‘Born to be wild’

Published 9:30 am Thursday, March 14, 2024

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By Bonnie Bartel Latino


Lt. Tommy Latino and I left Mule Shoe, Texas, with one snapshot of the life-sized bronze mule and headed to Clovis, New Mexico, for our two-night honeymoon. Surprise! Clovis was not a resort destination like Ruidoso, like I had thought. We saw only drive-in liquor stores, tumbleweeds, and our destination, Ye Ole Holiday Inn. We rarely left. As for the first night of our honeymoon, it seemed exactly as Mrs. D. Peavy, former Advance social columnist, often said, “A good time was had by all.”   

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When sunshine and laughter filled our room early the next morning, I awakened to find my lieutenant wearing his tighty-whities, watching cartoons. The only other thing on television that weekend was sad coverage of the Robert F. Kennedy funeral train taking the body of America’s 64th attorney general to Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. RFK had been assassinated in Los Angeles the night before our wedding.

A final note about our honeymoon would make my Mama proud when she returned home to Alabama. As we left Clovis, I dropped the last of my handwritten wedding gift thank you notes into a corner mailbox. I now realized the importance of a timely thank you was one of several ways Mama and our friends like Nell Staff and Juanita Smith helped my sister Aimee and me prepare to be proper military wives.

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Reese AFB, Texas                                                                                                                 Student Pilot Class 69-06                                                                                                 Graduation: June 1969                                                                                 

Class Motto: “Illigitimus non-carborundum.”

Our married life began the following Monday when, compliments of the USAF, my lieutenant had an early morning flight. Constant anxiety for all our husbands about future assignments in a myriad of aircraft headed to Vietnam equaled constant stress for the wives as much as for the future-pilots. Only crazy-fun, smart people, who knew how to party, while also taking their responsibilities seriously, made that year bearable. The more intense Vietnam became, the harder most of the men partied.

Later that summer a recently married second lieutenant in Tom’s class, Dwight, and Tina, his vivacious wife, hosted the first party/wedding celebration I went to with Tom. Tina worked as an “air hostess” for a major US airline back when the job was considered glamorous. Even better, their combined salaries in West Texas in the late 1960s allowed them to live in an impressive sprawling apartment complex. Flood lights at the base of palm trees and around multiple pools filled the water and manicured grounds with dancing palm shadows. Their complex resembled a glamorous movie set. It reminded me of Southern Calif., more than arid, windy, dusty West Texas. The place and the party was the perfect, if brief, escape” for the couples and bachelors of 69-06.

That night Tom and I were introduced to many a “Hairy Buffalo.” Each attendee brought the ingredients, whether it was beer or a favorite liquor   of any brand or quality; or if they preferred wine or champagne; Bordeaux or Reisling; Mateus Rose and/or Sangria). The mixologist, a wild man and bachelor from California, named Pete, poured two bottles simultaneously into a huge metal pot as big as a witch’s cauldron in a children’s book. Fellow bachelor named Tor, with hair the color of sunshine and eyes as blue as Norway’s glaciers back home was enrolled in the USAF Exchange Program and assigned to 69-06. Tor deftly wielded a large wooden canoe paddle, stirring and mixing the liquid as Newton poured. Then Pete relieved Tor as paddle-pusher until the mixture turned a nasty shade of mud. Placing a hand on Tom’s shoulder, I pulled him closer. “Pete has done this before,” I whispered. Tom laughed aloud. “You think?”

With his charismatic personality evident in his angelic face, Tor could have modeled for a Scandinavian Air Force recruiting poster. He and Pete, with dark flashing eyes and his thick mustache that pushed USAF limits, doubled as the Hairy Buffalo’s secret weapons of distribution. For hours, they circulated with pitchers of their potent punch. The pair left no champagne flute half-filled. They didn’t call it punch, but that’s what it packed.

Pete never failed to wail along with The Animals, “And God I know I’m one,” when “The House of the Rising Sun” played. The final lines of one of Steppenwolf’s 1960s hits gave me irony-triggered chills: “. . .We were born, born to be wild. We can climb so high, I never wanna die. . .”  Progressively drunken chatter and calmer, “grinding” dance music ruled the early morning hours. The good Lord had to have flown co-pilot for every student pilot that morning. That is the only way we all got home safely.

Neither of us ever had even a sip of another buffalo, hairy or not.