?"

"I suppose so."

"It's settled then. Be there at 1900 hours."

From that seemingly pleasant event, it was a steady slow slide downhill.

It'll take a while for me to work up a full, detailed account of my involvement with that deeply troubled family. One of the highlights, if it could be called that, concerned Maj. Hensel. He got drunk one night and went into the headquarters squadron orderly room, intending to get something from his office. He was at the time Squadron Commander in addition to being a crew member. The CQ was an Airman Third, new to the squadron, and he stood up and told the Major, who was in civvies, to stop and provide identification. Maj. Hensel told him he didn't need to provide identification, because he was an officer and should be taken at his word. After some back and forth, during which Maj. Hensel worked himself into a fury,the CQ picked up the phone, intending to call Air Police, but the Maj. seized the instrument, ripped it out of the wall, and threw it across the room

There was an investigation and I was summoned to an interview with a 2nd Lt. JAG, who asked me if, on my many social visits to the Major's house, I had ever seen him drunk. Well, I was torn between loyalty to the Major and loyalty to the truth, so after some careful thought I said, "No, I have never seen him drunk." I thought--but didn't say aloud--that yes, I had on many, many occassions witnessed the Major and his wife Carol drinking heavily, and I was beside them, doing my best to keep up. But becoming incoherent, and unable to keep his balance, or passing out? No, I had never witnessed that. The investigation more or less just died, and I never heard Leon refer to it later.

There were other sordid, deeply troubling aspects to the Major's relationship with his two daughters, Carla and Karen. Karen was supposedly in a mental institution, still traumatized by the "accidental" shooting of her mother by the Major, while he was cleaning his shotgun. Carla and I became intimate...or I should say I finally yielded to her persistent seductions. After a couple of weeks of guilt and fear, I informed the Major that Carla and I were having sex.

I thought he'd go ballistic, but he smiled and said, "Of course you are. And I would be absolutely delighted if, down the road things work out between you two, you'd join our family as my son-in-law."

One night afterward, Carla began weeping and told me she'd been keeping a terrible, horrible secret, that she could never tell anyone about. Which was that the Major had "taught" her about sex. And did the same to Karen, which is why she's now so messed up.

Now, to my deep regret and shame, I simply did not believe Carla's story. I could not imagine a man doing such a thing, not a man with the standing of a flying officer in Strategic Air Command. My disbelief deeply wounded Carla, I'm sorry to say. She ended up engaged to a Captain who was stationed at Roswell AFB, a friend of Maj. Hensel. The Captain told the Major that he was delighted to have found Carla, because she was so sweet. So "malleable." The Major said he found his use of that term rather insightful. He also noted that the Captain and he were the same age, and he'd therefore find it difficult to call him "son." Witnessing that particular colloquy, I didn't know what to think or say, so I said nothing. But then I was only 20 or thereabouts.

After my discharge the Major invited me and my new wife to join him in Fort Worth on the grounds of a dog kennel he'd just purchased on his retirement. The deal was that I'd work as a laborer, every morning cleaning out the shit in the dog runs, doing maintenance and what not, in return for low rent and utilities. That job came to a quick end when I went into our living quarters and saw the Major in the bedroom with my wife. She was holding up a towel over her body after a bath, obviously frightened, and she told me later he'd just barged in and was putting a hit on her.

We moved our stuff out of there, one small car load at a time, and when I went back for what remained, I saw that my leather bound Great Books of the Western World was missing. The Major informed me that he confiscated the set in lieu of a payment of rent still outstanding. My wife and I went to the Sherrif's office to file a complaint, but the Sherrif said we'd need to post a $100 bond. We didn't have that kind of money, so we just dropped the whole thing.

My wife and I ended up in New York, and I never heard anything further about the Hensels.

Now, I don't recall how many artwork predictions I made for each particular mission, I just cranked them out one after another. Four weapons for each B-52 sounds right. Wikipedia puts the number of aircraft as 15...

On 20 February 1960, Strategic Air Command established the 4128th Strategic Wing at Amarillo AFB, Texas as part of SAC's plan to disburse its B-52 Stratofortress heavy bombers over a larger number of bases, thus making it more difficult for the Soviet Union to knock out the entire fleet with a surprise first strike. The wing consisted of the 718th Bombardment Squadron, consisting of 15 B-52Ds, and the KC-135-equipped 909th Air Refueling Squadron. Half of the aircraft were maintained on fifteen minute alert, fully fueled, armed, and ready for combat. SAC Strategic Wings were considered a provisional unit by HQ, USAF and could not carry a permanent history or lineage.

That's about all I can think of at the moment. Please feel free to fill me in on anything further about the 4128th that comes to mind. All and any gossip about the principals will be most welcomed!
Warm regards,
John








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