Stationed at Hahn U.S. Airforce Base when
Colonel "Chuck" Yaeger
was the commanding officer of the
417th Fighter Bomber Squandron, then at Toule U.S. Airforce Base in France.
As we sat at the end of the runway we watched Colonel Yeager bring his plane in for a landing.
We never tired of watching the jets and this was a remarkable landing.
We were in Fertstenfelbruck near Munich for a month temporary mission from Toule Air Base. A group of planes, gunners and support technicians were sent there on a rotation basis.
Supplies could never quite keep up with the squadron and we were running out of tires. A fighter squadron needs tires if they are to accomplish all their practice runs.
“Did you see that?” I asked my buddy.
Col. Yeager had brought his plane round and touched down on the runway, but he kept the nose up the whole length of the runway before he lowered the nose wheel so lightly that the tires would suffer as little wear as possible.
Miller replied “He wrote the book on flying; his stories are legend”
“He is our kind of guy Kelley, a down home, country boy who doesn’t put on any airs.
I had a great time with him when we went back to Nellis for the Gunnery Conference and Competition – he was born to fly and knows all the tricks of the trade.
I’ve heard talk that the upper echelon in Washington really appreciate his knowledge and experience too, that is why he had to make this trip back to Frankfurt.
This Suez Canal Crises has everyone in a tizzy and they need Colonel Yeager.
When I first got to Europe in 1957, I was in the U.S. Air Force stationed at Hahn Air Base in Germany and Colonel Chuck Yeager was our commanding officer at that time.
The whole squadron knew what a great pilot he was and that he broke the sound barrier, even although it was ‘top secret’, but we loved to watch him fly.
When the squadron moved to Toule Base outside Nancy in France The Colonel did not like it, he much preferred Germany where he had made a lot of German friends who invited him to go on hunting trips - that is the other thing Colonel Yaeger was really good at – besides flying - shooting.
“Hey – did ya know the military police cited us for being out of uniform?”
“How out of uniform?”
“It was so hot we took off our shirts while we were working.
The Colonel found out about the citation and tore them a strip and said his guys were here to work, not to look pretty, and if not wearing shirts made them more comfortable, that was fine with him”.
One day my buddy said to me “Hey, Kelley, what do you say to a trip somewhere? "
“Nah, I don’t know, I have only got a few more months before I go home, and I really want that Renault. I have been saving all my money to get that car”
“Have you seen it? It so plush and some of the features are unusual, more plush than any American car I’ve seen before…….and I can get it here real cheap and have it shipped stateside”.
“Gee Kelley, let’s see some of the countries over here, it won’t cost that much if we get a MATS flight”.
“Where do you want go Miller?”
“Well, I want to go to Paris, the girls ….. shee; we could have a real good time”.
“We could just take the base shuttle there”.
“Nah, it’ll be better if we take the train to Frankfurt and catch a MATS flight from there.
They have more flights from Frankfurt than they do from France, and they go everywhere, we’ll take a chance and just get the first flight to wherever it happens to be going”.
“How long will we be gone?”
“I don’t know, let’s say about a month – do you have leave?”
“I haven’t taken leave since we went to Belgium for the World's Fair and Luxembourg,
You know what it’s been like here – Nancy is off limits because of the communists – so I haven’t seen very much of France at all”.
Kelley, you have got to get out, get out and see the bright lights and have some fun while you are in Europe.
Look at the other guys, most of them have a great time – you need to get out – meet some girls, see Paris.
You had a pretty good time in Heidelberg didn’t you”?
“Oh yeah, Heidelberg was great”.
I started thinking about what I did in Heidelberg. I had wandered around on my own and saw the old castle and ate some great German food. I didn’t feel like I had to show-off and try to impress anyone.
When I went to Brussels and Luxembourg with other guys from base they were always whistling at the girls and cat calling and I always felt awkward – we didn’t do that at home.
My buddy started outlining all we’d have to do.
“We’ll have to get passes of some kind and we’ll need money”.
“I’ll have to take some money out of savings”.
“Break out Kelley, live it up while you have a chance.
Your problem is you have never had a chance to make any money working for your dad on the farm. Did you ever have any fun”?
“Not much, my brother and I were up at 4:00 am milking the cows then we worked in the fields all day, cultivating tobacco, bringing in the hay for the cows, weeding, hoeing, there was something all the time. Daddy felt if we were not working, we were wasting time”.
“It was pretty much the same for me, my daddy was very strict too, that’s why I joined the Air Force.
Back home there was not much time for anything else except church and maybe a basketball game”.
“Pretty much the same for me except in Arkansas cotton is king and that’s all we did too, work in the fields, go to school and go to Church.
The best thing we ever did was join the Air Force - it’s like being on vacation – heck,
we get to sleep all the way until 5:30 am”.
“ I aim to see as much of the rest of Europe as I can while I can.
Aw, c’mon, we’ll get traveler’s checks and what you don’t spend you can put back in the bank.
We’ll have a great time. Let’s see if we can leave in a couple of weeks”.
This is where the hand of God, or fate, stepped in and started guiding me toward my Destiny.
It was May of 1958 when we took the train to Frankfurt and almost as soon as we got there, there was a MATS flight leaving for Mildenhalll Air Force base in England.
We tried to sign up for that flight, but we were told our passes were only good for “the continent of Europe” and that did not include “the United Kingdom”.
Miller, who chatted up every female he ran into, looked for a secretary.
He found a pretty girl sitting at a typewriter and leaned over her to ask “Hey honey, you look like you wanna help a couple of stranded souls – do us a favour and type two little old letters on these here orders so we can go to England, eh cutie?
"No way, do you know how much trouble I will be in – falsifying documents"?
"Okay then, here’s a quarter, can you go get a cup of coffee?” He said smiling his usual smooth most charming smile.
While she went to get a cup of coffee, Miller sat down at the typewriter and typed “U.K.” on our orders. We went back to the MATS terminal, showed them our modified orders and got on the flight to England......another step closer to my unknown destination
It was pretty cold and bleak when we arrived in England. Mildenhall is very close to Ramsgate on the south coast of England, it is your typical seaside town, but the place looked deserted.
At the Terminal at Mildenhall there was a Travel Agency and we looked at all the brochures for different parts of Britain. We had quite a discussion about where we would go. I had no ideas for I knew very little about England, and neither did my buddy. There were huge colourful posters of the various scenic places around Britain.
Several airmen were there all reading the brochures, and all were talking about where they wanted to go and about where they had been already.
Someone suggested that we take the train up to Scotland. They said Glasgow was the party city of Scotland with lots of activities for young people, like night clubs. Hotels were said to be cheaper than hotels in London and we could tour the countryside from Glasgow. The brochures we read showed that the culture would be quite different (men wearing kilts), but English speaking. The posters and pictures made it look like it was very scenic with Castles, fast flowing rivers, waterfalls, mountains and glens. Maybe a bit like Germany, so I thought I would like that.
The Travel agent issued us Rail Passes for USA Military with train tickets round trip from London to Glasgow. There was a shuttle bus to take us from Mildenhall right into London to the correct railway station – there are five major railway stations in London.
We stayed that night at the base, then, next morning took the shuttle to London, which only took a couple of hours.
The train journey from Kingscross railway station in London to Glasgow would be about 7 hours so we would see some of the countryside from the train.
Because we had finally stopped changing planes, buses and trains, and it was quite a long journey, I nodded off, but I did get to see a lot of rolling countryside with a lot of sheep everywhere.
We were in our uniforms so we could travel on the trains with our USAAF passes when
a lady from the Salvation Army gave us coffee and doughnuts and started chatting with us.
We told her about our plan to see some of Europe while we were stationed in France.
She noticed our accents and asked if we were from the south. The American southern accent is the most recognizable American accent, and we were definitely from the South.
“Are you two away to join your squadron in Scotland then?" She asked.
“No, we are on leave and thought we would spend some time in Glasgow”
“Glasgow? She said doubtfully. “Ach away, ye dinna want to go to Glasgow, Edinburgh is whaur ye want to go.
"Aye", she said, "Edinburgh is a grand place with the Castle, the Gardens, Princes Street, The Royal Mile, The Palace and all the historic architecture. It’s a lovely city, its so easy to get around and see everything".
"Och Aye, ye’ll have a much better holiday in Edinburgh, Glasgow is a big industrial toon, Edinburgh is whaur a’ the tourists go”
Was Destiny stepping in again?
We took a rain from Glasgow to Edinburgh using our passes. It was not going to be a long journey, only 50 minutes, but It was quite late when we arrived in Edinburgh and stayed at the Caledonian hotel at the west end of Princes Street.
When we got up the next morning we found out that this was a very grand hotel in the centre of Edinburgh with commanding views of the Castle up above the city. Our rooms were only available for one night, so we had to find another place to stay by the next morning.
My first impression of Edinburgh was seeing the Castle from the hotel windows and then looking down Princes Street with the gardens (a big park) full of flowers.
We started to look around the city, walking through the gardens (very large parks) and trying to figure out how to get up to the Castle. Everyone we asked was helpful and we were getting used to the Scottish accented English.
The sights and sounds of this old city are so impressive. I had never seen anything like it before.
From the Caledonian Hotel we passed two huge old Churches before we came to the gates of the Gardens.
We walked past a beautiful fountain and watched the gardeners working on the many flower beds. There is a pretty fancy stage sitting in the middle of this park with the Castle staring down at it. We did not go in to either of the two Art Museums at the end of the park, but continued on in to another ‘garden’. Here we saw a huge very intricately structured tower surrounded by flower beds and park benches. We could have gone inside the tower and walked the 287 steps to the top for a fantastic view of the city, but we needed to find another hotel.
While we were wandering around taking in all the sights we came across The Roxburghe Hotel, which was across from what looked like another beautiful park and an even grander looking Church.
The Caledonian Hotel, where we had stayed was very grand and formal and looked like a hotel, but the Roxburghe had the impression that it was a man’s club, quite stuffy, not much like hotels that we knew, and all the guests and the staff were very old.
Why in the world did we go inside this old fashioned place to check for rooms? Did Fate step in again?
Miller approached the receptionist, leaned over and using all his charm and his best smile asked
“Hey Sweetie, do you all have any rooms for a few days?”
The receptionist was very, polite, sounded quite formal and said.
“I am terribly sorry sir, we are fully occupied, but I will be happy to check with some of the hotels in the area and see if there is any availability.”
The way she rolled her “Rrrs” “Terrrrribly sorrrry sirrr” was so cute, she was much younger than anyone we had seen in this very old fashioned hotel. She looked so out of place and I thought, wow, she is so pretty.
I didn't fully realize it, but this was the crucial moment, when we looked at each other that day in May 1958 in Edinburgh in this very unlikely setting. Destiny.
While we were waiting, we had a gander at the hotel. It was very quiet, full of old furniture and paintings and the elevator looked like it had come out of a museum. After getting a look at the bar-tender, the other guests, the bell men and the waitresses all plodding along sedately with their duties, Miller said “This place is going to be dead, there won’t be much action around here”
After a few phone calls the young receptionist told us; “I have checked our overflow hotels gentlemen, and it seems all the hotels in our area are full right now. It is because it is the University Charities Week.Of course, we did not know what that was.
“Let me give you directions to The Scottish Tourist Board and they will have access to all the hotels in Edinburgh and will be able to get a hotel for you quite quickly”.
I spent a lot of time with her poring over a map when she showed us how to get there.
The Scottish Tourist Board was not far from The Caledonian Hotel, where we had left our bags.
We found the Tourist Board quite easily and they got a small hotel for us not far from the Roxburghe Hotel, we were still close to the centre of town, Princes Street and all the tourist attractions.
The Royal Mile is the road that leads from The Castle down through the medieval part of Edinburgh ending at Holyrood Palace, which is H.M. the Queen’s residence when she is in Edinburgh.
There is so much to see on this old, old thoroughfare at any time, but this weekend it was full of students all dressed up in weird and wonderful outfits, acting out little eye-catching performances to get passersby to donate to the Students Charities.
On Princes Street, with the lovely gardens on one side, and all the expensive shops lining the other side, the students were pestering pedestrians to get them to give them money. We enjoyed watching their antics and listening to them recite Shakespeare and sing Scottish songs.
These rather wild festivities involving University Students never got out of control, the students were having fun and managed to get many of the tourists to join in. It all added to the holiday atmosphere of the city. I hoped they collected a lot of money.
The hotel we stayed in was quite small and nondescript. We made friends with a couple of the maids there and they showed us around Edinburgh and took us up to the Castle, to the shops and restaurants on Princes Street and into the Gardens, where there were flower beds full of all kinds of flowers everywhere.
A day later Miller and I were alone at lunch in a little café on Princes Street called The Manhattan. The place appealed to us because it claimed to have real American hamburgers and there was a snazzy pink Studebaker parked out front right on Princes Street.
The café was very small and was set up like a train car with booths on either side of a central aisle. There were mirrors on all the walls to make the place appear larger than it was. As a result, while sitting in a booth you were looking at the people in the next booth like they were sitting next to you.
A cute young girl stopped at our booth and said to me. “Did you get your accommodations all right then sir”?
I was dumbfounded, it was the pretty girl from that old fashioned hotel. I couldn't figure out where she had come from or exactly what she had said, in her lilting Scottish accent. She was with another young woman and a baby in a carriage.
Miller said, “Why don’t you join us, sit down, have a Coke, doll”.
I heard her say “Oh, no thank you” and they walked out of the café.
Miller said to me, “I think she likes you”. “She is that girl from that old fashioned hotel that you said was just your type” “You should go back there and ask her out.”
“Ah, no way, she would never go out with me”
My buddy said “I bet she will, what the heck Kelley, you should try – she liked you, I saw the way she looked at you at the hotel, she didn’t pay me any mind at all".
Miller and I were still going around town with the two maids from the hotel where we were staying, but I knew they were not as nice as the girl from the Roxburghe and what Miller had said to me played on my mind.
I don't know how I ever got up the nerve, but I managed to go back to that stuffy old hotel where an older lady was now at the reception desk. She looked cold and not too friendly, but I coughed a little and I heard myself say “Can I speak to the young girl who works here at the desk?” I can't believe I got through all that without stammering and stuttering. I had never done anything like this before - anywhere - never mind in a foreign country talking to a very stern looking woman.
She kinda looked down her nose at me and said “The young lady I think you are referring to is at lunch, is there anything I can do for you?”
“I just wanted to thank her for taking so much time to help us find a hotel when all the hotels were full and I thought I would take her to dinner”. This woman softened and asked me a few questions about what I was doing in Edinburgh, and I told her that I was stationed in France and was touring Europe.
I waited while she called the dining room.
Pretty soon here comes the young girl and she did not look too happy.
She came up to me and said “What do you want”?
I didn’t realize that I might have got her in trouble with her boss. “I just wanted to thank you for being so kind to me the other day and wondered if you would like to go out with me?”
She actually said yes!
I was flabbergasted!
We arranged to meet me that night outside the hotel at 6:00 pm. I think I was walking on air as I walked through all the reception rooms on my way out of the hotel.
The route from our hotel to the Roxburghe was complicated and I took a couple of wrong turns so I got there late. As I ran up to the hotel I thought I saw someone that looked like the young girl walking past me with a guy.
I waited in front of the hotel, kicking myself for being late, but all the time hoping that was not the same girl, but then, she was gone.
After a few minutes that same girl came back and said quickly “Let’s get away from here”. She grabbed my arm, and we took off down a side street like she didn’t want to be seen with me.
We went to a play that night about a popular English policeman and even though it was all in English I didn’t understand anything, but everyone was laughing a lot.
What I enjoyed more than anything was listening to her talk. She talked about getting to a place "earrrly" and "verry good serrrvice".
Walking back to the hotel the streets were still teeming with students and party-goers. She tried to tell me about the play we had just seen. I told her how much I had really enjoyed Edinburgh. (The Salvation Army Lady from the train was absolutely right - I had had a grand time.
I was on cloud nine. Going out on a real date with a lovely girl in this beautiful city with parks and gardens filled with flowers. music and fun loving students.
When it was time to say good-night, I thought I might take a chance and try to kiss her, but I suspected that was not the way things happened with her.
I hated to tell her it was probably goodbye because we were leaving the next day to get back to London and on to Paris. I was thinking how can I convince Miller to stay a few more days.
Then she said "Cheerrrio" - I thought that meant "hello", but she thanked me for a lovely evening and went in to the hotel - so I guess she meant goodbye. Because of all the early and late hours she worked she lived at the hotel there in a suite of rooms for the management staff. She told me they had a maid that looked after everything for them.
I really do think she had a good time that night. She seemed to know quite a few people that we bumped into at the Manhattan Café where we ate and at the theatre.
The next day Miller and I decided to stay in Edinburgh another day. He was having a great time going out with the two maids at the hotel where we were staying.
It took me a while, but I got up the nerve to call the Roxburghe Hotel and ask to speak to the young receptionist, she agreed to go out with me again, but she wouldn’t be able to go too far as she only had the afternoon off.
That afternoon she showed me more of the beautiful architecture and gardens in the "New Town" part of Edinburgh, which was all around the hotel. We went to museums and art galleries and my feet were sore by the end of the afternoon.
I asked her to tell me her name when we parted that afternoon and she said
“You’re just a ship that’s passing in the night, you'll be leaving to go back to France tomorrow and we’ll probably never see each other again, so – what's the point?” “Let’s just enjoy the time we have”.
We said goodbye – again.
Again, Miller said he wanted to stay another day in Edinburgh and I encouraged him as I wanted to stay longer too.
I really wanted to spend as much time as I could with this pretty, dark haired, very fair, petite little lady with the cute accent.
She did meet me again and when I asked her to tell me her name she said "You can call me "Small Child". Because I am much younger than the other members of staff, that's what everyone calls me"
We spent a lot of time walking through the Gardens and up through some narrow cobble-stone streets and winding steps to Edinburgh Castle. This took us through the medieval part of the town with all its history. She tried to tell me about Mary Queen of Scots, William Wallace and Robert the Bruce, but it was all Greek to me.
I could never get her to take a taxi or go for a meal. She kept telling me "No,no, I am not very hungrrry" "No one takes taxis unless you are going to the station - who in the world takes a taxi when we have buses everywhere". "Besides, we'll see a lot more from the top of a double decker bus.
So - it was to take the bus or to walk. I never walked so much in my life.
Walking IS the best way to see Edinburgh with all the beautiful buildings and architecture. We also went to big old museums, of which there are quite a few.
When we stayed yet another day in Edinburgh I called the Roxbburghe and when I asked for "Small Child" she answered and I was able to get her to go out with me again.
As we were walking over the Dean Bridge, which is not far from The Roxburghe Hotel, we leaned over to look at the picturesque Dean Village and It was there that I managed to steal a kiss, but she didn’t seem to mind too much.
This went on for a couple of days, each day Miller and I would decide to stay a little longer and so I was really getting to know all about this receptionist, except her real name, which she still would not tell me.
We spent one afternoon at a different castle not far outside the city of Edinburgh. We had to take a bus journey of about 30 minutes to get to this beautiful old ruin sitting beside a small lake, which in Scotland is called a loch. Linlithgow Palace was the birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots – and admittance was free – of course.
It had been a beautifully architected building and still had intricately carved fountains. It is a very romantic place and we were enjoying chasing each other through all the empty, open to the sky, rooms. I even tried to get another kiss, but my date did not cooperate saying she didn’t like “public demonstrations”.
I didn’t see any “public” and the place was deserted.
The Edinburgh Botanical Gardens, where I saw very unusual rhodedendrons and monkey-puzzle trees was a treat for me. I had never been to this sort of place before and it was great - and of course it had free admission.
While my date was buying some biscuits (cookies) in a large store that was a bakery, a restaurant and a shop I asked the cashier to cash a travellers check for me. When my very frugal friend found out that I had more than one book of travellers checks she realized I was not broke, so she allowed herself to eat in that restaurant.
I thought I had blown it because we became separated in this place called McVities where I finally was able to convince her to get a meal.
We both went to wash our hands and I waited and waited for her to come back to the table, but she never showed up.
I didn’t know what to think, did I hurt her feelings laughing about her name? I tried to call her again at the Roxburghe, but she was always “Not here”.
Miller and I decided we might as well get on with our trip.
I figured I would never see this lovely girl, who had stolen my heart, ever again.
Just before we got on the train I called her one last time and this time she came to the phone. Thank goodness. I told her we were at the Waverley rail station and I was going to come back in a few weeks to see her again.
She said “Well, that will be verrry nice. You can write to me here at the Roxburghe hotel and tell me, if and when that happens.” She even spelled out her real name and address for me.
Back at the base in France I wrote several letters, but it looked like I was never going to hear from her again.
To find out what happened look for the next chapter.