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Lunch with a Veteran Earl Mace Driver to the Kennedys

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I’m Greg McIntyre and today I would like to introduce Earl Mace who is a Veteran of the National Guard and United States Air Force. You were in the National Guard since you were a kid, right?

EM: Yes, I joined around 1955. I was eighteen maybe.

GM: What motivated you to join the National Guard?

EM: I lived about half a block away from where they met and when I was a kid that was our baseball field, our activity place. It was probably the largest building in Shelby for any kind of gathering. When they marched the kids in the neighborhood would go set up chairs, and when we were old enough we learned to march with them. We would go down there and march along and they let us stay as long as we wanted.

GM: How long were you in the National Guard?

EM: Two years and then I went in the Air Force.

GM: Why did you go in the Air Force?

EM: I had two brothers and a brother-in-law in the Air Force so I thought it was my obligation to follow them. There was a lot going on around here at the time, cotton mills and things like that for work but I was adventurous so why not see the world.

GM: When people ask me why I joined the Navy I would like to say the reason is I’m patriotic, I want to serve my country but it wasn’t just that. My dad was in the Navy and it worked well for him. I wanted to get out of town and see the world and have a different experience and adventure. That was what the Navy allowed me to do.

EM: My first thoughts were to join the Navy. The Air Force, the Army and the Navy recruiters were all in the same building, and I went two or three times to see the Naval recruiter but he was never there. Me and my friends always talked to the Air Force recruiter every time we went in there and he finally talked us into joining.

GM: I’ve heard nothing but great things about the Air Force, especially the bases, that they’re top-notch compared to Army, Marine or Navy.

EM: I was always at a good place. I started off with basic training at San Antonio, Texas, that’s where everybody goes when joining the Air Force. From there I went to Cape Cod, Massachusetts which was a very nice place. That was where the girls were.

GM: And that was where you wanted to be?

EM: Well, that was where they sent me, I didn’t know at the time but it turned out fairly good.

GM: So how was Cape Cod?

EM: It was great. I loved fishing and different places so it suited me fine. When I got my orders, it said I would be going to Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts and I thought, my lord, what kind of place is that. But I rode the train and Buzzards Bay happened to be the nearest train stop to the base.

GM: How was Air Force boot camp?

EM: Nothing to it. I’d been through the National Guard already so I knew how to march. The basics of the military can be hard for a lot of people but there wasn’t anything to it. The whole lot of us got yelled at of course.

GM: Did you feel you got some benefit out of boot camp?

EM: Sure, discipline and respect mostly.

GM: It gave me some leadership opportunities that I hadn’t had before and some confidence. What did you do in the Air Force when you were stationed at Cape Cod?

EM: I was always in transportation, vehicles, heavy equipment stuff like that, I was an operator. Driving a bus, or crane and wrecker operator, towing aircraft around.

GM: There is a million different things you can do in the military. Were you stationed elsewhere?

EM: Yes, I was stationed in Cape Cod about a year and then I was sent to Misawa Air Force base in northern Japan. It was on the northern tip of the main island.

GM: I’ve not been to Misawa but I did go to Yokosuka which is a Naval base. I would go and head into Tokyo whenever I could.

EM: Tokyo was about five hundred miles on the opposite end of the island. The main island is close to six hundred miles long.

GM: That’s amazing to think how much bigger the United States is to Japan. North Carolina is about five hundred miles long.

EM: There’s lots of islands.

GM: Japan was a major force against the allies in world war two, and to be that mighty of an empire considering its size is incredible. What was your impression of the Japanese when you were there? Or how did you like living there?

EM: The first year was intriguing but after that I was ready to go home. It was kind of a drag the last year. I got to see a lot of places though. I bought a motorcycle when I was there and a few of us would travel around on motorcycles and see places, met up with a few women and had some drinks. We were allowed to drink beer and smoke cigarettes in Japan. Once we knew a few words of Japanese we did okay.

GM: I was impressed with Japan. I was there in the late 90’s but I wasn’t there long enough to know the language. If I had been stationed there I imagine I would have.

So you were a boy from Shelby, North Carolina, and all of a sudden you found yourself living in Japan for a couple of years, that’s a lot different. Do you think it changed you in any way from traveling like that?

EM: Probably some.

GM: I think it gave me a different perspective on the world, how big of a place it is. I thought it was good for a boy from Shelby, North Carolina to go around the world. Tokyo was something else. Did you ever make it there?

EM: I did. There was five or six of us and we all had motorcycles. We had all heard of a motorcycle race at Mount Fuji which was right out of Tokyo. One of the guys who was a pilot had a pick-up truck, so he put the motorcycles on the truck and he and some of the guys drove that truck to Tokyo and the rest of us flew. I don’t remember making it to Mount Fuji but that was our intention when we went there. One of the guys got in a wreck in downtown Tokyo but it wasn’t busted up too bad. The police confiscated his motorcycle. We were able to find it, get it back and get it running again. Two more got wrecked and so four of us pretty much rode on the back of that pick-up truck with four motorcycles for four hundred or so miles to get back to the base. It was a bit crowded.

GM: What did you think of Tokyo?

EM: Massive. It was big, busy and interesting.

GM: I remember riding from the Naval base to Tokyo by train. I knew I was riding from one town to another but looking out the train window, you would never know you left a town.

EM: When I first got there, we went in to Tokyo and rode the train from Tokyo to the base in Misawa. I never did understand why they didn’t fly us but seeing the countryside was interesting.

GM: I remember a couple of us missed curfew at night coming back on the ship. We had been out in Tokyo in this area called Rippongi which was an area you could eat and maybe have a few beers, and we were just hanging out and we missed the train back because they closed down at a certain time, so we had to wait until morning to get back. In the morning, we got on the train and we were tired and feel asleep and I woke up as we were at the end of the train ride getting ready to go back to Tokyo. I looked around and there was the ocean and cliffs, we were way off from where we should have been somewhere on the other side of the island. I said, ‘fellas, I think we screwed up.’ So we had to ride it back but I remember how everything was very clean, the people were polite and nice, well dressed and well mannered.

EM: I don’t remember Japan being clean in the late 50’s. It was dirty and nasty. Where I was, it was mostly farm country, rice paddies. It was all dirt roads and they were maintained by the people who lived on the road, that was the way they paid their taxes, the government allowed that because they were poor. As a matter of fact, we had Japanese Nationals who worked on base and they were probably paid $20 a month which was a lot of money to them. But I remember the streets were dirty, only the main streets were maintained. Off the main street it was muddy. It was a small town and nothing compared to Tokyo.

GM: Where did you go when you left Japan?

EM: I went to Tacoma, Washington and somehow or other I was nominated to be a Generals Aid. I stayed in Washington about three months and then went to Colorado Springs in Colorado at Ent Air Force Base, which had no flight lines and no airplanes, it was the North American Air Defense Headquarters. In my squadron, we had maybe thirty-five enlisted men and twenty-three Generals. I was kind of a ‘do boy’ for a couple of Generals.

I worked for a General Bell. He was a pilot. He had to fly a certain number of hours to keep his flying status so when he would leave, sometimes for a month, I didn’t have a job so I got a job downtown cooking hamburgers. The owner had four hamburger places, one on each main road going into the city. Hamburgers at that time were fifteen cents. I was there during the Cuban crisis and General Bell was supposed to retire but he was the main person in what was called ‘the war room.’ So all the U2 planes flying over Cuba taking pictures of the missile sites came back to McCord Air Force base and they would send the film to a photo lab on base. That was something I respected about President Kennedy when he said about the missile sites, take them down or we go to war, and they took them down.

I saw the U2 in Japan at Misawa Air Force base. Colonel Powers had run out of fuel over Russia which wasn’t a hundred miles from where we were and he brought the plane down there. He said he could glide it to Hawaii but they told him no, go to Misawa. That thing could glide a long way. The second it hit the runway they covered it up so no one could see it, but I worked for the base commander Colonel Backus so I saw it.

I had some other interesting jobs in Japan. One time the Japanese Air Force were going to buy some planes from the United States, so a pilot and his crew were trying out different planes that the US had declared surplus and it was my job to look after them.

GM: So, after you got out did you miss it?

EM: Well, while I was still in Colorado I was supposed to get my discharge there after my four years was up and as I said, the General was supposed to retire also but couldn’t and he said to me, if I can’t get out you can’t either, so I guess I was an involuntary extended. I stayed well over a year while that was going on and so I decided if I’m going to stay in I’m going to get some re-enlistment money, so I re-enlisted and got several thousand dollars. When General Bell retired, he asked me where I’d like to be stationed, and I said I’d like to go back to Cape Cod so that’s what happened. I was right there during the Kennedy days. I met a lot of interesting people there, I met pretty much all the Kennedys.

GM: You met the Kennedys?

EM: Yes, including President Kennedy.

GM: Did you drive Kennedy around?

EM: No, he had the secret service but I did drive a lot of the dignitaries that would travel with him. Pierre Salinger was the press secretary and I sat and talked to him a lot of times. I met a lot of the secret service people who hung out at the Kennedy compound down on the Cape. Many of the Congressmen and Senators when Kennedy would come, lived in that area and they would come in on Air Force One and we would take them to their houses. When they came up it didn’t matter if it was a weekend or night you had to work.

GM: Did you ever meet Jackie Kennedy?

EM: Not face to face. I was at the hospital with some news people on base when Jackie had the baby that died, and I saw them take her out the back of the hospital and put her in an ambulance. They took her from there to Boston which was over sixty miles because they knew she was having problems with the baby and it wasn’t expected to live.

I don’t remember who it was I was driving around but we went to Ted Kennedys church where one of his kids was being christened and all the Kennedys were there including the President. I remember the President came out and I met him again, and then little Caroline and John John the little boy, they came out and got into a fight on the steps. If I’d had a camera. I saw her yesterday on television and I thought about that little fight.

GM: After you got out what did you do?

EM: Before I got out, General Bell had told me if I ever needed any help to call him. He was still in Colorado Springs, so after a while I called him and told him my Daddy had just had a heart attack and I would like to get out to help him. He said he would talk to some people and he called me the next day and said I needed a letterhead from the bank where my daddy did his banking, a statement he had had a heart attack and a letter from the family preacher, so I did that when I was on leave and when I went back to Cape Cod, three days later I was discharged.

GM: Do you think your time in the military was of benefit to you?

EM: It taught me to take care of myself. You don’t have mom and dad to help you out, if you don’t wash your own clothes you wear them dirty.

GM: I’ve had old timers tell me the world would be a better place if everyone served in the military.

EM: I believe that.

GM: I think it pushes people to become independent and grow up. Earl, thank you for hanging out with me, for your service and for talking about your six years active service in the Air Force.

 

Contact me if you have any questions. Elder Law is what we do!

Greg McIntyre

greg@mcelderlaw.com

Elder Law Attorney
McIntyre Elder Law
123 W. Marion Street

Shelby, NC 28150

704–259–7040

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