By the time I was hired at Cumberland-Swan Drug Company in March of 1983 the economy was in a noticeable recovery. Inflation was on the way down. The real estate market and the automobile industry were recovering. Last but not least the job market was getting better. By this time I was a believer in Ronald Reagan and I was proud to think of myself as a conservative. Before Ronald Reagan, in my mind, a conservative was bad, and a liberal was good. After my conversion to conservatism liberal became a bad word to me. Before Reagan, although I was a conservative and didn't know it, I believed that if you were a liberal it meant that you were open-minded. You were for the working man, against the evil rich and open-minded on the subject of race. After Reagan I realized how wrong I had been. Liberals in my mind today are the most regressive and close minded people around. When I was hired at Swan I went to work in compounding. This is where the various over the counter drugs were formulated, and prepared for packaging. We made all kind of drugs, cleaning, and beauty products. Rubbing alcohol, peroxide, aspirin, non-aspirin, saccharine, cough medicine, nail polish remover, Merthiolate, mouthwash, Citrate of Magnesia, household cleaners. We received raw materials from the outside in bulk like petroleum jelly and Epsom Salt. The long list of products that we manufactured are just too numerous to mention. For the most part we manufactured our own plastic bottles for the peroxide and alcohol lines. One important fact that I learned while working at Swan was that off brand products are usually of the same quality as the brand name products. When you bought aspirin with the Swan label, at a much cheaper price, you were getting the same aspirin that was sold by the big companies like Bayer and St. Joseph aspirin. They all have the same ingredients, Corn starch, Empompress, and Acetylsalicylic acid. Bufferin has an antacid to coat the stomach since regular aspirin can make your stomach bleed on an empty stomach. This is the only difference between Bufferin and regular aspirin. Read the ingredients on all off brands. They are usually the same as brand name products. We are simply paying higher prices for the brand name. I was hired to make aspirin and saccharine tablets. If I remember right there were three rooms. An aspirin blending room and a room where the aspirin and saccharine were pressed. Then there was the saccharine blending room. Cumberland-Swan was on land that was the old Sewart Air Force base that closed down in 1970. The area that I worked in was the old commissary building. A newer building adjoined the old commissary building. Cumberland-Swan was quite possibly the most dangerous place that I ever worked in. It was an accident waiting to happen and there were many. I went to work there in March of 1983 and left in October of 1987. God must have been watching over me. Not long after I started working there I came into work one morning and the saccharine blending room was completely destroyed. The first thing that I noticed was glass strewn through the hallways from the plate glass windows that had been blown out of the saccharine room. We had two ovens that were used to dry the saccharine so it could be ground into a powder that was then poured into the hopper of the saccharine presses. One of the ovens had blown up and the pieces were scattered all over the room and embedded in the concrete block walls along with shards of glass. The block wall that separated the room from the hallway was moved off it's foundation by about a foot by the force of the explosion. The room looked like a bomb had gone off. By the grace of God no one was killed or injured. I worked right next to those ovens everyday and if it had blown up while I was there I would have been killed. They would have been scraping me off of the walls. I am sure of that. A QA or quality assurance girl, along with one of our male compounders, had just walked out of the room when the oven blew up, saving their lives. Over the four years I worked there many people were severely injured. My compounding supervisor was working on a steam pipe when it blew up scalding his stomach. I was in the restroom when he walked in and started taking off his clothes. The skin was hanging from his stomach and he appeared to be going into shock when they took him to the hospital.
|An aspirin press|
|Swan Brand Aspirin|
Swan was growing rapidly and ever changing during this time. Compounding moved upstairs into the newer building. About this time we got a new supervisor who was a redneck and it was obvious that he didn't care for me. I did everything that I was asked to do but nothing I did seemed to please him. One day I was told to go to Michael Simon's office. He was over our Human Resources Department and a very nice guy. I was told that I was being written up for having a bad attitude. Michael was high on me when I was hired but I believe that he was caught in the middle on this one. I asked my redneck supervisor to tell me what I had done wrong and all he could come up with was I had a bad attitude. Whenever someones criticizes me I try to internalize it and learn from it if it is constructive criticism. I try not to become bitter but better. However, if the criticism is not warranted I ignore it and move on. In this case however it was totally unjustified but instead of reacting negatively my reaction was positive. At that time I worked in the aspirin blending room. A compounder was lucky if they were able to get a blend and a half done during a eight hour shift and it was considered a very good day if you could complete two full blends. I was determined to break this record. After a few weeks I averaged anywhere from two and a half to three blends a shift. Even my boss that wrote me up commended me for the work I was doing. One day Michael Simon called me to his office and offered me a production supervisors job. He told me that he was impressed by the way I handled myself during and after my write-up. How I was composed and offered a level headed defense. Many people would have slow walked or developed an even worse attitude after a write-up but I did the opposite and just worked even harder. This is my way of evening the score with people when I am falsely accused of something. I just go out and prove them wrong. However, I never expected to be offered a supervisor's job in all of this. At Colonial I never wanted to be a supervisor because I was making almost as much money as they were. Supervisors were on salary and by the time that you figured in their overtime, extra responsibilities, and headaches we were probably making more than they were. Their only advantage was that they were paid whenever they had to be off for sickness or personal business. At Cumberland-Swan, taking a supervisors job was a step up over the pay I was getting as a compounder. My starting pay was 20,000 a year. Not too bad for 1984. I was one of three production supervisors. About 80% of the workers under our supervision were women. They were mostly line operators. Men were primarily tow motor operators and utility workers. In the latter case they held these jobs because of the physical strength needed to keep the hoppers full of plastic caps, bottles, and the raw materials needed to keep the lines running. Especially in the Epsom Salts room where the salt was in bags weighing 100 pounds, stacked on pallets. I tried to keep men rotated on a daily basis because it was hot and heavy work. They first had to take a heavy metal bar and break up the salt before dumping it in the hoppers. I can only remember two women who were utility workers when I became a supervisor. Both ladies were mannish looking and were capable of doing the utility job. When I was at Colonial we only had one older lady and she worked for a little while until she retired in the bun room. After she retired there were no women working there. In the mid to late seventies affirmative action laws regarding women were being enforced and they were being hired. At first the women were getting the easiest jobs which I felt was unfair. There were exceptions however. We had one young girl who had a very physical job in production and she worked that job even after she was pregnant and right up until she delivered. Never complained about anything. She was an attractive and petite woman but I had tremendous respect for her toughness. Just after I became a supervisor the same thing happened at Cumberland-Swan. The company was forced into hiring women for all positions. Tow motor, utility and compounding jobs were opened up to women. I would get in trouble with my fellow supervisors, one of which was a man and the other a woman. For starters I don't think they liked me very much. I believe that if women are hired to do a job traditionally set aside for men they must be able to adequately perform that job. Otherwise they do not belong in that job description. For example when I supervised the salt line. I rotated women in and out of there just like the men. Many of them would run to the other supervisors and complain. They would take them out of the rotation causing the men to have to work the salt line twice as much. This wasn't fair to them.
In May of 1983 a spot opened up and I was finally allowed to rejoin my Air National Guard unit. Things were finally falling into place but I was still not able to buy a car. Since my transmission went out in Florida I was not able to trade my car because I owed so much on it. I was forced to have it repaired. Before I was finally able to trade it in 1987 I replaced three rebuilt transmissions, an engine and several starters. I was either walking, running, or hitching rides to work more than I was driving. My first Guard drill was spent preparing for a two week camp in Rhein Main Germany near Frankfort. We were leaving toward the end of the month. Rhein Main was having a huge air show. Because of terrorism across Europe in the 1970's and 80's the base was basically closed to the German public. Other than the locals who normally worked on the base. or delivered to the base. There had been acts of terror across Europe and a bomb had been found on a railroad track near the perimeter fence recently. The Baader Meinhoff Gang, or Red Army faction, was an ultra left wing German terrorist group. The Red Army Faction was responsible for a series of assassinations, kidnappings, bombings, bank robberies, and shoot-outs with police over three decades. It was my understanding that this air show was going to be the first one to be held there in years. Huge crowds of Germans were expected on base. I heard numbers as high as 300,000 people could be there. For that reason Military policeman from both the Air Force and Army were being sent to work the air show from all over Europe and America. Our commander, who was a great guy otherwise, was a former finance officer that had once been stationed at Erhac Turkey after I was there. In my opinion he was unsuited to be a Security Police commander. We were just starting ABGD or Air Base Ground Defense training. An army Captain, and Vietnam veteran named James Tuggle was attached to our unit in order to train us in infantry and fire team tactics. Because our C-130 was going to be packed to the gills, we were not allowed to take our M-16's and ammo. Major Albertson assured us that there would be enough weapons to go around once we got there. I was uncomfortable about going into a possible hostile environment without our weapons. Other than very short trips around Savannah's Travis Field during a medical evacuation exercise in 1979 I had not been on an airplane for any length of time since 1971. I was very nervous about flying on a C-130 all the way to Germany and back. One reason we couldn't take our weapons was that a Minnesota Air National Guard plane loaded with nurses and medical personnel, along with all of their equipment, was picking us up on their way to Germany. We were only allowed to carry our personal bags and the uniforms we were wearing. We were crammed in like sardines. Since we had a mix of male and female on board our toilet had curtain around it. Fortunately I never had to poop on one of these flights but I could not avoid having to pee. It was embarrassing having to step over a long line of people on my way to the toilet. Especially people I didn't know. After a four hour flight we landed at Bangor A.F.B. Maine. Although it was the end of May there was still some snow on the ground. The next morning we took off for the Azores, which was another six hour flight. It is an experience landing in the Azores. They are a group of islands in the Atlantic near the coast of Africa that belong to Portugal. The U.S. has an airbase there called Lajes Field. It is used as a stopover and refueling station for aircraft on the way to Europe and the Middle East. The cross winds make for a rough landing and by the time we finally touched down I was sweating bullets. You could see the ocean on both ends of the runway. It was a beautiful and mountainous island that was formed by volcanic activity. We spent the night there and early the next morning took off on another six hour flight to Rhein Main A.F.B in Frankfort Germany. Rhein Main was on one side of the air field and the Frankfort International airport terminal was on the other. This was probably the busiest airport that I ever worked around. Twenty-four hours a day there was a constant stream of every conceivable type of aircraft landing and taking off. As soon as one landed another was taking off.
|Lajes Field in the Azores from the air|
We arrived on a weekend and the air show was to be the following Saturday. Until then we were on a daily training regimen and briefings. We were briefed on terrorism and what we should be looking for. Bombs were the greatest threat, especially car bombs. A car bomb exploded at Ramstein A.F.B. Germany near Munich on September 1, 1981, injuring 20 people. Two years after we left Germany on Aug. 8, 1985, a terrorist car bomb exploded outside the headquarters building at Rhein Main, killing Airman First Class Frank Scarton and Becky Bristol, a dependent. Almost four months later on November 25th, a car bomb exploded at a U.S. Military Post Exchange (PX) in Frankfort, injuring 36, including 18 U.S. military personnel and 15 U.S. civilians. The bomb was contained in a silver BMW. A friend of mine, who was an Army M.P. at the time, was supposed to be working where the bomb went off, but by the grace of God was off that day. A bomb had been found just outside the perimeter fencing on a railroad track feeder line that brought supplies into the base just a few weeks before we arrived. The threat of a bomb was real and we paid close attention at these briefings. We were even warned about a device called a wrist rocket. It was a sling shot worn on the wrist by terrorists and they fired steel ball bearings at their victims. Base authorities were also expecting riots and demonstrations led by the Green Party. They were upset over the planned construction of a new runway on the base. One day was devoted to riot control training. We were assured however that the German Polizei would take care of any riot or demonstration that occurred on base rather quickly. They were very good at it. Another day was devoted to Air Base Ground Defense Training. We were issued M-16's and we attached a small box to the front of the barrel that directed a laser toward the person you were shooting at. Blanks were used to add realism to the training and the laser was synchronized to fire every time we pulled the trigger. Everyone was wearing sensors on their helmets and torsos that would beep if the laser made contact with a sensor. If there was an intermittent beep it meant that there was a near miss or you were wounded. A solid beep meant that you were dead. If you were beeping you were out of the fight until a judge or someone with a key came around and turned you off. Then you were alive again and allowed to get back in the fight. It was a sophisticated and expensive form of laser tag used by the U.S. military. The official name for it was Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System or MILES gear. At Rhein Main we trained in a wooded area on base and divided up into fire teams. Captain Tuggle put a key in a steel ammo box and placed it in the middle of a clearing. Whichever fire team was able to get to the key first was the winner. As I was running and hiding out in the woods I noticed large holes everywhere. Some of the holes were huge. It suddenly dawned on me that these holes were bomb craters from World War II. The large holes were from 1,000 pound bombs and the smaller ones were from 500 pound bombs. The area looked like the surface of the moon with vegetation. Rhein Main was a German A.F.B. that was heavily bombed by allied bombers during the war. I was running through the woods when one of my fire team members jumped out from behind a bush. Thinking he was an enemy I fell hard on the ground and busted my lip on the barrel of my M-16 trying to avoid being shot. After training I had to go by the dispensary and get a couple of stitches in my mouth.
|Aerial view of Rhein Main bombing of August 1985|
|The bombing at Rhein Main in August 1985|
The rest of the week was devoted to training until the day of the air show. We were up around 0300 because we had to have our gear ready, eat early chow and be at the assembly point at 0500 if I remember right. I know it was very early and we were up before dawn. There were at least 500 Air Force Security Policemen and Army MP's ready and present for duty that morning. My earlier fears about not taking our weapons were realized. The base only had enough weapons to go around for their own men. They had a handful of M-16's left over. Only our officers and most senior N.C.O.'s were armed. The rest of us were virtually defenseless in a potentially hostile environment. We were made to line up in a long line. At intervals there were bomb dogs along with their handlers ready to sniff trash cans or anything that might contain a bomb. When the signal was given we slowly walked through the areas on the base and flight line that would be open to the public looking for anything suspicious. When the higher ups were satisfied that the area was secure the base was opened to the public. I was posted to watch the crowd line near the static display aircraft for the air show. All through the early morning the crowd was growing larger and larger. I was watching for anything unusual when suddenly I saw leaflets being thrown into the air. Several white vans appeared and just like that the German Polizei, wearing white riot helmets and carrying long batons, that looked like baseball bats, jumped from the vans and very quickly ended the Green Party demonstration. They arrested the protesters and whisked them away in the vans. It was over in the blink of an eye. The rest of the day was uneventful. There were no bombs or further demonstrations. That is until a Canadian demonstration team, consisting of five F-104 fighters, taxied out for take-off. I had my camera in my pocket. All day I had been snapping pictures of the crowds and of our people. As the fighters were waiting for clearance to take off I snapped a quick picture. This demonstration team reminded me of the Thunderbird's without the fancy paint job. After taking off four of the fighters remained in formation while one flew off on it's own. I took a picture of a fly by of the four fighters. Suddenly I noticed the solo pilot fly right over me at a low altitude and veer off to the right. It looked like smoke was trailing from the cockpit and at that point I lost sight of him. I was still watching the crowd line and two pilots who were standing near their aircraft in a conversation. Suddenly they were looking up at something to my right. They turned and ran out beyond the tails of their aircraft as if they were trying to get a better look at something. It was then that I saw what they were looking at. The aircraft that had just flown over my head was now in a flat spin falling toward the ground. Like the pilots I ran to left to get a better look just in time to see a fireball erupt from the ground off in the distance. For a moment I was stunned until the reality sank in that I had just witnessed a plane crash. At that moment I remembered my camera and took a quick picture of the mushroom cloud of black smoke and of the fire engines as they began responding to the crash. The fire engines had been positioned with their water cannon pointed toward the crowds in case there was any disturbance. Ironically, we had prepared all week for bombs, demonstrations and riots. We were not prepared for a plane crash. Luckily for us it occurred in a parking lot and on the autobahn and didn't crash into the crowds on base. Suddenly the crowd began running toward us in a panic. We were afraid of being overrun by the crowd for a few moments. Slowly but surely we were able to get everyone back beyond the rope line again. The pilot, Capt. A.J. Stephenson ejected just in time and was safe. The cause of the crash was an afterburner-flameout during the demonstration. The crash killed 5 people in a car on the autobahn. There was a pastor, his wife, mother-in-law and two children in the car. The plane also destroyed 50 cars in a parking lot and critically burned several people. The takeoff had been normal and the planes performed a four-ship diamond and one solo. In the diamond formation they did loops and rolls, and in between each of the diamond passes the solo would make a pass doing various maneuvers. They were well into the show, several passes by both diamond and solo, when after a diamond pass the solo suffered the afterburner flame-out and crashed. At the moment of the crash I didn't know any of this. I figured that I had watched the pilot die because I never saw him eject. However in a home movie of the crash you can see the pilot eject just before the plane hit the ground. Not until the next day, when I read the Stars and Stripes newspaper did I find out what had happened on the ground and how many people had died.
|A Green Party protest leaflet that I picked up|
We finally got a few days to see Germany before we left for home. Germany is a beautiful country and the terrain reminded me a lot of Tennessee. There are forests and hills everywhere and the towns and cities are beautiful. We had managed to go into Frankfort a few times before the air show and on the 21st I visited Mainz. It is a Medieval city where American forces crossed the Rhine in WW2. There was a really neat flea market there by the river where I managed to find a Nazi Labor Day Medal and a WW1 medal. It was also German wine country. After the air show we spent a whole day on a Rhine River tour where we floated down the river on a tour boat viewing German castles and towns along the river. The Rhine is the busiest waterway that I have ever been on in my life. It was like riding down a busy highway except the highway is water and the cars are boats. We ate in an old castle that was a restaurant and sampled wine in a wine cellar. Of course I gave my wine to my buddies because I hate the taste of alcohol. Finally we left for home on an Alaska Air National Guard C-130. It was another six hours to the Azores where we refueled and left out early the next morning after another overnight stay there. That day we endured a torturous twelve hour flight to Dover Delaware packed in like sardines. I had spent as long as nine hours on a plane before but this was the longest I have ever spent on an airplane for one flight. At Dover we were only there long enough to walk around in the terminal and stretch our legs before hopping back on for another four hour flight to Nashville. The drama of this trip was not over however. We learned that a C-5A cargo plane was inbound with an in-flight emergency. The plane could not get all of it's landing gear down and there was talk of foaming the runway for a belly landing. Our pilot wanted us to board the plane as quickly as we could so we could be airborne before the runway was closed down. Rushing to get into our seats and after buckling up the engines were roaring as we taxied toward the runway. While we were waiting to make that final turn on to the runway the engines were suddenly shut down and the load master was running through the plane screaming "get out, get out, get out". I didn't have time to be scared. All I could see in my mind was that big C-5 landing right on top of us. We hit the ground running toward the terminal. Luckily the props had stopped spinning as some of us ran right through them. One of our ladies had an injured ankle and I could see two guys grab hold of her arms on either side, half carrying and half dragging her toward the terminal. After a wait there we learned that the C-5 had landed safely. The crew was able to get the landing gear down. After another four hours in the air we finally landed in Nashville later that night.
|The red light district in Frankfort|
|Patton pissing in the Rhine|
|Americans under fire as they crossed the Rhine River|
|Me on the tour boat|
|Me at a stop on the Rhine River tour|