Apr 4, 2015

Typing My Way to Freedom

Typing My Way to Freedom

We were eventually dismissed, and I was led into the office building. It was warm, well-lit, and contained half a dozen desks and other office equipment. I was assigned one of the desks, with a typewriter, and told this was my duty station for the present time, and report here after breakfast each day. I was told to acquaint myself with the typewriter and given a form, or a list, or perhaps it was the local phone book to type, for practice. Then I was left alone to type, dream, and otherwise appear busy until quitting time. There were two, perhaps three sergeants, who I assumed were responsible for running various facets of our, and other training unit, and they were, in retrospect, somewhat stereotypes. Sgt. Brown (not sure this was his name) was a large, amiable, African American, and it was he I reported to, and the one who gave me my orders. The other sergeant, who I interacted with occasionally, was Sgt. Schwartz, or something like that, and yes, he was of German descent, and spoke with a heavy German accent. I was at first (always) intimidated, scared, timorous, etc., when they were around after all, I had just completed boot camp and everything that showed even a flicker of life was automatically addressed as Sir, the idea I might be treated as a human being seemed somewhat alien at the time.

And so, the next morning, after marching to and from breakfast in the dark, I reported for duty. My primary responsibility, other than typing uncountable documents that I never read, was to type the work assignments for the day. I was given a list of all the airmen in my unit, including myself, and a list of the various duties that needed to be preformed. The biggest need was for kitchen help (KP), followed by requests for personal to guard someone or something, or bodies to shovel snow, or spread sand, or unload stock, or to stock stock, or to stand at attention for three hours while someone gave a speech. It was I who assigned the bodies to the daily tasks.

It got worse. There were days when the weather was so atrocious that the daily spiel and propaganda was broadcast via the intercom, no one stepped outside except those who had no choice. I was inside, with the sergeants, looking out the frosted windows. After my ‘mates’ had marched away to their various jobs, their heads wrapped in bath towels for additional protection from the cold, Sgt. Brown said, nonchalantly: “Better grab a donut before Sgt. Schwartz cleans the plate.”

“Shall I make another pot of coffee?” asked Sgt. Schwartz. I still can’t believe I didn’t have to make the coffee!

I even avoided most inspections as I had to be in the office when they were scheduled. So while everyone else was frantically rearranging their footlocker for the umpteenth time or polishing shoes I lay on my bunk reading.
Did I feel guilt? No, I didn’t feel anything. I was simply doing as I was directed; and everyone else was doing as they were directed.

One day the request for bodies exceeded the names on my list and, hoping to make things easier, I added my name to one of the work details. Sgt. Brown exploded. “Isn’t that you? Isn’t that your name you’ve typed on that work list?” I told him I had run out of names. He didn’t call me a fool, but I felt that is what he wanted to say, instead he smiled and said: “When you reach the bottom of the list you simply start over at the top, as long as they are not still working somewhere, but, since you’ve typed in your own name you had better report, and be on time.

I think it was KP in the ‘Foreign Students’ mess hall - and that is a story in itself.

After a couple of weeks our training began and I resumed my life as part of the squadron. During the time I spent in the office I never detected the slightest hint of animosity or jealously at my good fortune, but, it's entirely possible they never realized what 'work' I was doing

Today almost everyone with a computer can type at a reasonable speed, but in the sixties, before the advent of the electric typewriter, and many years before electronic keypads, typing was something very different. You would have to have spent considerable time in front of a manual keyboard to understand.

The ‘Goblet’ narcissus are in bloom, and they are beautiful.

No comments: