Wednesday, December 23, 2009

AIRMAN Hunter S. Thompson and The Proud Highway

Hunter S. Thompson, Richard Bernstein wrote in the New York Times in 1997, "has always burned to carve his initials onto the collective awareness. What other kind of person would, beginning in his teen years, make carbon copies of every letter he wrote -- to his mother, his Army friends and commanding officers, his girlfriends, his various agents and editors -- specifically in the hope that they would be published?"

Bernstein was reviewing The Good Doctor's book, The Proud Highway.

Hunter S. Thompson was a prolific letter writer; it's been estimated that his archive included in excess of 20,000 letters he wrote in his lifetime. The Proud Highway is comprised of letters he wrote between 1955 and 1967.

As a matter-of-course, I always pack a book or three when I'm going to be traveling for any period of time. The one book I brought to Italy is The Proud Highway.

I've been reading letters AIRMAN Hunter S. Thompson wrote while serving in the United States Air Force from from 1956 to 1957.

Having completed this section, I'm setting the book aside and turning my attention to work on the final installment of the Last Road Trip series. Of course, that's a topic that's better to address another time.

While AIRMAN Thompson wrote these letters a decade before Hell's Angels was published, the first signs of The Good Doctor were already appearing, to wit...

October 25, 1956
"Of course I'll have to apologize to all the people who were struck by the stray shrapnel, but not to the sports section. From now on, when I appear somewhere with a pencil in my hand and a gleam in my eye, people will quiver in their shoes and sweat freely. This is the finest thing that could have happened. I now have thousands of readers, and the official sanction of the Base Commander. Move over Winchell . . . HST has emerged from obscurity to jab at the world for awhile. Jesus, what fun!"
- Hunter S. Thompson {page 21}

October 17, 1957
"In short, Kraig, I don't think you really have an idea who Hunter S. Thompson is when he drops the role of court jester. And, for that reason, I'm afraid I'd be building you up for another fall if I were frank enough to tell you how I feel about you. I don't mean to say that I'm egotistical enough to believe that I have the power to make you feel one way or another about me. But on the other hand: if I were to attempt that, as I'd like to -- and succeed -- I'm not quite sure that either one of us would be any better off. And, rather than pursue any course of action which might eventually hurt you, I'd rather not do anything at all.

But let me tell you, before I leave this sombre subject, a little about myself: a very little -- but enough.

First, I do not live from orgy to orgy, as I might have made you believe. I drink much less than most people think, and I think much more than most people would believe. I am quite sincere about some of the things which people take very lightly, and almost insultingly unconcerned about some of the things which people take most seriously. In short, I am basically antisocial: certainly not to an alarmingly degree, but just more so than I appear to be.

And finally, the more I try to explain myself, the more apparent it becomes that I'm not doing a very good job of it. That's why I wish, in a way, that we were not this far apart. It would be much easier to sit on a blanket on a beach and talk. I've always thought that letters were a very poor medium to convey any sort of serious meaning, and this effort only confirms my suspicion. I do it very rarely, and I'm not likely to try again for some time. I hope, even though I haven't done a very good job, that, if nothing else, I've gotten across to you that there's something more to old Cuubley than the part of him which shows above the water-line."
-Hunter S. Thompson
{pages 68-69}

October 24, 1957
"Although I don't feel that it's at all necessary to tell you how I feel about the principle of individuality, I know that I'm going to have to spend the rest of my life expressing it on way or another, and I think that I'll accomplish more by expressing it on the keys of a typewriter than by letting it express itself in sudden outbursts of frustrated violence. I don't mean to say that I'm about to state my credo here on this page, but merely to affirm, sincerely for the first time in my life, my belief in man as an individual and independent entity. Certainly not independence in the everyday sense of the world, but pertaining to a freedom adn mobility of thought that few people are able -- or even have the courage -- to achieve."
-Hunter S. Thompson
{page 70}

October 30, 1957
"By the time you get this letter, there will be no 'H.S. Thompson' listed on the payroll of the nation's bird division. Colonel Campbell called me at the PGN [Playground News] office this morning that the Comm Sq sergeant had a message for me --- to report for my discharge physical tomorrow at 7:15.

And so, after two years of 'arduous service,' the walking anomaly that is HST has escaped into the jungle of insecurity called civilian life.'s an honorable.

Surprised? You aren't alone. A little disappointed? You still aren't alone. At any rate, I knw you'd be interested."
-Hunter S. Thompson
{page 71}

November 4, 1957
"First and by all means, foremost . . . : the case of THOMPSON VS THE USAF has come to a boiling, bubbling climax. The mule train of military bureaucracy, with the help of a few expertly placed jolts of high-detergent oil, has been rolling in high gear for the past two weeks and, believe it or not, has finally come to a logical conclusion: that being that "a square peg cannot exist in a round hole."

And so, with that truism staring him straight in the eye, old Uncle AF has decided to arrange a suitable burial for AIRMAN Thompson. Sadly enough, the burial will have to be accomplished without the usual fanfare--trumpets, sobbing lovers, and that sort of thing--and the ceremony will be brief and without melodrama of any description. It will nonetheless be final--and wild.

There will be a few tears--and some sighs of relief. There will be some angry, dumbfounded protest--and some shrugging of shoulders. A military manner will prevail where pandemonium used to exist. The sports pages of the Command Courier will once again appeal to the military mind.

There will be no 'Scoop' Thompson serving vodka-flavored coffee in the Eglin, AFB fieldhouse--nor any Cuubley Cohn to grace the Sports Section of the Playground News. In short, a vicious, dangerous, radical individual has finally gone the way of Marshall Zukov: purged--rooted from the ranks--and discharged.

Yes, Kraig . . . Cuubley finally made the grade. The 'Thompson plan for moral redemption' has met the final, acid test. It took a few shots in the dark,a few master strokes, and no little luck---Thompson will shed his mantle of shame and emerge into the light once again---as a civilian. And for you and anyone else who might have underestimated the 'Thompson touch'--it's honorable as hell. A miracle, possibly: but a reality, nonetheless."
-Hunter S. Thompson {pages 72-72}

To close, a news release written by AIRMAN Thompson which appeared in the Eglin Air Force Base newspaper...

EGLIN AFB, FLORIDA (November 8)--S/Sgt. Manmountain Dense, a novice Air Policeman, was severely injured here today when a wine bottled exploded inside the AP gatehouse at the west entrance to the base. Dense was incoherent for several hours after the disaster, but managed to make a statement which led investigators to believe the bottle was hurled from a speeding car which approached the gatehouse on the wrong side of the road, coming from the general direction of teh SEPARATION CENTER.

Further investigation revealed that, only minutes before the incident at the gatehouse, a reportedly 'fanatical' airman had received her separation papers and was rumored to have set out in the direction of the gatehouse at a high speed in a muffler-less car with no brakes. An immediate search was begun for Hunter S. Thompson, one-time sports editor of the base newspaper and well-known 'morale problem.' Thompson was known to have a sometimes overpowering affinity or wine and was described by a recent arrival in the base sanatorium as 'just the type of bastard who wold do a think like that.'

An apparently uncontrolled iconoclast, Thompson wsa discharged today after one of the most hestic and unusual Air Force careers in recent history. According to Captain Munnington Thurd, who was relieved of his duties as base classification officer yesterday and admitted to the neuropsychological section of the base hospital, Thompson was 'totally unclassifiable' and 'one of the most savage and unnatural airmen I've ever come up against.'

'I'll never understand how he got this discharge,' Thurd went on to say. 'I almost had a stroke yesterday when I heard he was being given an honorable discharge. It's terrifying-simply terrifying.'

And then Thurd sank into a delirium."

1 comment:

Chris Stonecipher said...

It is amazing that this person received an honorable discharge, but as a former service member, nothing surprises me. I enjoyed reading your excerpt. Well done my friend.