Saturday, February 13, 2016


As you can see by the graphic above, we're expecting some cold weather this weekend. Perhaps I should say "colder" weather. When I went to work Friday morning, the temperature was 5°. It was one of those mornings where walking across my wooden deck brought a cacophony of cracks and pops. The wood is old and gets a bit stiff in the cold.

As do I.

Before I jumped into my vehicle (the ever trustworthy Big Girl started up with nary a whimper, though she did bitch a little about being outside all night) I checked on the pond. The fish are all at the deep end, they go dormant in the winter. As long as the water doesn't freeze all the way through they'll be fine. They've tolerated colder winters than this before.

But we have to have a clear patch in the ice so that the pond can "breathe." We have what I like to call a "bubbler" (as it blows a steady stream of air into the pond, creating bubbles, I know, I am wicked clever...) which keeps the water oxygenated. While the fish don't need to eat in the winter (if they did they would die as their metabolisms slow to the point where they couldn't digest the food and... well, let's just say, "bad things happen") they still need to breathe. (Note how I keep putting stuff in parentheses. Yeah, I know. I'll stop.)


Noting that the pond was covered in ice, I went back into my humble abode (where it was nice and warm, oh yeah, I promised to stop doing this...) and grabbed my big hammer. No, it looks nothing like Thor's hammer. I wanted one of those but the guy at the hardware store just looked at me funny.

Actually it's a mallet, not a big one, this guy weighs in at about five pounds. I don't remember why I bought it... (oh wait, yes I do, it was to pound stakes into the ground when The Missus Herself was doing all the landscaping here at Chez Sarge and... um, yeah, sorry).

So I got the mallet and headed out to the pound. Now you can't just start bashing away at the the ice. The pressure waves from doing that can harm and even kill the fish. So I just kind of use it to "lean" on the ice, as it wasn't too thick it cracked nicely and I was able to create a mini-polynya in the pond so that the water can "breathe." If the pond is completely iced over, the gases and stuff from in the pond can poison the fish. So a bit of open water must be maintained. Or so the pond people tell me.

After that it was off to work. Now the reason I mention the weather is that at work we were talking about the sorts of weather we've experienced in our lives. Being from Vermont I've experienced extremes of heat and of cold. Hottest I ever saw it in summer was 110°, yup that's pretty hot. Humidity was in the 70s, none of that "dry heat" for the Green Mountain state, no thank you. (I've been in Nevada and experienced that dry heat stuff, yeah it beats the humidity but it's still hot. No, there were no parentheses surrounding these two sentences, that was your imagination.)

Most uncomfortable heat I've ever experienced was in Mississippi on the Gulf Coast. I spent a summer there in the Air Force learning something I already knew.
"Yes, Sarge, we know you have a bachelor's degree in that subject but the book says you have to go to tech school just the same..."
And one never argues with "the book." It's just not done.

At any rate, summers in Biloxi are "interesting." Temps in the 90s, humidity of around a gazillion percent. Okay, a bit of an exaggeration. But not by much. I did note that it was pretty miserable the first couple of weeks. I mean you're always sweaty and...

Oh wait, everyone is sweaty. Hey, isn't that a beach over there? Why yes, yes it is. We humans are pretty adaptable. Fill a cooler with beer and ice, throw in a beach and the sea, have a few lovely ladies sunbathing and things aren't that bad. No, not bad at all.

So that's the hot side of my weather experience. The cold side was all experienced in Vermont. I once delivered newspapers in -25° cold. That was damn cold. Three layers of clothing and I was still close to hypothermia. A hundred yards from the house, walking up the hill, in the snow (both ways...) I noticed that I couldn't feel my legs. Oh, I could still move them but pounding on my thighs felt like beating on wood, they were beyond numb. I thought that perhaps I should just sit down for a few minutes and...

Yeah, they would have found my frozen corpse later that spring. Fortunately I got home just in time. Thawing out hurts, let me tell you. But it beats the alternative.

What's the coldest temperature I ever saw? -40°. Yup, the temperature that is the same in Celsius as it is in Fahrenheit (note that all the temperatures given above are in degrees F, I don't do metric, unless it's measuring the bore size of a firearm or cannon, and then only as appropriate. I mean there's... Sorry...)

Now note that I said I "saw" -40°. Didn't go out in it, no sirree. Too damn cold to survive for very long without specialized gear. The sort of gear they don't issue to paperboys. School was cancelled that day, too dangerous to be out and about. Yes, some people did go out, those who were dressed for it and those they found the next spring. I'm pretty sure my Dad mentioned they found a couple of guys who went out drinking and froze to death. I have no proof of that, but it happens from time to time.

So this weekend is supposed to be pretty cold. But I don't plan on going anywhere I don't have to. Besides which, I used to go skiing in temperatures below zero. Not much mind you, but as Scott the Badger can attest, you acclimatize, eventually. Hard to do in Little Rhody though, temperature here is all over the place. Sixty one day, ten the next.

So here one doesn't get used to the temperature, one just rides it out, because in a couple of days, it will be warmer again. There's an old saying in New England, "Don't like the weather? Wait a few minutes, it'll change."

I'm sure that saying is widespread, but we New Englanders said it first. Or so I'm told by the old New Englanders of my youth. And now that I'm an old New Englander, I say stuff like that as well.

'Scuse me, I'm off to get a bowl of chowdah. It's real good when it's cold outside.

(Well, a hot bowl of chowdah ain't bad year round neither. And sorry about all these parentheses in today's post. They were on sale.)

Friday, February 12, 2016

Had A Thought Today...

Every now and then I say to myself, "Yes, I am a writer! I can do this."

Then I read something like this, and I realize that, like Jon Snow, I know nothing.

While the thought of matching Lex at this game is what keeps me going, I doubt I'll ever get there. The man was just too good. Sure I can string a few words together in a semi-coherent way, I can be informative, I can be funny (ha ha and strange, sometimes both at once), and I enjoy doing this. Otherwise I would have quit somewhere along the way in the past four years.

When I think of quitting, I'll think, "Hey, I can post about this!" And I do. I am addicted to this blogging thing. It's enjoyable.

No, really.

FRaVMotC Bill B. is in the midst of publishing a number of Lex's old posts over at The Lexicans, I highly recommend you go read those old posts. Bill has picked some good ones.

Dear Lord but I miss that guy.

That is all...

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Cell Phone

Why yes, that is my cell phone.
Back in the winter of Two Thousand and Nine, it was decreed that I would, henceforth and forthwith, be exiled far from my abode in a land far, far to the north of my home.

Alright, far is subjective, to me living in Little Rhody as I do (37 miles wide and 48 miles long), 100 miles is a haul. This, mind you, coming from a fellow who used to think nothing of loading the family unit into the mobile, gasoline-powered, four wheel conveyance to drive from Nebraska to Louisiana for to visit The Missus Herself's kinfolk. (Yes, she has sisters who make their residence here in the US of A.)

A hundred miles! In Little Rhody such a trip is unheard of, that's for folks from somewhere else, like Vermont. (Where I was born and raised. No giant herself, The Green Mountain state is a humongous, by Rhode Island standards, 80 miles wide and 160 miles in length. Yes, yes, I know, I'm sure there are counties in Texas that are bigger. I'm sure the Texans will comment upon that in, where else, the comments. Yes, Juvat, I am looking at you...)


Where was I? Oh yeah. 2009, December, exile, got it...

In January I went north. With me I carried the family cell phone. The Missus Herself and I shared a phone. I saw no need for one, the feminine units of the family decreed otherwise, "Mom shall have a cell phone. Yes, Dad, if Mom says you can, you may use it too." So the phone was "jointly" held. (No, not really.) But when I went north, The Missus Herself (far wiser than I) thought it would be smart if I took the phone with me, being on the road and all that. (No, nothing like Kerouac.)

So I had a cell phone, sort of. It was most confusing, the feminine component of the progeny had not been informed, so they would call and ask why I was answering "Mom's phone." As in they couldn't believe that I had the temerity to use the Matriarch's personal cell phone.

That went on for a couple of weeks. The daughters were getting annoyed, The Missus Herself was annoyed at not having her personal communications device at hand. So I suggested perhaps that another phone might be in order, with me being on a "remote" assignment, all alone in a hotel, etc., etc., ad nauseum.

So to the purveyor of small personal communication devices we went to see what was on offer. I explained to the sales staff that I wasn't really interested in a multi-million dollar purchase and what, by your leave, was the cheapest thing they had in the store which would serve as a phone. Just a phone, no camera needed, no fancy Web of World-Wideness needed, what can I get for under 20 bucks?

After we all stopped laughing at the "two tin cans and a crap ton of string for long distance" jokes we got down to brass tacks, to business, as it were.

"Well Sir, we have the Go Phone."

"Where is it going?" Again, much hilarity ensued (mostly on my part, all the others tried not to look at me funny).

In all seriousness, what I got was a wee flip phone, much like this -

Very cheap, very practical.

Until I discovered that the little beastie actually had a built in camera. And the capability of sending and receiving text messages. Well, photos as well, the progeny could send me photos. I thought, this is cool, very cool. And it was small, easily stowed in a pocket, but of course I had to get a little carrying case thingee to sling the wee beastie from my belt.

Which led to me saying this, almost immediately.

Yes, the whole utility belt thing. Yes, I got carried away.

At any rate (remember what that means), I carried that little phone for many a month. The progeny liked to overwhelm me with text messages and photos. Lots of photos. I quickly discovered that the memory in my wee little phone was good for about ten photos.



So I'd get a new picture, have to decide which of the pictures on my phone I needed to delete, then open the new picture. Which would turn out to be a photo along the lines of "What do you think of my new shoes?"

"Sigh, I deleted a photo of a cool tree I saw so I could see your new shoes?"

"Oh sorry Dad. Meant to send that to Mom."


This went on for a couple of years, until one Christmas The WSO gave me a gift card. One of those "use it anywhere Visa is accepted" kind of cards.

"Nice, how much is on this?"

"Uh Dad, that's so you can buy a real cell phone."

"I have a real cell phone, after all..."

"Mom, you're going to make Dad buy a nicer cell phone, right?"

Well, they discussed it as if I wasn't there, like I was out of the room, like I...


So off to the purveyor of small personal communication devices we went.

When I pulled out my little flip phone the guy behind the counter starting explaining Go Phones to me. Before I could slaughter him, tear the building down and then salt the ground upon which it stood, The Missus Herself gave me The Look. Everyone knows The Look.

Well, all guys know The Look.

"My husband needs a bigger phone, his Go Phone [suppressed chuckles from the sales staff] is on our current plan, basically he wants an upgrade."

After an explanation of how we'd need an Act of Parliament, thirty forms of identification, and the complete lyrics, in clear English, of Jumping Jack Flash and a deposit in the amount of...

Before I could grab the guy by the collar and say...

...The Missus Herself jumped in and completed the negotiations.

We walked out together and I had a brand new cell phone. Which could take and hold hundreds upon hundreds of pictures. Hell, I could watch freaking videos on the thing! I felt so, I dunno, 21st Century!

I've had that bad boy a long time. What prompted me to write of my cell phone was the fact that I, all by myself with no assistance whatsoever from The Missus Herself or the progeny, went on-line, to Amazon no less, and purchased not one, but two, count them, two, batteries for my cell phone.

Okay Sarge, what's the big deal, okay you bought spare batteries. Why?

Ah, I'm glad you asked. The old battery was dying rapidly. I mean a battery will only last so long, my working inside what is essentially a Faraday cage drains the poor beastie even more as he's constantly looking for a signal.

Well, just turn it off until you get to a place with a good signal. Ah, I tried that, here's what I got...

"So Dad, why aren't you answering your phone?"

So I figured new batteries. Give new life to the old phone. Besides which, they're only six bucks each. Shipping was free.

So we'll see how this goes, will the new battery power the Sarge's phone throughout the day, even though the wee beast is constantly seeking a signal?

Stay tuned sports fans.

We shall see.

(What's even more amazing is that I actually changed the battery all by myself. Without breaking anything. Keep in mind, I used to work aircraft maintenance. One of the tools in our tool box was a big rubber mallet. We were also supplied with a pair of vice grips. They didn't call us WCS gorillas for nothing.)

I really enjoy saying, "I'm Batman..."

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Next War

Battle of Rocroi - 1643, Thirty Years War by Augusto Ferrer-Dalmau (Source)
The other day, FRaVMotC day Paweł made this comment regarding my post Women in Combat Units -
...US has grown too accustomed to wars of choice and picking on 3rd world militaries. Sooner or later it will have to confront a true peer competitor in global warfare.
As most good comments do, this made me think. Is it inevitable that the United States will have to face off with another country that is able to project power on a global scale? Is there any other country on the planet, short of launching ICBMs, which can project power outside of the region next to their own border?

The way I see it, at this moment in time, only the U.S. can project power anywhere on the Earth. To include, God forbid, nuclear weapons. Russia and China aren't quite there yet. Even the old Soviet Union was more of a regional power than a global power. Their navy, while large, was hemmed in by the NATO navies. One thing which every Russian leader since Peter the Great has yearned for is a warm water port which gives access to the sea without going through a choke point like the Sea of Marmara.

Without that, they would have a huge amount of difficulty projecting power much beyond their borders. Of course, that distance includes much of Western Europe. While they could have thrown their weight around in Asia, I'm sure that China, again short of the nuclear option, would stop them cold.

Again, that was the old, now defunct, Soviet Union. Though Putin would love to see the old Russian (read Soviet) empire resurrected, they're not there yet.

Though the PRC is making lots of noise in the South China Sea, and they have a huge army and an increasingly capable and dangerous navy, they too are still a regional, not a global power. Again, as long as things stay non-nuclear.

So what are the chances of a major conflict involving the United States and a "peer" competitor occurring in the next, say, fifty years? A hundred years? How about twenty-five?

Trenches of the 11th Cheshire Regiment at Ovillers-la-Boisselle, on the Somme, July 1916. One sentry keeps watch while the others sleep. Photo by Ernest Brooks (Source)

Much has changed since the days of World War II, where the battle lines literally encircled the globe. There was almost no place at peace outside the polar regions. Mass armies setting forth to conquer land held by others are events launched by absolute rulers, not elected leaders, and not even by unelected collectives such as the PRC. Yes, China was involved in Korea from 1950 to 1953, but that was in reaction to Allied forces approaching the border between North Korea and China. Made them nervous it did and quite rightly so. Nations get nervous when large armies approach their border in hot pursuit of a defeated enemy.

Through flak and over the destruction created by preceding waves of bombers, these 15th Air Force B-24s leave Ploesti, Rumania, after one of the long series of attacks against the No. 1 oil target in Europe. Photo by Jerry J. Jostwick, the only survivor of the 16 cameramen of the operation. (Source)
Quite honestly, I can't see a scenario occurring within the next few decades where two major powers square off against each other and having it escalate into a major war. I hope I'm right. You would think that humanity has learned something from the bloody 20th Century.

Then again, we didn't learn much over the preceding few thousand years did we?

Your thoughts?

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Big Game

Levi's Stadium (Source)
I confess to being a fan of the American version of football, which I will admit, has little to do with the foot and is more about blocking, tackling, and long boring commercials. It is a violent game and I very much enjoyed playing the sport back when I was a lad.

I used to be glued to my television set every Sunday, many a Monday, and then many a Thursday for many, many years. Then a few years ago I just got tired of the hype and the nonsense surrounding the game.

I don't care all that much for the college version of the game. Probably because when I was in college, my alma mater's team was simply horrid. My professors would tell tales of going to conferences at other institutions of higher learning and being mocked by the professors there for being a professor at a school with a terrible football team.

Odd that as I don't recall any of my professors admitting to having played the game. In fact, most of them didn't seem very athletic at all, nor were their counterparts at those other schools. I guess it's all about "school pride." Something I can understand, but only peripherally.

For you see, I was a non-traditional student. I did go to college right out of high school but that only lasted a year. It seems that drinking beer was not an approved course of study in those days. In fact, I was attempting to major in Modern Languages at a school primarily known for engineering and the sciences. As a matter of fact, I was in no way ready to go to college. As I told my late father, "No, Dad. I'm not going back in the fall. It's a waste of my time and your money." He understood that, especially the latter point.

Anyhoo (and we all know what that signifies), I did return to college but I was married with two, and then three, kids. So I didn't hang out much with my fellow students. Especially because if they weren't in class or at the computer lab, they were working. For my part, Uncle Sam was paying my way, the Air Force to be precise. They paid for everything but the books (for which I did get a stipend) and I received my regular paycheck for being an E-5 Staff Sergeant.

So school spirit was, shall we say, underdeveloped in me. Very underdeveloped. In later years when my college actually became somewhat better at the sport they went to a bowl game. One in which they went up against the Midshipmen of the Trade School on the Severn.

Yes, I did root for the Middies. They won. The whole family was happy. Well, I don't think the cats cared one way or the other. They tend to be hockey fans in my family. That puck absolutely fascinates them.

So Sunday night (getting back on track after that rather long preamble) The Missus Herself and I settled in for a rare event these days, watching television. I will watch the occasional game during the season, rare because most of the announcers suck, the camera work is abysmal, and the officiating is beyond terrible. I know, I know, the refs are "only human" but they seem, with some exceptions, to get worse every season.

The league itself I find somewhat distasteful. They have finally managed to cram down my throat that "hey, it's a business." As they don't really seem to care about the fans, why should we care about them? If it's a business you wish to be, it's as a business I shall treat you. That is, with a certain amount of disdain and a great deal of skepticism. While I don't really think the games are decided beforehand, there are days I wonder.

(I have a friend who thinks the NFL is on a par with the World Wrestling Federation. Fixed, phony, and funny. While I don't go that far, there are days.)

Anyhoo (there's that word again), I have long been a fan of the Denver Broncos. Which means I like them, not that I have dedicated my life to them or anything. I like them because I spent a number of years in Colorado and they kind of grow on you. After all, I was there during the early part of John Elway's career. I am a big Elway fan. Other players come and go, the team changes, I don't live there anymore.

No, now I live in New England, home to the storied, loved, despised, and hated Patriots. The home team in these parts generates many and varied emotions across this land of ours. The boos which greeted Tom Brady at the introduction of the past Super Bowl MVP winners showed that. There were many here in New England who immediately pointed out that everyone in the San Francisco Bay area, where the game was played, are Communist sympathizers and sissies who felt threatened by the New England quarterback.

Well, I have friends in the Bay Area, so I know that's not the case. But the Patriots are one of those "hate them" or "love them" teams, there seems to be little middle ground.

And for those of you who didn't know it, all NFL teams "cheat." Some more than others. Grow up. It's about the same as when I do ten miles over the speed limit. "Hey, come on, everyone's doing it." For the most part they all are. Football is a multi-billion dollar industry. If bending the rules will bring home the bacon, it will happen. And no, I don't believe that Roger Goodell is the Antichrist, though I know some who do believe that. I don't.

At any rate (a euphemism for "anyhoo"), we watched the game and rooted for the Broncos. The Missus Herself and The Nuke are big Peyton Manning fans. I like the guy, he's a great quarterback and an entertaining guy.


I like Cam Newton as well. He's a bright young talent who will probably go far in this sport. He has the athletic talent and the brains to be in this game again. Yes, he lost on Sunday, his team lost, he was kind of a petulant child after the game. I don't blame him. I'm not going to throw stones here. I can just see the headlines if I had been Cam...
"Old AF Sarge drops F-bombs on national TV, punches out idiot reporter for asking the same stupid question over and over, then storms out of the press conference..."
Yeah, don't blame you Cam, losing sucks. As you mature you'll learn. We all have.

Going into the game I wasn't sure which was the scarier of the strengths of each team: Carolina's high scoring offense or Denver's smothering defense.

Well, that Denver defense was scary. They dominated the game, the outcome was probably sealed when Von Miller strip-sacked Cam Newton which resulted in a Denver touchdown. That same defense made Tom Brady look pretty ineffective two weeks ago as well. They are fast and smart.

As for Peyton, he did enough to "not lose." Not a great ending to a storied career but a sweet ending nevertheless and the capstone to an epic career. (Provided of course he calls it quits after this season. I think he might. As Michael Corleone might say, "It's the smart move...")

Many years ago, when stationed in Germany, The Missus Herself and I watched John Elway finally lead the Broncos to a Super Bowl victory, the Bronco's owner, a very classy man by the name of Pat Bowlen, held the Vince Lombardi trophy aloft and proclaimed, "This one's for John!" A tribute to the team's earlier losses in three Super Bowls.

Last night, fittingly I thought, John Elway hoisted that trophy skyward and announced, "This one's for Pat!" Mr. Bowlen is suffering from Alzheimer's. The team remembered.

Sometimes football can be classy.


Still, I enjoy it from time to time, just try not to make as much of an emotional investment in the sport as I used to. I guess as one ages, one's passions aren't nearly as intense.

Anyway, I watched the big game Sunday night.

One final note, the commercials were a disappointment, the halftime show sucked big time, and I think CBS should be ashamed of themselves.

And it snowed again on Monday.

Like The Missus Herself is fond of saying, "Well, after all, it is winter." (Which translates to "quit bitching and go clear the walk.")

Life goes on...

Monday, February 8, 2016

Luck never gives; it only lends *

Luck plays a big role in a military career, especially if you’re in a combat related specialty.  It can be incredibly good luck making that post debrief beer taste just a little bit better, or OMG bad luck involving notifying next of kin.  The difference between the two outcomes is usually measured in milliseconds and inches.  As the General who spoke at my UPT graduation said, “Today, I’m issuing you two bags, One is marked “skill” and that one is mostly empty.  The second is marked “Luck”.  Hopefully it is full, but your job is to fill the Skill bag before you empty the Luck bag.”  Fortunately for me, my Luck Bag was very full.

Today’s post will be another in my series of exploring the stories of the 60 USAF (and predecessor organizations) Medal of Honor recipients.  I’m starting with the lesser known recipients.  Most fighter pilots can tell the stories of Bong, Rickenbacker, Luke, Day, Sijan and Thorsness.  Bomber pilots can probably do the same for folks like Castle and Carswell.  As an amateur historian (really amateur, not even close to Sarge caliber, amateur), it disappoints me that I didn’t recognize many of the names on the monument listing them at Lackland AFB. 

So, enough digression anyhoo.  


Today’s story is about Lt Col Leon Robert Vance.  Yes, for those of you from Oklahoma or who went through UPT at Vance AFB, that Vance.  Col Vance was a local boy, born and raised in Enid.  Son of a school principal, he did very well academically and was talented at sports, enough so to gain admission to West Point.  He graduated from there with the class of 39, “The Warrior Class”.  Commissioned as an Infantry Officer, he’s eventually selected for Pilot Training finally getting his wings in June of 1940. He serves as a flight instructor until February 1941 when he’s transferred to Goodfellow to assume command of a training squadron.  He’s promoted to Captain in April 1942 and Major in July 1942.  

Reading through the “source of all knowledge”, one might come to believe that he was “lucky” to be in the right place, a training squadron, at the right time, the beginning of a war, and that was the source of his rapid advancement.

That doesn’t appear to have been the case.  Thomas Jefferson said this about Luck, “I'm a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it.”  It’s apparent the Col Vance worked very hard and was very talented, earning the respect of students, Instructors as well as the enlisted under his command.  He is promoted to Lt Col in September of 43. He is 27.

In any case, to quote my roommate at SAMS, “Excellence is its own punishment”, he has spent most of the war in a training role and wants to get assigned overseas.  I can relate to that, reporting to Army CGSC just 2 weeks before Saddam decided to vacation in Kuwait.  However, “Be careful what you wish for, you might just get it” is also a valid quote.  
In the early 80's, we deployed here for a Red Flag.  I lived in the same quonset hut as the Enola Gay crew.  

Finally, Col Vance is assigned to the 489th Bombardment Group at Wendover AAF Utah as the Deputy Group Commander.  The group moves overseas in April 1944 and Col Vance leads his first combat mission to bomb the Luftwaffe base at Oldenburg Germany on May 30th 1944.
The Colonel with his aircraft, named for his daughter.

His second mission will be on June 5th 1944.  On June 2nd, the group had launched a mission to Normandy that had turned back due to weather.  With the invasion imminent, the group decided to use a specially equipped B-24 as a pathfinder. 
His aircraft later in the war

 As the raid commander, Col Vance would ride in the lead aircraft, but because this was not his regular B-24, he would not be the pilot.  Normally, then, the raid commander would take the co-pilot’s spot, and the co-pilot would stand behind the pilot and co-pilot seats for the duration of the mission.  Col Vance elected to let the crew that had trained together operate as a team.  He took the observer position.  Leadership! What a concept.

The flight initially goes as planned but as they reach the release point, the bombs don’t release.  Since all aircraft on the raid would release when the lead did, none of the aircraft dropped.  Normal procedures were for there to only be one attack, and if the opportunity was missed, bombs would be dropped in the sea on RTB.  But this is the day before D-day.  Hitting the target was critical. 


Col Vance elects to re-attack.  As the force comes around again, the enemy now alerted, begins heavy and accurate AAA fire, and the Col Vance’s bomber is hit three times.  The first round wounds the radioman in the legs, immobilizing him.  At that point, the bomber is at the release point and 9 of the 10 bombs release.  Just as the bombardier says they hit the target, the second round hits on the left side of the aircraft.  Shrapnel kills the pilot.  A third round hits the cockpit and all but amputates Col Vance’s right foot. His leg is trapped in the wreckage
Between the co-pilot and Col Vance, they get the B-24 turned for home.  Three of the four engines are destroyed, and the last one is failing rapidly.  Col Vance manages to stretch far enough to shut off the engines and feather the props which allows the bomber to be in a controlled glide towards home.  They manage to get the aircraft back over England where the bail out bell is rung.  All manage to bail out, although there is confusion on the status of the radioman.  Additionally, the aircraft is leaking fuel and there is an armed bomb still on board.  Given this, Col Vance elects to stay behind and fly the aircraft to the Channel and attempt to ditch it.
Still trapped by his nearly amputated foot, Col Vance is stretched out virtually horizontal flying the aircraft by looking out a side window.  Somehow, he manages to ditch the aircraft successfully, which was no small matter.

As the plane begins to sink, Col Vance decides to release the dead pilot’s harness and as he does, there is a small explosion.  (Col Vance believed it was an oxygen bottle).  The explosion frees Col Vance’s foot and he is able to swim to the surface.  He manages to swim 3 miles towards shore in icy water with effectively one leg before being rescued by a British launch.  As he’s being pulled on board, he joked “Don’t forget to bring my foot in.”

This site, goes into much better detail on the story of this flight, and is well worth the time.  

Col Vance is obviously in need of medical attention and receives it.  His flying and fighting are also obviously over.  On July 26th 1944, he boards a C-54 for home.

Somewhere between Greenland and Newfoundland, contact with the transport was lost and it was never found.

Col Vance's Citation:
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty on 5 June 1944, when he led a Heavy Bombardment Group, in an attack against defended enemy coastal positions in the vicinity of Wimereaux, France. Approaching the target, his aircraft was hit repeatedly by antiaircraft fire which seriously crippled the ship, killed the pilot, and wounded several members of the crew, including Lt. Col. Vance, whose right foot was practically severed. In spite of his injury, and with 3 engines lost to the flak, he led his formation over the target, bombing it successfully. After applying a tourniquet to his leg with the aid of the radar operator, Lt. Col. Vance, realizing that the ship was approaching a stall altitude with the 1 remaining engine failing, struggled to a semi-upright position beside the copilot and took over control of the ship. Cutting the power and feathering the last engine he put the aircraft in glide sufficiently steep to maintain his airspeed. Gradually losing altitude, he at last reached the English coast, whereupon he ordered all members of the crew to bail out as he knew they would all safely make land. But he received a message over the interphone system which led him to believe 1 of the crewmembers was unable to jump due to injuries; so he made the decision to ditch the ship in the channel, thereby giving this man a chance for life. To add further to the danger of ditching the ship in his crippled condition, there was a 500-pound bomb hung up in the bomb bay. Unable to climb into the seat vacated by the copilot, since his foot, hanging on to his leg by a few tendons, had become lodged behind the copilot's seat, he nevertheless made a successful ditching while lying on the floor using only aileron and elevators for control and the side window of the cockpit for visual reference. On coming to rest in the water the aircraft commenced to sink rapidly with Lt. Col. Vance pinned in the cockpit by the upper turret which had crashed in during the landing. As it was settling beneath the waves an explosion occurred which threw Lt. Col. Vance clear of the wreckage. After clinging to a piece of floating wreckage until he could muster enough strength to inflate his life vest he began searching for the crewmember whom he believed to be aboard. Failing to find anyone he began swimming and was found approximately 50 minutes later by an Air-Sea Rescue craft. By his extraordinary flying skill and gallant leadership, despite his grave injury, Lt. Col. Vance led his formation to a successful bombing of the assigned target and returned the crew to a point where they could bail out with safety. His gallant and valorous decision to ditch the aircraft in order to give the crewmember he believed to be aboard a chance for life exemplifies the highest traditions of the U.S. Armed Forces.


*Swedish proverb.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Planes, Trains, and a Really Nice Automobile.

That's me on the left.  The guy on the right?  That's the weather.                                 Source

The other day a co-worker commented that I looked tired.  Hell-  I’m bald, 47, rarely sleep until my alarm, and really need to lose a few several pounds.  Tired is just pretty much just how my face looks.

In my defense, I had a rough trip to the Gulf Coast this week, and being tired is guaranteed when I’m supposed to leave on Sunday afternoon, but don’t arrive until Tuesday at 10 AM.  I was heading for Miramar Beach Florida to brief at a conference, flying into Ft. Walton Beach (VPS).  I had the 1:09 PM United Flight from San Diego (SAN) to Houston (IAH), but we had trouble finding keys.  My wife long ago misplaced her key to my car, (I still hold out hope that it’s not lost forever) and the teenangster, now licensed to drive, took my set to drive my wife’s car.  Once the valet key was found, we rushed to the airport and I arrived about 45 minutes before launch.  Normally that’s fine since I was traveling on business, and I’m always given TSA Pre-Check.  Since I was one of the presenters though, and it’s a somewhat formal conference, I had a large roller suit bag that needed to be checked.  However, I learned that the cut-off for bags was 45 minutes prior and I was 43 minutes from push.  At that point my options were very limited- either leave the bag with someone, or miss my flight.  I figured I could pull my suit out and shove it in my backpack as my only choice, so I called my wife back to come get the bag.  However, her phone has 3 modes- off, silent, or dead.  I didn't dare call my daughter as we've threatened her with all sorts of angst-causing repercussions if she ever uses her cell while driving.  She has never driven to the airport anyway so that option was moot.

Next call was to the house to ask the minnow to have mom call me.  I called that co-worker who was already at the gate and she recommended just take it through security and have them gate-check it.  Sounded like a great idea to me, so I hustled down to the short TSA-Pre-Check line only to be embarrassed when I found out that I was NOT in that category.  The regular line was 20 or 30 deep by now and there was no way I’d make it.  I resigned myself to missing the flight and my Monday morning brief slot as there was no later flight.  In hindsight I should have asked about flying into Panama City Beach (ECP) as that’s less than an hour away, but I was stressed and didn't think of it.

I made my way back to the ticket agent who took pity on me and booked me on the same flight the next day- the earlier flight being full.  I asked about standby and he said to show up at 5 AM for the 6:50 flight.  I set 2 alarms, but still woke up before I needed, subconsciously worried that I’d miss that window.  Made it on time and was put on standby for both legs.  At the gate I was at the top of the standby list, but the flight had checked in full.  I'm no quitter though and stayed in the boarding area.  I chatted up a newly hired pilot sitting next to me at the gate, heading to Houston for training.  He had just retired from the Navy a month or two earlier and was a former F-18 Squadron Skipper.  His check-out was with his boss who was relieved later that day when some uh,  inappropriate material was found on his work computer.  You might have read about it in Navy Crimes Times, but anyhoo.  We played the “Do you know” game for a bit and found out that in addition to knowing plenty of the same folks, that we were both fans of “Ask Skipper.”  He knew of Sarge’s blog, but hadn’t read it.  Thanks to some common ground and Goon being an all-around good guy, he graciously gave up his seat and took the jump seat.  That put me on my way.

In Houston, the next leg at 12:25 was full as well, but I’d been lucky so far.  There were 3 or 4 of us waiting, including a dead-heading pilot trying to get home.  As it turned out, none of us got on.  There was one open seat, but the CR-J was at the limits of weight and balance with the cargo and luggage.

Next flight?  7:27 PM.  Ugh.  Fortunately, I had a confirmed seat on that one.  Off to the USO I went.

USO at George Bush Intercontinental Airport

After conversing with the great Americans working there, rehearsing my now-rescheduled presentation, and a brief and very unsatisfying nap, it was about time to head to my gate.  Once I arrived there however, I noticed that next to the flight number the departure time had been replaced with the word CANCELED.  Fog had rolled in and closed the runway at VPS.

Chances are, I’d miss my new morning brief slot now as well.  Considering whether to just abort the trip and catch the 9 PM back to San Diego, I got in line at the United Airlines service desk to see what my options were.  An agent asked if anyone wanted to fly to Panama City and my hope was restored.  That was only open to people with carry-on luggage though, and I had checked my bag.  I hoped it had made it on the earlier flight and asked about it.  After his quick check, he found it in Ft. Walton so I was clear for that flight at 9:15 PM.

I was exhausted by now and fell asleep shortly after takeoff.  The flight attendant woke me as we began our descent only to tell me that we were landing back in Houston, barely 30 minutes after we launched.  Since ECP and VPS are only about an hour’s drive apart, the fog was all along the Gulf Coast.  Before I landed, United had rebooked me to ECP at 7 AM.  

Did I mention I was tired?  Fortunately there was a Marriott Hotel in the Airport so I stayed there for what was now going to be a short night.  I had my shaving stuff, but no change of clothes other than a polo-shirt crammed into my backpack.  Since I might be briefing immediately upon arrival at the conference if (had I made the noon flight), I was wearing a blazer with a shirt and tie.  After a long day of travel, the shirt was wrinkled and none too fresh.  So I added another hour to what was already an 18 hour day to wash my shirt, socks and fruit of the looms in the hotel laundry, going commando for the time being, if you really must know.  While I waited, I updated my co-worker on my schedule and called SATO (Govt Travel Office) to rebook my rental car.


No further problem in Houston the next morning and we landed about 8:20.  No bag at ECP of course so I headed straight for the rental counter.  Yes, I had a confirmation, but they HAD NO CARS!  I asked the 4 or 5 other agencies and due to the weather problems, cars either hadn't been returned or had been scarfed up by other redirected passengers.  At the end of the row, Avis had one that had just come in- unwashed and lacking a full tank, but that was fine with me.  A higher class of car, they wouldn't give it to me at the compact rate I was authorized, but I didn't really have a choice and the travel Nazis back at the office would have to suck it up when I filed my claim upon RTB.

My route from ECP to VPS and my conference.  Notice the "Broken Wings" tab?  If you haven't read it, please do.

I didn't know exactly when my brief was so I wasn't sure if I had time to recover my bag and backtrack to the conference site at the Sandestin Beach Resort.  It turns out I did, as my slot was just after lunch when they were almost sure I'd be there.  Lunch options included sit down service in a café and a grab-and-go buffet.  Both were as quick as could be expected, but feeding 200 people takes a while.  Briefs were scheduled every 15 minutes and the speakers are mostly super-smart scientists, engineers, and physicists.  Yeah, yeah, I know what you're thinking- "What the hell is Tuna doing there?!" I was just there as a palate cleanser I suppose- just to brief our future goals for Mine Warfare.  Anyway, the speakers are somewhat kept on schedule through the use of a green light- 1-12 minutes, yellow light 12-15 minutes, and a red one at the end of their time which flashes red at 30 seconds over.  A friend who works for the Office of Naval Research which hosts the event said that they all have Aspergers and might keep talking for days if they weren't given the hook.  That might be a bit of an over exaggeration, but as the father of an aspie, there's a lot of truth to it.  They're smart as hell, but socially inept to some extent, at least when it comes to public speaking.  The morning session ran 10 minutes long so the attendees were slow in getting back to the room.  The afternoon session started promptly at 12:30 though so I briefed to less than 50 of them.  A lot of trouble to pass on some important info to so few folks, but at least some of them got it.

The one bright spot was that upgraded rental car…

Yeah, it’s really unfortunate that I had to rent a convertible, but I tried to make the most of it.  What kind of ragtop was it you might ask?

2015 Mustang.
I think that's some fate intervening there.  Last year at the same conference, I flew into VPS on the last flight before it closed.  The rental agency only had one remaining car so I got a free upgrade and had this one for the week:

No, not the best picture, but the fastback looked great and was fast as heck.  I've always loved Mustangs, but have never owned one.  The closest I ever came was the '67 convertible that my mom bought new.  It was Lime Gold (yes, that's really a color), had the center console like in the picture below, and I loved it.

Maybe I've mentioned it here before, but I never had a chance to drive it as my folks sold it the day before I got my learner's permit.  They must have predicted that'd I'd wreck two cars by age 18, which I did.  After renting the car last year and telling my wife just how much fun I had, she blew my mind by saying I should get one for my next car.  How awesome of a wife is that? Telling me I should do something completely impractical!  The teenangster goes off to college next year and thanks to some scholarships and the G.I. Bill, it won't be much of a stretch.  After we figure out just how much stretching is required, I'm thinking it'll be time to turn in my 10 year old Toyota Tacoma.  We don't do any Boy Scout camping now anyway so now that vehicle, at 16 mpg, is really the impractical one.  Now on the other hand, I have had a history with skin cancer, so just don't tell my Dermatologist.

So what did I learn from all this?  A bunch of lessons I already forgot from my time in Naval Aviation.  First off, don't be late.  There's a reason we brief 2 hours before launch, and we're on the flight deck an hour prior.  If something goes wrong, you've got time to troubleshoot. 

Second, alway have a divert.  I've flown into all three airports on the Gulf Coast and know how close they all are.  In addition, if going through flight school in Pensacola taught me anything, it's that weather in the area can come up in moments, and knowing where else you can land is vital to flight safety.  It would have helped if I had just asked to be re-routed originally to ECP anyway, as fog was forecast at VPS.

Third is to never get complacent.  They say that a senior aviator, the ones around 2000 hours (senior O-4s/O-5s) are the most prone to mishaps.  Sure, the nugget is dangerous since he's clueless, but the older guys get complacent and over-confident.  I guess that's where I was last Sunday- thinking that I'd be cleared for Pre-Check and would have enough time.  

Enough for today.  I better not get too complacent though, I've still got a fight with the bean-counting travel Nazis ahead of me.