Saturday, January 18, 2020

It's Been How Long?

Four years ago on this very weekend Your Humble Scribe and his tribe traveled to Sandy Eggo for the baptism of the youngest member of the tribe. Above you can see my lovely daughter, The WSO, and her dad, that would be me. Of course I'm wearing an Air Force ball cap with my suit. Note that I also have an Air Force tie bar on my tie with my older Master Sergeant stripes (six down, as opposed to the newer five down, one up, or "Senior Technical Sergeant" as some wags would have it.) We are standing upon the flight deck of USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) with the lovely Sandy Eggo skyline in the background.

The carrier was in port for various reasons, mostly having to do with renovations and repairs. So it was an ideal spot for a baptism. Seems that son-in-law Big Time had served with TR's* Catholic chaplain while both were assigned to USS Enterprise (CVN-65). So he asked and Chaps consented, so baptizing the tribe's youngest into the Catholic faith occurred aboard the TR. Which was, in a word, awesome.

According to tradition -
The bell's connection to religious origins continues. Originating in the British Royal Navy, it is a custom to baptize a child under the ship's bell; sometimes the bell is used as a christening bowl, filled with water for the ceremony. Once the baptism is completed, the child's name may be inscribed inside the bell. The bell remains with the ship while in service and with the Department of the Navy after decommissioning. In this way, an invisible tie is created between the country, the ship and its citizens. (Source)
Sure enough, our little one now has her name inside the ship's bell of USS Theodore Roosevelt -

Oddly enough, her nickname is Belle. Belle's name is in the bell. Heh, it's the little things I find amusing.

Big Time took the photo above, he's now with TR's air wing, preparing to head out to sea for a few (up to eight) months. From USS Enterprise, to shore duty, to USS Theodore Roosevelt, he's been a busy lad. Keep him in your prayers, if you would be so kind.

Speaking of Belle, here she is with her big sister, on that wonderful day back in 2016 -

Geez, has it been four years already?

They grow up so fast...

This past Christmas...
No, that's not me in the middle...

* TR is how the USS Theodore Roosevelt is commonly referred to in the Navy, according to The Nuke. Not the Big Stick as some think.

Friday, January 17, 2020

"Turn it off, turn it off!!!"

Outside Francorchamps, Belgium
It is confused I am and confused I shall remain. For some reason I cannot remember two particular Easters spent in Europe, well, I remember them I just can't seem to place them in context with each other.

There was the Easter that The Missus Herself and Your Humble Scribe went to the City of Lights, that is the capital of La Belle France, i.e. Paris. It is somehow stuck in my head that we went there on our first year in NATO.

Then there was The Easter Egg Hunt. It sticks in my mind that that occurred during our first Easter in Europe, but how can that be? Didn't we go to Paris that weekend? Is it possible we did both activities around Easter in the same year? Does the timing and the positioning of the two events really matter, lo these many years later?

No, they don't, not really. But...

Huh? What? Why is that phrase "The Easter Egg Hunt" capitalized as it is?

I'm glad you asked. For that is my story today, suggested by The Nuke. Who remembers things a bit differently than I, but it's my story and I'll tell it as I remember it. (The title alludes to her version of the story, which I will get to. Eventually.)


Once upon a time, er, I mean, there I was, no that ain't quite right, ummm, I know...

Back in the day...

Whilst stationed with the forces of OTAN, er, I mean NATO, an excursion by my unit was set up for the wee bairns of the unit to go a'hunting for Easter eggs. Not in the local environs, such as on the base, not even in the local town (which would be Geilenkirchen itself), no indeed, this Easter egg hunt would take place in Belgium, specifically in the Ardennes, not far from Francorchamps. Which is kind of a famous racetrack out in the wilds of Belgium.

Uh, Sarge, you still haven't answered the "Why is that phrase "The Easter Egg Hunt" capitalized?" question.

Patience, I'm getting there.

Anyhoo, the idea was for the kids and their families to go on a kleine Spaziergang* through the lovely Belgian countryside to get to the venue pour chercher les oeufs de Pâques**. It will be nice they said, you'll enjoy it they said, it will be good exercise they said. Which they weren't wrong, but they weren't exactly right on all counts.

It was like a five-mile walk, through the woods. There was no path, no prepared way, kinda like this -

Sort of open, but sort of not. Don't get me wrong, it was a lovely day, the weather was cool and sunny. But it was still a five mile walk through the woods. Did I mention that I was loaded down like a pack animal? Like a rented mule? No?

Well I was. I had an Austrian Army rucksack (don't ask why, no, really) which was loaded with enough snacks and water bottles for Yours Truly, The Missus Herself, The Naviguesser, The Nuke, and The WSO. I was also lugging a late '80s era camcorder. One of these -

Hhmm, as a matter of fact, it was that very model of camcorder as depicted above.

But it wasn't that bad for us, there was another family, I think their name was Salvi, they had like 87 kids. It wasn't so much a family as an entire tribe. They covered the landscape they were so numerous. Kind of like I imagine the buffalo out in Shaun's neck of the planet (can't say woods, the place doesn't have a lot of trees) back in the day. Rumbling along, taking days to pass a single point...

Yes, I am exaggerating. The Salvis had four kids, all of them below the age of six. The older three were all self-propelled, the youngest was in a stroller. Yes, you read that right, a stroller, an '80s era stroller, for a walk through the Ardennes for crying out loud!

Yeah, not one of your robust modern strollers with big fat off-road tires, nope, it was a rickety-looking deal like that in the photo above. Do you see those little wheels? Those little handles? Now picture our beloved Sergeant Salvi pushing that thing through the woods. Over the roots and rocks and the brush, manhandling that bad boy across the terrain while keeping the self-propelled Salvis from wandering off into the forest. Yes, Mrs. Salvi helped, but believe me, they had their hands full.

I do believe that there were about twenty of us. People would come up to me and ask, "Say Sarge, would you mind carrying my purse/lunch/water bottle in your ginormous Austrian Army rucksack?" To which The Missus Herself would always answer "No, he doesn't mind, he doesn't mind at all."

Well, I did mind, sort of, but as I was the only one carrying a ginormous Austrian Army rucksack, I could see the logic in it. Not that that made the rucksack any lighter, but I was earning points for my good nature and easygoing attitude. Also, I was young then, I could hack it, I could hump a ruck with the best of them and haul that big-ass camcorder at the same time. And shoot video! (Not to mention that my boss, Major Fraker was one of those asking. It doesn't pay to say "no" to one's boss in the military, not if one still had hopes of promotion, which I did.)

So that long hike through the forest is why "The Easter Egg Hunt" is capitalized. It was long, it was kind of arduous, and it was a bit taxing. Back then I think I called it the Bataan Easter Egg Death March, but now I find that to be in rather poor taste. I mean it wasn't that bad, I mean there were no screaming Japanese bayoneting the laggards. (Though truth be told that might have sped things up a bit...) Still rather poor taste to make that comparison, so I don't. I just capitalize "The Easter Egg Hunt," which seems sufficient.

Finally, after what seemed like hours,  we arrived at our destination, the place where the eggs had been hidden. It's not far from where they do a sort of road race (it is near Francorchamps after all) so while hunting for eggs we had the occasional fast moving vehicle go roaring past not that far away. It was kind of cool, but kind of loud.

Whilst hunting for eggs, one of my daughters (can't remember which one, though I think it was The Nuke) found, nestled beneath a tree, two bottles of wine. I remember it well, her running through the trees, a bottle of wine held aloft in each hand, yelling "Daddy, daddy, look what I found!"

Made me proud it did, I had visions of me drinking wine in the Ardennes when our tour guide (a Belgian warrant officer who grew up in the area) pointed out that the wine was for the grown-ups and "give it here lassie." The Nuke was a bit miffed (as was I) but like a good trooper she gave up the wine. (Which I did get a taste of, but only a taste.)

Eventually the day came to a close. I was not looking forward to the long hike back to where our cars were parked, that's when our guide offered to give a ride back to the parking lot for those who were interested in such a service.

And I was.

After getting the car and gathering up the rest of the tribe, we rallied at a local pub, where The Missus Herself freaked out over the unisex sanitary facilities, I mean this was Europe.

"Honey, I went into the bathroom and there was a guy in there!"

"Uh, it's a unisex bathroom dear."

"Really? That's a real thing?"

"Yup, Bienvenue en Europe."

"You're an idiot."

"Oui, c'est vrai."

At any rate, a good time was had by all. Though when we returned home, Major Fraker called. Seems I had her passport in my ginormous Austrian Army rucksack and she really, really would like it back. Sure enough, I checked and there it was. Thinking perhaps that she was trapped in Belgium and couldn't get back into Germany, I was prepared to have to make the long drive back down there and rescue my boss.

But no, while Europe hadn't gone completely open borders at that time, there were no longer any border checks between some countries. (Though getting into France still required a passport and all that.) So Major Fraker assured me that she would be by the house within the hour to collect her passport.


By now, you are probably wondering what any of this had to do with the title of today's post, to wit -

"Turn it off, turn it off!!!"

Well, it has to do with The Nuke's version of watching the videotape of that trip once we had retired and returned to the U.S. of A. (No, I don't remember it the way she does. Thank you for asking.)

It seems that while unpacking at our new home in Little Rhody, The Missus Herself came across the tape from The Easter Egg Hunt. So we watched it. Let me say this, before going further, that for the first couple of years of our assignment in Germany I was still a "lean, mean. SAC-trained fighting machine." I used to run everyday at lunch while at Offutt, not obsessively, not like five miles or anything, just a mile or so. But five days a week. I was fairly svelte. Germany's food and beer were not kind to Your Humble Scribe's waistline.

Anyhoo, most of the video was of the kids, The Missus Herself, and the other participants in The Easter Egg Hunt (I remember a great clip of Sergeant Salvi manhandling that stroller over a brook, still loaded with the youngest Salvi.) But when we got to The Hunt itself, The Missus Herself decided to try her hand at shooting video. And there I was...

Striding on scene in all my svelte glory, pointing at something in the near distance, The Nuke cried out...

"Oh my God, look at how thin Dad is!!"

To which, she claims, I cried -

"Turn it off, turn it off!!!"

Well, I don't really remember that bit, but The WSO backs her sister's story, so maybe it did happen that way.

And damn, I really was thin back then. Rest assured, I'm working on that.

No, really.

* German for "little walk"
** for looking for Easter eggs

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Digging Deeper Still...

Remember Us?
On the aircraft in the foreground, the partial BuNo on the vertical stab doesn't match the BuNo underneath the horizontal stab. This came up yesterday and it's bugged me since I wrote that post. So I started digging.


Note the details from that photo above -

The presence of an FAA Registry number led me to believe that the photo was taken after the aircraft had left the naval service. I was correct. (Hey, even a broken clock is right twice a day.) Here are the FAA details on these two aircraft -

You'll note that the Serial Number blocks on the FAA form have numbers which match the BuNo underneath the horizontal stabs on both aircraft. So what's the story with 409?

The simple answer is that people like famous things, things along the lines of "Hey, this aircraft shot down a bunch of enemies" rather than, "This aircraft is the same type as the aircraft that shot down a bunch of enemies." For instance, the Collings Foundation owns and operates an F-4D Phantom which is now painted up with an F-4C tail number, an F-4C in which Robin Olds shot down a MiG-21 in Southeast Asia. The same bird also shot down another MiG-21 and a MiG-17 before being lost to AAA on 20 November 1967.

This same aircraft had earlier been painted up to represent the aircraft flown by Steve Ritchie and Chuck DeBellevue, killers of five MiG-21s in Southeast Asia. The same bird was also used by another aircrew to down a sixth MiG-21. Having six red stars painted on the side of the jet is pretty cool. However, most civilians, when the names Ritchie and DeBellevue are mentioned, would probably say "Who?" Mention Robin Olds though, and they might get it.

So yes, famous is good. More publicity, more money for the owners of the aircraft. (Lest you think I am some sort of Commie, I am all in favor of folks making money. I like making money. So should you.)

So back to 409. The BuNo on the vertical stab, 137543, is famous. That particular bird killed a MiG over Vietnam. Yup, a propeller driven aircraft downed a modern jet fighter.
On 9 October 1966, four VA-176 A-1H Skyraiders from the USS Intrepid were vectored deep into North Vietnam to cover a rescue helicopter trying to reach a downed F-4 Phantom II crew. After pushing through a brief flak barrage, the Spad lead flight pushed further inland where they were set up by four MiG-17s. In the ensuing maneuvers which twisted down to tree top level, the opponents separated and two of the jets were heavily damaged at the hands of the Spad flight leader and his wingman. Seconds later, tail-end element Lt.(jg) Tom Patton in Spad "09" (BuNo 137543) reached the flight and dropped down on the last MiG, skimming just above the jungle. The enemy pilot attempted a climbing turn followed with a reverse turn which negated all of the MiG's speed. Patton skillfully split-Sed into point blank range at six o'clock and closed to within 100 feet of the silver intruder. After gutting his target with the last of his 20mm ammo, Patton even tried for a coup de grace with four of his Zuni rockets, but missed. The riddled MiG rolled over and plunged out of sight through a low hanging cloud. After a quick turn beneath the thin cloud bank, the victorious Navy aviator caught a glimpse of the MiG driver drifting into the jungle beneath his parachute. (Source)
LT (jg) Patton on the left, his section leader (talking with his hands) LT Peter Russell on the right.
So what happened to the real 409? According to Joe Baugher's website -
52-137543 Douglas A-1H Skyraider
Ex USN BuNo 137543 transferred to USAF.  With 1st Special Operations Squadron 56th Special Operations Wing shot down by ground fire Muong Soui, Xiangkhoang Province, Laos Jul 2, 1969.  Pilot KIA.
Again, that mention of the pilot being KIA. So yeah, I went looking. The pilot of 52-137543 when she was lost was Captain John Leroy Flinn, USAF. That's him in the back row, fourth from left.

Back row: Capt Harv Jacobs, Major Lurie J " Pete" Morris, 2ndLt Tom Biele, Capt John Leroy Flinn (KIA 69/07/02), unidentified, unidentified Front row: Capt Joseph S. Pirruccello Jr. (KIA 68/12/08), unknown, Capt Hale, LtCol Sid "Buck" McNeil, Capt Ken Orr, 2nd Lt Clyde William Campbell (KIA 69/03/01)
Another good man lost doing a tough job.

Sometimes I run across things that I need to know more about, so I dig. The Internet is a pretty good resource for all of this digging, but you need more than one source to be sure. Sometimes that extra source isn't there, sometimes it is. Imagine back in the day having to go to some big building (like the National Archives) and actually dig through paper documents or microfiche. Cross-referencing is even harder, nothing to click on in a document to go to another source. Nope, go to the catalog, find the document (or microfiche) and keep digging.

Technology is good.

In other news, The Nuke reminded me of a story from Germany which she says I should relate to y'all. Which I will. You should know however, that there are two versions of this tale, one she calls "the real story" and the other, which is how I remember it. We shall see which one I relate...

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

A Deeper Look...

Douglas A-1E Skyraider at the National Museum of the United States Air Force.
Some of you no doubt recognize that opening photo from juvat's post on Monday, which detailed the circumstances of Bernard Fisher's Medal of Honor. So now you're probably asking yourself why I'm using that photo again and the answer is fairly simple. I looked at the picture then did a double take when I saw the tail hook. Seeing the tail hook made me look at this (the bit in the circle) -

That circled bit looks an awful lot like a Navy/Marine Corps Bureau Number or BuNo. Let me explain something here which may not be apparent to the casual reader. That is, the Navy and the Air Force tend to paint/mark their aircraft differently. Using the Skyraider as an example, Air Force aircraft look like this -

Note the big white "tail number" on the vertical stabilizer, "517," preceded by the smaller number "27" underneath the "AF," which stands for (duh) "Air Force." (FWIW the first number is the last digit of the year the aircraft was built, in this case 1952. Apparently all USAF Skyraiders were marked with 1952 as the year of manufacture, Joe Baugher's website has this to say -
The following serial numbers are out of sequence. These were A-1 Skyraiders transferred from the Navy to the USAF and assigned USAF serial numbers based on their BuNos, prefixed by 52. USAF records indicate that there was an abortive attempt in 1968 to assign 53, 54 and 55 as prefixes to newer model Skyraiders as they were acquired by the USAF, but later in that same year the records show that the prefixes were all changed back to 52. This means that all USAF Skyraiders, no matter the model, were assigned a 52 prefix. (Source)
The "TT" tail code indicates that this aircraft belonged to the 602nd Special Operations Squadron out of Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Navy Base in Thailand. (I had no ideer that NKP belonged to the Thai Navy.) (Source)

Navy aircraft look like this -

Part of the BuNo is painted on the tail and the entire BuNo is painted on the fuselage under the horizontal stabilizer (see detail below). The big letters indicate which carrier "owns" these birds (USS Intrepid (CV 11) in this case), the Navy also paints the squadron number on the bird as well (VA-176 "Thunderbolts" here) and something the Navy calls the modex or "side number" -
A modex is a number that is part of the Aircraft Visual Identification System, along with the aircraft's tail code. It usually consists of two or three numbers that the Department of the Navy, U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps use on aircraft to identify a squadron's mission and a specific aircraft within a squadron. These numbers are painted conspicuously on the aircraft's nose—or, on helicopters, sometimes on the aft portion of the fuselage or forward portion of the empennage. Modexes are also painted less conspicuously on other aircraft areas (i.e., fin tip, flaps, etc.). Shore-based aviation units use either two-digit or three-digit modexes, while carrier-based units always use three digits. (Source)
Detail showing the BuNo and the tail number mismatch.
The two Skyraiders depicted have modexes of "404" and "409." (Note that the BuNo under the horizontal stab does not match the number under the "AK," I'm still digging into that. Might be a future post, might not be. Odd that.)

Anyhoo Major Fisher's aircraft originally came from the Navy, but for some reason that particular aircraft had the BuNo and a non-standard tail number ("32649"). That may (or may not) have been standard practice for that squadron. While all that is interesting, for certain values of interesting, the odd markings on that bird aren't the point of this tale. Chasing down all of that information led me to chase this down as well, remember the caption of that photo on juvat's post?
This was the actual aircraft he flew on the mission.  It shortly thereafter was shot down and badly damaged but was recovered, refurbished and now is on display at the US Air Force Museum at Wright Patterson AFB.
 Well, yes and no. Here's another photo of 32649 from the NMUSAF -

This Douglas A-1E was severely damaged in combat in South Vietnam. It is the aircraft that was flown by Maj. Bernard Fisher on March 10, 1966, when he rescued a fellow pilot shot down over South Vietnam, a deed for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor. The aircraft was restored and is currently on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)
Actually Major Fisher flew this aircraft after it had been damaged and then repaired and returned to service. Joe Baugher's website has this to say -
52-132649 Douglas A-1E Skyraider
Ex USN BuNo 132649 transferred to USAF. Used in rescue of downed airman March 10, 1966 at Special Forces camp at A Shau, for which Maj Bernard G. Fisher was awarded the Medal of Honor. This plane is now on display at National Museum of USAF, Dayton, OH. The plane at Hill AFB, UT is actually a VNAF Skyraider made up to look like this aircraft. There is a photo of this plane lying on a scrapheap (not sure of the date). With 1st Air Command Squadron 34th Tactical Group , this plane caught fire and crashed while on interdiction mission near Can Tho, South Vietnam Mar 21, 1965. Both crew KIA. Air Force claims they recovered this plane with CH-54 Skycrane and repaired it at Tan Son Nhut AB and returned it to Bien Hoa and repaired it. (Source)
That mention of "Both crew KIA" made me sit up and ask "Who were they?" A casual mention of crew having been killed in action with no mention of who they were. That bugs me, these guys gave their lives, we should know who they were. Well, the A-1 Skyraiders website answered the question for me, after some digging. The first clue was the date the men were killed, 21 March 1965. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial website provided this after a search for casualties on that date -

Two Air Force captains KIA on the same date, had to be the crew of 32649 I figured. I was correct. Searching the Wall's website further, yielded the following -
Captain Campbell was a member of the 1st Air Commando Squadron, flying A-1E Skyraiders, out of Bien Hoa Air Base, RVN. He and Captain Jerry Hawkins were KIA when their aircraft, serial number 52-132649, caught fire and crashed during an interdiction sortie near Can Tho. The aircraft, was deemed salvageable and was airlifted, to Tan Son Nhut, Air Base, where it, was repaired and returned, to the 1st ACS. On 10, March 1966, this Skyraider, was flown, by Major, Bernard Fisher, when he performed, a daring rescue, of a fellow, pilot, at the A Shau, Special, Forces Camp, a feat, for which Major, Fisher, was awarded, the Medal, of Honor. The aircraft, is now, on display, at the National, Museum, of the USAF, in Dayton, Ohio. (Source)
Captain Hawkins was a member of the 1st Air Commando Squadron flying A-1E Skyraiders out of Bien Hoa Air Base. He and Captain William Campbell were KIA when their aircraft, serial number 52-132649, caught fire and crashed during an interdiction sortie near Can Tho. The aircraft was deemed salvageable and was airlifted to Tan Son Nhut, Air Base, where it was repaired and returned to the 1st, ACS. On 10 March 1966, this Skyraider was flown by Major Bernard Fisher when he performed a daring rescue of a fellow pilot at the A Shau Special Forces, Camp, a feat for which Major Fisher was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. The aircraft is now on display at the National Museum of the USAF in Dayton, Ohio. (Source)
The A-1 Skyraiders page had pictures of these men as well -

Back row: Capt Donald E. Jones, Capt Richard E. Bolstad (POW '65-'73) (2014/02/21), Capt Jerry J. Tighe, Capt William H. Campbell (KIA 65/03/21), Capt J.R. Johnson, Capt V.L. Brown Front row: Maj Gail F. Kirkpatrick, LtCol John J. Knight (1981/08/07), LtCol E.L. Surowiec (2005/04/20), Maj R.A. Jones.
Back row: Capt Charles C 'Vas' Vasiliadis, Capt E.H. Richmond, Capt B.D. Gregorios (2010/04/08), Capt J.H. Winston, Capt Harland M. "Sonny" Davis, Jr. (KIA 72/07/07 F-4D) Front row: Capt Warthom J. George, Capt Donald S. Hynd, Capt Jerry P. Hawkins (KIA 65/03/21). NP/I: Col E.J. Witzenberger
It pays to take a deeper look sometimes, guys like these need to be remembered.

Brave men doing a tough job.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Out of Stories?

Cochem, Germany
During most of the last decade of the 20th Century I was assigned to the E-3A Component of the NATO Airborne Early Warning & Control Force (NAEW&C Force) based at Geilenkirchen, Germany. Situated as we were on the border near the Netherlands, and not all that far from Belgium, travel opportunities abounded.

Google Maps
As I recall, though it be long ago, every fall my unit would arrange a bus trip to the Moselle (Mosel, auf deutsch) wine making region of Germany. Also, as I recall, The Missus Herself and Your Humble Scribe went along on more than one of these trips. So let me tell you...

What? Are you sure?

Apparently I've already told that story.

I really thought that I had never told stories of those trips here at The Chant. There I was (not the start of a war story) all set to regale you with tales of wine drinking when a quick search revealed, AH HA!! I actually had told that tale before. Damn it, now what do I write about?

Oh wait, I know, there was this time I had to pull guard duty...

Nope, told that one already.

How about the IG complaint I had to...

Nope, told that one as well.

So it appears that of the seven plus years I spent in Germany, I've already told all of the really cool (well, I thought they were cool) stories. So now what the heck do I write about?

I well remember one of Lex's posts where he bemoaned the fact that he was running out of stories to tell of his days in the sea service. I'm not saying that I've reached that point, fact is, I don't know if I've reached that point. I'm pretty sure there has to be a story or two left from my days in Uncle Sam's Aerial Follies that I haven't related here, yet. Then again, maybe I have. (As one gets older, or so I've been told, one begins to tell the same stories over and over again. My kids claim this to be the case. I don't know where they get that.)

There's my F-111 vs B-52 story, but I told that one already. It's quite possible that I have told all of my good stories.

Time to perhaps tell the crappy ones, but...

Which does remind me of a story, albeit a short one...

So Sunday last was the anniversary of me winning the lottery, i.e. having wed The Missus Herself, some 42 years ago, in Korea. Said fact was brought up in church by the lady who does all of the announcements (birthdays, anniversaries, etc.).

She attributed the longevity of our wedding to me knowing the two words all successful husbands know, to wit...

"Yes dear."

To which I, being in a rather contrary mood, replied...

"Oh, I thought you meant,

"Not today!"

The looks of shock and horror upon the faces of the female members of the congregation were a sight to behold. I swear, nearly all of the men giggled. And paid dearly for that.

Yeah, I like skating close to the edge, and yeah, The Missus Herself hit me. Hard.

Monday, January 13, 2020

"When a man is down, you don't leave him there." *

Well....With any luck, Mrs J and I will have slept in our own beds last night having arrived in our home port and having dropped Little J and LJW off at Houston International for their trip back to the Sandbox.

Not being a gifted reader of the future, I can't pre-post any current events that may have gone on while I was pouring wine, so I'm going to dig deep into my minuscule mental reservoir of historical stories for this week's posting.

Sarge did a post on this guy in one of his (much missed) Friday Flyby's, and I'd mentioned him in a posting about "First" Air Force Medal of Honor Recipients. Today we'll focus on him.

Major Bernard "Bernie" Fisher (Pronounced Burr-nerd) was born in 1927 in California, but his family moved to Idaho almost immediately thereafter.  He joined the Navy at the very end of WWII, then got out and went to school.  He joined the Idaho Air National Guard in 1947, was commissioned in 1951 and sent to Pilot Training.  After getting his wings, he flew Air Defense Interceptors until 1965 when he volunteered to go to Vietnam to fly the A-1E.  Although the aircraft was officially named Skyraider, it was commonly referred to as Spad.

In early March of 1966, an Army of Vietnam (ARVN) camp with about 400 ARVN Soldiers augmented by 17 Green Beret was attacked by ~2000 North Vietnamese in the A Shau Valley on the border of South Vietnam and Laos.

The line just to the right of the yellow marker is named Ho Chi Minh Trail.  That would explain its importance.

The initial attack was defeated with the support of Spads and Spooky's (AC-47 Gunship.  An old DC-3 with 3 x7.62mm  which gave it the capability to put a round in every 6' of a 50 yard diameter circle in 3 seconds.  This would be known as a "lot of hurt".)


However, overnight the weather got worse and subsequent attacks penetrated the perimeter.  On March 10th, Major Fisher is an Element Lead in a flight of 6 Spads tasked with supporting the defenders.  The weather in the area is canine feces, but they manage to find a hole and enter the valley.  OK, entering a hole in a cloud in a cloud filled mountain valley?  They're not called "sucker holes" for nothing. That scares me just thinking about it.

Still, riding to the sound of the guns is what Heroes do.

They come out underneath and assess that the weather, while not optimum, is workable.  So, they begin attacking positions as requested by the folks on the ground.  The North Vietnamese have brought AAA with them.  I believe Sarge's saying of "Metric Crap Ton" is a reliable measure in this case.

As they're attacking and re-attacking enemy positions, Major Fisher's wingman, Major D. W. "Jump" Myers, who had received word the night before that he'd been selected for Lt Colonel, is hit by AAA and crash lands on the runway.  The A-1E is fueled with 120 Octane Aviation Gasoline which burns extremely well, and does so in this case.  Major Fisher's initial report is that the aircraft has crashed in a fireball and it's unlikely Major Myers has survived.  However on his next pass, Major Fisher sees Major Myers exiting the aircraft and sprinting into a nearby ditch.

Major Fisher informs, not asks, the command post that he is going to land and pick Major Myers up.  At this point, the North Vietnamese are less than 200' from Major Myer's position.  Major Fisher asks the command post what
is the length of the runway and is informed 3500'.  Knowing that the A-1E can land and takeoff in 3000' he starts his approach.  Plants the landing and hits the brakes, but quickly realizes he's not going to get it stopped.  Stands on the brakes and swings the aircraft around (being in a tail dragger is handy sometimes).  Later he would find that the actual field length was 2500'.

This was the actual aircraft he flew on the mission.  It shortly thereafter was shot down and badly damaged but was recovered, refurbished and now is on display at the US Air Force Museum at Wright Patterson AFB. Source
He then begins taxiing back to where Major Myers is hiding.  Arriving, Major Myers jumps on the wing, but can't get in the aircraft.  Major Fisher then sets the parking brake, unstraps and exits the aircraft to help his wingman in.

Did I mention the North Vietnamese are still shooting at them? and not missing?

Finally, Major Myers is in the aircraft so Major Fisher jumps into his lap, takes off the parking brake, cobs the power to the engine and takes off.

The return flight was uneventful.

Cheated death? Yeah, pretty sure I'd be smiling also.
There's another piece of remarkable coincidence with the story.  It turns out that a similar rescue had taken place in WWII near Ploesti.  Captain Dick Willsie and Flt Officer Dick Andrews were flying P-38's when Willsie was shot down, crash landing in a field.  Andrews landed his P-38 in the field and took Willsie aboard, successfully returning with him to base. The coincidence is that  Willsie was the Spad Squadron Commander during Major Fisher's rescue and Andrews was one of the other Spads in the formation.

 There are several videos of this sortie on YouTube.  This one, I think, is the best.

If that doesn't bring some moisture to your eyes, we can't be friends.

 Major Fisher's Citation:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. On that date, the special forces camp at A Shau was under attack by 2,000 North Vietnamese Army regulars.

Hostile troops had positioned themselves between the airstrip and the camp. Other hostile troops had surrounded the camp and were continuously raking it with automatic weapons fire from the surrounding hills.

The tops of the 1,500-foot hills were obscured by an 800 foot ceiling, limiting aircraft maneuverability and forcing pilots to operate within range of hostile gun positions, which often were able to fire down on the attacking aircraft.
During the battle, Maj. Fisher observed a fellow airman crash land on the battle-torn airstrip. In the belief that the downed pilot was seriously injured and in imminent danger of capture, Maj. Fisher announced his intention to land on the airstrip to effect a rescue.
Although aware of the extreme danger and likely failure of such an attempt, he elected to continue. Directing his own air cover, he landed his aircraft and taxied almost the full length of the runway, which was littered with battle debris and parts of an exploded aircraft.
While effecting a successful rescue of the downed pilot, heavy ground fire was observed, with 19 bullets striking his aircraft. In the face of the withering ground fire, he applied power and gained enough speed to lift-off at the overrun of the airstrip.
Maj. Fisher's profound concern for his fellow airman, and at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty are in the highest traditions of the U.S. Air Force and reflect great credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of his country.
 Major Fisher was the first person to receive the Air Force Medal of Honor, up to this point previous recipients received the Army Medal of Honor.  Navy and Marine recipients receive the Navy Medal of Honor.

Major Fisher passed away in 2014 at age 87.

Rest in Peace, Warrior!

* His response to a question in the mission debrief as to why he took this action.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Nothing to Say...

It was a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. It was a good day, a damned fine day. The way things are going, I doubt that I will ever again set foot upon an aircraft carrier headed out to sea. Kinda sad, but good in some ways.

I guess...

Hand salutes were rendered...
Those who know, know.

A fine day, spent with family and friends...

Eyes are good today.

Still mourning the loss of a fine musician, the old days are dying, the new days are upon us. For better or worse, just gotta roll with it brothers and sisters.

Otherwise, I've nothing to say...

Nothing to Say
Ian Anderson

Every day there's someone asking
"What is there to do?
Should I love or should I fight?
Is it all the same to you?"
"No," I say, "I have the answer
Proven to be true
But if I were to share it with you
You would stand to gain and I to lose."

Oh, I couldn't bear it, so I've got nothing to say
Nothing to say nothing to say

Every morning pressure forming all around my eyes
Ceilings crash the walls collapse broken by the lies
That your misfortune brought upon us
And I won't disguise them
So don't ask me will I explain
I won't even begin to tell you why

No, just because I have a name well I've got nothing to say
Nothing to say nothing to say

Climb a tower of freedom paint your own deceiving sign
It's not my part to criticize or to ask you to be blind
To your own pressing problem and the [heat] you must unwind
And ask of me no answer there is none that I could give you wouldn't find

I went your way ten years ago and I've got nothing to say
Nothing to say nothing to say

Nothing, nothing to say
Nothing, nothing to say
Nothing, nothing to say, nothing to say
Nothing, nothing to say, nothing to say
Nothing, nothing to say