"We used to buy the cartons of cigarettes for 90 cents," the young captain was saying, "and sell them to the Germans for $20. I used to fly whole cases over in my plane. God, were we making money then. Of course, that was after the Marshall Plan. The guys who were there before the Marshall Plan used to get $80 a carton. That Marshall Plan devaluated everything."
Other conversation at the long table in the Officers Club stopped short and the public relations officer at the end of the table looked off to the side in confused embarrassment. The occasion was an inspection tour of Otis Air Base on Cape Cod for editors of college papers. All morning the Air Force officers involved had been talking feverishly in an effort to convince the editors that the Corps was composed entirely of clean-cut red-blooded types who sent their meagre earnings home to Mother. The captain's story would obviously create an Incorrect Impression, and the publicity man looked worried.
So far the meal had been the high point of a day which had begun at 9 a.m. in the Army recruiting headquarters in Boston, starting point of the tour. While waiting for a late-arising editor to appear, we others were quickly offered pamphlets and posters painting a beautiful picture of life as an Air Cadet. The purpose of the tour was revealed: we editors were to be plied with food and drink and then return to our papers to give a stirring account of the advantages of Life in Air Force Blue.
After the non-alcoholic meal the officer in charge of our group announced that we would "Proceed immediately by vehicle to the flight line." Getting onto the flight line required badges, passes, and almost everything short of loyaky oaths, for Otis Field is headquarters of two of the jet plane squadrons charged with the defense of New England. "We've tightened up greatly in the past year," explained a captain. "We can't be too careful these days."
Out on the flight line four shining Sabre-jet fighters were spread about, and a couple of heavier F-94's were off to the side. The editors, and also a large group of visiting Rotarians, looked on silently as a voluble guide explained the achievements of American jet planes. The Rotarians, many of them touching the jets gently as they walked by, wandered off to another part of the field.
A small corporal rushed up to our guide and whispered something. The guide, visibly excited, told us that the authorities had ordered a "scramble" for the Rotarians and if we hurried we could watch too. We hurried over beside one of the Sabre-jets and waited as the guide explained that all pilots at the field were on constant alert and could be readied for action in five minutes if an alert were sounded.
In a minute a buzzer sounded loud over the field. A stock man rushed from one of the barracks and hopped into a Sabre-jet as three mechanics began to warm up the jet itself. Within three minutes the plane was in the air. As it taxied down the runway the guide shouted that the pilot was a major, just back from Korea. For the first time the guide seemed impressed with what he was describing.
On the trip back to Boston the publicity officer talked mostly about jets and planes. This time he said very little about the Air Cadet program, but he did mention that "It's a great deal if you're interested in the Air Force." We all agreed.