Excerpt Book Two
Dedicated to soldiers who die young:
“For the wife I will never see,
For my children who will never be,
I trust my legacy to Thee.”
While you (generals) commanded at headquarters, we possessed the Air Force soul and dwelt in its home, on the line, where the mission is accomplished, the essence revealed, and where you may get to embrace a brother crew in the dark skies over the Nile.
As a C-5 aircraft commander, you are the mayor of small village inhabited by a random selection of citizens. The B-52 had “hard” crews, where the same crew participants usually flew as a team and knew each other well. In the C-5, however, every mission had a different personality hodgepodge, some of whom you might know well, and others you did not know at all.
After several minutes of haughty posturing and faux disinterest I eye-locked with one of the Russians and could not let go, nor could he. What were our stares telling each other?
It seemed, at times, the better a mission began, the worse it eventually became. This 6,000-mile mission segment from Hickam to U-Tapao AB, Thailand would be a prime example. In the middle of this 14-hour mission, we became deathly entangled with developing Typhoon Diane, a storm we had not been told about, that had camped out over our only alternate air base on Guam. From a bright exotic beginning in tropical Hawaii, we progressively flew into the clutches of one of nature’s most horrific events. Worse, as we arrived in the depths of the storm, with a full load of marines and their equipment, we were out of gas with nowhere to land except in the roiling ocean beneath the storm.
Meanwhile, the three tankers floundered in the depths of the storm and suffered mightily for it. On the common interplane radio frequency, we heard their tense, shouted radio calls as they attempted to evade the dozens of individual thunderstorm cells in the darkness and still remain in a loose three-ship formation. I felt a deep affinity for them because they were risking disaster to save us. They could have legitimately stayed on the ground and let us fend for ourselves trying to land on Guam. I take back every “tanker toad” joke I ever told.
The supportive civilians were greatly outnumbered, initially, by the protest army, but soon were gaining numbers and claiming one side of the street from the anti-war crowd. Although they didn’t know it at the time, and I have been loath to admit it since, I watched their efforts with tears in my eyes from inside the gate. The simple, square, middle-class workers and families were sticking up for us when, seemingly, all of officialdom had sided against us. This was not the last time local civilians would help rescue the military from itself, nor the last time I would have tears in my eyes watching their efforts.
We got off the bus, empty guns in hand, and entered the O’Club for Sunday buffet brunch.
It didn’t occur to me what was about to happen until I approached an empty table in the middle of the room. I got to my chair, paused, and laid the revolver on the white tablecloth next to my plate and silverware, as did my crewmates.
A ripple of shocked silence flowed away from our table in all directions. I didn’t look up. I didn’t need to. I knew every eye of the hundred or so diners, many with their families, was on us. This was their notification that war had come to Ramstein and things would be different.
Suddenly we were not in control of the plane. I felt as if a giant invisible hand had scooped us up and begun to raise us into the sky, a sensation similar to a rotating Ferris wheel after you pass the bottom of the circular arc and begin to rise rapidly.
One gloomy rainy night about 2300, a crew landed with a full load of troops. As their crew bus left the ramp I told them on the radio to swing by the command post and pick me up. As I boarded, I saw they were tired and anxious to get into crew rest. I told them I’d like them to make one more stop with me. As we rolled up to the massive base hangar, a light showed through a single normal, room-sized door that was open in the large, closed hangar doors. I told them, “You are about to experience something you will remember for the rest of your lives, believe me.”
I now returned to Dover expecting a quiet, leisurely path to retirement. I could not anticipate I would twice appear on the CBS News show 60 Minutes opposite the Air Force, followed shortly thereafter by being activated for 9/11. Finally, I would approach retirement under threat of court-martial and jail time in an orange jumpsuit at Leavenworth over the Anthrax Inoculation Program (AVIP).