Running a USAF Newspaper in Germany, 1958-1960 — Part 1

I started out to write a book about the ’60s because none of the accounts I saw of the era seemed right. As I went along, I decided to document my background — which ended up taking up about half of the book. Ulp!

I’ve published the first 3 autobiographical chapters — click on “The ’60s,” above. However, I still have about 10,000 words of my story before getting up to 1958, in this order:

  • Summertime in the ’40s
  • High School in San Francisco, 1948-1952
  • Stanford, 1953-1957
  • Santa Cruz/Surfing 1954-1957
  • Three Months Through Europe on a Motorscooter, 1957

I’ve decided to skip ahead of these chapters for now, so we can get right into the ’60s. I’ll publish them sooner or later in some form — maybe in an eventual print edition of this book, or some kind of autobiography.

You’re in the Air Force Now

I was in the USAF ROTC at Stanford (to avoid the Korean war), and had signed up for a 3-year tour of duty upon graduation. I graduated from Stanford in 1957, and was scheduled to report to pilot training school in spring, 1958, at Marana Air Force base in Arizona.

However, after I’d graduated and when I returned from a motorscooter trip through Europe, I got a letter from the USAF saying they had changed the rules and I now would have to sign up for 5 years if I still wanted to be trained as a pilot — or take a 3-year non-flying tour.

No way was i going to commit to a 5-year military career. I wrote them and said that (in other words): you guys double-crossed me; for 4 years you said it’d be a 3-year commitment, now you’re changing it to 5. So, I want a non-flying tour and I’d like to be in information services (base newspaper, photography, press releases), and I’d like to be stationed in Europe.

Lo and behold, they gave me just what I asked for. (I figured some sergeant in the Pentagon saw my letter and decided, why not?).

When we got back from our motor scooter trip, I was told to report for active duty at Sembach Air Base, Germany, which was about 60 miles south of Frankfurt. My job was to run the base newspaper and manage the base photo lab.

My mom was upset when she saw this photo. She said I looked sad. She was right. Fish out of water, in more ways than one.

I reported for active duty in February, 1958 and lived in the Bachelor Officers’ Quarters for three months until Sarah came over. We first lived in the nearby small town of Enkenbach (and had Sunday afternoon coffee klatches that included rich creamy German cakes with our landlady, Frau Elner and family and neighbors) until we moved into an apartment on the base.

Trouble with the Military

The job and location were great, but I disliked the military. I hated wearing a uniform. I was a second lieutenant, but didn’t feel like an officer. I never did get the officer/enlisted man relationship right. I neither liked giving orders nor being ordered around. I didn’t feel superior because I was an officer. It was awkward.

My Own Newspaper

But I liked running the newspaper, and decided to have some fun. Soon after I took over the paper—The Sembach Jet Gazette—I converted it to a tabloid and started featuring photos that the base photographer shot in his spare time, with a full-page photo on page 1.

The photographer, Sgt. Jim Tyson, who was used to shooting photos of such exciting events as the Officers Wives’ Club meetings with a 4×5 Graflex camera, also had his own 35mm camera, and was happy when I told him to go out and shoot human-interest photos. He shot artistic black and white pictures and we converted a boring military publication into something quite different.

We did an April Fools’ issue that went over well. But then we did a parody of the Overseas Weekly, which was a National Enquirer-type semi-scandal sheet newspaper put out for the American military in Europe. We called our version The Overseen Locally, with the slogan “All the News That Fits, We Print.” We made fun of a lot of the base’s clubs and practices.

It didn’t go over with the brass. I was already in trouble with the base commander for refusing to pay for officers’ cocktail parties that I didn’t attend. An American journalist in Wiesbaden told me that he had heard rumors of a court-martial, the theory being that this was a subversive act, that the Russians could use it for propaganda. (Puhleeze!) It all blew over, but it didn’t endear me to the base commander.

2 Responses to Running a USAF Newspaper in Germany, 1958-1960 — Part 1

  1. gary blakeman says:

    Hello, my name is Gary Blakeman. I received an e-mail from Lloyd Christmas asking if I still had the shelving unit for sale which I have listed on Craigslist. Something seemed suspicious, so I Googled the name and your blog came up. If you see this, will you please reply to confirm whether the e-mail was a scam.

  2. Lloyd Kahn says:

    Gary, no relation to Lloyd Christmas…

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