Before I began this entry, I must first explain that my blog is being read by more people outside of the United States than inside the USA. Many of these people are from the United Kingdom, Belgium, Israel, Germany, Cyprus, Korea, and other countries as well. Therefore, I feel that a little background information is in order. On Iraklion Air Station at the back of the Operations Building (Security Compound, Compound, Pound), in which I worked, there was an incinerator. Now the incinerator that I photographed on this return trip to Iraklion Air Station is not the same incinerator that was used back in the late sixties and early seventies when I was stationed here. As I recall, the incinerator that we had back then was almost the size of a small room, and was used for the purpose of burning classified documents and information. Ever so often, the incinerator would be shut down and allowed to cool for several hours so that it could be cleaned. Then, a two man team would come in, sift through the ashes that had fallen through the grates of the incinerator to a holding tray below, and then proceed to sweep and clean out the interior of the incinerator. This was not an easy task, nor was it a desirable task, but it was a necessary task. And, it was almost always hot and it was ALWAYS dirty!!! At any rate, “Incinerator Detail” involved removing the tray at the bottom of the incinerator, sifting through those ashes which had fallen through the grate for any bits and pieces of classified information/documents which were not completely burned, and removing those bits and pieces to be burned at a later time. Then, those ashes would be placed in a fifty-five gallon metal drum, mixed with water, and stirred until it was a charcoal-gray mush. Later, someone else would come along and weld a metal lid on top of the drums so that they could be buried at a remote site on base. Anyway, one evening, not long after having arrived on Iraklion Air Station, I, and another airman by the name of Art Williams, had been assigned the task of “Incinerator Detail”. Now, in order to put things into perspective, I was (and still am) a white boy. And Art Williams was a black boy. And, when we started Incinerator Detail” we both were that way – I was white – he was black. But, when incinerator detail was finished, we both were black! Once we had finished sifting through the ashes and removing the bits and pieces of unburned classified material, and placing the ashes in metal drums, we had to climb inside of the incinerator and sweep out its interior. Now, when you sweep out the inside of a soot-filled incinerator, you can’t help but sir up a lot of black soot. And, once the sweeping stops, that soot had to settle somewhere – and that somewhere was on the faces and bodies of those performing “Incinerator Detail”! Before Art and I had climbed into the “belly of the beast”, we had both stripped down to just our T-shirts and fatigue pants. And, when we emerged, it was difficult to say who was who! Art and I were almost the same height (O.K., O.K. he was taller! Damn, everyone was taller than me!). But, with both of us covered from head to foot in black soot, it wasn’t easy to tell the two of us apart. After we had completed “Incinerator Detail”, the Sergeant who was in charge of the detail came by to conduct an inspection of the incinerator to see that it had been properly cleaned, and that any unburned classified material had been properly disposed. We stood before him and he looked at us - from one and then to the other, then he cleared his voice a couple of times, and asked, “Which of you is Armistead, and which of you is Williams?” Because we had both removed our fatigue shirts with our name tags on them, and had left our Top Secret I.D. badges attached to our fatigue shirts, he had no idea who was who, even though he had worked with us for several months. Art and I both began laughing. I said, “I’m Airman Armistead”, and Art said, “I’m Airman Williams”. “Well, O.K., humphhh”, as he cleared his throat again, “It looks like you airmen have done an outstanding job of cleaning the incinerator. I’m giving you boys the rest of the evening off”. Art and I both laughed as we made our way out of the Incinerator Room and to the latrine to wash off our faces. But, I wasn’t quite through yet. As many of you may remember, I was rather fair-skinned with blue-green eyes, and a very light-colored blonde mustache – a mustache that was just a step above from being not more than fuzz (O.K., O.K. It was fuzz!!!) When I went into the latrine, I took a damp paper towel and began to wipe the soot from my face...from my forehead, my nose, my cheeks, my eyes, the sides of my face, my chin...everywhere but my upper lip. It seems that much of the soot that had come to settle on my face from “Incinerator Detail” had come to rest on my blonde mustache – which was no longer blonde – it was black! And, for the first time in my life, you could actually see that I had a mustache!!! I was elated! So, once I had finished washing my face – except for my mustache, I returned to the main floor of the Operations Building just to waltz around and show the other members of “Charlie Flight”, that I really did have a mustache after all!!!
Take care, stay well, and let me hear from you.
Your Friend and Fellow “Silent Warrior”,
Bob (Black Bob) Armistead