by Phil Rowe
Security was tight around our loaded B-58 bombers standing on alert near the end of the runway. Armed military police with trained guard dogs patrolled the perimeter day and night. A well-lit access gate, threateningly surrounded by sharp-tipped barbed-wire, was manned by two guards with 45-caliber pistols at the ready. Access was limited to only those with proper credentials and a valid reason to enter the fenced area. Passwords and daily codes were employed.
Flight crews, pulling their week-long stints of alert duty, traveled around the base in blue Air Force station wagons. A police-type flashing red light atop the vehicle warned other traffic that crews speedily responding to the claxon call demanded priority.
Not all of our travel around the base was official. We were permitted to go to the base movie, the officers' club and the base exchange while on alert duty. It's just that we had to go as a group, everywhere as a complete crew. We were limited to places equipped with claxon horns that could loudly send us scurrying to the flight line.
One dark wintry night, with snow blowing and the wind chill factor around minus 30 degrees, our crew returned to the alert facility from the base theater after 11:00 PM. Visibility was poor, the horizontally blowing snow glistened in silver streaks past the headlights of our vehicle. Our pilot, Major Al, drove the station wagon towards the gate. Beside him was Walt, our navigator. I rode in the back seat.
It was a miserable night to be out there walking a guard patrol. Even the men at the access gate seemed reluctant to step forward from their heated guard shack to check us out. We stopped and waited to be allowed to pass.
Al rolled down his driver's side window, to show the guard his picture badge and give the daily number-code, when challenged by the guard.
An unexplainable urge suddenly overcame my pilot. He reached into his heavy coat pocket and pulled out his dark blue knit winter facemask, one often used on blustery days while making lengthy pre-flight checks of our planes parked out in the snow. He pulled that cover down over his head, so only his mouth and eyes remained uncloaked.
The guard finally came out of his warm and snug shack. He walked to the vehicle, eyeing it carefully. He leaned close, to look inside at the three of us, but Al attempted to stay in the shadow behind the wheel.
Closer still the guard leaned, attempting to check each of our badges. Just as he got within inches of Al's head, showing some puzzlement at the covered face which could not be identified, Al lunged toward him and yelled - "BOO!"
The guard quickly stepped back, unsnapped the leather cover of his pistol holster, and place his hand on the grip, ready to unsheathe his weapon.
"Code 47, sir," the guard challenged. Al did not respond.
Walt, seated to Al's right, was getting anxious. Challenging an armed guard, even in jest didn't seem the appropriate thing to do. He leaned over next to Al, so the guard could clearly see him, displayed his picture badge and responded with the proper numerical code to the guard's challenge.
The guard just stood there, but in a few seconds a wide smile spread across his face. He gave a smart salute and waved us into the facility, with a passing comment I can never forget.
"Sir, you can't scare a professional SAC killer."
Fortunately for us, the guard recognized Al, despite the head cover. Otherwise, he would have been justified in taking stern measures, even to shooting the offending trespassers.
The next morning, at daily crew weather briefing, the senior officer made an announcement that alert crews were to stop harassing the guards.