Monday, May 30, 2022

Memorial Day

Memorial Day is a very special day. One is encouraged to remember the fallen. Suffice it to say there are quite a few folks that gave their lives after solemnly swearing to " and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the office upon which I am about to enter. So help me God." 

That's an oath, I, and most every other person I knew in the military, took very seriously and still feel bound by it. (OT, I wish that were so of some other officials that take a similar oath. Just sayin') 

But, there are an awful lot of them who died supporting that oath. So many, that remembering them individually is impossible. I tend to remember the ones I knew or knew of. 

The first one I remember is Alan J. "Joe" Pryor. He graduated a year ahead of me at Texas Tech. We were best friends. 

After Commissioning, he went to Pilot Training and did well enough to be qualified for fighters. (Not qualified meant Bombers or Cargo or First Assignment Instructor Pilot.) Assignment night rolled around, his name was called. He came to attention and acknowledge the order to report to F-111 School. 

 Completes that checkout and is assigned to Cannon AFB in lovely Clovis, New Mexico. As he gains experience in the jet, he eventually gets upgraded to Instructor Pilot and picks up the call sign of "Tex". 

On 10/17/1984, He's flying in the Weapon's System Officer's position checking out a new Pilot on a single ship night bombing mission to the White Sands Missile Range. As they're approaching the range, but still in the mountains to the northeast, something happens. 

 Folks in the vicinity reported a huge fireball (the aircraft had 40,000 Lbs/~6150 Gal of fuel on board). Both Joe and the Pilot died instantly, most likely not even aware something had gone wrong. Crash investigators reported that debris was scattered over 6 square miles. 

I was assigned to Holloman AFB at the time. Heard about the crash the following morning when I went to the squadron. The next day, after families were notified, they released the names. First flying related fatality that I had known well. That was tough.

Yeah, I remember him on this day. Died, on duty, doing his best to protect the country. 

We lived off base while assigned to Holloman, . Across the road was a newly married couple who had just arrived. He would be going through my Squadron to be checked out as an Instructor Pilot. His name was Ross LaTorra. He had been an A-10 Pilot. I was one of his instructors. 



Now, in general, A-10 pilots are excellent at dropping bombs and shooting the gun. They're generally not as good at Air to Air. Ross wasn't bad at it, just hadn't done a lot of it.  But, to his credit, he learned from every mistake he made and improved with every ride.

It's 4/22/1987, I've paid my dues at Holloman, gotten checked out in the Eagle and am now in Okinawa. The OPs officer knows I'd come from Holloman so as I walk in he calls me in to his office and hands me a new accident report.

 Two AT-38's had had a midair collision, both jets destroyed and 2 of the 3 pilots died. 

"Ahhh...Crap" The last word there wasn't exactly Crap. 

Ross's name was one. Again, doing his duty to support and defend by training new fighter pilots.

The final one I remember often is "Rocket".  Capt Robert Schneider. I wrote about him on the 25th anniversary of his death in 2015. I'm going to republish that post with a few tweaks.

 I was Rocket's Flight Commander. It still hurts...

(Begin Repost)

There I was….* Assistant Ops Officer of an F-15C Squadron at Kadena AB Japan. It’s the first Duty Day after New Year’s, and The Boss has called the Ops Officer, myself and the four Flight Commanders into his office for a meeting. 

 It had been a very restful Holiday Season after a very eventful past couple of months. We’d been to the PI for an extended Cope Thunder helping the RAAF check out in their new F/A-18s, the usual rotations to the ROK for Alert at Osan AB or Kwang Ju AB. We’d even had the opportunity for some unusual formation flying. (Pictures Below)

 Santa had been somewhat good to me, I’d received orders. I was going to Ft Leavenworth KS for “ArrrrrMeeee Training Sir” (AKA Command and General Staff College). I was to report mid-June for “Army Kindergarten”, intended to get us somewhat up to speed on all things Army.

 The downside was my Wife, Mrs. Juvat (AKA Capt Juvat to the personnel folks that worked for her) was staying at Kadena for a year along with my 6 year old son and as yet unborn, but coming, daughter. 

A good assignment that would be better with my family. It is, what it is. 

That, however was 6 months in the future, I still had a lot of operational flying to do. In fact, later today I had a 2 v 2 similar flight lead upgrade ride to give to one of the guys who’d been in my flight while I was a flight commander. He went by Rocket an epithet bestowed on him with all the love that a fighter squadron can convey. 

In prior posts, discussion has waxed and waned on the various means someone acquires a “Call Sign” and by what means the actual name could come from. Rocket had come to the F-15 through a “pay your dues” tour. While I don’t recall what it was specifically, it had to be either a First Assignment IP (FAIP) or a Forward Air Controller (FAC). I’m certain enough, within the constraints of my memory, to decide it was a FAIP. I base this on his evolution as a fighter pilot. He had absolutely no problem with formation or instruments, which was common in FAIPS. (Update. Turns out his first assignment was a FAC/ALO.  He just flew good formation and instruments.)

 Rocket had progressed through the various phases of fighter pilot checkouts with the normal ups and downs for a first timer. Some classic mistakes, some boneheaded ones, but none of them call sign caliber. So, he went by “Bob”, which was natural as his first name was Robert. 

He kept trying to encourage us with suggestions, but we were having none of that. As Sarge has stated, your call sign is given, not taken. 

It was one Friday nite and we’re in the squadron bar. (Yes, children, Fighter Squadron’s had bars back then, with Beer, and we drank beer on Fridays in the squadron. Come back when you get over the vapors.) So, Bob and I and a couple of others were drinking beer and shooting watches and cussing and scratching and engaging in other no longer allowed activities, when the wives arrive. 

This generally happened around 6 or so and was a not so subtle hint that we needed to wind things down and take them over to the Skoshi Koom (Skoshi being, we were told, “little” in Japanese and KOOM being the acronym for the Kadena Officers Open Mess). The Skosh was an offset of the Big Club, had a couple of dining rooms as well as (cover your ears, kiddies) a bar. The Wing frequented it as our unofficial club. 

Well, the wives arrived. One of them had a stunning extra with her. Rocket, who was single, took sight of her and was off like a …. 

 Well, you know what happens at the end of the rocket burn, right? 

Ergo, Rocket. Rocket, you are, Rocket forever you shall be. 

As Sarge so frequently tells me, "juvat, you digress get back to the meeting. "

We’ve all gathered, and the Boss hasn’t come in yet, so we’re all, even the OpsO, trying to guess what the subject is. In walks the Boss, we all rise (yes, in the Air Force, even Fighter Pilots stand up when a commander enters the room, don’t get all teary eyed). He motions us to our seats. 

 “Guys, the Wing King has a good deal for the Squadron” Oh no, here it comes again. 

“The Squadron that had been tasked to provide Red Air for the next Cope Thunder has had to pull out. PACAF asked the Wing if one of our squadrons could fill in. The Wing King chose us.” 

 Pandemonium breaks out. Cope Thunder was just about the best flying we had available and we’d been back from it less than a month. Plus it was at Clark AB PI, doesn’t get much better than that. 

(Side note, I think it was a Navy F-4S squadron, doesn’t really matter they weren’t there.) 

We’re scheduled to deploy in 2 weeks. Time passes quickly and we’re now down in the PI, playing Bad Guys, which is not a role we played very often at Cope Thunder and the fact that we’d done it during our last Cope Thunder against the Aussies probably was a factor in our selection.

We've arrived at Clark and are a few days into the exercise.   I’ve got the afternoon go leading a four ship, but am not the mission commander. So while I’ve got some mission planning to do, I’m also available to be SOF (Supervisor of Flying, the guy they hang for mishaps) for the morning go. This means I have to attend the morning mass brief. I’m there, taking some notes, getting a general feel for the plan.

The mission commander has a typical plan for dividing responsibility for defending the airspace. 

Essentially, a line from Clark to High Peak to Hermana Mayor (a large island a few miles off shore) will divide the Land approach from the shoreline approach and a line from Clark to the mouth of the river at Botolan will divide the Shoreline approach from the Spratley’s approach. Reasonable visual references to try and help provide physical separation between flights. 

 Briefing completed, the morning go goes about the business of going. I get back to mission planning. I hear the Blue Force Jets taking off. The intervals of 10 second take off going on for about 10 minutes is a big hint of identity. 

 20 minutes later another minute of 10 second intervals alerts me that Red Force is airborne and I am on Duty. This means little more than the Duty Desk knows where I am in case the 3TFW SOF needs Eagle specific emergency procedure help. 

About 20 minutes later, I hear a knock it off call made on Guard. Uh-Oh, that’s never used at Cope Thunder unless something bad has happened. 

A couple of minutes later the SOF phone rings, there’s a couple of seconds and I hear “He’s right here” and hands the phone to me.

 I feel sick. 

 I identify myself, and the SOF says “we’re not sure what’s happened yet, but it looks like we might have lost one of yours, please notify your Senior Rep (The Vice Wing King was deployed with us) as well as Home Base. We’re doing a head count and will let you know as soon as we know anything definite.” 

I look at the schedule and make a note of the names and tail numbers assigned to the morning go. 

 I notice that all my guys from my former flight were airborne. Time is stopped. I want to know who, but don’t want to know who. 

 I call Chambers Hall, the place aircrew stay at Clark, and ask to be put through to the Vice Wing King. He’s left the building. Call the Club. Nope, not there for breakfast. 

 Decide to call back to Kadena, and get put through to the Wing King. Explain what I’ve been told as opposed to what I believe to be true so far. He tells me to call back every 10 minutes until directed differently. 

The SOF calls back and says we’ve definitely had an Eagle hit the water, in the vicinity of Hermana Mayor. Well, that eliminates the Boss who was in the Southern Vector, however, my guys now represent 6 of the 8 remaining possibles. 

 I call back home and report that info. Jets are starting to come back down initial. I’m listening as they check in on tower. 

The flight in the center vector checks in with four. It’s definitely one of mine. 

Finally the last Eagle flight checks in, 

"Eagle Check" "Two" "Three."


The Vice shows up and I fill him in on what’s happened. He tells me to continue and he’ll contact Home for now. 

The guys start coming back in the squadron and I have them give me all 12  11 VCR Tapes and put them in a safe and lock it. 

I tell them to debrief and take copious written notes. When done, sign them and give them to me. They’re added to the safe. 

Pretty soon, the 3TFW Wing Safety Officer comes up and signs for all that material. 

The Vice relieves me, grounds the squadron until further notice and I head back to Chambers Hall. 

There is a Wake at the Club that night. That’s the only thing I can think of to describe it. No other squadron showed up, for dinner, beers, crud or anything. 

Just us. 

There were some old retired fighter pilots there, who kept a lid on things. 

The next morning, The Boss calls us all together and tells us what he knows

Rocket had been involved in a mid-air with another Eagle! 

The Blue Force had used Hermana Mayor as a Nav point and Rocket as #4 had seen them. He’d called the tally to his lead who cleared him to engage. 

Rocket’s flight was in the Eastern sector. Rocket began a left hand turn while looking down to keep tally on the bogeys. Simultaneously, the flight in the Middle Sector’s #2 guy was on the east side of his flight and sees the bandits below. He calls the tally to his lead who cleared him to engage. 

 He starts a right turn to keep a tally on the bandits. 

Distance between the two flights was about 8 miles, between the flight leads about 12, neither flight lead was aware of the other flight. 

Extensive modeling after the fact determined that Rocket had, milliseconds before impact, begun to commit the nose of his jet down which took it slightly out of the flight path of the second jet. The horizontal slab of the other jet passed through the canopy of Rocket’s jet, killing him instantly.

Since the Eagle will trim itself automatically when the stick is held steady for a second, the airplane was trimmed for a couple of degree nose low moderate bank which it held until impacting the water. 

The other Eagle thought he’d hit jet wash, came back to Clark and landed normally.

F-15C 78-534 was not recoverable. 

There was enough DNA recovered to confirm Rocket’s death. (Added.  There were remains on the slab.)

The squadron is cleared to fly two days later. It was not the same, and it took us a while to get back up on step. We finished out the exercise without further incident and deployed back home. 

That was to be my last Cope Thunder. 

Rocket is the fifth guy in flight suit from the right in the second row. I'm the guy 3 further left with the missile as a crown.

Two weeks later, I received a package in the mail from PACAF headquarters, containing these two photographs. Rocket is #4 (Bottom Left ). 

I had flown a 2 seat F-15 a few weeks prior with an Air Force Photographer in the pit. He'd sent copies of the pics as a thank you. The pictures are on the wall in my office.

A week or so ago, Several years ago, PA posted about the last 7 seconds. I’m convinced those 7 seconds were no different than any other 7 seconds in Rocket’s life. One instant he’s there, the next he’s not. As I sat down to write this, I realized that’s probably the best possible way to go. 

End Repost.

All three didn't die heroically in battle.  They all died trying their best to be the best and protect the country and its Constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic. Well done, Friends and Brothers.  I look forward to rejoining with you again someday.  

I'll buy the first round.



  1. As an outsider it is easy to think the remembrance is only for those who lost to the enemy in combat and forget all of those who never had the glory, only the loss. Thanks for the reminder that any who is lost in any circumstance while serving deserves the same honor.

    1. I think Sarge would agree, anyone who visits here and comments (politely) is not an outsider, rather an honored guest.

  2. Thanks for sharing the memories of those gone juvat, those who gave their all.

    1. Nylon,
      Thank you. Remembering them is the best I can do.

  3. Bo Sharpe, AD1 USCG, was bending the locking tab on the Jesus nut on an HH-52A at CGAS San Francisco. He slipped & the screwdriver when through his hand, he picked up some bug from that, the bug ate his heart valves and he died in the hospital not long after that.
    That was sometime in the early 80s, San Fran was a small station with just 3 helos. We had 3 funerals that year.

    1. Rob,
      Doesn't take much to leave this mortal coil, does it? Wow! Both for the AD1 and the others.

  4. 50 years ago, late 72 or early 73, Keflavik Naval Air Station, Iceland. I'm an Alert Barn crew chief on 102's. Alarm goes off, all 4 birds scramble, intercept Soviet Bears on their run to Cuba. On return, one flown by Major Perfectionist, went into the bay, never found out why. Only recovered his helmet. We wondered "Why him?", he was meticulous, did the most thorough pre-flights, really new his shit.
    We remember, but the institutions and the elites don't care. We're on our own. No one is going to save us. We're not voting our way out of this. I visit, appreciate your site daily, without fail. Tree Mike

    1. Anon,
      Flying, especially in a fast mover, doesn't take much distraction to go from flying to not flying. In Rocket's case both were (most likely) padlocked on the bandits below rather than ensuring their flight path is clear. Fatal for Rocket. The other guy used up a significant portion of his ration of luck.
      Sarge does do Yeoman's work on this site and it shows. Vis a Vis salvation. I pray you're wrong, but suspect you're not.

  5. Thank you for the stories Juvat, and helping them to be remembered through you - and therefore, us.

  6. It is left to us, those who came home, to remember those who did not.

    To the fallen ...

    1. Sarge,
      Yep! Have a wonderful Memorial Day Weekend.

  7. Lex..
    And others.
    Remember them all. We owe them all.

    John Blackshoe

    1. John,
      Yep, much like other followers of this blog (and his), news of his death was devastating. He'll be another I seek out and buy a round for.

  8. When you take that oath you sign a blank check. Sometimes that check gets cashed. Sometimes it is cashed postdated.

  9. May they rest in peace. Hand Salute. Ready, Two!

  10. Living in Suffolk, on Englands east coast, I am reminded daily of the sacrifices of my Uncle Sam’s family. This morning, out on my motorcycle, I road through my closest town, Halesworth, past a road named “ZEMKE WAY”, after Hub Zemke who, with his famous squadron and several others, was based just up the road at RAF Holton. A few miles further on my journey, I stopped in the town of Leiston, where a certain Chuck Yeager and his fighting buddies flew into occupied Europe and did their best to return intact. Before moving here we lived just over the county border in Norfolk. Two miles up the road was the next village, Thorpe Abbotts, former home to the 100th Bombardment Group of the Mighty Eighth, USAAF. So, chaps, the memory of your forbears and the deeds they did in the name of freedom, are always with us. My home county is proud of how it hosted thousands of America’s finest. Although the flying is over, the memorials are well cared for and many museums have been created to honour the sacrifices made. Be in no doubt, we remember them.

    1. HogDayAfternoon,
      My military career was pointed towards the Pacific (for whatever reason), but fortunately I've served with a couple of RAF exchange officers. Very good sticks and a helluva a lot of fun. Learned a lot from them most of it at the bar (pub). I have heard good things from the folks who were stationed there and I have no doubt that folks there remember.

  11. Tears, backslaps, hugs, condolences. Thank you, each of you, for taking the risks you took, and suviving to tell the stories of those who died doing doing so.

    A couple of years ago, now, Dad, my little brother Ralph, and I were having lunch at the retirement home and there was a "horray, party" vibe. Dad and I were encouraged to stand with the other vets. Seated again, Ralph is looking back and forth at us. "I don't understand. We're celebrating that you're here with us, and you're weeping. ... Oh. You're remembering those who cannot be here. So sorry."

    Some of them do eventually understand.

    Semper Fi, and all the other Sempers.

    1. While putting together this post, I'd take a break every once in a while to come out and see what Mrs. J was up to. She took a look at me on one of those breaks and said "You're writing something about Memorial Day, aren't you." Apparently, there was a lot of pollen in the air as my eyes were pretty red.
      Thanks, HTom.

  12. Juvat, I understand. Lost a friend who's C-130 crashed at one of those no-go-around after a few miles on final at a remote site in Alaska. Another was lost at Little Rock AFB when the wing literally came off during a night low-level training flight. Yet another was lost at Ramstein when they had a fin stall (vertical stabilizer) on take-off; the most likely cause of that condition was loosing an outboard engine, heavy weight at low airspeed. I wasn't trying to match your three; those are the ones that stuck with me.

    We offered ourselves to serve out our oath if needed. Wartime, there is the expectation of some loss. Peacetime or time of no outright armed conflict, it is less expected. A toast raised and a hearty salute to all those who gave their lives in war or "peace".

    1. BillB,
      No worries, I read accident reports frequently in the hopes I'd learn something I didn't know. I'd been flying for 7 years or so when Joe was killed. One of the points I was trying to make is how much different it is when it's someone you actually know well. Your point of view changes from "must have been unlucky" to "Holy Crap, that could be me." As I said, it took the Squadron a while to get back on step and start flying the Eagle as it should be flown. We got there, but it took a while.
      Yep. Rocket was a big fan of Guinness. Just bought a six. Will toast him with one shortly.

    2. That is why I would always read the reports on officer killed/wounded. I could learn from that, and perhaps avoid joining them. BADGER PAW SALUTE!

    3. StB,
      Knowledge is good. Fortunately, I never saw actual combat. I suspect/know that Police work in many places is very similar to combat. Especially recently. I've got quite a few friends on the local Police Force and have confidence in them. I'm a bit concerned about a Police Force that was recently involved in a School shooting about 70 miles SW of me though. I don't know whose story to believe. Guess we'll just have to wait and see how the dust settles. Really hope/pray that doesn't happen again.

    4. Always wait until we can find out what actually happened, rather than what the press wants to have happened.

    5. StB, Always good advice. The first thing you learn in Pilot Training is what to do in and emergency. From Memory 44 years ago.
      1. Maintain Aircraft Control.
      2. Analyze the situation and take proper action.
      3. Land as soon as conditions permit.
      I suspect that with a few word changes, they apply to virtually everything one does.

  13. I've known over a dozen men who died in uniform, all training accidents save one- who couldn't leave the war in Afghanistan, and brought it home with him. That one is sad for me to this day- AWSC Robert Walker- who was a member of my crew. The others crashed, but that's unfortunately one of the inherent dangers in military aviation. Sometimes they don't come back to the boat, or to base. Rotor blade icing, missed a jink on a low-level, CFIT- or CFIW- controlled flight into the water- just lost focus while in Starboard D doing plane-guard, and my Flight School buddy Graham Higgins who's pilot was flat hatting and got disoriented in the clouds after takeoff, crashing nose down into an apartment building. I remember them all, although names are harder to recall these days.

    1. Yeah, there sure are a lot more ways to kill yourself on a carrier. One of the many reasons I didn't go Marines. Memory is a strange thing isn't it? A name is right on the tip of your tongue, but you can't get it out. Frustrating, very frustrating. Did that very thing yesterday trying to figure out what Rocket's real name was. I knew the Bob part, but the Last Name was greyed out. Finally had to look it up in the accident report and as soon as I saw it. Bingo, the brain started functioning again. This aging thing is for the birds, but it's better than the ....

    2. And dat is all of it- dying, our memory, and the alternative.

  14. Capt Schneider was an ALO at Det 1, Pope AFB supporting the 82d ABN. I remember the day we heard of his accident, what a loss of a great guy.

    1. Now that you mention it....I've updated the post to reflect. Yeah, he really was.


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