Former Sgt.Gil Rynex believes he was just about the luckiest soldier in the United States Air Force during the Korean War.
He and six other members of the Jonesborough High School football team enlisted in the Air Force together after the ball season was over, before graduating from the Michigan high school in 1950. The Korean War had been raging for six months and they knew they were going to be drafted as soon as they graduated.
“We came from a very small town and there wasn’t a lot to do. All six of us decided to join the air force and see the world,” the 77-year-old resident of Lakewood Village mobile home park, east of Punta Gorda, explained. “We took a train from Detroit to Lackland Air Force Base in Texas for basic training. The base was equipped to handle 30,000 recruits; by the time we arrived there were 50,000.
“They put us in tents, issued us two sets of fatigues and a pair of boots. We spent the next 11 days marching, getting shots and being oriented,” he said. “On the 11th day they called all 62 of the recruits in our group together. Fifty-eight names were called out, but mine was not one of them.
“Those named were told they were being sent to Fort Cheyenne in Cheyenne, Wyo. to finish basic training in the dead of winter. The four of us, whose names were not called, were to report to Mac Dill Air Force Base in Tampa to complete our basic,” Rynex said.
Break One! They went to Florida not Wyoming for basic.
Mac Dill was a Strategic Air Command (SAC) base in 1950. It was the home for three squadrons of B-29 “Super Fortresses,” the largest and most destructive heavy bomber used by Allied forces in World War II.
“SAC was a very special place as far as the United States military was concerned. It was run by Gen. Curtis Le May and he got anything he wanted. Once you became part of SAC and worked out he didn’t want to let you go,” Rynex discovered.
“When we arrived at Mac Dill we reported to base headquarters, but nobody could figure out what the four of us were doing there. The base had the 305th, 306th and 307th Bomb Wings of SAC. We didn’t seem to fit into to their long range plans with our 11 days of basic training and little else,” he said.
Break Two! That was all the basic we ever received—11 days.
“After a week at Mac Dill doing nothing they decided to put us to work. They asked us what we could do. The first two recruits in our little group ended up as military police guarding the base, the third guy became a cook and I told them I could type, so I was made a clerk typist.
Break Three! He got to pick what we did in the service, kinda.
Because it was a SAC base run by Gen. Le May there were a lot of promotions for everyone who did a good job.
“Shortly after arriving at the base I made private first class, 60 days later I was a corporal and six months later I was a buck sergeant,” Rynex explained. After 16 months at SAC I was promoted to staff sergeant.”
Break Four! Promotions in SAC were easy.
“After making staff sergeant I was sent to the 306 Bombardment Wing to handle its paper work. This was just about the time the unit was getting the first of the B-47, six engine swept wing jet bombers that replaced the out dated B-29s,” he said.
“I spent the first three years in the service stateside at Mac Dill typing forms for Gen.Curtis Le May in SAC and I’d had enough. I wanted to do something more glamorous overseas, but there weren’t a lot of good options. Le May made it hard to get out of SAC. I finally decided to volunteer for the Korean War,” Rynex said.
Because he volunteered to go to Korea Rynex was given a 30 day leave and went home to see his folks for a month. While at home the Korean Armistice was signed and the war was put on hold.
Break Five! Fighting stopped in Korea about the time Rynex arrived.
A couple of months later, after going by boat to Tokyo, he found himself at Base K-12, 90 miles east of Seoul, South Korea.
“This is the base where the Air Force started its very first Escape and Evasion School. We had a staff of 90 enlisted men and three officers to run the school,” Rynex said. “It was a six day course in escape and evasion in which the pilots would be oriented and then dumped in the bush to survive on their own.”
As far as the base was concerned, K-12 wasn’t much. It consisted of a single steel planked runway to fly pilots in on C-47 transports for training and a few Quonset huts to live in and work in surrounded by mountains.
One officer made it all interesting for Rynex.
“Capt.Young, an Australian by birth who fought as a sergeant for the Crown in the Second World War, was the most interesting man I ever met,” he said. “He was recruited by the U.S. Air Force to teach escape and evasion techniques at the new school.
“Young was a strange sort of guy. During WW II he made six parachute jumps behind German lines with the primary purpose of being captured by the enemy to refine techniques for escaping a POW camp. He was successful all six times.”
The only reason Rynex knows this much about the stealthy captain is he got a look at Young’s personnel file while working as a clerk at the headquarters for the Escape and Evasion School.
Break six! Rynex spent most of his time in Korea working as a clerk at the school.
After nine months the school was closed and the cadre scattered to the wind. During his last 90 days in the service, Rynex found himself working in a MASH unit at Kunsan Air Base, along the West Coast of South Korea.
“I ended up typing reports for dentists in the MASH unit,” he said. “I helped keep their records and partied with the doctors. They were a crazy bunch of guys.”
Break seven! He completed his four years in the service typing reports for a MASH unit.
When he and his wife, Joan, retired they moved to Lakewood Village 13 years ago.
This story was first printed in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Florida in November 2009. It is republished on the web with permission.