A Couple Memorable Nights at the Auger

 A Couple Memorable Nights in The Auger
or, What I Saw There, I Probably Should Leave There…
(…but the stories are just too good!)

There is this bar downstairs in the Officer’s Club (O’Club) at Randolph Field, TX called the “Auger Inn.”[1]  On any given Friday or Wednesday night it would rival “Cheers.”  It takes its name from a World War l aviation term: “auger in.”  This was a term used to describe an aircraft (and pilot) as it spun to Earth; out of control, usually just after having been “shot down.”  Often the pilots of these distressed aircraft had no choice but to “ride it in” – to “auger in” – as they didn’t carry parachutes in those early days of combat.  It must have been terrifying, but we have no record of their last thoughts or comments – we didn’t have aircraft radios in those days.  However we do have witnesses, and comments of a few pilots who survived near fatal “hits” in the Auger Inn at Randolph.  These are a few of their stories; a few of our stories.

I first stumbled down into the Auger in the summer of 1968.  It wasn’t hard.  You walked into the front door of the Club, slid a little to the right, then downstairs.  Half way down was a landing.  Take a left and keep descending.  At the bottom of the stairs it got tricky.  There was a barber shop, and some offices of some kind or another just at the base of the stairs.  The Auger was actually around the corner to the right.

The first thing you would notice in those days was how dark it was.  It took a bit of time for the eyes to acclimate.  Usually not a problem.  If you “shaded” a bit to the left, then made a ½ right you had a straight shot to the bar.  Any other route you ran the risk of cratering into tables or posts until your eyes adjusted to the dark.

In those days UPT was still being conducted at Randolph.[2]  Scattered throughout the room were the individual class plaques of pilot training classes that had either graduated, or were about to graduate.  As you headed to the bar, off to the right was a ‘makeshift stage’ for bands.

Once you got to the bar, you would find Mr. Moss.  He was a quiet black man who kept a watchful eye on everything.  It was his bar – no question.  If you ordered a drink from Mr. Moss, he knew what you drank.

While I became “acquainted” with the Auger, that summer in 1968, I became “intimate” with it during UPT.  I began UPT in April 1970, Class 71-07.  The Auger soon became our “watering hole.”  It was a great place to go to on Friday nights, to “set your hair on fire.”  And a couple of us, did.

At the time, in 1970, the Auger was more or less a “Stag Bar.”  No women allowed during Happy Hour.  If you happened to walk in with a gal on your arm, or “in tow,” it cost ya.  It usually didn’t take long before someone spotted the breach of etiquette and rang the bell.  Each Stag Bar had a bell in those days, with a set of etiquette of its own.  When someone rang the bell, and you were the guilty one, it cost ya a round of drinks. This could get pretty expensive – pretty fast.

Probably as good of time as any other to discuss other breaches of Stag Bar etiquette here.   Besides walking in with a woman, walking in with your hat on also cost ya.  And, if your wife called you in the Stag Bar, during Happy Hour, it also cost ya.  Simple rules, but to be obeyed.  Oh, and every now and then some FNG or shoeclerk would walk over and ring the bell just for the hell of it.[3]  That also would cost ya.

There were those occasions where I saw aviators deliberately ring the bell.  Promotions, births, assignment night and divorces were a couple examples here.  With all the time I spent in the Auger, I never had the bell rung on me…

Quite candidly, in the late 60s, early 70s the Auger was a bar for pilots.  Student pilots or rated pilots.  Pilots.  On occasion a “covey” of shoeclerks would venture in, settle at a table in the corner, but were soon humiliated into leaving.  A simple question from a concerned aviator usually got the conversation started.  Something like, “And what UPT base did you wash out of?” or “Why do you think your IP didn’t like you?” was usually an “ice breaker.”  From my experience, if we just ignored ‘em, they tended to get disgusted on their own, and leave.

One of my earliest, and fondness memories of a “night at the Auger” occurred just after Colonel Hoyt S. Vandenberg Jr. took command of the Wing.  This would have been in early 1970.

One afternoon we were informed flying had been suspended, and that all the pilots were to meet in one of our hangers at 1530.  Rumors ran wild; what was this about?  From base closures to “cranking it up” in Vietnam” – no one knew.

When we all gathered in the hanger, we saw a long, flat bed truck in the middle.  Soon we were all called to ‘Attention,’ and in came Col. Vandenberg; along with the Wing Director of Operations (DO) and the three squadron commanders.  When they were all in place on the truck, Col. Vandenberg stepped up to the ‘mike’ and said something to the effect:

“Men, I have now been in ATC for approximately 6 weeks – and I am sick and tired of hearing what a bunch of “pussies” ATC pukes are.  That’s gonna change; right now!.  I want now to introduce the “Wing Drinking Team.”  With this, as if upon command, the other 4 guys all snapped their heads to the right.  Colonel Vandenberg had not said a thing to them either!  He then went on to say,  ”Beginning tonight, at 1630, beer in the Auger will be 15 cents a bottle.  We (his staff) are hereby challenging any five of you to a chugging contest.  If you weak dicks can’t drink beer, just stand there and pour it over your head.”

You could just feel the electricity begin to build in the hanger!  It was a “magic” moment.  We were soon dismissed, and folks began heading over to the Auger – except our class.  We had to complete the Morse Code exam.  As it turned out, we were on our way by 1630.  And when we got there, the party was just beginning.

There stood Col. Vandenberg, and his drinking team.  They had already met 3-4 challenges, and were still going strong.  It was wild!  I think they eventually survived 5-6 challenges before they lost.  But in retrospect, none of us “lost” that night.  Camaraderie, e’spirit de corps, magic – call it what you want , it was exhilarating!

I remember walking up to the bar and handing Mr. Moss a dollar.  He, in turn, gave me a six-pack of cold Bud, in bottles.  One in each lower leg pocket, one in each breast pocket and one in each hand.  How cool was that?  From then on, I really don’t remember that much.  (Imagine that?)

The next day I noticed my flight boots were cut.  Then I remember walking through about 3-4 inches of beer, on the floor of the Auger.  (That my friend, is “alcohol abuse!”)  I wore those boots, as ‘badges of honor,’ until I wore ‘em out.

Over the years I saw careers made, and lost in the Auger Inn.  It began with a guy in my class.  We were about 10 weeks from graduation and this guy tells our Class Commander, “There is no way I will bomb anybody.”  Dumb!  At that time our class standing was based totally upon merit, upon class standing.  Everything we did was graded – academics, flying, sims, physical training – everything.  This kid was high enough to where he could have gotten a C-141A, flown for his commitment and head off to the airlines.  But no!  His gun, his bullet and his foot.  He was ”gone” the following Monday.

While some today might shirk at the “glamorization” of alcohol, there was also a “policy” in place wherein an individual had a “last chance” heading off base.  A set of cones was set up in the middle of the two-lane road heading off base.  If you hit one of those cones on your way home, you were directed to pull over by the Security Policeman (SP) on gate duty.  Then another SP got in your car and took you home.  Did you have a choice?  You bet.  You could go directly to jail – on base.

Once the SP got you home, he brought your car back to base, for you to pick up in the morning.  Simple, and it worked.  By the way, if on your way off base, you didn’t feel like you could make it, you could always stop and request a ride home.  No problem.

The program worked pretty well until some lawyer got in the act.  Questions about insurance issues; end of program.  (Blood beginning to boil, had better get back to the Auger…)

One of the “recurring” big nights at the Auger was when a class became “Senior Class,” about six weeks before graduation.  It was when your class plaque was hung in honor above the bar.  The end of a tough year was in sight.

When the class before us celebrated their “plaque hanging,” they were all seated at a long table, extending (perpendicular) out from the bar.  Everyone was in a festive mood – then “the shit hit the fan.”  Someone was walking down the center of the elongated senior class table.  Drinks were being kicked over; people were scrambling and screaming, others were trying to grab the guy walking down their table.  The “guy” was “Firewater,” from our class!

“Firewater” got his name because he couldn’t drink more than 1 or 2 beers.  He had had his limit when his class leader, a former F-4 Nav (navigator) told him, “Firewater, you’re a ‘weak dick’ if you don’t walk down the center of that table.”  That’s all it took…

“Assignment Night” was another ‘recurring night’ at the Auger.  You would see guys either celebrating their good fortune, or lamenting about what they should have had.  Either way, the bell rung, and the beer flowed freely – “freely” being the operative word.

I can’t tell you when, but at some point during that period I would notice that upon occasion shoeclerks would stand at the entry, often with dates or guests, and point at us.  It was if they were watching animals at the zoo.  Well, maybe… Then you could see them shake their heads as they retreated to the “formal” bar upstairs – the lounge bar for the “officers.”

Before I move on I think it the time to introduce “Augie Doggies.”  This not a very flattering term, universally used to describe the single women, and sometimes the not-so-single women, who would show up down in the Auger on Friday nights.  They came from all over San Antonio in those days.  School teachers, secretaries, dental assistants, college girls, who-ever.  And, they were all welcomed.  As they showed up, the party started!

It was toward the end of my pilot training when Nomex flight suits were issued.  These are flight suits that are “fire-retardant;” not  “fire proof.”  But what the hell did we know?  That first Friday night down in the Auger, after the first 3-4 beers, out came the cigarette lighters.  I can still feel the stinging on my left arm from melted Nomex!  Morons, we were…

I graduated from UPT in April 1971, driving off base with a sense of sorrow mixed with the excitement of embarking upon a new chapter of my life.  I knew I would miss the Auger.

Over the next 3 years I visited San Antonio a couple times.  My folks lived there.  And each time I visited I found my way to the Auger.  It was always like going home.   If I didn’t know anyone when I walked in, I soon did.  And of course, there was always Mr. Moss; with his ever-knowing eye and warming smile.

In 1975 I received an assignment to T-38s at Vance AFB, OK.  That carried with it a 3-month TDY to the Auger; ah sorry, to PIT at Randolph.[4]  Back in my element; it was if I never left.  When I walked down there that first night, there was Mr. Moss.  I saw his face light up as he handed me a Bud.  The guy was amazing!

T-38 PIT was a tough course in those days.  We would fly hard during the week, the party hard on Friday night, in the Auger.  Same outrageous behaviors, same condescending shoeclerks, same beautiful Augie Doggies.  I think the closest thing I can relate it to, if you weren’t there during the period, is the bar scene out of “Star Wars.”

After PIT I would drop in the Auger every time I visited San Antonio, perhaps once a quarter.  On one of those visits I ran into my PIT IP.  I had not cared for the twit, not one bit.  He acted as if he was “overjoyed” to see me, greeting me with something like, “Holliker, I see you’re still alive!”  I decided to ‘take the high road.’

“Yes, I am Snip,” I replied.  I went on to say, “You know Snip, you taught me many things while I was here at PIT.  Probably the best thing you taught me was; you don’t have to be an asshole to be a good IP!”  I then walked away, leaving him with a rather perplexed look upon his face.  I don’t think he ever “got it,” as on subsequent visits he always greeted me as a long lost friend…

Then in 1978 I was assigned to Headquarters ATC.  I was a “Headquarters Puke.”  Most of ‘them’ drank upstairs in the formal bar, enhancing their careers.  No me – I was happy in the Auger.  Often you would see Headquarters Pukes make an appearance in the Auger, then retire upstairs to the formal bar for career progression.

One night two IPs from another base came down in the Auger, just soaking wet.  Seems just after they landed and got to their BOQ rooms the rain began.[5]   At first it was tolerable, but shortly after leaving the Q for the O’Club it really began pouring.  As they quickly walked through the rain, hunched over with their hands in their jacket pockets, a staff car approached.   Upon seeing the staff car they both rendered salutes, and the driver, the Wing Commander, told them to get in.  “Great,” they thought.  Only the Wing Commander didn’t take them to the O’Club.  Instead he drove over to the parachute shop.

Upon arriving at the parachute shop “JP,” the Wing Commander, told the two IPs to hand over their jackets.  Somewhat confused, the IPs complied.  He then headed into the ‘chute shop, with the two jackets.

A short time later, “JP” returned and handed the jackets back to the IPs – with the pockets sown shut!  He then took the two IPs back to where he first picked them up, and tossed them out, telling them to keep their hands out of their pockets!

Following a 2-year assignment to Australia in 1980 I returned to Randolph Field, and the Auger for the remainder of my career.  And I was in Heaven!  I loved the Auger on Friday nights.  It was where I was “home.  (Or so I thought.)  Over those last 6 years I saw and participated in a lot of “activity” in the Auger.

Late one night, as things were just beginning to wind down, I was heading past the poolroom on my way out.  I heard a bit of a ruckuses, and peeked in to investigate.  Standing at opposite ends of the pool table was a Lt. Col. and a senior major – with their ‘balls’ hanging out their flight suits, over the rails of the pool table.  Why?  Hell, I don’t know.  Both were pretty well hammered.  They were taking turns flinging the “Q” ball down the length of the table at each other’s balls.  I watched a couple “rounds,” then took my leave… Why would anyone want to do that?  I myself was “hammered,” but not that hammered!

On another night we were drinking and “telling lies” when someone asked who’s turn it was to buy.  Someone else shouted out, “It’s Butch’s turn.”  And everyone picked up the call, “Yeah, Butch!”  Only there was no “Butch,” just Craig.  He was very good-natured about he call, and headed off to the bar for drinks.

Standing on the peripheral of our little circle, as he always was, was our squadron commander.  A “careerist” if there ever was one.  He is most certainly in the “Reg-readers Hall of Fame,” I’m sure.  Not much personality, but he sure knew the regs.

Earlier the week, as we were closing down our flight operations for the day, he asked me who was flying (as the check pilot) a certain check ride the next day.  Without lending much thought to it I replied, “That would be Grady, Sir.”  Grady was our squadron Operations Officer at the time; I was the Chief of Check Section.  Didn’t even give it a second thought, until he called me into his office a short time later.

“Bob,” he began, “please don’t take this the wrong way.  We really need to be cognizant about using senior officer’s first names here at work.”  He must have seen in my face that I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about.  He shortly went on, “you referred to Lt. Col. H as “Grady” a moment ago, and Airman Schmuckenfuss is still in the building.”  FMITH!

I was taken aback.  I was a major then, and we all were “field grade” officers.  But I was in the “wrong.”  Airman Schmuckenfuss was in the building when I referred to Grady as Grady.  I apologized for my oversight, and told him it wouldn’t happen again.

So, now, back to the Auger.  Craig has just headed off to the bar for drinks.  Lt. Col. RRR calls me aside and asks, “Bob, why are the guys calling Craig, ‘Butch?’”

“Well Sir,” I replied, “it’s because it’s not his first name.”  Craig was also a Lt. Col., a senior officer, at the time.  RRR just stood there and stared at me, rather perplexed.   It just did not compute.

(Late in summer of 1987 I knew I would be leaving the Air Force soon.  It wasn’t that there were “greener passages” on the outside that attracted me – it was the “direction” the Air Force was taking.  In some ways I felt I was being “left behind.”  I was deeply troubled by a rise of “careerism.”  I witnessed a tremendous influx of “college boys” from TAC.[6]   There just weren’t enough fighter squadrons and intermediate command positions available for their “fast burners.” So the lower echelon of the crowd was being sent down to the “minors’ to get their “command” tickets punched.

These guys were inserted into Wing level command structures as squadron commanders and assistant DOs, often passing over more competent individuals with extensive training backgrounds.  Right away we began to see cultural changes, and not all for the better.  The “handwriting was on the wall,” and I knew it was time to go…)

One early September Friday evening, in 1987, I found myself downstairs in the Auger just after 1800 hrs.  Imagine that.  The festivities were just cranking up; I was probably into my 2nd or 3rd beer.  The air conditioning wasn’t working and it was getting hot, as more and more folks began to show up.  I was talking with a couple young 2nd lieutenants from Laughlin AFB, TX when their Wing Commander walked up.  The three of us had been standing there, with the sleeves of our flight suits pulled up, and taped off on our forearms – as I was prone to do, in or out of the Auger.  Command frowned on this, maintaining it was “unprofessional.”

To his credit, the Laughlin Wing Commander didn’t give me any “crap,” per se; he just asked his two Lieutenants to pull down their flight suit sleeves.  He explained, “We at Laughlin, tend to maintain a high “professional level of demeanor” – or something of the sort.  Just what I was talking about earlier.  Its getting hot as hell down there, sweat is rolling off all of us and this “bozo” wants his troops to roll their sleeves down!

While he didn’t address me directly, I got the message.  I excused myself and headed over to the table where my wife was seated.  On the way I picked up a couple “wingmen:” Jim, Jeff and Chuck, and told them to follow my “lead.”  They did without question.

We all stopped by the table where my wife was sitting and “field stripped” ourselves of our wallets, watches and boots.  We then headed upstairs and out the back, to the O’Club pool.  Being it was after Labor Day, the pool was closed.  Didn’t make any difference it was still above 90 degrees at that hour – the shoeclerks had their rules.  (Money for lifeguards.)  At any rate the four of us hopped the fence and took the plunge.  As I was crawling out of the pool, I happened to glance up and notice the “horror” on faces of the folks gawking at us out the window.  Oh, I can imagine…

The four of us then headed back down to the Auger.  When I retrieved my wallet, watch and boots I walked back over to where the Laughlin Wing Commander was still talking to his two young Lieutenants.  Only now I left my sleeves down.  I purposely took a place next to him as he was talking.  It wasn’t long before he put a hand on my shoulder, to make a point.  Right away he exclaimed, “Bob, you’re all wet!”

“Yess Sir, I am,” I replied, “but, my sleeves are rolled down.”  I then walked away – point made.  It wasn’t too long after that that the club manager came over the PA with an announcement, asking folks not to jump in the pool anymore.

Nothing was ever directly said to me, other than a casual comment at our Wing staff meeting the following Monday.  Col. K. just made an off-the-cuff remark that the O’Club pool was indeed, closed for the season…

After I submitted my retirement papers, I became even more “brazen” with the “politically-correct college boys.”  Throughout the Spring of 1988 I had been flying at Dyess AFB, TX for the week, helping new B-1 pilots with their transition to “fast movers.”  Great flying!  I imagine I was only about 3 weeks or so from retirement when I had to bring a jet back to Randolph one Friday afternoon, solo.  Now, Dyess is only 180 NM from Randolph – about 25 minutes flying time.  When I landed, I had logged almost 2 hours of flight time.

I knew “the end was near,” and I wanted to take some time to just “cruise,” and “be with” the jet for a while.  So, I took off and headed West (vs. South.)  I climbed to Flight Level 430 (43,000 feet), settled in and just enjoyed the view.

After I landed, I rolled through the squadron and headed over to the Auger.  I had been down there for maybe 10 or 15 minutes when I noticed the Assistant DO bearing down on me with a look of determination.  A man on a mission.  (He and I by this time, had a “history.”)  He pulled me aside and asked me, “Bob, can you tell me why you logged 1.9 on your flight home from Dyess?”  He could hardly hold his anger.

“Sure,” I replied.  “First, the higher the landing speed in a T-38 the more wear on the brakes.  I have sat through many, many staff meetings where Maintenance has implored upon us to be sensitive of brake wear.”  I could see his jaws begin to tighten as he knew I was “packing sunshine up his ass.”  So, I continued, “Furthermore, on my last overhead pattern I noted I only had 700 pounds of gas remaining, and we have to land with 600 pounds, so I thought I had better “full stop.”  Now he was really fuming, so I decided to add “the crown jewel.”  I continued, “The folks at Dyess wanted to shut down (their operations) early so they wanted me to depart around 1530 hrs.  If I came directly to Randolph, that would have put me on the ground around 1615 or so.  Then I would have had to wait 45 minutes until Happy Hour.”  That sent him over the edge!  He just turned and stormed out.  (I think he may have headed upstairs, to “lick his wounds” with the “careerists!”)

After I retired from the Air Force I continued to “check in” at the Auger; but nowhere near with the frequency of before.  In 1991 I left Randolph, San Antonio and the Auger.  In all actuality it wasn’t that hard to leave behind; the Auger had been undergoing a “transformation” for years.

The first thing you would notice is, it looked more like a TAC bar than an ATC bar.  The brought down camouflage netting and a “dummy” 500-pound bomb for “ambiance.”  Well, okay.  If that made the transplanted TAC guys “feel better,” I suppose…

One afternoon, when I was flying with the airlines, I had a young copilot, and we got to talking about the Air Force.  It wasn’t long before the Auger entered the conversation.  He then began telling me about a “bizarre” incident he had witnessed one night.

Seems he and a friend stopped in on a Friday night, on a weekend cross-country.  He told me he had been flying A-10s at the time.  As they were sitting there, he saw a very pregnant woman, in a flight suit, walk up to a guy who was a wee bit “lit.”  She grabbed his ear, and yanked him off his seat.  As he stumbled to stand, she kicked him in the ass, and he sprawled forward on all fours.

The A-10 guy continued to tell me that they just sat there with their mouths opened in total amazement.  Neither of them had even seen anything like it before.  The “downed pilot” went on to have his ass kicked all the way out of the Auger!

At that time, I told him where he and his wingman had been sitting that evening.  He looked at me with complete surprise.  I was correct.  I had been there that night, sitting with the “downed pilot.”

Here of late, the Auger has gone through a “make-over.”  It now looks like a “sports bar.”  Well lighted, TVs everywhere, roomy, and so forth.  It actually looks kinda “sterile,” like the squadron these days.  I suppose now the shoeclerks will feel “safe” down there.  At least until “the Ravens” show up for their annual appearance.

I quit drinking in 1994; probably about 30 years past the time I should have stopped.  At any rate, if I were still drinking today, I doubt if you would find me in the Auger anymore.  It’s just not the same… progress, I suppose.  Kinda sad…

[1] I use the past tense here because I don’t think it’s the same.  More later.
UPT – Undergraduate Pilot Training.
FNG – Fuckin’ New Guy.
Shoeclerk – Non-rated puke, analogous to and interchangeable with: ‘bureaucrat.’
PIT – Pilot Instructor Training.
BOQ – Bachelor Officer’s Quarters.  Also known as the “Q”.
TAC – Tactical Air Command.

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2 Responses to A Couple Memorable Nights at the Auger

  1. David Bumgardner says:

    Oh, the memories! Mr. Moss used to chase me out of The Auger back in the sixties when I was a lad peeking around the corner from the stairs in an attempt to see the “dancers”. When I returned as an IP there in ’83, I was amazed to see he remembered who I was. Many great moments of camaraderie and fellowship in that watering hole. There were times I wished those days had never ended. Was at the club for a retirement ceremony this year and it was not the same. Just found your blog. Hope Father Time has treated you well. It has been a pleasure reading your missives. Once a Cheetah…….

    • Cheeta17 says:

      Dave, I remember you! I was in the 560th from Jul ’82 – Jul ’88 when I retired. And you are absolutely correct with your observation of the Auger. It is now a bar for GD PC shoeclerks! And how are you doing these days? Bob

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