Sunday, April 21, 2013

Saigon 1967 Chapter Fifteen: Catch 22

This is another story that occurred at a time other than 1967. As with the others, it serves a vital purpose at this point in the narrative. This one gives a little background for why I did what I did in the section that follows this one. That section is from Saigon 1967.


At Cannon Air Force Base I was in the backwater of the Air Force. That fact allowed for attitudes and activities to be accepted or ignored that would have been unthinkable at major base such as the headquarters of a numbered air force.

At Cannon I had been one of several junior officers and mostly first term enlisted men assigned to an intelligence unit which supported the Tactical Fighter Wing that was resident at Cannon. The Major in charge of that intelligence unit had retired soon after I had gotten there. He had functionally retired but had pretended to be still on active duty for a significant period of time before I had gotten there. Not long after I got there he actually retired. A captain who had been a pilot until he had developed diabetes became our senior officer. Two senior sergeants wielded the real power in our little group. This was a group of people all of whom were really smart, creative and funny. Since we had little to do, except wait for orders to Vietnam, we talked a lot.

Several of us read books in between the infrequent needs to do anything for the Air Force. Frequently we would end up having impromptu book discussions when one of us was reading a particularly interesting book. Somewhere during this time I started reading Catch 22. I had heard of it while I was in college, but I hadn’t ever gotten around to reading it.

At Cannon, it turned out to be one of the most amazing and funny things I had ever read. I not only discussed this book in our impromptu discussions, I also frequently read passages that were particularly outrageous, funny, pertinent, sinister or all of these. The parallels to the life we were all living were too obvious to ignore. The book became the center of our daily Air Force working life.

Then I finished it.

The minute I finished it I loaned it to one of the others to read.

And then they loaned it.

The loaning continued until we either had the book memorized or it had disintegrated from use. I was never sure which.

In the process of all this reading, discussing and loaning, one day someone had segued off a particularly ridiculous real incident-of-the-day and had started acting out a skit, including characters from Catch 22, and cross referencing and merging real incidents with incidents from the book. Immediately others of us chimed in. The first time this happened we went on for the better part of an hour until hilarity overtook and undermined any chance that a thread of sense could have continued through the sham.

But a new form of recreation had been born.

In infrequent moments of seriousness we discussed with some degree of concern what would happen if someone from the “outside”- a word that we began to apply to officers and enlisted men who were not a part of our little intelligence/theatrical group – came in during one of our performances.

The intensity of the performances was so closely mated to our mutually perceived reality that it was hard to stop until a scene had played itself logically to a conclusion. If some pilot had come in during of one of these performances it would have been very likely that we would have been unable to cease and desist. We probably would have tried to include him in the story. After all, the main characters of Catch 22 were pilots


The odds of that turning out well would have been low. We probably would have had to kill him.

We never concluded what to do about this possibility. Fortunately it never happened. But we enjoyed several months with an amazing amount of self-generated entertainment.

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