by Allen Dale Olson
It was one of those hot, muggy spring Sundays in Washington when I decided on the spur of the moment to take my wife and daughter for a drive through Rock Creek Park and follow the scenic street around the National Zoo to Connecticut Avenue to a little pizzeria for an early dinner. Traffic on Connecticut Avenue that evening seemed far more congested than ever, so on a hunch I turned onto a side street gambling that we would find a way to sneak into that little strip mall and find our pizza.
“Hey,” I shouted out, “that looks like Sue – and Doc.” Indeed it was Sue and Doc, and it had been at least three years since we had seen either of them. They were trying to push a car along the little street.
Dr. (Doc) Joseph A. Mason had been Director of the U.S. Air Force Dependents Schools System in Europe from 1956 through 1961 when he and his wife, Sue, had gone off to Uganda to head the A.I.D. mission there. During his years in Europe, I had been a teacher and principal in schools on U.S. Air Bases in Turkey, Germany, England, and France and had seen him several times but never on any sort of continuing basis. Coincidentally, when he left for Africa, I left Europe for a senior position on the staff of the National Education Association just up 16th Street from the White House.
Doc and Sue were glad to see us. They had borrowed a car from a friend in whose apartment they were staying, and it had run out of gas. They had seen a gas station at the end of the little street and had been hoping to shove the car to a pump. There were hugs and exclamations of surprise at the chance meeting and words of astonishment at how much our four-year-old had grown.
Together we eased the car to the curb, and I drove Doc to the gas station where we got a two-gallon can, filled it, and made sure the car would start. They, too, were ready for pizza, and our place was just past the gas station.
They had come to Washington because his tour with A.I.D. was over, and he wanted to claim his job rights to the Directorship of the Air Force schools as he had been promised when he took the Africa job. But there were complications.
The Congress had since mandated the Secretary of Defense to merge the Dependents Schools Systems of the Air Force, Army, and Navy in Europe into a single Directorate under the supervision of the Army. In effect, Doc would be competing with former Directors of the Army and Navy systems for the new Directorate.
I suggested he might consider applying for the Superintendency of the Montgomery County Public Schools. He shook his head; his heart – and Sue’s – was set on getting back overseas, which caused him to ask me about how I felt about returning to Europe.
My wife and I both told him we missed overseas life and working with the military. He said that he therefore assumed that if he got the appointment, I would consider joining his staff.
“It all depends,” he said on the U.S. Commander-in-Chief, Europe. “The Directorate would be in the same buildings used by the former Army school headquarters in Karlsruhe, Germany, and the Commander would make the appointment.” He explained that when it was decided to make the merger, the Army had hired a civilian superintendent who had had no military experience. It now seemed that both the superintendent and the three military service commanders were unhappy about the appointment. If he would leave, the position would be open for the Army commander to make a new appointment.
Doc was leaving for Germany the next week to be interviewed by the general and felt that because of his previous experience with the Air Force school system and the A.I. D. appointment, he would be extremely competitive for the job. Some six weeks later, he sent me a telegram that he was getting the job and would want to see me when he came “soon” to Washington.
“Soon” was right after New Year’s 1967. My wife and I met him at the Watergate Inn for dinner. (Yes, THE Watergate office/apartment complex of Nixon notoriety not too many years later. ) Over some good German wine, we talked as if I had already hired on. Since his appointment, he had been working to assure that the Directorate would properly serve Air Force and Navy installations as well as those on Army installations throughout the “European Area,” now described as Sub-Saharan Africa to the Arctic Circle, all of Western Europe and the Middle East, some 200 schools to operate, another couple hundred of international and host nation schools to whom we pay tuition for military kids.
“Charlie Ross will stay as my deputy,” he said, “and I don’t think you know him, but I’ve made Tom Wilber my Chief of Staff; now I need an executive officer who can travel to military communities and interact with commanders and parent groups and the press. Your recent exposure to national education issues and past work with the military makes you a natural for this.”
A month later, another telegram summoned me to an Army recruitment office in the Old Post Office Building on Pennsylvania Avenue (YES, the future Trump Hotel), where I met Doc’s personal chief recruiter, Helen Johanns, who walked me through all the Civilian Personnel offices necessary to sign me on.
Memorial Day in May 1967, my wife, daughter, and I flew to Frankfurt where we were met by a German driver in an Army sedan and driven to Karlsruhe and a new career I learned to love and which ended more than 20 years later as a senior staff member on the Heidelberg staff of the U.S. Army Europe Commander-in-Chief.
Oh, fate! and a pizza pie and an empty gas tank.
This story first posted in 2018 in a Karlsruhe Alum Facebook Group. We have reposted with permission…
Morning KAHS! I’ve been in the (FB) group for a number of years now but never truly had an opportunity of telling my KAHS story.
I only spent my 7th grade there before moving back to the States. I was in the Looking Forward to Looking Back Yearbook edition. I with many students were being bussed from Germesheim to KAHS. My memories were that it seemed like a tight community and the High Schoolers were like giants to me. My parents always made sure that we had the yearbooks for our memories. You know as well as I do that departures are expected being a military brat but you eventually get over it. I’d always wonder what happened to my 7th grade classmates and High School Students that I secretly admired. I never thought there’d ever be a connection until Facebook. My yearbook there was a cherished memory that I still hold to my heart. The rest of my story.
We moved back to my hometown of Alexandria,La where I completed my 8th grade and then on to Bolton High School. I had a distinct advantage over my peers due to the fact that High School wasn’t a shock factor to me. I had already experienced it two years prior. I was able to find a love, desire, and passion for running. I remember I had a few 7th grade classmates on the Cross Country Team at KAHS. I also remember some people I admired from High School on the team. I ended up being a Louisiana State Champion in Cross Country and Track on many occasions I followed the career of Nina Gage and was inspired. I ran Track and Cross Country at Southern University where I had two Olympic Gold Medalist I was chasing. I eventually ended up with a few conference records as well as existing School records. I’d later compete for New Balance and win a few National titles on the Club and Masters level. I was recently inducted into the Southern University Hall of Fame and just wanted to share where my journey began. KAHS helped me with a key adjustment period in my life! It inspired me to be great and be a Knight!
1989 would’ve been my graduation year! So grateful!