Two for One
By Andy Lemon
Airman 2nd/C Douglas Finkenbiener was a practical sort. He had auditioned and was accepted in the US Air Force as a saxophone player. Having been assigned to the 522nd USAF Field Band and stationed at Ramey AFB on the Northwest corner of the island of Puerto Rico was a plus and he was hell bent on using it to his personal advantage.
Between playing third alto in the jazz band and daily Retreat formations, he managed to enroll in Spanish classes being offered on base by the Florida State University Extension program.
In the 1950’s, even though the US was definitely fighting a war of what turned out to be attrition in Korea, Walter Winchell, the New York Columnist, had on air called Ramey AFB the Country Club of the Air Force. It was rumored that when flight crews went down to the flight line to log in for their monthly flight requirement they took their golf clubs along and instead of shooting touch and go landings in the B 36s for the day, they went over to the golf course to shoot a round and improve their handicap or knock over a couple of buckets of balls on the driving range.
Unfortunately, when the Pentagon heard about the rumor they transferred the Wing Commander, who shall for the purpose of this item remain anonymous, to Mountain Home Air Force Base in Central Idaho. He was in due time replaced by a different sort of Base Commander who worked diligently to change things. It wasn’t very long before Ramey AFB was euphemistically called the “Alcatraz of the Air Force”.
Lest you think that the troops stationed there were beaten and locked up regularly, life wasn’t really all that bad. After all, rums of all kinds and qualities; Cuban, Cruzan and Puerto Rican were still easily obtained at the base liquor store for 75 cents a fifth. And the Airmen’s, NCO and of course, the Officer’s Club echoed into the tropical night air with the ruckus and melodious sounds of musical entertainment with the help of Airmen Finkenbiener and his compatriots in the 522nd USAF Band.
Douglas Finkenbiener was from a small town in the state of Iowa. Woodbine, Iowa, as I recall. Thanks to his dad who was a meat cutter for the Safeway store, he had a subscription to his home town newspaper, the Woodbine Twiner. You just can’t make up stuff like that. His weekly reporting of the news from Woodbine was enjoyed by some and avoided by others in the barracks which was home away from home for the single band members.
Select items from the society page included;
“The Wednesday afternoon Dorcas Society of the 2nd Free Methodist Church on Hemlock Avenue was hosted by Mrs. Betsy Hays-Stacker. Mrs. Esther Shallowbottom poured.”
One obituary of note that Douglas shared was;
“Herman Phudpucker, retired banker went to cash in, cash out and liquidate his time on earth on December 31st. Having outlived all who might have benefited from his leaving, he closed all accounts effective that date. He was known by many, joked about by few and loved by even fewer and he lived a life that could have made a lot of people’s lives less stressful or more happy. He didn’t. What was left of him went up in smoke at the Burns-Ashwood-Faschter Crematorium in Southwest Woodbine.”
After one of these informative and entertaining reading sessions, Douglas announced his decision to take advantage of his medical benefits in the Air Force. Medical attention and care and educational opportunities were both reasons he had decided to enlist and serve his country in the first place. With a deviated septum and a perceived need to put a strangle hold on his vas deferens, he decide to save time and schedule both procedures at the same time so he would be able to watch the monitor and not have to make two separate trips to the operating room.
Mission accomplished and back to being a saxophonist with occasional combat support assignments in the line of duty. Airman Finkenbiener eventually completed his time with honor and not too much distinction.