Monday, November 24, 2014

Thanksgiving with the Juvats

So, There I was….* Kunsan AB, ROK about 4 weeks before my DEROS (Date Estimated Return from Overseas, Hey, I don’t make the acronyms).  Under the leadership of the second worst president ever, I’ve got almost 100 hours of operational time in the F-4 and can manage to at least hit the ground with my bombs and not myself, although that issue has been in doubt.  My next assignment will be to Moody AFB, GA where further adventures will abide and at least one life changing ceremony will take place, but that’s all in the future.  

For now my task as defined by my Squadron Commander, Lt Col Dick “Batman” Swope, is to plan and provision a Thanksgiving dinner for the 80TFS Pilots, WSOs and enlisted and the 80AMU, our maintenance personnel.
Batman takes Command of the Juvats
(USAF Photo)


  Now, Batman does not want cucumber sandwiches with tea for this soiree.  No, he wants Turkey, Dressing, Mashed potatoes, Pies, the whole 9 yards (which actually is a fighter pilot saying, Sarge should be able to tell you what it means). There’s one teensy weensy problem with this plan.  Kunsan’s “commissary” was comparable to an understocked 7-11 in what it carried in inventory.  On a good day, you might be able to purchase some peanut butter, no bread, but crackers (old, stale) to make yourself a snack.  Sodas were rationed more heavily than Beer.  Lunchmeat was generally green in tinge.  Finding the fixings to feed a couple of hundred folks might be hard.  Osan AB, the next closest base wasn’t a whole lot better.  What to do?

We had a new guy join our squadron just prior to this whose previous assignment had been Okinawa. He reported that the commissary there was very well stocked and he could probably get someone to procure the groceries if I could find a way to transport them to Kunsan.

I checked with the MAC detachment and they said they could not transport victuals (they actually used that word) intended for private functions on Military Aircraft.  (I wondered if they knew about Air Force One?)

I then realized that I was a pilot of an aircraft with the ability to carry a significant payload.  Now if I could just find a baggage pod.  I knew they existed, but hadn’t seen any around.  My Dad had always told me if you need information, find the oldest NCO around.  They know everything. So, I found the guy driving the maintenance truck on the line, he looked ancient like he might have been 35 or so.  I asked him about baggage pods.  He asked why so I told him about Batman’s party.  He said if I’d save him a pair of Drumsticks, he’d get them for me.  Done.
Note baggage pod under left wing. We had one under each on both.  Not an 80TFS bird, but TX ANG, given the copyright restrictions, almost as good.
Source: commons.wikimedia.org

Now, I've just got to convince Batman to let me have an airplane for a weekend.  Realizing that, one, this is during the reign of the second worst president ever, so flying hours are scarce and two, that I have a very limited number of them under my belt, this is going to be a hard sell.  But this is HIS party, so I've got that going for me.

After a 5 minute meeting during which I described the logistical problem in great detail, he interrupts me and says why don’t I find a flight lead and a couple of WSO’s that want to take a trip to Clark with a stop enroute at Kadena to order supplies, a day at Clark to rest and recuperate, then a return stop at Kadena to pick up the supplies?  What a great idea!  Wish I’d have thought of Clark in my version!

All of a sudden, I've got LOTS of friends in the squadron!

I get a flight lead, a Captain from Alabama, who speaks with a very slow, very deep drawl.  My WSO is also a Captain, usually rambunctious, but competent.  Lead’s WSO I have no recollection about.  We brief the mission and the supply requirements and get ready to launch.

Now, back then there were things like ADIZs to contend with.  Air Defense Identification Zones. Radar Flight Tracking wasn't anywhere near as complete as it is now.  One would be out of Radar Coverage and Radio coverage for long sections of time.  I had never done anything like this and neither had my flight lead. The WSO’s had however, so we were comfortable.  

Launch out of Kunsan and exit Korean Airspace south of Cheju Do.  Very quiet for a while and then we start to approach Japanese Airspace.  Lead calls for a radio change and attempts to contact the Japanese air traffic control at Fukuoka.  Now, let me explain this.  Their callsign was Fukuoka Control, pronounced Foo Koo Oh Ka.  Lead is from Alabama.  He can NOT say this in a manner recognizable to the Japanese!  This is a family blog, but it shouldn’t take much for you to imagine how he was trying to pronounce it.  And the guy on the other side was not having any of it.  Lead would make an attempt and the controller would say “No! Foo’ Koo Oh Ka! With the accent being on whichever syllable Lead screwed up. This went on for about 15 minutes.  My WSO and I are laughing so hard, I am having a hard time flying formation for the tears in my eyes.  Finally the controller gives up and passes us off to some other sector controller with a much more pronounceable name. 

We land at Kadena, get checked in to the VOQ, call our contact and pass them the list, and then race out Gate two for a little time on the town.  First time with Kobe Beef.  Marvelous stuff that.

Next morning, we blast off and as we pass Miyako-Jima, lead calls and tells me his centerline tank isn't feeding.  He won’t have enough gas to make it to Clark, so he’s turning around and going back to Kadena.  Why don’t I go on ahead to Clark, and oh, by the way, would I pick up his crocodile skin boots while I’m there? 

He turns around and disappears back to the north.  I look in and the TACAN is searching for a lock on and will continue that, unsuccessfully, for the next hour and a half.  I’m driving on, looking around at a whole lot of not much to see, and notice that my WSO was unusually quiet.  I ask him what’s going on, and he says he’d called home last night to talk to his wife and she had informed him she wanted a divorce.  As nonchalantly as I could, I asked him if he’d mind switching the radar to air to ground mode and run it out to max range.  I figured a dead reckoning heading would get me close enough to find Luzon on the radar.

My R and R at Clark consisted of escorting a highly inebriated WSO around various locales, to include a boot shop and the Nipa Hut, and then finally carrying him to his rack at Chambers Hall.  It’s what we do.

Sunday morning, he’s surprisingly chipper, hale and hearty.  We blast off, and make our way back to Kadena.  Land, Dearm and get directed to park in front of the tower.  As I pull into the parking space and shut down, I notice a small Nissan station wagon pull up under one of my wings.  I get out as the crew chief begins refueling the jet.  Walk over to the Nissan and Lead is there setting up a conga line passing turkeys from the car to the pods.  We load a dozen turkeys into each of the baggage pods.  All the rest of the groceries are already loaded in Lead’s pods. 

Dinner loaded, Dzus fasteners tightened, Fuel in the tanks, Lead runs over to his jet, straps in and gives me the fire up signal.  Dash-60s roar and soon, so do we.  Blast off, get handed off to Fukuoka Control.  I’m waiting for the encore, but Lead comes through.  (Later found out, that his WSO had spent his R and R buying beer for Lead all the while conducting diction lessons on how to pronounce the name, not wanting to restart WWII after all.)

Re-enter Korean Airspace, come down initial at Kunsan. Not wanting to re-enact an episode from WKRP in Cincinatti, we gently pitch out and land.  

We’re met in the dearm area by the maintenance bread van and several maintainers.  Dzus fasteners opened and another conga line from pods to van.  The NCOIC says the Security Police had heard about the party and were looking to confiscate the “contraband”.  

Pod empty of all but our skivvies and a pair of crocodile boots, we taxi back to the shelters.  Shut down and are met by the SPs and the drug dogs.  Dogs sniff all around and start howling at the pods, we open them up for the cops and show them they’re empty.  Clearly disappointed, they leave empty handed.  Some of the turkeys were dispersed to all the O-5s since they were the only ones with ovens in their quarters.  The remaining turkeys were taken to the O’Club where we've bribed negotiated with Mr. Kim the manager to allow us to cook them. I think the cost was two cooked turkeys to serve to the other, uninvited, wing personnel.

Thanksgiving arrives and my clan, warriors all, has gathered.  The two reserved drumsticks are paid to the Maintenance NCOIC, prayers were said, the appropriate toasts were given and dinner is served.  

The Juvats
(USAF Photo, of which I own a copy)

Post Script.  I ran into Batman a couple more times in my career.  When I was at CincPac, he was the 13AF Commander at Andersen AFB Guam.  Later, while I was on the Joint Staff at the Pentagon, he was the USAF IG. He and I retired from the Air Force on the same day.  I was a Lt Col, he was a Lt Gen.  Sadly, I've learned he passed away in 2011 at 68. RIP.

23 comments:

  1. Great post.

    I suggest a game of "spot the Juvat," oh wait, they're all Juvats!

    Damn shame about Batman. RIP, Sir.

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    1. Thanks.
      I am in the picture, albeit with hair. Batman is 2nd row, 2nd from the left.

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  2. Heh... I think we 'all' had fun with the APs, regardless of what service we were in... Reminds me of a story about Eielson... :-)

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    1. The only thing more dangerous than an 18 year old with a gun is an 18 year old with a gun, a badge and a beanie! Just sayin'

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  3. Another great one, juvat. You've now set off a series of navy Thanksgiving memories that I can play with all day. Thanks!

    There's a certain charm in being experienced enough to remember the WKRP Thanksgiving episode. Almost makes up for the aches and pains.

    Those Vietnam-era guys who stuck it out during the awful years went well above and beyond in their service to the Republic.

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    1. Thanks,
      As I was putting the final touches to the post, I clicked the video and was laughing so hard, my wife came in to see what was going on. She ended up ROFLMAO also.
      Re: Vietnam Era. Batman, the two guys to his left and the first guy in a flight suit in the third row, had more than 12000 hours in the F-4. It was a great squadron to earn my spurs in.

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  4. Great story, Juvat... as always.

    I had a few "unaccompanied" Thanksgivings and Christmases during my 22 years and ate nearly all of those holiday meals in the chow hall. My memory MAY have become selective over the years but, as I recall, all those meals were pretty damned decent. The worst was prolly when I was stationed with the Army as a tenant unit in Beautiful Sinop By the (Black) Sea but even that one wasn't too shabby.

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    1. Thanks Buck,
      I think you're probably right. There must have been some crappy meals at some point, but I don't really remember them. Sitting alert at Osan on Christmas with cold turkey sandwiches does come to mind though. I think someone, high up in the food chain, decided too much turkey might dull the senses if scrambled. They had obviously never sat alert. The horn is specifically designed to focus all within earshot.

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    2. Comeon Buck, except for the fact that it was a MI field station, my Sinop tour ('87-'88) wasn't too shabby. Three runs a week to Instanbul to pick up the mail and one to Incirlik AB in our brand new "F" models. Off of "The Hill" every day at Sinop AAF. Field Station Commander was a former combat infantry officer who liked his aviators so he was pretty darn good for a MI type. Thanksgiving and Christmas in "Blues" at the mess hall wasn't too bad, either. regards, Alemaster

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    3. Ok, unless that's Swahili, that's a story. Stop tormenting us!

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    4. Buck has the honors as the Navy Intel Det was a "guest" of the Army Intel Field Station at Sinop. There was also a Brit intel op out on the very end of the peninsula jutting out into the Kara Deniz (Black Sea). You're up, Buck. regards, Alemaster

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    5. One or the other, or both,I think a follow up is required. It's the Holiday Season, so war stories are authorized.

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    6. Ahem. I wasn't in the Squidly Det, Alemaster. I was AIR FORCE, thank ya very much, and we were officially known as Det. 204, Sinop CDI. You were at Sinop a full 15 years after I was (me: '71 - '72), so things might have changed a bit and hopefully for the better. I had the opportunity to fly with your predecessors a few times in some sort of twin engined liaison aircraft (Beech? Cessna?) to Sinop from Samsun. My best memories about the Army aviation det were the low passes they would make over the site when returning from Samsun, which meant they were carrying mail. And, apropos o' not much, you are the VERY FIRST person I've ever known who didn't say "Hunh?" when I mentioned Sinop.

      As far as Sinop war stories go... you can search Sinop at EIP and find a few.

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    7. My most sincere apologies, Buck, as I forgot the Sinop lore about the USAF Det stationed there "back in the day." I think the AF also had a site at Samsun for some number of years. By the time I got around to a Sinop rotation (sold my soul to my Detailer in order to get back to Randolph AFB) it had become quite civilized. And yes, they were Beech U-21As back in the day; unpressurized Queen Airs with King Air wings and turbines (the AF didn't want the Army to have pressurized aircraft for the longest time). Sorry for the juxtiposition of Branches, regards, Alemaster

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  5. That is probably the funniest of the WKRP episodes, or at least the most memorable.

    Somehow bother years I was on the tin can, I ended up with duty on Thanksgiving.
    The upside of that is I had the long weekend with Friday, Saturday and Sunday off.
    Both of those weekends were spent with shipmate's families celebrating in a proper manner.

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    1. Yeah, Got to share my Son with my Daughter-in-Law's family this year so "Thanksgiving" this year will be Friday. At least I have an excuse not to go to stores that day, there are victuals to prepare!

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  6. Great story! Thanksgiving in the mess hall was generally a pretty good experience. Somehow or other good mess sergeants found a way to put on a pleasing repast. And I love your characterization of the second worst president. You can bet the the happiest peanut farmer in Georgia is giving thanks that history will concur in your judgment and that he has finally lost the distinction of being number one!

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  7. Yeah, I was pretty peeved at Jimmah when I left Kunsan. Been there a year and had 103.8 hours of operational time in the jet. At one point, I hadn't been on the schedule in so long that I lost landing currency. Not sick, not weathered out, not maintenance aborted, just not scheduled. There wasn't enough hours to keep everybody current, so they kept the experienced people up to speed. Not that I can blame them, but it worried the heck out of me every time the horn went off. By the end of Reagan's first year in office, I had 300 hours and change, by the end of Reagan's third year I had over 1000. So, to call Jimmah second worst means I REALLY don't like First Worst.

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  8. juvat/

    Looking at that squadron photo I'll just say I'm glad I got out before those punk-ass scarves :) came in vogue and HQ USAF forced everyone to wear the TAC weenie patch on the front and exiled the Sq patch to the left shoulder..

    One a more serious note I can remember toward the end of my stint they reduced our flying hours to 30/mo and everyone wondered how we were possibly going to remain competent in the aircraft, Today achieving what we thought as unacceptable is now to dream the impossible...Amazing..

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    1. The scarves didn't bother me much, added a little squadron identity to the flight suit. When McPeak took over PACAF, he instituted a policy that everyone wore v-neck tee shirts and solid white socks, no stripes. C'mon WHOGAS about stripes. Rumor was he went to a squadron and had everyone raise the legs on their flight suits so he could check for stripes. So Friday nite at the squadron bar started with a "sock check". Remember the flight suit zipper starts at the top and goes down.
      Tony, Never issue an order unless you're prepared for the ramifications of that order.

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    2. juvat/

      In the UK where cooler temps were the norm everyone wore a light-weight mock turtle-neck in Squadron colors..

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  9. Oh, and speaking of baggage pods, we had the standard ones like you pictured alright, but as Germany was just a short hop across the channel we modified two wing tanks as "baggage pods." One could get 144 cases of good German hock, icewine, etc back in one trip. Give a case to the crew-chief for silence and you were golden. The Brits didn't even inspect us, we just signed a declaration card and went on our merry way, lol.

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    1. Rumor had it that there was one of the Belly Tanks that had been converted to a baggage pod at the Kun. Said tank was built specifically for the import of Honda 90s from Kadena to the ROK. If you took off the wheels and handlebars, you could get two into the pod. Importing motorcycles was specifically forbidden, which of course made it required for fighter pilots.

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Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)