Roland Bob Harris

Roland Bob Harris grew up in St. Louis then went on to act in 38 motion pictures, 18 national commercials, perform at the Muny for 20 years and become a successful singer.

On January 2, 1957, I was escorted by my mother and her friend Robert to Union Station to catch the train for Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas to begin my basic training. It was a cold, dark night. I boarded the train with a number of other recruits.  I was filled with a lot of anxiety. The trip seemed to take forever. But finally, we arrived in San Antonio. 

As I got off the train, the first thing that struck me was a group of training instructors screaming instructions and blowing whistles. We were placed on buses and transported to the base. Most of what happened in these early days completely escapes me. I do remember getting my head shaved, being given uniforms for all occasions. We were taken to the dispensary for exams and immunization shots.

The one important stop was our trip to the personnel office where I filled out a host of papers. One document that I filled out was for my mother to receive half of my pay. By doing so the U.S. Air Force added an additional equal amount to her check.

As we were assigned to our barracks and bunks, for some ungodly reason my instructors assigned me the task of being barracks chief. Are they kidding? What the hell are they smoking? Here I am 16 years old and in the Air Force under a fraudulent enlistment.  It wasn’t long before I demonstrated my ineptness. Within a few days, I worked my all the way down to latrine helper.

There were two phases to basic training. Each phase ran for four weeks. The first phase was like football practice, the difference being football practice lasts for a few hours a day. Basic training was 20 hours a day and seven days a week. Often times I thought I wasn’t going to make it. 

After the first four weeks, some of my fellow trainees went to technical schools. The rest of us went on to the second phase of basic training. First phase of basic was the hardest.  When I got into second phase of basic, it got a little easier.

While in basic training, I became good friends with a recruit from Chicago named Earl J. Dudley. He was a very nice young man. He was the kind of airman I wish I could have been. We were well liked by our fellow recruits. The training instructors rarely had cause to discipline Earl. On the other hand, I was always in hot water for one infraction or another.

But somehow I made it through basic training and was assigned to Vance Air Force Base in Enid, Oklahoma. Earl was also assigned to Vance A.F.B., and we both were assigned to work at the base supply. We were assigned to the shipping and receiving department. It was a great job. I learned a lot and was very good at my job. Later I worked my way into the office receiving phone calls processing aircraft parts from the various repair hangers.

Oklahoma at that time was a dry state. It was illegal to sell alcohol. That law must not have reached the residents of Oklahoma. Bootleggers were doing land office business.  In Enid there was one little dinky joint were the black residents would go drink under cover and socialize.

Segregation reigned supreme. The blacks in Enid literally lived on the other side of the tracks. There were only two black policemen. They could only patrol in the black section of Enid. Enid was a very dismal assignment.

On the base we had service club were we could go shoot pool, play cards, etc. The service club even had musical instruments that we could use there on the premises. I hooked up with a Mexican kid who played piano, a white guy that played saxophone and I played trumpet. I had learned to play the trumpet while attending Washington Tech. High School here in St. Louis. We would practice two or three times a week. After a lot of practice we got to be pretty good. 

Just as I found a reason to be content at Vance, I received orders to ship out to Osan Air Base Korea. At this time I had been station at Vance A.F.B. for a year and a half.  I was looking forward to going overseas. But I knew I would miss the good friends that I was leaving behind and thought I would never see any of them again. Wrong. Life is often stranger than fiction.

I was given a week’s leave prior to leaving for Korea. Upon my return to St. Louis I was never so pleasantly surprised. My mother had all but stopped drinking. She got a job as a maid for a very nice family that took great care of her. It seemed my little money she received every month gave her the motivation to improve her life.

After a week in St. Louis, I flew to Osan A.B, Korea. En route I had a stopover at Tachikawa, Japan. During my three day layover in Japan, I met a Japanese girl named Kimiko. We hung out one evening and had a great time. Shortly thereafter, I left for Korea. I truly enjoyed being stationed in Korea. 

Six months later, I was given what was called R&R (Rest & Recuperation). For my R&R I opted to go back to Tachikawa, Japan and look up Kimiko, as if she had been awaiting with bated breath for my return. Somehow I was able to remember how to get to her pad. I knocked on her door and she came down from the second floor and opened the door.

She gave me a strange look. As I looked up the stairs, I observed a male figure coming down the stairs. I swear to God, the man coming down the stairs was my best friend from basic training and Vance A.F.B., Earl J. Dudley. He and Kimiko were living together.

He and I embraced and started yelling. Kimiko thought we were fighting.  It took us a few minutes to calm her down. I still have trouble believing this really and truly happened.

In my finally offering next week, I will share with you another unbelievable encounter I had as I pursued my career as a movie actor.  You’ll never guess who I met. Feel free to email me at  rolandharris242@yahoo.com.

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