Hunter S. Thompson, the famed author of books like “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” and inventor of “Gonzo journalism” – a journalistic method in which he placed himself at the forefront of stories about drugs, violence, and even the Hell’s Angels, was the type of writer that writers tend to love. I have a pile of Thompson’s work on the shelves of my bookcase – even a collection of letters he wrote to friends and family during the early years of his career, but while many know Thompson thanks to depictions of him by the likes of Bill Murray and Johnny Depp, many may not be aware that years before HST was opining about the importance of “never turning your back on a drug,” he was an airman in the United States Air Force – and not a particularly good one at that.
As a senior in high school, Thompson’s heavy drinking and distaste for authority landed him a sixty day stay in the Kentucky Jefferson county jail for being an accessory to armed robbery. Thompson failed to graduate high school as a result, but managed to cut his prison stay short by agreeing to enlist into the Air Force. After being rejected by their aviation program, Thompson found himself working with electronics at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, but quickly managed to lie his way into a sports-editor position for the base publication, The Command Currier, where Thompson would begin paving the way for his future career in journalism… but would continue to buck against authority in the most public way he could manage.
A year later, Thompson had earned few friends in the command element of Eglin Air Force Base for his work, ultimately culminating the Chief of the Office of Information Services, Colonel W.S. Evans, submitting a memo to the command recommending that Thompson be removed from his journalist duties, despite demonstrating a knack for creative writing. According to Evans, Thompson was regularly counseled, to no avail; “this Airman, although talented, will not be guided by policy or personal advice and guidance. Sometimes his rebel and superior attitude seems to rub off on other airmen staff members.”
The colonel’s recommendation was heeded, and Thompson promptly applied and was approved for early release from his enlistment contract after being pulled from duties as the sports editor… but not before pulling one more stunt on his way out the door.
Just before leaving Eglin for the last time, Thompson produced a fake news release about himself, and had it printed in the Command Courier – ensuring that he would get the last word once and for all.
Below is Airman Hunter S. Thompson’s final news release in its entirety:
NEWS RELEASE, AIR PROVING GROUND COMMAND, EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, FLORIDA
EGLIN AFB, FLORIDA (November 8)–S/Sgt. Manmountain Dense, a novice Air Policeman, was severely injured here today when a wine bottle 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 the SEPARATION CENTER.
Further investigation revealed that, only minutes before the incident at the gatehouse, a reportedly “fanatical” airman had received his 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 for wine and was described by a recent arrival in the base sanatorium as “just the type of bastard who would do a think like that.”
An apparently uncontrollable iconoclast, Thompson was discharged today after one of the most hectic 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.”
Image courtesy of the Gonzo Foundation