RAF Brize Norton Dan Mertens Remembers

USAF Dan Mertens recalls


Never Volunteer

The older veterans warned us repeatedly:  "Never volunteer for anything". But I did take a chance on volunteering for duty in England and have never regretted the four years spent at RAF Brize Norton, near Carterton, Oxfordshire. When I got to the area in the Spring of 1955,  I was struck by the sheer fairytale beauty of the place, the rolling, manicured green hills, the priceless quaintness of the villages, and the Englishness of the people which more than measured up to what one had seen in Hollywood movies



Spent the first few nights in transit quarters;  Bare mattresses, no blankets or pillows. Finally, came assignment to the 3920th Supply Squadron, a permanent bunk, and a duty assignment in the Automotive Service Unit of Base Supply. Luck was with me as the supervisor turned out to be not only a good one but the best supervisor I would ever have in over 40 years of military and civil service. He got me promoted fairly quickly to E-4 which was difficult to make in those days of promotion freezes in so-called "soft corps" career fields. Names that come to mind:  Major Merwin G. Velders; Captain Fisher; M/Sgt Mooring; T/Sgt Cleotis Betzner;  T/Sgt Reasons;  T/Sgt Ensor; SSgt "Lash" Larue; SSgt Ron Holland; SSgt Greco;  Rich Vinglas; Lawhead; Hans Walther;  "Robby" Robinson.  There was a tough guy in the outfit from Youngstown, Ohio who was a regular brawler. I saw him score many KO's. Unfortunately, he finally KO'd the wrong one, an NCO, and so was "sent up" as the English say.



.   Rode into one of the villages (possibly Lechlade) to a dance with four other guys. I was young, skinny, green, inexperienced and the others were big, beefy roughnecks. Later in the evening, two of them were making some provocative remarks to a rather mild-mannered looking fellow who was with his English girlfriend. I stepped into the bar to get a drink and when I got back my two pals were on the floor, one out cold and the other with a wicked-looking gash in his eyebrow. The mild-mannered guy was sitting there smiling away and talking to his girl as though nothing much had happened. Moral of this story: Never underestimate anybody!  After the dance we were standing outside and a couple of them were yelling and raising hell. A bobby came by on a bicycle and hollered louder than they were to Shut up!!  They did. That was the last time I went to town with a bunch of roughnecks. 



Having no education beyond grade school and the GED I decided to get my smarts jacked-up at the Base Education Center. Got enrolled in English classes with Miss Carol Coates, a Canadian lady, a published poet and a real anglophile. Over the next two years she helped me with grammar, spelling, etc., and took me to plays in Oxford. This sparked a life-long interest in British literature and most other things British.



The Air Base Group decided to consolidate the three branches of supply in order to better support  a SAC B-47 mission about to descend on us. So we hammered and sawed for the next several weeks to build a bigger office. After the move, we had a long, long row of cardex files manned by a small army of posting clerks.  This would be about one cubic foot of computer in today's world.  My job was typing requisitions  to RAF Burtonwood, the main depot. The forms were in 8 or 10 copies with the carbon already built in. There was even a copy for reproducing more copies! The supervisor was Mrs French, a pleasant, cheerful English lady. So my luck in supervisors was still holding.



One-story buildings about 100 feet long with little oil stoves at each end. Actually quite cozy although we had to walk down the street to the latrine.  The POL (Refueling) troops were bunked at one end of my building. Most Saturday nights they'd get roaring drunk and beat up on each other. But come Monday morning they'd be the best of friends again. Most of them were slick-sleeves. They had MSgt Farmer, one very tough hombre,  to ride herd on them.  



Started taking the bus to Cheltenham for the Town Hall dances on Wednesdays & Saturdays. The bus conductor was a little fellow named Eddie and full of English wit which we didn't really understand. He might have been making fun of us, we just weren't sure. But those dances were great fun and always had plenty of attractive girls. There were gangs of "Teddy Boys" but the G.I.'s seemed to do more fighting among themselves than anything else.  We also liked the nightclub over the Royal Well bus station tea shop. It was  rougher than the Town Hall but you could find a somewhat wilder good time. 



October, 1956.  The Suez Crisis.   I was too ashamed to go to town for over a month.  I couldn't understand why the USA was denouncing its British & French allies for invading Egypt when Nasser seized the canal.  It's 48 years later and I still don't understand



Met a girl from Gloucester at the Town Hall and fell head over heels. We went steady over the next 18 months and then married. We lived at "The Bungalow" in Carterton. We had a daughter at Churchill Hospital in Oxford.  She and her friend would take their babies out each day in "prams" usually to the Green Grocers in Carterton.  That was life for the rest of my time at RAF Brize Norton.     


After RAF Brize Norton I endured eight solid years of SAC at Barksdale AFB, Louisiana. But was then fortunate to land another assignment to the UK at RAF West/South Ruislip for four more years of wonderful time in England. From there it was assignments in Kansas and Korea and finally retirement at Travis AFB, California. Would like to hear from anyone who wants to exchange notes on USAF/UK bases or anywhere or anything else for that matter! e-mail me at demertens2012@gmail.com.(click on address to send email}
best wishes to all!