Proud Highway:Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman (8 page)

BOOK: Proud Highway:Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman
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Of course I'll have to apologize to all the people who were struck by the stray shrapnel, but not to the sports section. From now on, when I appear somewhere with a pencil in my hand and a gleam in my eye, people will quiver in their shoes and sweat freely. This is the finest thing that could have happened. I now have thousands of readers, and the official sanction of the Base Commander. Move over Winchell … HST has emerged from obscurity to jab at the world for awhile. Jesus, what fun!

This week, the Eagles
8
play at Pensacola, and I will probably spend the weekend there. If I get drunk enough, I'll probably drop in on your parents. I have your address here somewhere. Tomorrow, I plan to pawn my typewriter for the third time, so as to get money for the weekend. Poverty still gnaws at me constantly. I'm going to see a man tomorrow about getting a job selling vacuum cleaners. If it works out, maybe I can beat the game yet.

Right now, I've got to run: sleep is scarce around here and must be taken when available. Thanks for the last letter, and write again when you get the chance. Until then, I remain,

crazed with the power
and hell bent for the
worst kind of infamy.…
Hunter S. Thompson
Command Courier
3201 AB Wg.
Eglin AFB, Fla.

TO HENRY STITES
:

Thompson wrote this letter to his high school friend Henry Stites in the wee hours after typing his sports column at the
Command Courier
desk. The Soviet Union had just ordered in tanks to quash the Hungarian revolution in Budapest.

November 3, 1956
Eglin AFB
Fort Walton Beach, Florida

Dear Henry,

How are you lad? It's been quite some time since I heard from you—as a matter of fact, I haven't heard from you—and I thought I'd try to pry a letter out of you. When you get a chance, drop me a line and tell me how you're coming along.

At this moment, it's 2:30 in the morning and I've just finished writing up today's game. I was listening to KMOX in St. Louis—and drumming up pleasant memories of my adventures in that fair city—when it was announced that Russia had taken Budapest and that the UN was in an emergency session. The all-night music show went immediately off the air and a special broadcast from the UN headquarters came on. Right now, I'm listening and casually wondering whether we are about to leap wildly into a full-scale war. Naturally Washington will do nothing until after the elections—regardless of whether eight million people are slaughtered or not. However, it seems inevitable that something will have to be done, because neither Britain nor Russia seem inclined to sit back and grin any longer. Actually, I would just as soon get into the thing now as later, and I really don't see any point in waiting. It just doesn't seem exactly right to let Hungary fight Russia any longer by itself. Of course, we'll all be in the damn thing when it starts anyway—so I think I'll come home for Thanksgiving before they decide to ship me to some far-off battle-front. Whether it will be my last trip home for some time will depend entirely on events. Oddly enough, it matters very little to me. I guess I won't feel this way when the fur starts to fly; but that also is in the future.

As you may or may not know, I escaped the Radio shop and am now sports editor on the base paper. It's a fine job, but as this letter shows, the hours are anything but regular. I sometimes work all night—sometimes all weekend—and almost always all day. I've managed to cut my sleep to an even four hours a night, and have become a coffee addict of the worst sort. Since taking this job, I've dropped from 190 pounds to a scrawny 170. None of my clothes fit anymore, and I can't afford to have them tailored. So—I wander around with my pants hanging on me like some sort of burlap bags. I get something of a kick out of seeing just how long I can go on like this, without having some sort of breakdown. I'll enclose one or two of my stories, so that you can see what sort of effort consumes my day.

This broadcast continues and seems to say the same thing over and over again. It is becoming increasingly obvious that the UN is going to make a
rather pitiful and wholly ineffectual “protest,” and follow it up with an incredibly vicious “condemnation” of the Soviet invasion. I sort of wonder what would happen if a protest from the police would keep people from robbing banks. I can see the headlines now—“Bandits Rob Four Banks, City Votes to Protest.” Christ, how stupid can people be. If this sort of half-hearted crap goes on, we may as well give Russia the whole world and be done with it.

I'll try to keep from rambling on about this matter, although I can't help but think of what it will lead to.

Except when I have to stay here and cover home games, I spend my weekends in Tallahassee. One of the guys who was at Scott with me lives over there, and he knows almost everyone.
9
Naturally, I was compelled to take advantage of the fact that Florida State U. has an over-abundance of young women. I've been dating a very pretty young thing
10
recently, and the whole setup is rather pleasant.

In the event of a home game, I'm forced to stay here and cover the thing. After getting a play-by-play description of the melee, I have to write the story and phone it out to the wire services and surrounding local papers (AP, UP, Montgomery, Atlanta, Pensacola, Mobile, Miami, etc.). This takes most of the night, but I don't really mind it because I like to read my stories in those papers the next day.

You'd be surprised to hear the names on the Eglin roster. We have 3 former All-Americans, the former leading scorer for the Green Bay Packers, and all sorts of other ex-college stars. Almost all of the teams we play are in a similar position, and most of them stack up pretty well in comparison to the college teams I've seen this year.

Well, it's now 3:30 and a need for sleep is overcoming me. So I'll close while I can still type with reasonable accuracy. Naturally, my typing is miserable, but I can't seem to do anything about it at the moment. You'll just have to figure some of this out the best you can. Until I hear from you, I remain,

Your friend,
Hunter S. Thompson
Command Courier
3201 AB Wg
Eglin AFB, Fla.

TO SERGEANT TED STEPHENS
:

Stephens, a hard-core military man, was Thompson's first sergeant at Scott Air Force Base. Thompson's erratic behavior drove the sergeant crazy, but they eventually developed a mutual respect. By Thompson's account Stephens overlooked at least a dozen insubordination infractions he committed during his nine-month stint at the base.

November 10, 1956
Eglin AFB
Fort Walton Beach, Florida

Sergeant Stephens:

Whether the name of Hunter Thompson will strike a chord in your memory or not, I really don't know. So I'll state briefly that I spent a very hectic six months in your squadron, which came to an end early last July. During this time, you may recall that I was intoxicated a good part of the time and was called in to see you innumerable times, to explain an astonishing variety of weird and unique violations of many regulations. I was threatened with every punishment from squadron duty to being buried alive under the stockade. Miraculously, I escaped from Scott with a second stripe—a novelty which you explained the day before I left by saying that you must have been thinking about something else when you saw my name on the promotion roster. Far be it from me to say that I deserved a promotion, but thanks anyway, because I was very glad to get it.

You're probably expecting me to say that the stockade here is quite comfortable and that I'm now an airman basic. But no such thing has occurred. As a matter of fact […] I expect to make airman first. Naturally, this will probably astound you, so I'll attempt some sort of explanation.

I think that I told you during one of our “sessions” that I was put into the radio career field against my will, and could work up no great love for the tube-pulling business—no matter how hard I tried. In part, I think this malassignment was responsible for a good portion of my trouble. Rather than being enthusiastic, I was totally resentful of any attempts to make a technician out of me. The fact that I came through school with a respectful average (about 55 or 56 I think) can be explained by the testing system at the school. The tests being multiple choice, I found it easy to figure out most of the answers by the application of simple psychology and the use of my memory, which is almost photographic at times. On the whole, though, I simply didn't give a damn about learning radio and made little effort to retain any of what I learned.

Well, to your great relief I'm sure, I finally left and, after a week or so at home, made the long trip to Eglin AFB at Fort Walton Beach, Florida.
After spending two miserable weeks in the Communications squadron here, I found out that the base paper was critically short of personnel. As I fancy myself to be something of a writer and plan to major in either Journalism or English in college, I volunteered my services and managed to be assigned to the job of sports editor on the
Command Courier.
I'm enclosing a few of my efforts and I'm sure that you can see that I'm definitely more at home in this field than I ever would be in the capacity of radio technician. At present, I've been working on the paper for about two months and, despite the fact that I have no experience at all in this line, I feel that I'm doing very well.

Instead of battling my environment, I enjoy my work tremendously and put in about 15 hours a day at it—for the simple reason that I like to write. You may also be interested to know that I have become completely sober—except on rare occasions—and have taken out a savings allotment, so that I will be able to have some spending money when I get to college. I am taking classes from Florida State University at night and, all in all, things are going very smoothly. Between studying, filling two sports pages each week, and trying to make some money writing, I'm kept too busy to get into any trouble.

Actually, the reason I'm writing all this is not because I think you're worried about what became of me; but to show you that it is sometimes wiser to give people a chance, as you did, rather than inflict a punishment which would only serve to create a troublesome attitude case. We both know that I should have been busted—according to all military regulations. But that would only have made me so bitter and troublesome, that I couldn't help but be a nuisance to the Air Force. Of course I could have been discharged, but that certainly would have been a negative solution. On the other hand, since you certainly went out of your way to keep from putting the screws to me, I'm now doing what I wanted to do in the first place and am helping both myself and the Air Force. Although I certainly have no plans to reenlist, my initial four years will be productive, and I will have a very valuable background when I begin working for a living as a civilian.

You might keep this letter in mind if you happen to come upon a case similar to mine, because you will know that it really doesn't take a violent punishment to straighten a man out. There are some people who react negatively to strictly regulated systems, and could be quite beneficial if they were placed in a job which interests them. Although I have more basic intelligence than a vast majority of the people in the radio career field, I could never have been a good radio man. On the other hand, as a writer, I can fill a very definite vacancy as far as the Air Force is concerned. (As further evidence of the ridiculous validity of Air Force tests, you might
be interested to know I recently made a 95 on my 5-level test. You recall that I spent only two weeks working on the equipment and very frankly confess that I know absolutely nothing about it. However, the test grade places me in category “A” and means that I don't have to meet a board to get my 5-level. Actually, it's sort of funny.)

Before I close, let me say that I had a fine time during my stay at Scott and would like to get assigned to the
Broadcaster
11
there, after I finish a tour in some overseas area. I have no idea when I'll go overseas, but if the world situation doesn't improve soon, I won't have long to wait. I only hope that I can get my AFSC
12
changed before I suddenly ship out of here for Egypt, or some other war-torn area. Incidentally, if you have never been to the Pine Room Tavern in Mascoutah, by all means give it a try. It's a quiet little place which makes the best hamburgers I've ever tasted, and serves premium beer in frosted mugs, for the paltry sum of $.15. I spent many a night there, watching television and writing letters, and if you happen to drop in on them, tell Erma that I said hello. Contrary to what you may imagine, I was never unruly in there and I'm sure that she got a completely different impression of me than you did.

Well, the hour is late and I probably should get some sleep. I can't help but think that, at this time of the night five months ago, I was probably out of my mind and giving some young girl a hard time. Ah, memories! […]

Don't feel obligated in any way to answer this letter. I just wanted to thank you for your patience and let you know that you did a wise thing when you didn't “put me under the stockade.” If there were more sergeants like you and fewer numbwit logheads, there would be fewer discipline problems in the Air Force. Keep up the good work and here's wishing you good luck.

very sincerely,
Hunter S. Thompson
Command Courier
3201 AB Wg
Eglin AFB, Fla.

P.S. I am serious about the Pine Room Tavern. It's the only place of its kind around Scott and if you ever have an evening when you have nothing to do, I'm sure that you'd enjoy a few draughts over there. If I ever get back to Scott, that will be the first place I'll head for. However, I'll leave that up to you; thanks again and au revoir.

TO GERALD “CHING” TYRRELL
:

At this time Thompson was reading John Dos Passos—which shows in the style of this letter to his friend at Yale.

BOOK: Proud Highway:Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman
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