Personal Histories

Bob Wills History

Fortuna to Adak

I left Yeager Creek during the Korean War, in 1951, when the Air Force recalled me to active duty. It was an easier task than my first enlistment. I went to Hamilton Air Force Base, at San Rafael, for some orientation and paper work. I was given two weeks to put the business in order. During that fool around time, I made a hasty trip to Illinois. (The gasoline bill was approximately $37.00) One station was selling all you want for eighteen cents a gallon. When I arrived back in Fortuna, I had orders to report to Travis Air Force Base, at Fairfield, California. Orders there assigned me to the Strategic Air Command's 31st Recon Squadron.

My first entry into the service was more difficult. On Sunday afternoon, June 16th, 1946, Robert Natt and I boarded a Greyhound Bus in Fortuna, in route to San Francisco. Robert was also a 1946 graduate of Fortuna High. He mostly excelled in track because he could cover a lot of ground in a hurry. He too strayed into the unknown of football when the program was resumed in 1945. Several years earlier, a player had died from injuries and Fortuna opted to discontinue the sport. Robert and I played the same position on offense and took turns getting beat up.

The road to San Francisco was almost seven hours of turns and curves covering approximately 269 miles. Almost every foot of it was two lanes until south of Santa Rosa. Riding a Greyhound wasn't easy, and for some people it was “Sick City.” It seemed impossible to keep the diesel smoke out the passenger compartment. And, there was always someone on board who couldn't wait to have another cigarette. Even though the smokers were confined to the rear, the diesel smoke and the tobacco smoke were not content until they merged.

It was a treat to arrive in the city. A Foster's Cafe, near the bus depot, served the most delicious pastries. They were an indulgence for country boys because nothing like that was available in Fortuna. What made them even better, was the treat was on the army.

Later in the day, we went to an induction center on Market Street where we did testing and physicals. Robert was ahead of me in the alphabetical line. That afternoon, he came by and related that he had been rejected because of his flat feet. I recalled that I had attempted to enlist in the Marines and Navy, but the recruiters ignored me when they discovered that I had flat feet. Their response was flat feet and steel decks are incompatible.

I hadn't been sworn in and could have left with him. However, after talking a few minutes, he took his leave. The last I saw of him was when he paused at the double doors exiting onto Market Street, and waved.

He returned to Fortuna and soon after that was killed in a woods accident.

Within a few months, I was certain I should have left with Robert. I was in the army, with flat feet, and physically doing as well as expected. But there was an irritant. I had enlisted with three options. I would be assigned to the Air Corps to study radio electronics with overseas duty in Panama. By the time the shysters finished with me, I was in the Air Corps, in the Air Weather Service, and on Adak – in the Aleutian Islands. The government reneged, even though I had a legal paper. The gist of it is when a GI is given orders to sign papers, he had better do it. Even after fifty some odd years, I still have a bad taste in my mouth when discussing the army.

Click the picture to seem more Adak Weather Station images!

Click the picture to see more Adak Weather Station images.
Don Johnson picture,
courtesy of Michael Gordon.

While on Adak, I was taught a few tricks of survival. I was a “First Three Grader” (Staff Sergeant). There were privileges a Noncommissioned Officer could invoke. I could legally purchase three fifths of adult beverages each month. It is amazing what a person can do with poison. I gave mine to people of lesser rank and received even more privileges. I presume it could be called bartering. In reminiscing it seems as if it might have been like a person doing big time. It had all the requisites; I was confined and had only to look forward to three hots and a cot. With the benefits of assets to swap, I was able to eat more and better. Free time could be spent at three theaters or a photo dark room. Ask about a service club and receive a lot of guffaws; so any one could purchase three point two beer by the case. We billeted in Quonset Huts and one end of the hut was sealed shut for beer storage.

The weather and winds in the Aleutians are like nowhere else in the world. Adak itself was the armpit of the world. A person could walk knee deep in snow, in a blizzard, and get sand in his eyes. On some days, directions to destinations were given as to what ropes to follow because those same winds obscured the entire exterior. A person could hold on to ropes and walk horizontally to mess halls, etc. Whereas I worked in a weather station, I was privy to observing wind gauges. It does receive attention when a wind gauge dial is marked to record winds to 120 and it pegs past 120. I recall an incident where two men were walking across the runway in a storm. Fortunately one was a big man because the smaller man had to hang on or be blown down the ice covered asphalt. I wasn't there. I didn't have to indulge in such antics.


NEXT: Home to Fortuna - Again




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From Wikipedia: Adak Island was chosen as the site of an airfield and flight operations began in September 1942. Attacks against the Japanese, including major Army ground assaults, were successful, and by the end of 1943 the Japanese had been defeated in the Aleutian Islands. Afterwards, the island was used for signals intelligence as Adak Island represented the closest US soil to Japanese military facilities in the Kurile Islands.
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