Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Day Sixty Five. Influence: Joe Fives

Joe Fives was my first friend.

Oh, I knew people in high school (1954-57), the Civil Air Patrol (1954-57), and Air Force basic training (summer 1957), but just as teachers—all but one—failed to reach me, contemporaries viewed little in me worth reaching for.

It was me. Apart from writing and airplanes, I had few interests and may have been seen as dour.

Joe and I met in September 1957, around my 18th birthday, at the old, pre-war barracks at the Army Language School at the Presidio of Monterey, California. We were in Class K-9-10, the middle number referring to the nine-month duration of standard Air Force Korean classes (the Army's were a year). They taught 33 languages at Monterey including Russian but more military members took Korean than any other.

No one told us why were studying a language.

Cold War

We got an idea the following year (September 2, 1968) when four Soviet MiG-17s shot down an RC-130 Hercules reconnaissance aircraft (serial 56-0528, the first C-130 ever lost to any cause) over Armenia killing 17 of our brothers, some Monterey alumni.

Within weeks, we moved to the new (then) Company D Barracks that boasted a fancy indoor orderly room replete with a building-wide P.A. microphone console to announce foot locker inspections, reville and such. We were on an Army post, after all, and how we envied airmen who studied at Yale University where future friend Bill Randol went. Joe had I had begun hanging around in scenic Monterey. Joe had a disdain for authority so one evening he slipped behind the microphone and proclaimed to everyone in the building: "FUCK THE ARMY!" Our tough-as-nails first sergeant, a World War II veteran, spent days trying to figure out who could have done just such a deed.

We pinned on our second stripes, making us Airmen Second Class (E-3). The Army thought we were corporals, which was actually a rank higher, so life improved. We were every bit as irreverent as the citizen-soldiers who'd served our great nation always until then. I took the flak when they issued name tags with the surname and first letter of the language being studied. I  must have been the only soldier or airman at the Presidio who had never before encountered any variation of the word "DORR-K."

As Johnny Mathis kept telling us on the music box at Hermann's coffee shop on Alvarado Street, we were to graduate on the "twelfth of August 1958." No one had ever told us why we were studying a language and we lost one student, Anthony Provitola, during the background investigations going on back home. Tony, who theorized that the world consisted of "the nothing people and the something people" had apparently participated in some unacceptable youthful prank.

Rarely seen Captain Charles Klinestiver, in charge of the small Air Force Presidio detachment, always began audiences with, "I have good news for some and bad news for others."

Class K-9-10 was being broken up. Half of us, including me, slated for Ashiya Air Base, Japan, without previously having been informed, would remain in Monterey perhaps graduating "the twelfth of never" since Ashiya was being shuttered. The other half were off to the Rock, also K-53, the island of Paengnyong-do. Members of Class K-9-11, including Larry Harry and Dick Ristaino also went to the Rock, alias P-Y-do, also, where officers and sergeants made no attempt to prevent them from designing their own uniforms with help from houseboys in the tents and Quonset buildings. These were maybe the least military-looking upstarts ever serve among the citizen-soldiers who made so much of our history before we made the tragic error of switching to the warrior ethos.

The Rock

The Rock was miles north of the Demilitarized Zone in the Korean east coast, facing North Korea's MiG-15 and MiG-17 equipped 3rd Air Division. By the time I arrived at Osan Air Base on February 2, 1959, aboard C-124C Globemaster II (serial 54-138)—the song "Mary Ann" on its loudspeaker; two takeoffs from Tachikawa needed to achieve one landing at Osan—Joe, Larry and Dick had been on the front lines and I was a newbie.

Osan was mostly mud, aluminum and elements. Men had fought here. Later in life, I knew Lewis Lee Millet who led history's last bayonet charge up Hill 180 and received the Medal of Honor.  In my era, that was where base local hires, mostly women, lived. Our 6929th Radio Squadron had an orderly room at surface elevation—where our first sergeant lacked the clearances to know our job—and trailers, soon replaced by antenna-studded buildings atop Hill 170, below which F-100 Super Sabres with Mark 7 tactical nuclear bombs resided.

I was read into my clearances atop Hill 170 and learned that our "take" from North Korea was codeword "TOP SECRET EIDER," soon changed to "DAUNT," and "SECRET FROTH," later "SPOKE." The terms became public decades later. We did the monitoring (alongside Morse operators) at Hill 170 and in the four C-47 Skytrain "BLUE SKY/ROSE BOWL" reconnaissance aircraft. We worked for the National Security Agency, not well known and never permitted to work in the United States. I lived with about twenty others in an open bay T-130 Butler building but most in the squadron were in larger, also open-bay Quonsets.

A 19, I lost my virginity for two dollars one fine summer evening while Joe Fives sat out on the porch, slapping insects and playing the harmonica.

The village outside Osan was the wild west. Out there, you could behave badly or you find a girl friend and live together. Joe Fives met Penny. Penny is a small woman, with inner strength that compensates for petiteness. She is pretty, never more than when tossing a wisecrack back at Joe. I visited their home often. at Osan and in California for fifty-six years to follow (except when Joe later volunteered as a civilian in Vietnam). With her own brand of insouciance, cheekiness and the quickest laugh I've even seen and, for fifty-six years, Penny was the only person who could tell Joe Fives what to do. She remains with us today.

We remained friends after Korea because we shared experiences all the rest of Joe's life. My fiction award from the Ralston Institute emanates from a nonexistent academic facility named for Joe and Penny's street in Redondo Beach and no one has ever questioned it. No family ever created a better home. Joe and Penny have two children, Joseph R. Fives born in 1961 and Joanne Shepherd born in 1962. Joseph R. was later a radar interceptor operator on a Top Gun-style, carrier-based F-14 Tomcat fighter.

Getting hitched

Ah, but first they had to marry. The Air Force spent millions to encourage socializing but wanted no one in our career field to wed a foreigner — a situation I faced with the State Department a decade later. They removed Joe's clearances, stripped one stripe and shunted him to another squadron. He had time to study karate where one of his fellow martial art students was Airman Second Class Chuck Norris. I nodded at Chuck Norris once or twice. With difficulty, Joe and Penny were married May 16, 1960.

Over decades, our families visited, usually from opposite coasts. I made Joe a hero in a men's adventure magazine story. He and Penny attended the weddings of our two sons, Bob and Jerry.

In a not unpleasant way, Joe disliked government and authority and battled both. He was a computer genius when we were doing word searches on Dogpile.

I talked to Joe on the phone October 9, 2005. Having watched me suck up Marlboro Reds for forty-four years — and having never smoked — Joe was having a coughing spell and had cancer that had reached his lungs. He died January 23, 2006.

This is Day Sixty Five of my experience with a fatal brain tumor, I think of the many friends I acquired when I became more mature — but especially of the six men who remained constantly closest throughout of their lives (one is still alive). They are part of me. Color quartet during a 1990s reunion is, left to right, Robert F. Dorr, Joseph H. Fives, William T. Randol and Pierre A Messerli. The T-shirts refer to the 6929th Radio Squadron in Korea. A Swiss immigrant at the time and not then a citizen, Pierre was drafted into the Army in Alaska in the 1950s. We promoted Pierre, sort of.

Other color photo: our house, circa 2002, left to right: Joseph H. Fives, Robert F. Dorr, Lucy T. Dog (1992-2006) and Young Soon Dorr.

The six:

I've had many friends. These are the six who were friends throughout life, in the order in which we met.

Fives, Joseph H. -  (June 19, 1939-January 23, 2006).
Harry, Larry Edward Air Force Colonel - (October 18, 1938-February 4. 2002)
Ristaino, Richard E -  (June 22, 1937-October 1, 2008)
Randol, William T - (May 22, 1939-March 9, 2008)
Messerli, Pierre - (April 21, 1934-
Curtis, Jerome B. - (May 1, 1931-November 21, 1976)


  1. Bob, I am so sorry to hear about your brain tumor. My brother just told me yesterday. Thank you for keeping the memories of my dad alive. You have been a wonderful "Best friend" to my dad while he was alive and afterwards. You are a great friend to the family as well. loved reading your blog about how you and my dad met and how he met my mom. Thank you!