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Story ID:2701
Written by:Frederick William Wickert (bio, link, contact, other stories)
Story type:Family Memories
Location:Gilboa New York USA
Person:Fred Wickert
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By Fred Wickert

When Gail Martin posted the memory jogs for the month of August on the Our Echo home page, the last paragraph mentioned nicknames. It got me remembering about my nicknames, and there have been several throughout my life.

I remember my Mom telling me about my first nickname. It was “Bum.” She told me for the first three years of my life I was called “Bum.” My name was the same as my fathers. It was confusing when the name was mentioned, because one often did not know which one of us was being referred to. It was convenient to just call me “Bum”, or “the Bum.” That way, everyone understood my father was not the one being referred to. I know that anyone who knew him didn’t dare call my dad a Bum.

Mom told me when I became three years of age, they decided they had to stop that, or I might have gone through life being called a “Bum.” Therefore, they began calling me “Little Fred.” That worked until I was in high school. When I became six feet tall and 175 pounds at age fourteen, people no longer considered me little.

I was raised on a farm doing manual labor. I was not only big for my age, but was strong for my age. In my first year in high school I was helping someone move some logs. Someone made the comment that I was a regular “Paul Bunyan” or “Man Mountain Dean.” I was called both of those names for a while.

In my sophomore year, I was at an away basketball game as a member of the Junior Varsity team. There was a long intermission between the end of the JV game and the beginning of the Senior Varsity game. I was dressed and out in the hallway of the building. The floor was of ceramic tile.

A boy from the other school was bigger than I was and probably a year or two older. The boiler room door was being held open by a block of concrete about a foot square and had a steel loop imbedded in the top of it. Some of the kids were talking about the block and thinking it must be terribly heavy.

Unable to resist showing off, I picked up the concrete block and began tossing it a few inches in the air and catching it when it came down, assuring them that it wasn’t so heavy. The boy from the other school wanted me to throw it to him. I declined. He insisted. I told him I was not going to throw it unless he was prepared to catch it. He assured me he was going to catch it, held out his hands preparing for it and again urged me to throw it and I did. The boy jumped backwards to avoid the block. It hit the hall floor with a crash and broke some of the ceramic tile floor.

Just as I threw the block, the principal of the school came around the corner and saw me throw it. He said, Alright “Sampson,” I saw that.” He then ordered me to go outside and sit on the school bus until the Varsity game was over and everyone went home. The coach forbade me to go on any more away games for the remainder of the season. The nickname “Sampson,” stuck for some time, and in the beginning, with a number of giggles and smirks on the faces of those who used the term.

In my junior year of high school, my father loaned me out to a friend to work on the farm. I lived at their home, worked doing chores morning and evening, and did regular farm work all weekend, except that on Sundays we all went to church.

While working on that farm, I shared a double bed with the farmer’s son. The son, named Bob, was several years older than I. He had served four years in the Air Force and then came home to the farm. While in the Air Force and stationed in Montana, he had a pair of cowboy boots hand made for him in Great falls. I loved those boots, and for that matter, all things western. Bob no longer used the boots and they were like new. They were also the same size that I wore.

I made arrangements to buy that pair of boots from Bob, and I began wearing them to school. About that time television came into being. We did not, and the farm where I worked did not, but some families had acquired television. I never saw it, but it seems there was a TV program watched by those kids who had TV in their homes, a western program in which the hero was a man named Hopalong Cassidy, or just “Hoppy” for short.

Because I wore cowboy boots all of the time, and I assure you they were the most comfortable footwear I have ever had, and because I also wore western style shirts very often, I was soon being called “Hoppy.” That nickname stuck for a long time. I graduated from school fifty-five years ago, and some still call me “Hoppy.” Against my will, the committee on class rings had “Hoppy” engraved inside my class ring.

After high school I went to Cornell University for a semester and a half. I then joined the Air Force where I served for twenty years. Half way through my air force career I was assigned to Presidential Aircraft Security at Andrews Air Force Base. There I was given a new nickname that stuck for many years, and some of the men who served with me in those days continue to use it.

The nickname was in three versions. There was “Freddy the Hook,” The Hook,” or frequently, just plain “Hook.” The name was in honor of my nose. My nose was quite large, and it had been broken four times. It had somewhat of the appearance of a hook.

That nickname became the object of many jokes. In our Security Police Office, if I blew my nose, someone was bound to hurl himself against the wall, making believe they were blown against it. Wisecracks were frequently made. How rich they could be if they only had my nose full of nickels, or how much money the air force could save on tugs that were used to tow the airplanes if they just had me stand in front of the plane and inhale for example.

After five years in Presidential Security, I was sent to South East Asia for a year, for the Vietnam War. When I returned to the USA I was assigned once again to Presidential Security. All the men who were there when I left remembered the nickname, and all those who had come in to the squadron after I left, were quick to pick it up. The squadron had a softball league and I was recruited to pitch for one of the teams. I became the most winning pitcher in the league. One of my pitches, a slow drop curve became a bit famous. It usually resulted in either a strike, or an infield pop up fly ball. The men fondly christened the pitch the “Snorkel Ball.”

One day we were involved in a dispute over a ball field to play on. There was one field on the base that was not usually in use. It was not maintained. The field was grown up to weeds; the base runs were in bad condition with water puddles and ruts in them. The bleachers were rotted and some had big holes in them. The water fountain didn’t work. We mowed the field and cleaned up a pickup truck load of trash and debris from the field. With hoes, shovels and rakes, we repaired the infield and made it finally fit to play on.

A week later, midway through a ball game on the field, a Major came with a large number of boys. He pulled rank on us and ordered us off the field so the boys could use it. We explained to him that we had put the field in shape to play on, and that the air force had recently built seven new ball fields, complete with dugouts and chain link fencing for the little league, which we were not allowed to use. We believed as air force personnel, we had a right to use the field that we had made fit to play on ourselves. The Major was not sympathetic and stuck to the order to get off the field in favor of the kids.

Many of the men immediately wanted to complain to their congressmen. I talked them out of it. I explained that air force regulations required we follow the set procedure for complaints. We should go through the base Inspector General, and after we went up through the chain of command, if we got no satisfaction, then go to congressmen. The men asked me if I was willing to act as their spokesman and to follow the procedures. I told them I was.

We got nowhere by going through the chain of command on the base. I took a number of pictures of the field and the condition it was in. I wrote to the Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. I told him what had happened and sent him a copy of the pictures I had taken.

We got a letter from the Chairman in a few days. In his letter he said the base had assured him they were going to take specific steps to fix the situation. Through the squadron deputy commander, they sent word that we could borrow a road grader and a dump truck from Civil Engineers on the weekend and do the work ourselves. That was the best they could do. I told the Captain that was not what we were promised. Further, we were a police squadron. They knew full well we did not have air force licenses to operate the equipment offered. If we accepted we were then violators of air force regulations. It was a set up.

I told the Captain that just wasn’t good enough. He said there is nothing more that could be done. I told him they might get away with that with men on their first hitch, but we were professionals, all NCO’s who had been around for a long time. We were not going to accept that.

I sent another letter to the Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. I told him that either the authorities on the base were liars, or that he was. I then told him what had taken place.

Two days later, the Base Commander, the Air Base Wing Commander and Deputy Commanders were all fired and transferred. We were informed the Navy had a good ball field on the other side of the base they weren’t using and we were welcome to use it any time we wished. We were told to provide the navy with a schedule of our games and it was guaranteed to be available.

We were further told that a contractor was going to begin construction of a new ball field, and the location where the field was to be built. We were informed it was to be used by Air Force personnel only, and was to be ready for use the following spring.

The men traveled past the beginnings of the new ball field on their way to and from the dining hall. They lovingly dubbed it “Hook Field,” in my honor. I never had the opportunity to play on that new ball field. I retired from the air force the following spring.

In less than a year after I retired from the Air Force, I became the Chief of Police of a small town. The car I was assigned was black in color. The following year, a new car was purchased and I requested that it be a white car. The contract specified that it be white. Around the same time a motion picture was released about a beat patrolman and the movie was called, “The Blue Night.”

CB radios were the rage at the time. There was a local CB club and they asked me to attend one of their meetings for a presentation ceremony. I did attend and during the meeting, I was presented with a CB radio to be mounted in the Chief’s Police car. They informed me that my call sign was to be, ‘White Night.” From that time on, and for several years my new nickname was “White Night.”

My wife and I were for many years, involved in the raising and showing of Cocker Spaniels, under the kennel name, “Mountain Stream Cockers.” The time came when we decided to retire from showing dogs. As our dogs slowly died off from old age, we began an exotic bird collection, which at one point reached 22 in number. People began calling me the “Gilboa Bird Man.” That nickname, though used less frequently than it once was, is the last of the nicknames that have been assigned to me.

I have no objections or complaints about all of my various nicknames. I am even quite proud of some of them. I think any of them beats “Fatso,” or “Baldy,” either of which others of similar appearance is often dubbed with. I am grateful to my parents for ending the use of the first nickname when I was three years old. Imagine going through life with that!