My father was Tech Sgt Lorenza Everett McAllister. It was the spring of 1959 and he had just arrived at Ramey Air Force Base in Puerto Rico to take over the flight command of the Base Police Station as the senior enlisted man in charge.
It started out as an otherwise routine day when the phone rang. This was not a typical routine call. It was about to be the beginning of a turning point in one manís life and the dramatic conclusion in anotherís.
The normal ambiance of daily military chatter, paper shuffling and office equipment noise was interrupted when the desk sergeant removed the phone receiver from his ear and turned to the NCO in charge.
ďGot a live one here, Sarge. You need to take it.Ē
Dad had just started his tour of duty at the air base weeks before, awaiting the arrival of the rest of us, his family, from the States in a few more days. He was a big man with a slow, easygoing demeanor and soft spoken drawl that befit his Southern heritage. He was suited to his job, a man who enjoyed being in control and readily took to the tasks of running military police operations. While it was understandable that he was raised in a small country town in South Georgia, it was equally inconceivable that he would have spent his life farming tobacco and cotton had he not enlisted in the military almost twenty years before.
He picked up the receiver and identified himself. After several minutes elapsed, a certain air of concern began to permeate the room. No one could hear the dialogue on the other end of his phone conversation, but it soon became clear they had a police emergency developing from the tone of his voice. One by one MPís in the station stopped what they were doing and listened intently to the one-sided conversation they heard taking place.
ďDonít do anything rash,Ē he told the caller. ďLook, Iíve got to hit the latrine, but Iíll be right back. We need to talk some more, so Iím clear what you need me to do. Here, Iím going to turn you over to my desk sergeant for a moment. Tell him what you told me, so he can jot down your instructions before I get back. Alright? Okay, hold on a second.Ē
He had been talking to a staff sergeant phoning from a pavilion in a recreational area which was referred to as Officerís Beach.
The soldier was despondent. Not only was he suicidal, but obviously serious about taking his life. The man said he had his 45 (military issue 45 caliber revolver) pointed at his head and wanted to talk to someone before he pulled the trigger. He wanted to make sure someone understood why he was doing what he was about to do and the base police were the most logical, since they would be among the first on the scene once he killed himself. He was apparently having big financial problems and his wife was threatening to leave him. He had two small children.
Dad lowered the receiver and cupped the mouthpiece with his hand, turning to the desk sergeant.
ďWeíve got a suicide at Officerís Beach. Keep him talking,Ē he instructed. ďNo matter what, keep him on the line. Iím going down there. Iíll be on the radio if anything develops.Ē
He handed the receiver to his desk sergeant, ran outside and jumped into his jeep.
Ramey is located on the northwest corner of the island of Puerto Rico. Officerís Beach was an area on the water running along the western shore of the base, used by commissioned and high ranking non-commissioned officers and their families for weekend outings. It would normally take approximately ten minutes to drive to the site from the base police command center. Dad made the trip in less than five.
As he pulled into the pavilion area, he spotted the man standing, talking on the phone with his 45 in hand. When the distraught airman spotted the jeep approaching, he nonchalantly released the telephone receiver, pointed the gun at his temple and pulled the trigger. His brains were splattered all over the vicinity.
A full contingent of military police, emergency personnel and investigators were dispatched. That spring day in 1959 marked the moment when Dad began to suspect that his loyalty to the Air Force was waning and that his career was coming close to an end after 19 years.
He was preoccupied for days with various reports about the incident. In addition to being the only eye witness, he was the senior enlisted man in charge of the military investigation responsible for piecing the tragedy together. We arrived in Puerto Rico a few days after the turmoil. He was unable to sleep for weeks.
What upset him was not the soldierís death or even that he had witnessed the bloodshed, but rather that the military would not provide any benefits to the manís wife and children because his death was caused by suicide. He didnít even care that much about the manís wife, figuring she not only somehow fit into the scheme of things, but was old enough to fend for herself and somehow put her life back on track.
He was preoccupied thinking about those kids. Concerned not only about their financial welfare, but the emotional impact they would suffer, he lost sleep worrying about how their lives would be affected by the fact that their father took his own life while they were small children. He even spearheaded a slush fund for them before they were rotated back to the states.
I heard him retell that story on a number of occasions in the years that followed. He had no trouble recounting the details of the event, even while talking about the moment of impact when the bullet ripped through the manís skull. But he would always become solemn, sometimes a bit choked up, when he would wonder aloud what ever became of those kids.