Rick Waters was one of the first guys I met upon arriving at Hahn Air Base, Germany, in June of 1979.
He and his roommate, Dan Mehl, were good guys. Showed up for work, knew how to laugh and didn’t take life too seriously.
As time went on, he and I and a few others increasingly spent more and more time together. Together with my roommate Paul Asay, we formed a very solid group of young Air Force security police (SPs).
I will admit to inhaling on occasion, and Rick Waters had a hand in that. It’s OK. This was more than three decades ago, and there’s no reason to get hysterical or call the cops. Don’t be a narc.
He also introduced me to Jagermeister, and looking back on it, that wasn’t really a good thing. A few months into my tour, I spent the middle of one night heaving into a wastebasket after a night of doing shots of Jagermeister and chasing it with some kind of cola.
Rick didn’t witness the “after,” although Paul did. I think he’s the one who handed me the trash can. I’m sure that Rick would have found it funny, because it’s always funny when your friend vomits.
Rick had a way of laughing that made you want to laugh along with him.
Decades later, I can remember Jagermeister’s smell and its dark, syrupy taste.
Rick also taught me the “A Flight” SP handshake. Thinking about it now, I laugh at it, because it’s corny and very 1970s.
No one in our group spent much time arguing about race. I never remembering it ever entering the conversation. We admired and respected each other for who we were.
We were all in the same situation. Young, single guys deployed overseas by Uncle Sam. We liked each other without giving a thought to the other fellow’s color. We just didn’t care about that.
Our group typically had a couple of white guys, a couple of blacks guys, occasionally a Mexican guy and two Puerto Ricans from New York. Oh, and me.
At the time, Rick had a VW Beetle, which four of us – and sometimes, five – crammed into and raced from the base to a nearby town for a night of drinking.
After a few beers, Rick was sometimes a borderline reckless driver, which somehow added to the fun of being overseas. A few years later, while in college, there was a poem that I read, and it immediately took me back to those days.
There was something about careening down narrow streets in the middle of the night, and that is exactly what we did as we hustled back to the base and hoped to catch enough sleep to make it to work on time the next morning.
What was notable about the VW, aside from its lack of leg room in the back, was that it had no heat. That made for a cold ride on the way back to base as winter settled in. I was glad when Rick traded it for an Opal. More leg room and a heater!
About two months after I got there, I went to his room one day and knocked on the door. He and Dan were headed out the door.
“Where are you guys going?” I asked.
“We’re going to visit Joe?”
“Joe? Who’s that?” There was no “Joe” in our group.
“Oh yeah, Joe’s in prison.”
“Prison?” I asked.
“We’ll tell you tomorrow.”
And they did. I came back the next day, and Rick and Dan told me the story of Joe, who was Dan’s former roommate.
Joe was from the Deep South. Like a lot of guys, he drank at the bar outside of the front gates.
One night, Joe came back to the room and asked Dan, “Where’s your knife?”
“Why?” Dan replied.
“I’m going to kill this guy.”
Apparently, a German fellow had taken a liking to Joe and had made a pass at him. Joe had other ideas – darker ideas.
Dan didn’t think that he was serious. And so Joe took Dan’s knife, lured the man into a field and stabbed him to death. Joe was promptly arrested, tried and found guilty in a German courtroom and sentenced to a surprisingly short time in prison – 15 years, I think – for what I thought was cold-blooded murder. In fact, he probably has been out of prison for a couple of decades.
I know one thing, if he had been tried in a military court, he would have been put away for life.
Dan and Rick would visit Joe now and then. I never went with them. I didn’t know Joe. And I never knew anyone who had taken another life. Well, that’s not entirely true, but let’s not stray from this story.
Needless to say, Joe was given a dishonorable discharge by the Air Force.
THE BEST DAYS
As the months passed, our small group got really tight. Some of our best nights were at the summer wine festivals when small towns along the Mosel River held week-long festivals to celebrate that year’s wine.
We would pile into Rick’s car and head out for a night of drinking and fun.
After Mount St. Helen exploded, it rained heavily through most of the spring and summer. That year’s wine wasn’t quite right, and it tasted as if there was extra sugar to make it more palatable. Either way, several people got sick from the wine, including Paul, my roommate. As I recall, he vomited on his leather jacket, fell down a small embankment and went to the hospital – in that order.
Sometimes, others would join our group. One night, we let this one airman come along. He had never gone out with us. This kid was dating the 15-year-old daughter of one of the older sergeants. I know the sergeant didn’t like the airman, yet he tolerated the relationship. I don’t know if it lasted.
About halfway into the night, the airman was now drunk, except he was a crying drunk.
“I don’t know why everyone hates me!” He was crying for real.
I leaned over and told Rick and Paul, “Let’s never invite him again.”
And we never did. When I spent a night with my buddies, I didn’t want to listen to a crybaby.
Jeez, man, suck it up. You’re 20. Enjoy it.
The best work days were when all of us were assigned to Morbach – an off-base storage area. During the summer, we would get out of our trucks and embark on a two-hour foot patrol of the perimeter. The area was very serene, and we would take a short break during the walk to sit, have lunch and chat.
One day, our stories turned to a guy named Terrell, who we called “Kinky Terrell,” because of his unnatural craving for prostitutes. We rarely saw Terrell on his days off, and apparently that was because he spent many of them in Frankfurt’s red light district.
It was well known among our group that Terrell had this thing for prostitutes. He knew that we called him “Kinky” Terrell, and he liked it.
One of the guys happened to bump into him one summer down in Frankfurt.
“Hey, what’s up?” the guy asked.
“I’m waiting for my dick to get hard again,” Terrell said with a grin.
When I first arrived at Hahn, I remember meeting Terrell and shaking his hand. His hands were soft and small and reminded me of a woman’s hands. He kept his nails longer than normal – at least, for a guy. And they came to a slight point at the tips. I sometimes wonder if he became a serial killer. Seriously.
Rick wasn’t involved in the infamous Halloween incident. A group of guys, not our usual gang, wanted to go out and get rowdy on Halloween night. I was always up for that. I didn’t realize how rowdy.
One of the older guys, Walter D. Smith, asked us where we were going. Walt was from Florida and spoke with a Southern accent (to us Yankees). I always like Walt. Straight shooter and a good sense of humor.
“Slutzenhausen,” someone said. That was our crude reference to the name of the town that was just outside of the main gate. “Lautzenhausen.”
As you left the base, the right side was bars and restaurants, and the left side was strip clubs and whore houses.
Someone asked Walt if he wanted to come along.
“You fuckers are going to get into trouble. Ain’t no way I’m going with you.”
I was a little disappointed, because I liked hanging out with Walt. Plus, I just figured we would hit a few bars and then come back to base. No muss, no fuss.
Things didn’t work out quite like that. There were a few guys in the group who normally weren’t along for the ride.
At about the fifth bar, things got rowdy. One guy smashed the glass in a phone booth. Another guy threw some fairly large rocks, which smashed some windshields of vehicles at the used car lot.
And then we smartly walked straight onto the base, which literally was maybe 100 feet from where the last of the vandalism had taken place. It took the cops all of about two hours to identify the main culprits, who then fingered me and Paul, and pretty soon, all of us were at the base police station.
Three of the guys eventually caught an Article 15 (which is severe punishment in the military). They each lost a stripe and spent a month on the “goon platoon,” which was the name given to guys who were being disciplined or ejected from the service with less than an honorable discharge.
Walt was right. We did get into trouble.
I played a large role in them being found guilty, and I’ve always regretted it. I matured a lot that month.
And Rick got to stand by and watch all of this unfold and know that he hadn’t been a part of it. Good for him.
All too soon, my four-year enlistment was nearly finished. Other guys had received orders to other bases.
By June 1981 when I left, there was almost no one from our group left at Hahn. Paul’s four years had come to and end, and he was back in Indiana.
I was glad to be leaving the Air Force.
My time at Hahn was magical, but it was over.
Rick and I spoke by telephone a few times in the ensuing years, but that was when long-distance calls were expensive.
Back then, when you lost touch with guys, you really lost touch. No e-mail, no Internet, no Facebook. No nothing.
The next time that I saw Rick was around 1998. I was living in New Jersey, and Rick was working for United Airlines. He was passing through, so I picked him up at the airport, and we spent a day talking about old times. It was good to see my friend.
He still had that great sense of humor and funny way of laughing.
I look forward to seeing him again.
* * *
* About the title. The term “dogged” was a term that we used at Hahn to apply to many things. Sometimes, it’s accompanied by the word, “bitch,” because we were still teen-agers, and it’s fun to make fun of your friends. There were different uses:
• “I dogged you!” – I win. You lose. Works well in a card game. Best uttered when you slap your winning hand onto the table.
• “She dogged you!” – Generally, you just got dumped.
• “She dogged you, bitch!” – You just got dumped, and now we’re going to make fun of you.
• “I got dogged by [person’s name]” – You either got dumped, demoted or reprimanded for something. Person saying it is rather dejected. We typically responded by repeating it. The following week, we might repeat it and add some snickering at the end, because it’s a good way to make light of your friend’s misfortune.