I remember receiving my “VC Kill Card” upon arriving at
I remember witnessing real “missing man” formations of flights coming back from missions north, and how the F-4 engine can be so throttled back that it barely hangs in the air, yet moans the grief felt by its pilots, as it crosses the length of the flight line and then around west so that the sound echoes off Hill 327. It was almost as if the plane itself mourned the lost of its sister ship!
Maybe the next day the normal sounds of the base would be broken by a low flying jubilant pilot who had moments before scored his first, or maybe his fourth MIG! The screaming sound overhead causes you to nearly squat then look skyward as the F-4 pulls straight up at full afterburner, rolls to the right, and disappears above the clouds just as his wingmen fly overhead in a staggered formation. The celebration of proud yells from their ground crews begin just after the event is punctuated by the double clap of the victor breaking the sound barrier on his decent from the clouds.
The entire base stops and revels in the moment…a moment it seemed to share. We had not flown the mission, but we worked on the craft, refueled it, loaded its weapons, and fed the crew, or guarded the plane. It was all our victory!
I remember a proud red-headed pilot with a huge handlebar mustache, that a few hours before had rumbled by my post and saluted me by tapping two gloved fingers to this helmet, but was now sitting with both elbows on the sides of his cockpit, as if he sat on a throne, turning into the revetment area waving to his friends.
He was a flamboyant pilot that I remember personally armed himself, reminiscent of George Patton, with an ivory handled .38! He was
I remember champagne being waved and a guy with a stencil and a can of red spray paint running out to apply the fourth badge of courage to the side of the F-4. What a glorious day that even I remember with pride!
And so it was – there were good days and there were bad days, but we all made the most of it.
We all fought our own demons of fear and loneliness, but we made it. I do, however, remember an instance that took me to the edge of sanity. I can only think that God pulled me back and changed the situation for me.
There was an inconsiderate pilot, who, I have no doubt saw me, that stopped his F-4 one night just twenty yards from my extreme south end post, that was nothing more than a foxhole, and ran his jet up and down for what seemed like forever. His bright front wheel landing light was on and blazing a hole right through me. I just knew that “Charlie” could see me plainly, and was at the moment ringing my head with crosshairs of his scope. I was getting angrier by the second!
I began to make “turn if off” motions by drawing my hand across my throat, but he ignored me. In reality, he was probably going through countless points on his pre-flight check list, but to me he was doing it on purpose.
My blood pressure rose and my anger heightened until I found myself raising my M-16 and pointing it right at the blinding light! By this time I was screaming for him to “TURN IT OFF YOU SON OF BITCH,” but of course my voice was being drowned by the engine noise.
I remember pulling the slide back on the M-16 and taking aim…I would have fired, I am quite sure, in a few more seconds, had he, for whatever reason, not cut the light.
I sat down on the ring of sandbags and cried from the terror of the moment. It bothered me that I had almost lost it, but mostly if bothered me that it was the first time I had admitted my anxiety on post. All I know is that I wanted to make it home and this “asshole” could have ended it for me…at least in my mind.
Why I wasn’t reported I cannot image, unless of course, he never saw me at all.
I remember not eating or sleeping well during the last 60, then 30 days. It was too close and yet too far away. I became paranoid and would not eat in the cafeteria, for fear the “gooks” would poison me! I ate only beanie weenies, potted meat, or whatever I could buy at the BX…nothing more, and little of that. I arrived weighing around 180 and would arrive home just under 150 – so thin my mom did not recognize me, and swore I had been in a “concentration camp!”
I also did not sleep well, lightly if anything. It was paranoia at its worst.
MONDAY…I do survive…at least physically!