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Cracker boxes on duty - War Stories Ain't All Alike - # 6

Updated on November 24, 2012
A Cracker Box
A Cracker Box | Source

They look like tanks

Cracker Boxes are otherwise known as ambulances; however, Cracker Boxes are ambulances built into those rough and ready "4x4" military truck bodies. Each looks like a small panzer tank with red crosses painted all over it. Not only do Cracker Boxes look like tanks left over from a war someone deserved to lose, they drive like tanks as well.


One Medivac plane - one runway
One Medivac plane - one runway | Source

It was not much, but it was all ours

Brooks Air Force Base, located in San Antonio, Texas, hosted a group that dealt with getting the wounded back home and into military hospitals. Brooks Air Force Base had no hospital, but it did have a little sick-call dispensary. It also had a small landing strip that no sensible pilot would consider on his own.


Is that eating corn or popping corn?
Is that eating corn or popping corn?

Why are we landing here?

Because of their general feebleness and inability to climb out of the litters onto which they were strapped, the sick and the wounded men had no good way to complain to the pilots about the choice of landing field. That had been decided by the brass. Any patient who had enough strength to look out of the aircraft’s windows as the planes were landing on the Brooks strip assumed that they were crash landing on some farmer’s corn patch.

Brooks Air Force Base was not famous for its landing facilities.

Built to chase aircraft up and down runways
Built to chase aircraft up and down runways | Source

Firetrucks chased the planes and Cracker Boxes chased the firetrucks

The medics assigned to the Brooks Air Force Base sick-call dispensary were required to have military driver licenses. At night and on weekends those fine pill rollers would jump into the Cracker Box set aside for flight-line duty and would then roll that ungainly machine over to the flight line. There they awaited incoming air evacuation planes.

As each plane landed, base fire trucks would roar down one side of the single runway and then line up behind the airplane once it had touched down. Finally, they would chase the plane at top speed to the tarmac at the other end of the runway.

Behind the fire trucks limped the Cracker Box. As soon as the air evacuation plane began to transfer patients to the waiting hospital bus the fire trucks peeled out of their formation to roar back to their fire station and the card games that needed finishing there. Guarding the aircraft and, now, the hospital bus, the Cracker Box remained on station.


Going somewhere else - finally!
Going somewhere else - finally! | Source

Seven long years...

Never did a single patient wind up in the Cracker Box, nor did its driver ever leave the driver’s seat.

No one seemed to know why Cracker Boxes chased landing medivac planes and firetrucks around the single Brooks Air Force Base runway. There must have been a good reason for the chasing, for the chasing never ceased until the pilots formed some sort of a union and bargained successfully to land their airplanes elsewhere. Those negotiations took close to seven years.


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    • GusTheRedneck profile image

      Gustave Kilthau 7 years ago from USA

      50 - Thanks for the read. You know something? No one ever explained why we chased medivac planes with Cracker Boxes. I understood the why of the fire trucks. Once the planes came to rest and discharged the patients to the hospital bus from Lackland, we simply sat there and watched until everyone left. We were always the last to leave. We did have another ambulance, an old Caddie. I got it up to speed on the highway once and the stupid hood blew off and took out the windshield on its way. Modern medicine at its best! Thinking about that, I'll have to write up the two marines I met up with at the Navy hospital. You reminded me. Thanks.

      Gus :-)))

    • 50 Caliber profile image

      50 Caliber 7 years ago from Arizona

      Gus great write, I was gonna ask when but I see it was covered and before my time. I don't know about all but I was brought to Long Beach Naval Hospital once state side in the 70s, So if nobody got in the cracker boxes, did they walk a shore? Must have been anticipating a runway over-run?, 50

    • GusTheRedneck profile image

      Gustave Kilthau 7 years ago from USA

      Good Doctor bj - Well now, I think it is pretty funny myself, but back then, when all of the mosquitoes were biting like crazy (Cracker Boxes had no A/C) I don't remember laughing too much. Actually, though, the Three Stooges would have fit right into the picture. Happy I am that you enjoyed the scene. It was fun for me to have revisited it.

      Gus :-)))

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 7 years ago from south Florida

      Your description, Gus, of those Cracker Boxes speeding down the runway after the fire trucks is hilarious. I can envision a movie with that scenario with the Three Stooges in the leading roles. :)

    • GusTheRedneck profile image

      Gustave Kilthau 7 years ago from USA

      Friend Fiddleman - You got that right. I was at Lackland from 55-56 and at Brooks in 59 (dispensary duty) and again from 62-65 (USAFSAM) following my Navy TDY. Nice to learn that we probably crossed paths sometime.

      Gus :-)))

    • profile image

      Fiddleman 7 years ago

      Great memories Gus, never was at Brooks but was in and out of Kelly Field many times. C-130 didn't land at Laredo so we had to meet them for some of our high priority deliveries. Its a long ride down 35 from Laredo to San Antonio, especially in the wee hours of morning.