This Article is About
military regalia
dark suits
impending doom
scare tactics
classmates
target
heart and mind
Scarelementary School
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Here’s a “picture” from a child’s perspective, of life in the Deep South in the late 1950’s. As a fourth-grader at Oak Park Elementary School, I was transfused with a fear that to this very day, has been the most frightful experience of my life. Chennault Air Force Base, in Lake Charles, Louisiana, along with “government scare tactics”, was largely responsible for filling this little boy’s (along with many other boy’s and girl’s) heart and mind with the most chilling and morbid pictures of just how my life was to come to a fiery, nuclear end.

All of a sudden, the men in the “dark suits”, and the military “regalia”, deemed it critically necessary to inform us of impending doom originating from the South…around Cuba way….We were told that Chennault would be the number one target of Russian Nuclear Missiles that would be launched from Cuba. It was never a matter of “if”, but rather “when” this world-ending strike would take place. Along with the news of our certain demise, there were instituted new rules and regulations to deal with “The Event.”

It became mandatory that all students wear “dog tags” to school. If you arrived at class without yours, you were sent immediately home to fetch them up. The tags contained such info as name, address, date of birth, and religious preference. To address this, there was a “P” for Protestant or a “C for Catholic. As a joke, we would refer to one another as a Poodle or a Collie, based upon your religious moniker. We had no Jewish classmates, so there was no dog to go with J. The teachers were very adept at explaining that these dog tags could withstand temperatures of 1,000 degrees, so that our remains could be identified, if there were any people left after the “big boom”.

Day after day, the streets were filled with grim-faced Air Force personnel; riding from who knows where to who knows where on their grey colored Vespa Durkopp Diana motor-scooters. We always wondered what they were thinking, and what sinister activities could they be up to. My Uncle Don was one of the “air-dales”, and he was always pale and silent. These SOLDIERS had their own housing project of little “cracker-boxes” on the south side of town. Most are still standing today, and can be had for a “song and a dance”. They look so drab and foreboding now….the “haunts of the doom-Sayers and ne’re-do-wells.”

Jets on maneuvers would fly very low over our town, day and night. Night-time was the most frightening….right over the rooftops, they would scream and roar, frequently followed by ground-shaking sonic booms…were they “THEIR’S OR OURS?” Were their missiles launched? Daytime bomb drills were the rule during the week. An ear-piercing siren would signify the drill…or was it a drill? We were never sure; and what you did was crawl under your desk and cover your head and eyes with your arms. Wow, what a great defense against nuclear weapons! Presently, the siren would sound again, signifying “all clear”. Okay class, back to work! Why did we continue to pursue our future in education, when we knew that we had no future at all?

Other strange occurrences happened on a regular basis. One bright, sun-shiny morning, we were playing at recess when the sky became very dark, and the air smelled metallic. As we looked skyward, we beheld millions of streamers of aluminum foil falling from the darkened sky. They fell to the ground and completely covered our school ground. We were told later that the Air Force was working on ways to jam enemy radar. And speaking of RADAR, there was an installation out on Highway 14 south of town. One of the radar scopes continually moved up and down and made a terrible clicking sound, while the other spun madly in a never-ending circle, making a sound like the wailing of a banshee. They were made of metal, but we figured they were capable of thought.

Our next-door neighbor was an “Air-Dale”. He was very quiet and reclusive after his wife and child left him during mysterious circumstances. Were they told to go? Made to leave by the Military? We felt badly for him, because back in those days we knew nothing of broken families and divorce. The neighborhood snoop went searching for him one day in July, and entered his home through a window. Inside, he found the airman….he had piled newspapers around the lit space heaters in the living area….he had also slit his wrists and throat. Blood was found on the telephone receiver as though he had tried to call for help….The grey air force ambulance came quietly to retrieve his remains, as the entire neighborhood stood silently watching and wondering.

Then one bright and sun-shiny day, the ominous fog of fear lifted. The Air Force Base closed in 1960, and all of the Military Personnel were just GONE. All of a sudden, the horrible Russians and their Nuclear Arsenal were no longer of any concern to us. All that was left behind was an empty military air force base, and an empty housing project. I don’t know how they knew when we had become “safe”, but they knew. I wonder if there were “Black Suits” in Russia that frightened the life out of the Children, with horrible tales of nuclear bombs coming up from the south. Be at peace, all o’ GOD’S Chilluns……..

And now a word from our sponsor, SALEM CIGARETTES; “Take a Puff, its springtime”…luckily they’re using the new “high-verocity” paper, which can actually draw in ambient air to cool the smoke, so it’s never too hot….only pure tobacco taste and satisfaction.

Oyea Kendali, Author


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