(A retelling from my extensive archives of a certain unfortunate incident, and the efforts involved in keeping a straight face when broadcasting about it on the local radio station.)
As it so happens with so many unfortunate incidents, it came out without much warning, and piece by piece, the first harbinger being in the form of an emergency spot announcement brought around from the front office by our admin NCO. The radio and television station at Zaragoza AB was situated in two (later three) ancient Quonset huts. The radio and engineering sections occupied the largest, which was two of them run together at some long-ago date. (We were never able to get permission to run all three buildings together with an extension— the cost of building such would be more than the real estate value of the three buildings being combined, and so, of course, it couldn’t be done. My heartfelt plea to build extensions to the existing buildings which would take them within six inches or so of the other structures and let us fill in the gap with a self-help project was routinely and cruelly rejected. Base Civil Engineering can be so f**king heartless.)
Sgt. Herrera found the radio staff in the record library: a small, windowless room almost entirely filled with tall shelves roughed out of plywood, and filled with 12-inch record discs in heavy white or manila shucks. A GSA metal utility office desk, and a couple of library card-file cabinets filled up the rest of the available space, which was adorned with outrageous and improbable news stories clipped from the finest and most unreliable tabloids, Far Side cartoons, and current hit charts from Billboard and Radio & Record. The morning guy was putting away the records that he had pulled for his show, the news guy was using the typewriter, and I was supervising it all, and prepping my playlist for the midday show.
“The SPs want this on the air right away.” He handed the slip of paper to me. “The dogs are real dangerous.”
I looked at the announcement: a couple of stray dogs had been reported in the base housing area and everyone was asked to call the Security Police desk if they were spotted. Under no circumstances was anyone to try and corner the dogs. Hmm, I thought. This was curious. There was supposed to be a pack of feral stray dogs on base — rumored to have occasionally menaced the lonely jogger on the more remote reaches of the base — but venturing into the housing area?
“What did they do?” I asked, idly.
“They killed a dog in the housing area.”
Ohhhh … that was nasty and unfortunate. I assured Sgt. Herrera that we would have it on air at the top of the hour, typed up the spot announcement into the proper format, and finished, just as the buzzer alert went off, in the corner, over the desk. Half-past, time to run into the studio for the changeover. In ancient radio days, the programs were recorded on 12-inch disks, 27 minutes of program on each side, which meant that at about 32 minutes past the hour, the on-duty board op had to make a dash into the studio and catch the out-cue, and start the second record player in order to ensure an uninterrupted flow of Charlie Tuna, Roland Bynum, Gene Price or whatever. When I came back to the library, TSgt. Scott, the program director, was there.
“You got it? The announcement about the dogs?”
“Yeah, I’ll hit it, at the top of the hour, over the fill music. So, what’s the story?”
TSgt. Scott coughed, slightly. “They mauled and killed a dog in the housing area.” For some reason, TSgt. Scott was trying to hold a somber face. “A pet – an old, half-blind toy poodle – let out onto the terrace to take a leak. The two stray dogs crashed through the hedge, and just ripped it up, and ran off.”
Obviously there was something more going on here. “OK, that’s awful – but what’s the story?
“It was Colonel G—–’s poodle.”
All four of us thought about that for a couple of moments.
“Oh, dear,” I said. Overtaken by the sick humor and canine misfortune of it, all four of us began snickering, guiltily. Colonel G—– was the Wing Commander on Zaragoza. He was a kindly gentleman of Finnish extraction, who came by once a week to record his comments responding to various local concerns relayed to the Public Affairs office — one of our junior troops had the truly outstanding ghost-writer’s gift of writing Colonel G—–’s remarks for him in words and phrasing that sounded perfectly natural, coming from him. He had immigrated to America in the late ’40ies, after a childhood so impoverished it had him and his sister sharing a single pair of shoes and going to school on alternate days. He usually came by the radio station in a flight-suit to record his remarks, on his way to rack up his required flight-time hours, and always gave me the impression of a schoolboy bidden to do one last chore before being loosed to freedom and play. I often wondered how his staff got any useful work out of him at all; I assumed they probably shackled his ankles to his desk, or something. Colonel G—– always seemed so cheerful, blasting out of the radio station, having done that one little Public Affairs chore for the week, heading out to the flight-line for a couple of hours of fun and freedom.
The Wing Commander and the Air Base Group Commander lived in the two largest houses on base — both with generous driveways, and porches and terraces. Oh, what fatal mischance had led a pair of stray dogs to brutally slaughter the cherished pet of the one person on post who could immediately bring all base responses into play! Of course, if someone else’s pet had been killed, right at their own house, we very well knew that the base forces of law, order, and protection would have been called into play, but not quite as swiftly. TSgt Scott listened to the morning guy give his verbal impression of what the two stray dogs must be thinking now, and the news guy a mock-monologue of Colonel G—– at the controls of an F-16, patrolling the skies over Zaragoza, looking for a pair of stray dogs with merciless intent and me saying, “That was a very bad choice, wasn’t it? And it’s sick and warped to be making fun of it … but it is kind of funny …”
“Yes, it is,” replied Sgt. Scott, “But have your mad moment here. Not a $#@!! word of this on air. Just read the announcement.”
“Of course,” I assured him. All of us had pets, some of us lived on base, and it was awful indeed. But still: Colonel. Poodle. Feral Dogs. Sometimes, the sick humor just about writes itself, as much as we wish it wouldn’t.