It was 1953 in the base photo lab at Laredo Air Force Base in Texas. I came around the corner from the lab into the washer/dryer room and found a Second Lieutenant looking at the photo prints circulating in the washer. He gave me a long hard look and then said “You guys sure know how to party!”
The party pictures he was looking at were from a pseudo-homosexual swim party of young men in compromising positions on the beach of one of the local lakes.
Trying to keep a straight face at his remark, I escorted the officer back to the front office and asked if I could help him, being careful to get his contact information.
The photo lab already had a sketchy reputation. In the last month the five-man photo lab had received five of the total of six delinquency reports for the whole base issued by the Air Police. In addition, I had just been threatened with a courts martial for a practical joke. If the Lieutenant was to talk about what he had seen, it would just add to our growing notoriety.
Why did I say pseudo-homosexual?
During both the Korean and Vietnam wars it was common for some service men to pretend to be homosexuals to get out of the service. It came with serious drawbacks since you were discharged with a less than an Honorable Discharge. This meant you were not eligible for the GI Bill and other veteran benefits. Depending on the specifics of the type of discharge it could mean being classified as a felon in some states. Just by examining the photos, it was clear to me that this was what was going on. Getting this type of discharge never made sense to me, especially since there was more risk of an Air Force enlisted man dying from a traffic accident than being killed in the Korean War — unless he was a tail gunner in a bomber flying over enemy territory. Attacking fighters tried to take the tail gunner out first to improve their odds of shooting down the plane..
The photographs were taken by an undercover agent from the Air Force Office of Special Investigation (AFOSI) and I processed the film and made the prints the Lieutenant was looking at.
For larger teams, AFOSI usually had their own photographer, but not for the small team on our base. They selected one photo lab photographer to do their work, who always interacted with the same agent to minimize compromising the identity of agents. I was the selected photographer.
After the Lieutenant left, I fed the prints into the drying drum and called the AFOSI agent and told him they were ready. When he picked them up later I told him about the officer examining the pictures and gave him the contact information in case he wanted to talk to the officer.
I don’t think he did, because the rumors of what went on in the photo lab, some true and some not, kept circulating.
Another story told over coffee and biscotti during our morning talks.