Monday, April 15, 2019

A life well lived

So...There I was.*  Late Fall 1979, second year of the second worst president ever, Luke AFB.  I'm the Student Duty Officer, a position of almost supreme authority in an RTU squadron (RTU-Replacement Training Unit i.e. F-4 School).  I, and I alone, am responsible for answering the telephone.  "XXX Fighter Squadron, Lt juvat speaking, how may I help you sir?"  The first launch is successfully committing aviation.  Very few people are in the squadron building.  There is, of course, a Duty Officer present, somewhere, in case the hot line from the Supervisor of Flying calls.  (The SOF is in the Tower, to handle any emergencies that arise.  Lots of fun.  Nothing to do, but read the paper and ostensibly supervise the Tower Crew.  Never needed to do anything with them when I became a SOF.  Each crew was led by a senior NCO, at least a Tech Sgt, mostly a Master Sgt.  Professional's all.  Nope, the SOF was there for emergencies,  as in the first person hung should something bad happen.  Usually not the last, but definitely the first.  Anyhoo, back to the story.)

Where was I?  Oh...Duty Officer.  Yep, there's an IP or IWSO somewhere in the building that I can get to handle any questions I can't answer for the SOF, such as  "Who's flying front seat in Killer 02? "

"That would be 2Lt Shmuckatelly, Sir"

"Oh, Lord! Not Shmuckatelly!"

"Yes, Sir"

See...Supreme Authority.  I can bring combat seasoned Field Grade Fighter Pilots to tears.  I can also do that when I'm flying, but that's another story for another time.

Oh, and the Squadron Commander and/or the Ops Officer are present in their office.

I do NOT want to involve them.

Now, usually, there is a Duty NCO present also.  That person actually runs the Duty Desk. However, at this point, that person (rank anywhere between  Airman First Class E-3 and Staff Sergeant E-5) is off taking care of some other task, such as assisting with the next day's schedule.  Any bonehead 2Lt can answer a phone and scream for help if needed, right?

I'm settling in with a cup of coffee and a Dash 1 (light reading, it's the bible for Pilots AKA the Aircraft Flight Manual. How systems work.  Checklists, Emergency Procedures.)  I am within a couple of days of graduating and being officially a fighter pilot (which is different than Fighter Pilot, one's an AFSC the other's an attitude).

As I said, I'm sitting there by my lonesome when I hear the front door open.  I look up and there's an OLD man walking in.  White hair, glasses,  wearing an overcoat, but there's something about him, an air of authority, perhaps.  Something.

Now, while others may disagree, I'm not stupid.  I err on the side of caution.

Standing up, I say "Welcome to XXX Squadron, Sir, I'm Lt juvat, How may I help you?" 


"Hello, Lt, I'm here to see your Commander" he says as he walks up to the duty desk while taking off his overcoat (had to have been raining out as it's never actually cold in Phoenix).

As he gets to the desk, he sticks out his hand and as I'm reaching to shake it, I see his lapel pin.  Very small bar, painted light blue with five stars on it.

"I'm Col Bud Day"  



Now, This was before the internet and only a few years after Vietnam.  I knew who he was, that he'd been a POW and that bad things had happened to POWs.  But, it wasn't until the last few years, that I learned just how much of a hero he was.

Source

That's what I want to share with you.  A week or so ago, Sarge was posting on the folks on the masthead and Col Day's Medal of Honor Citation was included.  Folks, that Citation doesn't even begin to describe how he earned that Medal.

I just finished re-re-reading (no misspelling there, this was at least my third time through) American Patriot by Robert Coram.  I highly recommend it.  If you do read it though, have a box of kleenex and a stiff drink handy .

An interesting story from the book was a flight he had in the F-84 in England.  He was recovering to base when the engine exploded and he was forced to eject.  The Air Force had just developed new parachutes specifically for jet fighters.  Previous versions, designed for prop airplanes, could not sustain ejection at jet speeds.  However, the bands that kept the parachute intact at high speed, did not allow the parachute to deploy at low speed and low altitude.  Col Day ejected at about 300' and the chute failed to open.  Obviously, he miraculously survived the fall.  As he regained consciousness, the flight surgeon said "Obviously, God has something planned for you."    Which stuck with him and got him through a lot of the turmoils in his life.

When he was shot down in Vietnam, he was almost immediately captured.  However, he managed to escape and make it back to South Vietnam, evading capture for 3 weeks.  He managed to make it with a couple of miles of a Marine base before stumbling into a VC patrol setting up for an ambush.  Surprising them, he attempted to run, but was shot and recaptured.

This was the event that  went "Above and Beyond".

Col Day's Citation:

On 26 August 1967, Colonel Day was forced to eject from his aircraft over North Vietnam when it was hit by ground fire. His right arm was broken in 3 places, and his left knee was badly sprained. He was immediately captured by hostile forces and taken to a prison camp where he was interrogated and severely tortured.

After causing the guards to relax their vigilance, Col. Day escaped into the jungle and began the trek toward South Vietnam. Despite injuries inflicted by fragments of a bomb or rocket, he continued southward surviving only on a few berries and uncooked frogs.

He successfully evaded enemy patrols and reached the Bến Hải River, where he encountered U.S. artillery barrages. With the aid of a bamboo log float, Col. Day swam across the river and entered the demilitarized zone. Due to delirium, he lost his sense of direction and wandered aimlessly for several days.

After several unsuccessful attempts to signal U.S. aircraft, he was ambushed and recaptured by the Viet Cong, sustaining gunshot wounds to his left hand and thigh. He was returned to the prison from which he had escaped and later was moved to Hanoi after giving his captors false information to questions put before him.

Physically, Col. Day was totally debilitated and unable to perform even the simplest task for himself. Despite his many injuries, he continued to offer maximum resistance.
His personal bravery in the face of deadly enemy pressure was significant in saving the lives of fellow aviators who were still flying against the enemy. Col. Day's conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Air Force and reflect great credit upon himself and the U.S. Armed Forces

Seems a little tame for a Medal of Honor citation.  But I'll explain why I think that was a little later.

In any case, he is carried to Hanoi where he's imprisoned in Hoa Loa, AKA Hanoi Hilton, where he will spend the next 5 1/2 years under the kind, compassionate care of the North Vietnamese.

Reading this next part of the book is difficult.  "I don't know that I could have handled that..." ran through my mind many times.  His first "quiz" was part information gathering, but mostly punishment for having escaped and embarrassed the North Vietnamese and they nearly killed him in it.

Returned to his cell, he is nursed back to health kept alive, by a B-57 Pilot shot down at about the same time.  The B-57 pilot was also quizzed, but somehow is not as badly injured as Col Day.  The quizzing continues and Col Day over time loses feeling in his hands, cannot hear out of his right ear, has had his shoulders disjointed several times.  Through all of this the only information he has given them are false names of his fellow pilots, using the names of second rate movie actors and such.

His cellmate is not badly hurt and in fact is released in February of '68.  Col Day, while grateful to him for helping him survive, does not speak highly of him throughout the remainder of the book.

Things go downhill after the Tet Offensive and from June of '69 through October, Col Day goes through hell.  Probably literally.  He is "quizzed" every day.  These quizzes were even more brutal than usual.  Stripped, he was whipped with a fan belt.  The two North Vietnamese doing this would spring from the opposite side of the cell and run at him while swinging the fan belt, thereby maximizing the force on his body.  This would go on until he was unconscious.  They would allow him to regain consciousness, then begin again.  Sometimes two or three times a day.  For three months.  His wounds were so great that he still had welts and lesions 3 years later when the POWs came home.

For his successful protection of information that might have given "aid and comfort" to the enemy, Col Day would be  awarded the Air Force Cross. His citation:
The Air Force Cross is presented to George Everett Day, Colonel, United States Air Force, for extraordinary heroism in military operations against an opposing armed force as a Prisoner of War in North Vietnam from 16 July 1969 to 14 October 1969. During this period, Colonel Day was subjected to maximum punishment and torture by Vietnamese guards to obtain a detailed confession of escape plans, policies, and orders of the American senior ranking officer in the camp, and the communications methods used by the Americans interned in the camp. Colonel Day withstood this punishment and gave nothing of value to the Vietnamese, although he sustained many injuries and open wounds to his body. Through his extraordinary heroism and willpower, in the face of the enemy, Colonel Day reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.
Again, somewhat banal of a citation for the Air Force's second highest award for valor.

Anyhow, He attributes his survival to his mantra "Return with Honor" and the no chute ejection and the thought that God had a plan for him.  At this point, he believes that plan involves his leadership of the fellow POWs.  Which he does admirably until '73.

But, finally, LBJ is replaced.  Nixon has had enough of North Vietnamese BS and orders Linebacker 2.  I challenge anyone to read the book, get to the part where the bombs are going off all over and the POWs are singing the Star Spangled Banner, and remain dry eyed.

Shortly, thereafter, the POWs are repatriated based on date of shoot down.
Col Day reunited with his wife, Doris.  Yes really!

Col Day is in the third installment along with his former cellmate and friend John McCain.  While they disagreed on politics, they remained lifelong friends.

I thought it spoke well of the man, that while President Ford officially awarded Col Day the Medal of Honor, he later asked President Nixon to re-award it to him as a gesture of thanks that he had "bombed them out of prison".

Col Day manages to fool the flight surgeons into putting him back on flight status with 31 waivers and flies the F-4 as the Vice Wing Commander hoping to eventually take over the wing.  However, whilst in Korea during that war, he had landed his F-84 at an F-86 base and run afoul of the F-86 Squadron Commander, Maj Robert Dixon.

Dixon would go on to become a 4 Star and the Commander of Tactical Air Command and had stated "none of those neurotic POWs will ever become Wing Commanders in TAC" and that he was "tired of them riding the POW horse".    What a guy!  I also believe there was probably a bit of influence attempted with Col Day's Medal of Honor award and citation.  (Full disclosure: My Dad also ran afoul of the man while assigned at Nellis, Dad's last station.)

Col Day realizes that his USAF career is at an end and retires in 1977.  He becomes a lawyer in Florida and still has that feeling that "God has a plan for him".  He's quite successful, and after Billy Jeff is elected,  reads a magazine article saying retired military no longer receives free medical care.

When I saw the man, that morning in the squadron, chronologically he was 67,  he looked and walked like he was 80.  Suffice it to say, he had health issues.  He decides to sue the US government and wins.  This is a multi-billion dollar change in the budget,  Billie Jeff had already appropriated that money save and was well into spending it.  The Government appealed and won.

Col Day was not finished, and continued pushing and Tricare for Life was added.  Tricare for Life (as I am beginning to find out) pays for the difference between what medicare pays and the bill, less deductible etc.
Source

Clearly, God did have a plan for Col Day's life.  He executed that plan quite well.  He passed away in July of 2013 and was posthumously promoted to Brigadier General in March of '18.
Source

Rest in Peace, Warrior!



Source Wikipedia -the No Ribbon on second row from bottom second from right is for the award of  the Vietnam Veteran's Medal 1st Class


*SJC...Just because I haven't used it in a while.

35 comments:

  1. An uplifting read, sir. By Jove I needed that!

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  2. Godspeed Col. Day. From a glimpse into Col. Day's travails to everyday routine at the base to learning about Tricare, of which I knew nothing, excellent post. In 1973 I was a really wet behind the ears twenty year old watching the POWs return home, not knowing what those men had gone through. Thanks for this small bit of education juvat.

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    1. Tricare is the Military Retiree's Health Insurance. As I reread the post, I didn't make that clear. Basically Billy Jeff was going to break the Government's promise to the Military that if they served at least 20 years, their health care would be covered. I know that was a major factor (but not the only) in my decision to join and stay, as I'm sure it was for many others, to include BG Day. BJ (seems appropriate) was going to put us on medicare and leave us to make up the difference. As I understand, we still have to sign up for Medicare, but Tricare for Life covers virtually all the difference. Right now, I'm covered, but when I turn 65, all this kicks in.

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  3. As an American and recipient of Tricare For Life, I am grateful to BG Day for his courage and love of country. His actions are what - in a better place and time - we would refer to as “awesome”. Thank you, BG Day, for saving my country. Rock solid salute and “flights of angels guide thee to your rest”.

    Bobo the Hobo

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  4. My uncle gave me a stack of Reader's Digest magazines when I was a kid. About 7 or 8 feet or so of them stacked, or lining the base board of my closet. From the 50's thru the 70's... I read in there about what POw's had done to them. I never understood how we didn't pave that country over after the story got out.

    Sounds like Dixon misspelled his last name... I couldn't imagine even thinking that. He must've been the AFSC you mention on occasion.... (with an attitude)

    When I hear someone say we "lost" VietNam, I take great exception to that. Linebacker 2 worked. Our Congress gave it away, we didn't lose.

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    1. Yep. Amazing how it always seems to be the same party, that comes up with the same lines every time, isn't it? Communism and slavery. The terminology changes, but the intent remains the same.

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  5. Brigadier General Day was one of the finest men to have ever worn the uniform of the United States Air Force. Dixon, probably one of the worst.

    Great way to start a rainy Monday, with a tale of a man larger than life, yet humble and God-fearing.

    Thanks juvat.

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    1. Yeah, he spoke at the Dining-In that evening (Dining-In is a traditional formal dinner for the Military). Wore his uniform as did the rest of us. Most of the senior officers had a bit of salad on their chest. Most of the rated officers had medals that meant something. The students had wings, a few had jump wings also. But, BG Day stood out. The book said he was the most decorated military person since MacArthur. I believe that to be true. His speech was excellent and considering that my next stop in the road to Fighter Pilot-dom was survival school, quite apropos.
      Thanks, Sarge.

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  6. I have just finished reading "Return With Honor" the autobiography General Day wrote of his time in Vietnam. Mere words cannot describe how impressive a man, a leader, a hero he was. I could be trite and say he would have made one heck of a Marine, but this old Marine would be honored to just stand in the shadow of Bud Day. I knew several of the POWs and have nothing but unlimited respect for them. As to Robert Dixon, I trust that Satan has a corner of Hell labeled Hoa Lo South and that it will become Dixon's eternal resting place.

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    1. Funny you should say that, Dave. BG Day WAS in the Marine Corps in WWII. Got out after the war, had a minor run-in with the law. Got himself straightened out and tried to re-enlist. Because of that incident, the Corps turned him down, so he joined the Army National Guard, then switched to the Air Guard when the USAF was created, and the rest, as they say, is History.

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  7. Wow.

    I knew some of what the POWs went through, having read other books that touch the issue. Read one where one navy pilot is tortured for schematics for an aircraft carrier, and finally gives them one, and then is tortured because he left out where the live animals were kept.

    I knew one Marine vet who, when other vets gave him respect, he would actually tear up about not being able to go rescue the POWs. That type of guy, so his respect was worth something.

    And yet another book, albeit a hard one to read, to read.

    Thanks to him my mother has medical. BJ also was screwing with the medical of many surviving spouses. Jerk.

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    1. Yeah, In my description of TFL, I overlooked the phrase "and their spouses", which it does cover.

      Your last word is appropriate. I was in the Pentagon while he was in office. Never saw him, but was in a meeting when herself was present. Evil personified. "We the President" was used several times. Not a fan.

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    2. The next actual democratic front-runner also used the same address when her husband was in office. Had an acquaintance in the Secret Service, she voluntarily chose to transfer out of the WH during BJ and HC's dual reign of terror, transferred back during the Bush II days, (said Laura was a very sweet, nice lady) and stayed during the early years of the Obamination. She said MO was as bad, or worse, than HRC.

      Look to MO becoming frontrunner in the spring. Woe unto us.

      Bleh.

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    3. I can see her doing that.

      God help us all if your vision comes true.

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    4. My 'Cassandra' gene is strong. Unfortunately.

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    5. Well, in this case, Beans, I hope you're wrong. And will do my best to make you so.

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    6. I think (and fervently pray) that the country has had an awakening in the past few weeks. I think the "holy crap! how'd we get this far down the socialism road" warning bells have started going off. A few felony indictments being leveled might be just the ticket. But I do like seeing the d on d infighting that's going on.

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  8. A true warrior is what comes to mind; doing what is right.

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    1. Yes indeed. Never Give Up, Never Surrender!

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  9. I am always "punched in the gut" by these kinds of posts. I grieve for the men and women lost in that pointless exercise, which lined the coffers of the already wealthy and let the politicos play war with real blood. Spineless bast###s.
    Just feel sick right now and proud as well to be associated so closely with the folks at the pointed end of the spear. God bless those who are gone now and may we who are still alive, never forget.

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  10. You, sir juvat, have had the opportunity to be surrounded by Giants, and their imprint is visible upon you. Fortunate son you are.

    Would have loved to have just sat in the corner and listened to him talk.

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    1. I have had the opportunity to meet a lot of exceptional people. I am extremely grateful to have met them.

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  11. He did ALL of us retirees a huge favor with that lawsuit, and definitely upset DC's applecart with it! I never had the honor to meet him, but the Navy POWs were very appreciative of his leadership.

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    1. The other POWs I knew were of the same thought, that the POW leadership was critical to their relative well being (which sounds illogical). Might be a thought provoker for a future post.

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  12. Thank you for re-acquainting me with this fine American. Also for making known to me that not so fine American.

    Thanks for the post.
    Paul L. Quandt

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  13. While the country is in his debt for his service, every retired Vet owes him gratitude for what he did in retirement!

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    1. Yep, Mrs J has some minor surgery scheduled for next week. She's right on the cusp of transitioning from Tricare to Tricare for Life and the bureaucratic goat roping involved to get her approved for surgery was phenomenal. At one point, she was told she'd have to go to a VA hospital for it as Tricare wouldn't pay. Mostly because the pencil pusher misread her Tricare end date and didn't see a TFL start date. ARRRRGGGGGHHHHHHH!

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  14. "American Patriot" is an excellent book and made Robert Coram my favorite biographer. Col. Day's actions are so extraordinary (as were those of many other POWs) they border on the unbelievable. If Hollywood wrote the story as a script I would probably leave the theater is disbelieve.

    As for Coram, the opening of that book, where he describes Col. Day attending a Dining Out and how much it was going to hurt, sitting in the hard chair for so long, with so many afraid to address him, was powerful.

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    1. Yeah, when he shook my hand that morning, there wasn't much/any strength in it. Fortunately, I was quick enough to pick up on that.

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  15. Little J wife / DILMay 11, 2019 at 1:25 AM

    Loved this post. Thanks for sharing his story, I knew some of it, but not to this detail. I'll have to check out that book.

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