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Sunday, January 22, 2012

Story Of The Tuxedo

Anyone who knows me well knows that I am an amateur story teller. My wife is a saint as she has listened to my stories over the years and still acts interested. I tell true stories that I have personally experienced myself and this is one I do not believe she has ever heard before.
When I was in the U.S. Air Force my first overseas assignment was on the Island of Bermuda. It was tough duty but someone had to do it. I was an Airman Third Class, the lowest rank on the rung of the military ladder. While stationed in Bermuda we had a visit from a tailor from Alexanders of London a high class clothing company taking custom orders at a reasonable rate. He came to the base and would measure you, then go back to London and make a custom made tailored suit made to fit you and you would then receive it a few months later. It took me two months pay but I got measured for a Tuxedo thinking it would be cool just to own one. Previously all my sport coats or suits were from a thrift store or off the rack at a discount clothing store. I decided that to own a Tux was a good step in life, so why not buy one.

One of my USAF buddies was dating the social editor for the island newspaper. As it turned out she had two features to cover in the same night and she and my friend decided to cover one and she asked me if I would go to the other with her press invitation. It was a formal black tie event and since I had a Tux it would give me a chance to wear it for the first time officially. She told me to take notes on subjects and I agreed to cover it for her as it sure beat sitting in the barracks listening to a bunch of drunks or playing poker. The one she asked me to cover for her was a formal social dinner party given by the Governor of Bermuda. (It would be equal to a State dinner at the White House in Washington DC) So at the appropriate time I donned my Tux, took a cab to the Governor's Mansion to attend the dinner with her press invitation.

As I circulated with some of the most powerful people on the Island including industry leaders, dutifully taking notes, it came time for dinner. I was shown into the dining room and who was I seated next to - the Base Commander from my base. As he was sipping his wine and turned to me he introduced himself, and I in turn introduced myself to him. He said he was the base commander of Kindley AFB (as if I couldn't tell as he was in full dress uniform) and asked me who I was...the dreaded question. I decided to go with the truth and I told him I was also from Kindley AFB. He asked what I did and I told him I was with the Air Police Unit and I guarded KC-97 aircraft. He about choked on his wine and the look on his face was absolute shock.
He was the base commander and had thousands of men under him and I was the lowest ranking enlisted man on his base. He wanted to know how I got invited and I told him I was covering for a friend who worked for the local newspaper. He made me promise not to tell anyone what I really did and I assured him I would not embarrass him by doing that and we spent the rest of the night in enjoyable if not aloof fashion.

I believe this would be equal to being invited to a State Dinner with the President of the United States and be seated next to his chief of staff and being asked what I did and to tell him I cut the grass at the White House.

I don't believe I have ever seen a more stunned/shocked look on a person's face than I observed on the Colonel's face when I told him what I did. I do admire his ability to recover quickly and we had an enjoyable evening at the Governor's Mansion that evening. I got indirect word that he appreciated being mentioned in the newspaper as a guest of the Governor of Bermuda. Probably not really funny except for the fact that Officers were not allowed then to socialize in any way with enlisted men under any circumstances. This was not only an officer but the highest ranking one seated next to the lowest ranking man under his command at the Governor's mansion. It was probably the highest honor he could have had bestowed upon him as base commander on a foreign island to be invited to the Governor's once a year elite dinner with a host of high ranking guests - and me. There was a definite social order in the military that we not not allowed to cross and when the highest ranking officer on the base sat next to the lowest ranking member of his base it was a real hoot, I think both of us enjoyed as best we could. He returned to the base in his staff car with the flags flying on each fender along with his driver who out ranked me by several levels and he only talked to in order to give him orders. I took a cab back to the base. I guess expecting a lift would be asking too much. My guess is that this is the very first time this story has been told because I know the Colonel would never repeat it. So enjoy...


Robert said...

Good story Bruce!

Unknown said...

Thats a hoot!