U.S. Air Force Korean War Chicago, IL Flight date: 08/08/18
By Paul Mally, Honor Flight Chicago Veteran Interviews Volunteer
If there are two words that are sure to get the attention of anyone in the military wherever they may be, the words “mail call” will do the trick every time. The lifeline back home to loved ones has always been extremely important to the morale of the troops. During the Civil War, mail call almost took on a literary art form, with long letters expressing love, fear, faith and patriotism as well as a longing for the simple pleasures of home. During the Korean War, it was no different. The unsung heroes who ensure that the mail gets through are men like Fernando Dorado, who diligently performed their duties in military postal units stationed throughout the world.
Fernando was born and raised in Chicago near the Taylor Street neighborhood. His father and mother raised four boys and two girls, his father working for Sears Roebuck and his mother as a housewife and seamstress. Fernando attended Holy Family grammar school and then St. Mel High School where he graduated in 1951. After high school with the Korean War in progress, some choices had to be made.
While most eligible men faced the probability of being drafted, Fernando and four of his buddies had other ideas. “Rather than wait around, we decided to go to Blue Island and 18th Street where there were several military branch recruiting stations.” The friends first checked out the Army recruiter. “We said we wanted to join the paratroopers but there was a waiting list so we moved on to the Navy and then to the Marine Corps but both said they were filled up.” The next stop for them was the Air Force which had recently become an independent branch of the Armed Services. “We liked those good looking blue uniforms and they said they had immediate openings so we signed up that day!”
One week later, Fernando reported for Basic Training at Lackland Air Force Base near San Antonio, Texas. During those six weeks the new recruits learned how to drill, get squared away military style and received firearms instruction on the M1 Carbine. The recruits were all given aptitude tests which would steer them toward their MOS (Military Occupational Specialty). “They told me that I would be good working in administration duties” says Fernando “so I was sent for specialty training in Postal Operations at Fort Benjamin Harrison near Indianapolis, Indiana.” This course trained him in all aspects of running a post office: sorting, distributing, registered mail, stamps, money orders, etc. Upon completion, Fernando was sent to Sheppard AFB in Wichita Falls, Texas to await orders. “It was so hot there in the Texas panhandle that you could watch butter melt as soon as it came out of the refrigerator.” Finally orders came to ship overseas to Japan via an ocean crossing from San Francisco to Yokohama, Japan.
When Fernando arrived in Japan he was assigned to his unit, the 1st Air Postal Squadron known as “the biggest little outfit in the Air Force.” Fernando still remembers the APO (Army Post Office) number of the various stations he was assigned to “APO 905, 925, 73.” He was stationed for a time at Kisarazu Air Base, which during World War II had been a base for Kamikaze aircraft and crews. Across the bay was Yokohama and Yokosuka Naval Base where the U.S. Navy fleet docked. Fernando recalls that “sometimes we would take a ferry over for a night on the town but if the fleet was in, the sailors took off with all the girls before we got there!”
The daily routine for the squadron was very much like a civilian job with regular hours and little military formalities. Occasionally the troops would muster for parades and Fernando would be assigned to guard duty. Mail call usually was around 10:00 AM. Letters would be placed in numbered “pigeon holes” where the troops could retrieve their mail. “I pretty much knew everybody on the base as I was a Staff Sergeant and became friendly with some of the pilots on base.” One such friendship led to a fighter pilot inviting Fernando to take a ride with him in a T-33 jet trainer aircraft. “I got suited up with a parachute and climbed in the plane. The pilot told me not to touch anything! But after we got airborne, he told me to take the control “stick” and have a try at flying. What a thrill as we soared over the city of Yokohama and the ocean! Then he took back control, kicked in the afterburners and we took off like a rocket!” Sometimes pilots would fly over the base and break the sound barrier, blowing out windows in the town.
After two years in Japan, Fernando completed his time in service and returned home to Chicago. “I really wanted to stay in the Air Force – I really liked it but family obligations required me to leave the service. The most logical thing for me was to try to get a job with the U.S.Postal Service but after a few tries, they were not hiring and I needed to make a living so I decided to become a truck driver.” Fernando mostly drove locally but eventually left trucking to work at Hiram Walker, the large liquor distributor where he worked until retirement. Fernando and his wife Lucy had one son, Nick who also was in the service. Fernando is an avid sports fan, especially hockey. He was a member of the old Chicago Blackhawks Standby Club which would go to home games and travel to away games. At the end of the season, there was an annual banquet which included the players. “Those guys could sure drink the beer!” Fernando recalls.
On August 8th, Fernando and his fellow veterans will board their Honor Flight to Washington D.C. and fly at a bit slower speed than his jet fighter ride – for their day of honor. And if there should be a “mail call,” Fernando could oversee that everything will be delivered on time!
Thank you, Fernando, for your service in the Korean War and enjoy your well-deserved Honor Flight!