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A PLACE TO PLAY BALL

Story ID:9700
Written by:Frederick William Wickert (bio, link, contact, other stories)
Story type:Story
Location:Andrews Air Force Base Maryland USA
Year:1972
Person:Hook
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A PLACE TO PLAY BALL
By Fred Wickert


In 1972 I was stationed in the 89th Security Police Squadron at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. Our squadron provided the security for Air Force One and Two as well as the other 40 or so aircraft in the White House fleet. At the time, Richard Nixon was serving as President.

The squadron had five soft ball teams. There were four shifts called A Flight, B Flight, C Flight and D Flight. We rotated shifts. Each flight worked a few days on each of three shifts and then had 72 hours off. The fifth Flight was made up of the overhead personnel; those who worked in the orderly room, in training, in the operations office and in Pass and ID. I was on C Flight and our team was named the C Flight Cats. The five teams formed a league and we played against each other. There were teams in other squadrons that from time to time challenged us to a game as well, so we had a pretty busy and active soft ball schedule.

The base had two very professional like ball fields. These were reserved for games between Andrews Air Force Base and other military wings or units. Sometimes they were inter- service games such as Air Force VS Navy and even local towns that had semi-pro teams. Then there were other bigger leagues where Wings competed against each other and large squadrons competed against each other. There were also seven other ball fields that were brand new. The dug outs were complete with electricity and seating, equipment storage in case of rain. They were all enclosed with chain link fencing, and had bleachers and even lighting for night games and electronic score boards. These were constructed with Special Services funds and were reserved for the sole use of the Little League. Special Service funds were derived from the profits of base snack bars and service clubs. The funds were supposed to be used for servicemen recreational purposes.

There was one ball field on the base that was available. It had not been mowed and was overgrown. There was a lot of debris and trash on the field. There was a broken water fountain and the water to it was turned off. There was a set of bleachers but they were rotten in many places with large holes right through the wooden seats. Many of us were married with children and when we played, families often came to watch us play and cheer us on. Even those who lived in the barracks often brought friends from other squadrons to watch us play.

The infield had not been maintained and had many ruts and holes in it and in some spots the base lines had water standing in them from rain. Somehow we managed to find a home plate and replaced the old one with a good one. We had base bags and brought them with us. We took them with us when the game was over. If we left them behind they were gone when we came back for another game. Some of us brought lawn mowers from home to mow the field and we brought rakes, hoes and shovels to try to smooth out the infield and put it in reasonable condition. In one game before we did that one of the men suffered a broken ankle.

I worked on the pitchers mound myself to put it in shape. I was our team pitcher. I had a good spinner and I had a really good drop curve ball that struck out many players. I have a big nose slightly hooked. The men began calling me Freddy The Hook, or just plain Hook. The drop curve pitch I threw became famous because the men named that pitch the Snorkel Ball.

One Saturday morning we had just begun a game. A man in civilian clothes arrived with a group of young boys. The man identified himself as a Major and ordered us off the ball field. He declared that he was taking it over for the boys to play on. We explained our situation to him and that had we not cleaned it up, mowed it and repaired it, no one could have played on it. We also were there first and there were seven ball fields just for the kids that we could not use. The Major did not care. We were out ranked and we had to get off the field. It was an order from a field grade officer.

Some of the men became angry and threatened to write to their individual congressmen. I told them not to do that. I told them the Air Force had a system we were supposed to follow with grievances like that. We were supposed to go through a specific chain of command and I believed we should go that route. They asked if I was willing to do that, representing all of them as a group. I said I was. Then it was settled and agreed upon. I took the responsibility as representative of the group to take it as far as it had to go to get results.

Our Squadron Commander was away on an assignment. The Captain who was Operations Officer was in temporary command. I went to him. He told me he was going to take it up with the IG, (Inspector General.) In a few days we were told we could use one of the new Little League fields if it were not busy and we had to inquire three days ahead. We played two games there. Then someone complained and we were told we could not play there anymore. The Captain said, there is nothing more that can be done. I replied that there was more. I told the Captain that might work with first term airmen, but that we were all career men. We had been around for a while and we knew that was not all that could be done.

I had promised the men I was going to represent them all the way. I was not giving up. I had taken some pictures of the conditions at the field we had fixed up before we did the work on it. I got a set of prints made. I typed up a letter to Congressman Ahbert, pronounced AYBARE, who at that time was the Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. I told him I was writing to him as one who represented us all. I explained all that had happened and I asked him to help us. I told him we all supported the kids, but suggested that with seven new ball fields on the base for the kids, there should be at least one field on the base where we could play. I enclosed a copy of the pictures I had taken and mailed it to the Congressman.

In a few days I received a letter from Congressman Ahbert. He said we should be contacted in a couple of days with information as to where we could play. He told me that if we did not have satisfactory arrangements in five days from receipt of his letter to let him know.

In two days the Captain called me in to the Operations Office. He told me the Commander of the Civil Engineering Squadron told him that his Squadron will make available to us for the weekend, two dump trucks and a grader. We could use the dump trucks and the grader to fix up the field in good shape, where we had been ordered off by the Major. They said that was the best they could do. I told the Captain that was a set up and I saw right through it. We were Security Police. He was going to loan us that equipment in hopes we were going to use it. If we did we were in trouble. He knew as well as we did that every vehicle and every piece of motorized equipment in the Air Force required a license to operate it. Not one of us had a license to operate a dump truck or a grader. There might be a few with the know how to operate them, but none with a license. They knew that and were setting us up. In addition, he made no offer of any top soil and no offer of equipment to load material in to the dump trucks and no information as to where we could dump any material should we load any in the dump trucks.

I told the Captain that we rejected the offer. Then I typed another letter to Congressman Ahbert. I told the Congressman that either he was a liar or the people on the base were liars and that I doubted very much he was the one who was lying. Then I explained what had taken place.

I did expect to get some better results. Never in my wildest imagination did I expect what happened next. Two days after I mailed that second letter to Congressman Ahbert, the Base Wing Commander, the Deputy Base Wing Commander and the Base Commander were all fired. One Brigadier General and two Bird Colonels had been relieved of their jobs. One of them was transferred to Bolling Field in a lesser capacity. The promotion possibility of all three had vanished overnight. The careers of all three had stopped in their tracks then and there. We were told a new ball field was going to be constructed but it was too late in the season for it to be completed before next year. For the balance of the season, with apologies, could we please be satisfied to play on the other side of the base on a ball diamond in the Navy part of the base. The Navy had a Fighter Squadron and hangars on the other side of the base sharing the same run way with the Air Force. It seems that the Navy was not using their ball field and we were welcome. The next year the new field should be ready for our use.

We did use the field on the Navy side of the base for the remainder of the season and were never bothered over there by anyone. In about two weeks during the day shift as we went to and from the Mess Hall on our lunch breaks we passed by a fenced off new ball field under construction. The other men had a name for it. I am sure when it was completed the following year it had a different name, but for a time anyway, it was fondly referred to by members of the 89th as HOOK FIELD. I never got to play on HOOK FIELD as I retired from the Air Force on May 1st the following year. I think I can safely say no other man in the 89th Security Police Squadron ever had an Air Force Ball Field named after him. I believe I alone have that distinction, and I am proud of it.


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