Friday, January 9, 2009

THE DAY WE CAPTURED THIS GUY

I had come back to Holloway from CCC in mid-August under less than happy circumstances. I can only guess that Arlie Deaton, CO of the 219th, decided that we were having too much fun in Kontum so he assigned The Worst Person in the World as our platoon leader. I’m not going to give you his name because there is an outside chance that he might read this. But You Know Who You Are!!!!

I took a Bird-Dog out to the east of Holloway to a place we called VC Valley. It was a free-fire zone and all was fair game, including us. WO2 Bob Jackson was in another Bird-Dog and I thought he might have had someone in his back seat. I asked him about this, and he didn’t recall who it might have been. It was a beautiful afternoon. A bright, sunny day with little clear-air turbulence and almost no wind, which made flying these great airplanes such a joy. I was down around 300 feet AGL and Bob was not too much higher. We passed over an abandoned hooch, overgrown row-crop, and a paddy that still held water. In the middle of the paddy was a brown lump. Paddies didn’t have lumps, or humps, or islands either. So I banked the L-19 around in a left turn to circle the paddy. The lump-hump-island then stood up, looked at me, and started to back up toward the dike. I pulled out my .38, held it in my left hand, and aimed it at the guy. He kept moving backward so I fired off to one side of him. The reality is that I am the worst shot in the history of mankind and couldn’t have hit this guy if I were standing next to him. The gun was in my left hand and I’m a righty, so our VC was completely safe. Anyway, the round I fired splashed about 30 feet to one side, which caused him to momentarily stand still. But then this guy started backwards again. I fired a second time, missing him by even more this time; our VC moved back to the center of the paddy, raised his hands in the air, and surrendered. Now what?

We didn’t have any way of picking our prisoner up. Bob was on the radio to Holloway and I think somebody suggested that we call in a fire mission. On one guy! Let’s expend several thousand dollars of ordinance to blow up a solitary soldier who would and should run like hell as soon as we started climbing to get out of the way of incoming artillery. As luck would have it two Slicks were getting cleared to set up for an approach into Holloway. Bob talked to them on guard and asked them to pick up our prisoner. The Slicks reluctantly agreed to come over, and as they circled the paddy the Slick AC wanted an iron-clad guarantee that he wasn’t going to take any ground fire. I told him that we’d been orbiting this guy for half the afternoon and nobody had shot at us. In spite of our assurances the door gunners in the two Hueys hosed down the foliage around the paddy, and then one of the Slicks dropped down and grabbed our VC. They beat us back to Holloway. Arlie met us on the flight line and told Bob and me that our prisoner was turned over to the ARVN. I never ran into the Slick drivers; I wasn’t exactly seeking them out because I figured they were nothing if not annoyed with the two of us. Nonetheless, I do believe that we were the only guys in the history of the war to capture a guy from a fixed-wing aircraft.

THE BOMB, THE BUGLE, AND THE GUY WITH NO NAME

During my initial checkout in the Bird Dog I carried a .38 in a shoulder holster because this was more comfortable than a gun-belt. It didn’t interfere with the seat belt or dig into my back. When I began to fly the SOG mission I augmented my personal armament to include an AR-15 which I bungeed to the door, a helmet-bag full of ammo clips under my seat, and about a dozen frag and smoke grenades which I hung from a wire across the back of the seat. I thought it was so cool to lob these grenades out the window while pretending to be as lethal as the B-24 bomber my father flew over Burma; just flip the Bird-Dog over on it’s back in a sloppy split-S, get right down on the trees, and fling my little weapon at a deserted hooch. Fighter-bombers are us. This lasted about a week. While occasional ground-fire was a fact of life, the first time my airplane took a hit was nothing if not a come-to-Jesus moment. When I got back to Kontum and inspected my “battle damage” I realized that a well-placed round into one of those grenades would provide me with an immediate and personal introduction to whomever it is that welcomes you to eternity. The grenades went back into their storage boxes and I traded the shoulder holster for a gun belt. When I got back into the airplane I turned the holster so that the gun nestled between my legs. As far as I was concerned, this was body armor!

In the late winter of 1970 I took a Special Forces E-8 on a recon of potential landing zones for an upcoming mission he would be running in North East Cambodia. The sergeant was a tall, skinny guy who had been in Vietnam for at least three tours, and his specialty was demolitions. He showed up in Dak To, our launch airfield for SOG missions, with a C-ration box, on top of which was attached a red smoke grenade. I have no idea why I didn’t question the contents of the box; I was probably preoccupied with the location of the LZs, which were in some ugly areas with respect to terrain and ground fire. When I did inquire as to the contents of the box I must have half-heard the explanation. On the way over to our area of reconnaissance my passenger asked me over the interphone if I thought we’d see a few hooches or maybe a bridge. Still not connecting the dots I said I knew just the place, two small valleys connected at one end, making an “L” that had some huts and a gun emplacement, but no gun. I dropped down onto the deck and came into one of the valleys at 90 degrees then banked hard and came right over the huts. I felt the box bump my right shoulder and then it was out the window. Another hard bank and we were crossing the ridge away from the valley, but we could see some red smoke and then a bang that stopped my heart. This whacko had packed the middle of that box with C4, arranged claymores around the outside of the C4, and used the smoke grenade to mark the box’s path down. I don’t know what was used as a detonator and I never want to know. What I do know is that, almost always, stupid is as stupid does. That was really stupid. I’m pretty sure that the C-Ration Box Bomb incident coincided with apex of my bullet-proof stage. I wasn’t finished being bullet proof at this point, but I given up all pretense of, as Curtis LeMay said, “bombing them back into the stone-age”.

John Plaster was another Special Forces E8 who rode with me on a recon of potential landing zones for a linear patrol he would lead in the same area of North East Cambodia. After the war he authored a book about the SOG mission and the people involved in CCC (Command and Control Central), and was featured in a documentary shown on the Learning Channel in the late 90’s about the secret war in Laos and Cambodia. The recon was uneventful, unusual for that area, and on the way back we chatted about this mission, which was to be his final one before going home. That you can have a casual chat while traversing very hostile enemy territory is surreal, but our conversation was even nuttier. John had written to his Dad and requested a bugle, which he was going to use on the patrol. His Dad couldn’t find one so he sent John an air-horn instead. Sgt. Plaster explained that a favorite tactic of the NVA was to parallel the route of recon and just before the SOG patrol reached the extraction LZ the NVA would set up an L-shaped ambush and spring it just as the team was ready to come out. John planned to use the air horn to see if it would upset the NVA strategy.

By pure coincidence my daughter and I watched the Vietnam documentary on the Learning Channel. And to my surprise there was John, talking about the SOG operation. I recognized him instantly by the moustache he retained, not the hair he had lost. I looked at Alanna and said “that’s John Plaster. Let’s see if he tells the story about the air-horn”. He did. As the NVA moved into position he blew that thing and waited, and waited, and waited. The NVA took off in a panic and the extraction went off without a casualty. John was laughing as he recounted this in the documentary, and so was I. Just nuts. Alanna looked at me and asked how I knew about the air horn, so I told her that I flew Sgt. Plaster on the recon of the LZs. “What were you doing over there” she demanded. “I just don’t know”, and I still don’t.

One of the missions I liked the least was a low-level photo recon almost immediately after a B-52 strike. This area of N.E. Cambodia and S.E. Laos looked like a moonscape because of the bombing, and when you went in to photograph you could still smell the burning from the high explosives. We started out using a SOG photographer from CCC until one morning when we took extremely intense ground fire. The low ship, piloted by Phil Phillips, had the aileron controls shot out and the photographer was killed. The next time we had to do this, I flew low ship, and I did this without a high bird-dog as cover. When I got to the airfield in Kontum I was met by The Guy with No Name. A guy with no uniform. A guy with a really big camera with an even bigger lens and a rapid-fire shutter. I introduced myself and no return introduction was forthcoming. Then off we went.

We flew into Laos at around 9000 feet, and then started a slow spiral down into an eventual split-S which got me down to about 500 feet above the ground. I know, I know, 1500 feet was supposed to be the minimum altitude allowed, but you couldn’t see squat so we usually operated a whole lot lower. The Guy With No Name took about 100 rolls of film as we covered the area, then low-leveled out of Laos, breathed a sigh of relief as we climbed up to altitude over Vietnam, heading back to Kontum. Like nobody could shoot at you over Vietnam, only over Laos and Cambodia. After landing we had a little debrief. I told my photographer that if I got shot down I had a 50-50 chance to survive if I got captured. I then said that with him in my backseat I had no chance. Because The Guy with No Name was dressed in an olive-drab T-shirt, camouflaged fatigue pants, jungle boots, and a bush hat. No name, no uniform, no rank, no chance. I told him that I didn’t care if he showed up in a Sea Bee uniform. Just wear something official. So the next day he showed up in Navy fatigues with the rank of Chief Petty Officer. Just what I’d expect to find in the Central Highlands. As my daughter Meighan was fond of saying, “I can’t know”. Oh yeah, I never remembered his name.

STEAKS, SNAKES & PHIL

Because we worked such long and erratic hours, made even longer when Phil Phillips got kicked off the CCC compound by the idiot Special Forces Ops Officer, we seldom made it to the mess hall. We were flying before breakfast started and were back long after dinner was over. We had a case of LRRP rations in the room, but if you could stomach those things you got an Army Commendation Medal. Someone got us a case of PIR rations, which were comprised of rice, dehydrated vegetables and what was supposed to pass for dehydrated shrimp. I didn’t know what PIR stood for and I couldn’t vouch for the shrimp. All I knew was that if you put boiling water into the packet of stuff and let it steep, it was pretty good. When we staggered back to DakTo for gas, rockets and lunch (not necessarily in that order) it was a miracle if a box of C rations with canned fruit remained. Usually the Huey drivers got to the C’s first, and the fruit was long gone. My daily luncheon fare was franks and beans cooked over a pinch of C4 burning in a make-shift tin can stove. I tried to eat the peanut butter and Ritz crackers once, but decided that just because a chemist put brown food coloring in lard and laced this with essence of peanut flavoring, he had no right to call it peanut butter. Suffice it to say that I spent my time at CCC being hungry. Thank God for beer. To quote my long-dead friend Bill Reilly, “there’s a loaf in every can”.

But what really pissed me off was the Sunday Steak Cookout. The SF guys were great thieves. That’s how Phillips got our jeep. His nom de guerre really should have been “Grand Theft Auto”. Anyway, the Mess Officer, Captain Tim Dennis, managed to procure at least a convoy-load of steaks. He stole cases of them…no, mountains of them. T-Bones that were served rare with baked potatoes and butter. On Sunday afternoon the Green Beanies barbequed and I swear I could smell those steaks cooking 20 clicks into Cambodia. I asked Tim if he would set aside six steaks for the SPAF pilots and crew chiefs, and we’d cook them over at the MACV compound. He said “no”. Not a “gee, I’m sorry but the Colonel won’t allow it” no, not a good, solid reasoned no. Just a flat “kiss my ass” no. So I upped the ante and offered to pay double for them. Still “no”. This bothered me even after I left for home. Just plain unreasonable. After separating from the Army in 1972 I found myself in Burbank, California, getting my Flight Engineer Rating. Anyway, one evening while watching the news, a commercial for Midas Mufflers was played. The greater Los Angeles Midas Muffler locations were shown, along with the dealer’s photographs. And the owner of the Placentia franchise was none other than Tim Dennis. I asked myself “what would Meyers do”? And the answer was easy. Meyers would drive over to the guy’s business and inquire about the availability of steaks for purchase, and then pop him in the nose. But I was in the market for an airline job and I didn’t think felony-assault would look good on my resume. Meyers was never the voice of reason, and he still isn’t.

While I’m on the subject of dining I should touch on the “snake”. I think every compound had a guy who fancied himself a herpetologist. One of the SF sergeants had a large boa in a cage, and every week he’d feed the boa. This was a big event on the CCC compound, because it provided entertainment for those who enjoyed blood sports, as well as an opportunity for some friendly wagering. “Sergeant Snake” would purchase two chickens from a local farmer, one white and one brown. A large gaggle of Vietnamese SF’s and Montagnards would gather around the snake’s cage, Yards on one side and Viets on the other, the relationship between the two groups giving fresh proof to Kipling’s premise that these twains weren’t ever going to meet. Bets were made on who would be the first victim, amidst shouting and waving of bills. Beer was drunk and pungent hand-rolled cigarettes of questionable character were smoked. Finally, with the crowd in a Budweiser-MJ frenzy, the chickens were dropped into the snake’s pen. More yelling and more money and more beer and more tokes and then the snake finally made up its mind. Bets were settled but nobody left until the snake consumed the additional chicken.

I’ve always been curious about the existence of blood sports, or more accurately, confused by them. What attracts anyone to this sort of event? I mean Hemingway glorified the matador in The Sun Also Rises. And by doing so Hemingway validated unspeakable cruelty. As my daughter Meighan said when she was a little girl, “I can’t know”.

SIGNING IN AT CCC

Like so many of you, I was introduced to the L-19 at Fort Rucker and flew it in South Vietnam. I had been in-Country since September, 1969, flying Otters in Da Nang and was bored out of my mind. I was a 22-year-old First Lieutenant, thoroughly convinced of not only my own immortality but of my unmatched flying ability. If you could master the Otter in a cross-wind, you had arrived. What illusions we suffer in the name of vanity.
I talked my way out of “Low, Slow and Reliable” in late October by insulting the CO’s girlfriend, and found myself instantaneously en-route to Camp Holloway in the Central Highlands of II Corps. When I got to my new unit, the 219th Aviation Company (Head Hunters) I was advised by Don Shpp, the giant XO, that I would spend a week or two getting checked out on the bird-dog, and then be assigned to a platoon. So I flew around II Corps with Bill Baxter, my instructor/check pilot, did a little artillery spotting with some kid from the 4th Infantry Division nicknamed “Cherry Boy”. I either didn’t know his real name or have forgotten it, except for his nom de guerre, which still strikes me as funny, but not for the obvious reason. Whatever-his-name-was looked almost angelic, too young, too fresh, too innocent, too Oklahoma-country, like Mickey Mantle just up from the minors, totally overwhelmed by the magnificence of Yankee Stadium.
At the conclusion of the check-out Captain Shipp gave me the choice of flying for the 4th or the 2nd platoon. He told me that if I picked the 4th I’d be working for the 4th Division as an artillery spotter as well as doing some recon work. Since I’d be staying at Holloway I’d do guard duty, mortar watch, and I’d be the “hooch maid control officer” as well as something called the “vector control officer”. I had no clue as to what any of this entailed, but it sounded like so much nonsense. I went to Catholic school from kindergarten through college, so I was an expert in nonsense. I could also go to work for the 2nd platoon, in which case I’d be working for a Special Forces operation. Naturally I asked about “extra duties”, and when Shipp said he didn’t know of any, I easily opted for the 2nd platoon. “Pack your stuff and be back in 2 hours. I’ll give you a ride” offered the XO, a sneaky smile on his big face. Off we went to Kontum, north of Holloway and a whole lot closer to the Laos/Cambodian border. He dropped me off at the airfield in Kontum and I hung out waiting for Captains Chuck Slimowicz and Big John Meyers to show up. Slimowicz arrived first and told me that I would replace Meyers over at FOB (whatever that was), so “don’t unpack”. Upon Meyer’s arrival and grunted greeting we proceeded through Kontum City by jeep to a fortified encampment bristling with antennas and guarded by Montagnard mercenaries. I put my duffle and flight bag in the S3’s office and was introduced to the CO, a Lieutenant Colonel dressed in cut off jungle fatigue pants, a t-shirt and shower shoes. He lead me to the Operations Office, introduced me to the Intelligence Officer who looked a lot like Colonel Potter from Mash. I was given a top secret clearance and Col. Potter’s look-alike proceeded to brief me on the mission. In a darkened room he lit up a big map which contained large portions of Laos and Cambodia, and not much of Vietnam. This is Salem House, this is Prairie Fire, this is Highway 110, this is the Bra, here is Castle Rock…I started to go google-eyed, slightly staggered by the dawning realization that Vietnam would serve as merely the to-from corridor for my new favorite place, and I was now a member of the Laotian/Cambodian Highway Patrol. King’s X. I had my fingers crossed. My mother doesn’t want me to do this. The dog ate my homework…
From January, 1970 until August, 1970 I worked for the Studies and Observations Group. We handled the insertion and extraction of recon teams in Laos and Cambodia. We did low-level photo recon after B52 strikes. We marked targets and directed close-air support. We took some ground fire, and I even had a guy throw a rock at me.
As I look back on this time I remember being scared, but only after the fact. What I remember most is how funny so many things were. I’ll talk about them in another installment. Except for the funny thing I saw that first day at FOB 2. I know that at one time or another we all read “Catcher in the Rye”. Toward the end of Salinger’s book, the protagonist, Holden Caulfield, goes to his sister’s school to take her home. While waiting for Zoey to be dismissed he notices that someone has written “---- you” on the wall. Profane, vile but profound in that this was directed at no one in particular and everyone in general. Well, in the latrine that afternoon I noticed, among all the graffiti, “Hooray for the Green Bidets”. Idiotic. In the middle of nowhere a reference to a bathroom fixture; some one knew what a bidet was, colored it green, and pinned silver jump wings on it. You can’t make this stuff up…

PHIL'S POSTER

I moved my duffle into our living quarters at FOB2, just outside of Kontum. Doug Krout, Phil Phillips and I shared a space that had an air conditioner which didn’t work, a wall-mounted fan, and a refrigerator used only to store beer. Phil and Doug occupied the lower bunks and I got the top bunk above Phil. Some lockers for clothes and a single chair completed the d├ęcor, except for a poster-sized photo of Phil’s now former wife Sandy. Naked. Which made it impossible to ignore. A very beautiful young woman with a very amazing figure, fueling any one of a number of my X-rated fantasies. That image alone was enough to strengthen my will to survive this war. The photo posed Sandy lying on her stomach with her chin in her hand, smiling out at whoever came into the room, and it was thumb-tacked to the wall right by my upper bunk. Every morning when I left to go flying I kissed my hand and patted that poster right on Sandy’s fanny. When I finished my tour I went to Rucker as an O-1 instructor pilot. Phil and Sandy came through Rucker just before Phil left the Army. When I was introduced to her, I laughed and told Sandy that I was having a tough time looking her in the eye. She giggled and said “I guess you liked the poster too”. “Liked it”? No. As Randy Newman said in “You Can Leave Your Hat On”, “you give me reason to live, you give me reason to live, you give me reason to live…”

The Bird-dogs were parked in revetments at Kontum Airfield, and to get there we had to drive through the city. The trip wasn’t too bad except in the pre-dawn early morning. That was VC time, so we drove like maniacs to get to the flight line. I never did figure out which had the greater potential for catastrophe, getting fired on by the local cadre or crashing into a tree.

Kontum’s airfield was guarded by Regional Forces troops. I am convinced that ARVN assigned the smallest guys they had to the RFs. I don’t think I ever saw a guy over 5’3”. The airfield was protected by guard towers every hundred yards or so, and at night the guys in the towers would sound a gong at specified times, kind of like “twelve o’clock and all’s well”. Except that it was so black out at night that anybody could have been banging that gong. But what was really going on was that the RFs were running an all-night gas station, selling Av-gas from our bladders to the locals. Honda scooters ran great on our Av-gas.

One morning while taxiing for take-off I did the obligatory engine run-up and mag-check, and noticed that the mag-check was not right. Over the course of a week it got worse. We had contaminated fuel. So we started gassing up at Plei Djerang before heading out into the AO. About a week after we stopped using our av-gas I was driving from FOB2 to the airfield and noticed that there was almost no traffic on the roads. Usually there were people out and about, but Kontum was at a standstill. As we drove by one of the local bars three of the girls came out and flipped us the bird. I realized that the whole town must have gotten their gas from our bladders and that all the scooters were out of action. It cracked me up. Like we deliberately put bladders of bad av-gas at the airfield just so we could screw up local commerce. It was our fault that the gas they were stealing was rotten.

Ben Brown was one of our crew chiefs. And just like “Cherry Boy”, Ben looked to be about 16. But you couldn’t ask for a nicer guy. He lives in Kentucky now, and runs a farm equipment repair shop. He and I were in the process of refueling my airplane (the bladders full of contaminated fuel had been replaced, commerce had returned to normal, and the bar girls resumed their “I love you long time” usual greeting) while an Air Force C130 occupied a better part of the ramp space at Kontum Airfield. We all hated when that damn thing showed up because there was a guy outside of town who stashed a rocket launcher on this ridge overlooking the airfield. He always took a shot at the C130. Never hit it, but that round coming in sounded like a freight train. Ben was on one strut filling the right tank and I was waiting for him to hand me the hose so that I could fill the left tank when our pal decided to launch. We heard it coming; Ben tossed the hose on the ground, yelled “you got it Dai Wi”, and took off running for the bunker. I should have followed him, but I jumped into the airplane instead, fired it up and headed for the runway. The guys in the tower were practically rappelling down the ladder as I took off, sort of wing-low-sideways with one full and one empty tank. Of course I didn’t have any rockets loaded and I didn’t have my helmet, which prevented me from talking to anybody. So I flew a quick pass over the ridge and then came back and landed, sort of wing-low-sideways, which for me was almost normal. From then on I greeted Ben with a “you got it, Ben” hello every time I saw him.

MEYERS

Getting shot at was something one accepted as a matter of course when flying in Cambodia or Laos. For the NVA on the ground it was no secret as to what we were doing. We were looking for them. And I never suffered from the illusion that somehow I was invisible. It didn’t take me long to figure out a couple of simple truths. The 1500 foot rule was to be emphatically ignored. If I was going to and from my area of operations I flew a lot higher than 1500 feet! And if small arms were deemed ineffective at 1500 feet, so was my ability to see through the jungle canopy. Between 750 and 500 feet worked a lot better for reconnaissance, and when I got shot at I knew that the Bird Dog could get down on the tree tops in a hurry, and staying down minimized my exposure. The only way you could get in trouble for being too low was if you took a hit from the top down. Charlie Liffick, known affectionately as Charles Le F—k during his tenure as a Head Hunter, had to do a rug dance in Major Deaton’s office (an almost weekly occurrence for Charlie) because he took a round through the top of the wing. This was shortly after Charlie took off right behind another Bird Dog; not shortly after, but a second or two after. I know I saw a big sign somewhere that said “No Formation Take-offs”. By the time he rotated home Charlie could do a pretty good imitation of Fred Astaire. I later learned through the Head Hunter grapevine that Charlie went on to fly for America West, an airline that spent its entire existence in and out of bankruptcy. When I found out that they let Charlie drive a 757 I understood why.

Charlie Liffick was fun-loving and irreverent. John Meyers was a nut log. He isn’t a nut log any more. He’s a Republican. But when we were in Vietnam he was a larger than life screwball, convinced back then of his complete invincibility, indestructibility, and immortality. He’s grown out of that; now he’s just infallible. Meyers was huge not only in stature but in every conceivable way. Kind of like a high risk, high reward golf shot. If he makes it, it’s historic. If he makes it…There was a bridge over the river that ran through Kontum City. We drove by it in Phil’s stolen jeep one day and John said in a very matter of fact tone that he intended to fly underneath it. As he said it he peered at me with his very oval, very dark eyes and his mouth in a demented grin. “Before I go home I’m flying under that bridge”. I looked at the bridge and did a quick calculation; he had about a foot of wingtip clearance on either side and the wheels would have to be skimming the water. And when he came out the other side he’d scare the hell out of the topless Montangard girls who were doing their laundry just down stream. What puzzles me now is that what he was planning didn’t surprise me. I didn’t grab him and challenge him with an “are you nuts?” rejoinder. Instead, I pondered the possibility of actually doing it. And if he did it maybe I’d have to do it too. Who was crazier?

I had to fly down to Holloway for something, decided to go into the Officer’s club for a real lunch and spied John sitting at the bar with what looked like a White Russian in front of him. It was actually Johnny Walker and milk. John thought he was getting an ulcer and figured that the milk would sooth his stomach. Right! Then he proceeded to tell me why his right hand was in a cast. Before I got to CCC John and another whacko E7 went low leveling along Highway 110 (the Ho Chi Minh trail) armed with a 30 caliber machine gun that the sergeant cradled on his lap. When they found a suitable target the sergeant propped the gun on the airplane’s window sill and opened fire. If they didn’t shoot the wingtip off, they came close. Time passed and the desire to augment the fire power of the Bird Dog was too powerful for John to ignore. Grenades, rockets, AR15 rounds were not enough. Meyers got his hands on an M79 grenade launcher and proceeded to cut down the barrel so that he could fire it with one hand. Like Chuck Connors in “The Rifleman”. And that’s what he did. He didn’t test-fire it. He “for-real” fired it. Had he test-fired it John would have experienced the recoil that the hitherto benign sounding pop gun generated. But not my Johnny. That would be like asking directions or admitting you’re lost. He aimed the sawed-off M79 out the Bird Dog’s window and squeezed off the first and only round he would ever fire with that thing. The recoil drove his hand up into the hinge that held the window open and smashed the bone from the knuckle of his thumb to his wrist. Thus the cast on his hand. But the airplane’s wing tips unconditionally surrendered that day.

I have had more contact with John over the years than anyone except for Arlie Deaton, our CO. I recognized right away that John’s take on life was just as skewed as mine; his went right and mine went left. Our common thread was that we could both quote entire paragraphs of Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 verbatim. What I loved then about John (and what I love now) is that he embraced life completely, was not afraid to try anything, and didn’t need anyone’s approval of what he did or said. John was and is his own man except when his wife Alvida says he isn’t. And, he knows all the lyrics to the “Ballad of Ira Hayes”. Unfortunately he taught the song to Deaton and a few others. When the daily evening fog of scotch enveloped the Dog House (our bar at Holloway), Ira Hayes would rise out of the mist in full throat. Really ugly…

John was e-mailing me regularly with Conservative Republican propaganda during the presidential election. I decided that instead of just replying to John I’d reply to everyone on his e-mail. This was a stroke of genius. I got hate mail from all kinds of people I had never met. I realized that aside from me, all of John’s recipients were in total agreement with him, which put “preaching to the choir” in a whole new light. I also realized that I was probably the only Liberal John knew, and therefore I had a solemn obligation to yank his chain at every opportunity. After an especially interesting missive from John’s niece, I called John on the phone and asked him if he ever worked. My question was greeted with a deep, slightly maniacal laugh. Nothing about him has changed in 39 years. Except that the older John has become, the better he was. If you ask him, he will tell you…

GREGORY GLASHAUSER

If ever there was a loose cannon it was Captain Gregory Glashauser, a recon team leader who, in my opinion, was too crazy to be afraid. Only a few days after taking an AK round in his right side I saw him bandaged and in pain but attending a floor show featuring one of those bizarre bands from the Philippines at the CCC compound in Kontum. When I first met Greg he was going on at length about how he was going to demand from his wife that their first-born son be named Wolfgang. Wolfgang Glashauser sounded like someone straight out of the Sound Of Music. I never saw Greg again after I left CCC, but I would bet that his son received a far more benign and conventional name. I base my guess on the truism that we boys tend to make grand statements to affirm our control in marriage, but that in the end, and as always, the babe wins. I think it has something to do with supply and demand.

Glashauser was manic. He did everything at warp speed. If I didn’t know better I would have suspected Greg of having a never-ending supply of greenies. Shortly after Prince Sihanouk was overthrown and Cambodia became one big free-fire zone I was assigned to fly Greg on a recon of the area into which he and his team were going to be inserted. The mission was scheduled for early morning, which meant another pre-dawn speeding, careening jeep ride past the sniper-haven cemetery and through the town to the airfield where the RF’s were selling our av-gas. So I got to bed early and fell asleep. At about 2am I was awakened by somebody pounding on the wall of our hooch. Greg had gotten into the adjacent room and was beating down the wall with the butt of an AK, a normal weapon on the CCC compound because the SF guys had a menagerie of weapons. And Greg didn’t stop until he had opened up a hole big enough for him to climb through. Fortunately Greg left the AK behind. The next thing I knew my passenger for the morning’s ride was standing over me, naked except for his tidy-olive-drabbies, with an opened box of saltines in his hand. Greg wasn’t a little drunk, he was profoundly drunk. He had crushed the crackers up into crumbs and he then began to sprinkle them all over me. Now it was hot in the Highlands, so it was hot in our room, and it was always humid. The crumbs stuck to my skin like I was a piece of chicken waiting to be fried.

I pushed Greg out the door, got him into the next room and dumped him into a vacant bed, telling him that I’d be back in an hour and a half. I went over to the latrine to shower off my saltine coating but as usual, my steak-buddy Tim Dennis had the water turned off again in the showers, which he did every night after midnight and then again from about mid-morning to mid-afternoon. My flight suit went so long between washings that I usually took it off and stood it in the corner at parade rest until the next day. You know you’re filthy when you can smell yourself. Fortunately one of the sinks had running water so I used a wash cloth to get rid of most of the crumbs.

At 4:30 I dragged Gregory out of bed. Somewhere along the line he had gotten dressed and then fallen asleep again. But it was time to leave the compound and, passed out or not, we were going flying. The jeep ride to the airfield was uneventful, and Greg stayed asleep through engine start, take-off, and the flight over into Cambodia. When we reached the AO I eased the F model into a wide, gentle, descending spiral and started talking to Greg to wake him up. I pointed out the likely LZs for the insertion and extraction as we zipped over the trees at about 200 feet. And while he mumbled responses I knew he wasn’t getting any of this. So I headed east and stayed on the trees until we were a dozen clicks away from the AO. Then I climbed us up to about 9000 feet and crossed back into Vietnam. Greg had dozed off again. I put the airplane into a very shallow dive to build up airspeed, then pulled the nose up and pulled the Bird Dog into a left steep-turn while holding the stick almost full back. When the bottom wing stalled I kicked top rudder and we flipped to the right and started to spin. I let it turn three times and then let go of the stick. The plane stopped spinning and I eased the stick back to recover. Except that I kept the nose up to bleed off airspeed and then kicked us into a split-S. I pulled out of the split-S and put the Bird-Dog into a 360-degree steep turn to the left, rolled out and did one to the right. The only thing that was spoiling my fun was the sound of Greg retching into my helmet bag, my sack full of AR15 clips, and finally, when he managed to get his head out the window, along the right side of the fuselage. He made a very small mess inside of my airplane, the fuselage was gross, and the helmet bag and ammo sack had to be thrown away. Revenge is sweet but smelly. Greg paid Jim Shelly, our crew chief, fifty bucks to wash the mess off the outside and the back seat floor. Then he put his arms around my neck and his head on my shoulder and told me that he loved me. He didn’t kiss me. He would actually do that every once and a while, but this morning his breath was in desperate need of Listerine, and so I was glad that this display of affection and male bonding ended with a hug. I asked him if he remembered covering me with saltine crumbs. Greg laughed and said that he thought the saltine trick was a stroke of genius. And then he headed for the latrine.

I never saw Greg again after he got wounded, but I think that somehow he survived CCC. For all his craziness, he is one of those people who will always retain a place in my memory. When I think of Vietnam I always think of Greg.

DAK SEANG AND THE PHOTO MISSION

I left the CCC compound for “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” to the airfield early in the morning. It was late spring, I believe. Whatever I did that morning in Cambodia was uneventful, and by 1030 I was back at Dak To, anticipating getting to the C- rations before the Huey drivers arrived. This could be a canned peaches or fruit salad day! As I was walking to the lean-to where we cooked lunch I saw two Charlie-model gunships parked on the ramp near the ammo storage. Both pilots approached me and asked if they could rearm their guns, and I said “sure”. As I watched one of the pilots asked me if I could give them some help at the Special Forces A camp at Dak Seang. They explained that the camp was being overrun and though they had tried to get additional air support they had been unsuccessful. I fueled the Bird-Dog, loaded my outboard tubes with Willie Pete’s, my inboards with Nails, and took off shortly after the two gunships. When I arrived over the camp I could see total chaos on the ground. NVA were everywhere. An SF trooper whose call-sign was Dizzy was broadcasting from one of the few remaining undamaged buildings, and the Hueys and I were the only aircraft on station. I called back to Dak To and got the Ops Officer, a Major Smith, to release the Cobra/Loach Hunter-Killer unit attached to the CCC operation, but until they showed up we were all the close-air support Dak Seang had. I kept trying to get MACV to coordinate with the Air Force for fighters, but we didn’t get any fast movers until late in the afternoon. Amazingly the two Hueys and then the Cobras managed to keep the NVA from breaching the perimeter barbed wire, and were taking their toll of the attackers. An OH6 scout helicopter took enough small arms damage that it had to make an emergency landing on the airstrip. As soon as it touched down the pilot and the observer dove out of it and raced full tilt for a bunker. From another bunker at least 4 ARVN troopers were racing even faster for the OH6. The crew dove into the bunker and the ARVNs piled into the Loach like circus clowns in one of those little cars. I don’t remember how long they stayed in the little helicopter, but when it dawned on them that they weren’t going anywhere and that the NVA was trying to blow the thing up with mortars, the ARVNs dove out of it and ran even faster for the same bunker the Loach’s crew dove into. Can you imagine that conversation?

I spent that day directing traffic. I fired the fleshettes within five minutes of arriving on station, and used the two Willie Pete’s almost immediately after the Cobras got there. Then I marked with smoke grenades. I was just about out of gas when the Air Force finally showed up and was told by an Air Force FAC in a 0-2 that he’d be running the show, thank you very much. It was time for me to go. Miraculously I was unscathed. And the airplane never took a hit. How’s that for good karma? But what I remember most about this day was watching those ARVNs diving into and out of the Loach. The Keystone Kops had nothing on these guys. Meyers’ stunts notwithstanding, it was one of the funniest things I ever saw.

The battle for Dak Seang went on for several more days. The Loach on the landing strip was joined by the carcasses of several more airplanes. I was there that first day, but after that we had our own issues in Cambodia.

Phil Phillips and I flew one of those two-ship photo missions right after a B-52 strike west of Highway 110. I was flying high ship, Phil was low ship and had a SF photographer named Armstrong in his back seat. We got over the AO and Phil put the Bird-Dog about 100 feet off the ground. I cannot remember how long we were on station. What I remember seeing was way too many tracers going by my airplane. I was about 900 feet. The next thing I remember was Phil yelling on the radio that his ailerons were shot out and that the guy in the back was hit. I told Phil to rudder-turn the Bird-Dog East, getting him aimed back toward the Vietnam border, then kicked my ship into a split S and fired all four Willie Pete’s where I could see the tracers coming up, which was essentially right behind Phil’s tail. I got Dak To on the radio and had CCC launch the helicopter assets just in case Phil had to put his airplane down. We got clear of the ground fire and climbed up to about 1500 feet. We picked up the Hueys and Cobras and had them escort Phil back to Dak To. Phil got the airplane on the ground and a jeep with a medic followed him down the runway until he stopped. Phil got out and the medic got in, but Armstrong had been shot in the head and must have died instantly.

We don’t think about death when we’re young and/or dumb. We were boys, really, with our lives out in front of us. It was too difficult to conceive of a life short-circuited, of not doing all the things we think we were meant to do or wanted to do. I can tell you that I had a “Come to Jesus” meeting with my Dionysian (god of war in Greek mythology) side that day.

Not too long after that Phil got into a battle with “Rawhide” Smith, the CCC S3, and got booted off the compound. Phil continued to fly the CCC mission, and when Doug Krout rotated home Phil and I did he work of three pilots. We all moved over to the MACV compound shortly after that, which put us in direct and daily contact with our platoon leader, Captain Worst Person In The World, and Lieutenant Jerry Ford showed up to eventually replace Phil at CCC. I thought “Cherry Boy” and Ben Brown looked like kids, but Jerry looked like he’d just climbed down out of his high-chair. He had to get his in-country checkout from Captain WPITW, which took about two weeks instead of two days, because our great leader could be a total jackass, and proved it every chance he got. Power corrupts…absolutely. But the best part was that Phil had our stolen jeep and wouldn’t let Captain WPITW drive it or ride in it. And then there was the late evening, too many beers ritual. We all said good night to one another from the doorway of our respective rooms. “Good night, Phil. Good night, Jerry. Good night, Frank”. Then, all together now, “Good night, --------, you a--hole”. We were so mature for our age…

THE GUY ON THE SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN

SOG operated a mountain-top radio station in Cambodia called Leghorn. The station was perched on top of an impossibly steep spire of a mountain that reminded me of the campanile at UC Berkeley. The Kingbees (VNAF 219th helicopter unit) were charged with resupplying this skyscraper outpost, and there was no shortage of crews signing up for this mission. I found out later that every member of the crew got $5.00 U.S. each time they crossed the border. One Kingbee would haul a single case of C-rations, or a single case of ammo, or a single case of whatever it was that was being transported that day. A veritable daisy-chain of Kingbees would land on the helipad one by one, off-load their lone case of stuff, and head back to get another parcel. I watched this go on several times and concluded if Phil, Doug and I got five bucks for every time we crossed the border we could have retired at the end of our tours. In the late spring of 1970 Leghorn was in the process of what could only be described as a siege. The NVA had climbed part-way up the mountain, set up some mortars and were lobbing shells into the compound at the top of the hill. At night they would try to get to the top and probe the perimeter. But this place was a rock climber’s paradise, so the terrain made the probes unsuccessful. I was sent over to try to find the mortars, which I did. But what was amazing about all of this was that as I looked into the trees and vines clinging to the mountain-side trying to find Charlie, I came across a guy dressed in a tiger suit and he started to wave an orange panel at me. I could see that this guy was one of the Montagnards defending the station. Somehow he “fell” off the side of the mountain and rolled part-way down hill. He was waving that panel for all he was worth, jumping up and down and yelling (I could see his mouth moving). This was almost as good as the morning a VC threw a rock at me during a firefight with his unit. I mean, here I am in an airplane and this guy side-arms a tennis ball sized rock at me. How’s that for disrespect! The guy on the side of the hill is something that has made me laugh every time I think about it. I got a Kingbee to pick him up and deposit him back on top of the mountain. I always meant to inquire as to whether the Kingbee crew got an additonal bonus.

Shortly after I arrived at Holloway I received a message from our company clerk that a TWA pilot overflying Pleiku had called the tower and asked to have a message passed on to me. The TWA flight would be returning around 3pm two days later and would it be possible for me to be in Pleiku tower. I arranged with Major Naumann, our pre-Deaton CO, to get an airplane, and I flew over to Pleiku AFB. When I landed a “follow me” jeep led me to the base of the tower. I parked, climbed the stairs to the control room and just like clockwork, shortly after 3pm, TWA flight…checked on. It was my Dad, who was flying a MAC charter to Hong Kong. He was on the return leg, and I spoke with him for about 15 minutes. The conversation ran the gamut of subjects, my health and my family’s health, my sister’s engagement, what I was doing (nothing) and who I was with (nobody)…didn’t we have this same conversation when I came home from school, either before going out at night or after returning? Then he asked me about R and R. He wanted to know “when” because he and Mom wanted to join me. I was scrambling to talk my way out of that while the tower chief and the other two sergeants laughed their butts off. I mean, I was thinking about one thing and one thing only while on R and R, and the idea of my parents in the next room was not on of my X-rated fantasies. In fact, I wanted my R and R to start out just like Phil’s did. I’ll let my hero, “Grand-Theft Auto” relate that story in his own words, but believe me, it’s Hall of Fame material.

When I graduated from Flight School my parents came down to Rucker to see me get my wings. My Dad was a 747 Captain at the time and I was flying a single-engine, high-wing tail dragger. Prior to the ceremony I walked my mother and father out onto the flight line and proudly opened the door of a Bird-Dog. I started explaining the instrumentation. My Dad smiled and my mother burst out laughing. I mean, here’s my old man when he’s at work sitting three stories up in the biggest, most technically advanced commercial airliner in the world, and I’m pointing out all of about three flight and navigation instruments, a couple of engine instruments, and a coffee-grinder UHF radio in an airplane that could easily fit in the nacelle of one of the 747’s engines. And then I told him not to touch anything. My mother kissed me and told me that I was an idiot.

I had contemplated writing more about my father but I need to wait. My Dad had a stroke several days ago, and I’m afraid anything I tried to talk about would get too maudlin, too weepy and sentimental. So I’ll put off telling you about my Dad for now. Maybe it will take the form of a eulogy, an extended epitaph. My life in airplanes cannot be completely understood unless I tell you about him. My father was not always my friend, but he was always my example.

So I’m going to close this memoir for now. I might revisit these pages from time to time, and perhaps add a few more thoughts, a story I’ve inadvertently forgotten failed to include. And I apologize for names I haven’t included. I haven’t forgotten too many of you. I know I’ve mentioned this before, but to paraphrase Nelson DeMille in Up Country, it’s not the journey, but the people you meet along the way. Have a very Happy Christmas, and, with a bow to Tiny Tim, “God bless us one and all”.

DEATON II

In the winter of 1998 I got a phone call from George Savani. George was touching base after what must have been several years. When he called the first time I was flying. My daughter Alanna answered the phone and George proceeded to tell her that “your father was a real gunslinger”. When I got home the next day she demanded to know what “the guy who called” meant by that. When George called back that evening I told him never to tell my girls about that gunslinger stuff. It was hard enough dealing with them when Meighan and Alanna learned the biological process by which they came into being, and that their mother and I were still doing that same thing as often as possible. We chatted for awhile and George gave me John Pappas’ phone number as well as Arlie’s. It had been 28 years since I had spoken to Arlie but I called him that same night. He wasn’t home so I left him a message: “this is Frank Doherty calling” and left my phone number. Thirty seconds later I called him back and said: “cancel that. This is Delta Airlines 767 Captain Frank Doherty calling, and I’d like to remind you that you busted me on that check ride”. Within the hour Arlie called back and started chewing me out, telling me how I deserved to fail, that he did me a favor, and that it was a long time ago so shut up and forget about it. He paused for a moment and then began to apologize for making me feel badly all these years. I let him go on for a while because it was kind of cool to hear him get all repentant and apologetic, and then he said that it was because of him that I was flying 767s and that he should get all the credit. Without pausing to catch his breath he started in on “Ruby, don’t take your love to town”. We talked for about 30 minutes, and we’ve had an ongoing conversation for the last ten years. Most of our talking has centered on our shared experience in South East Asia, the people and the events we remembered, and the changes that had taken place in our lives over the years. This conversation is very important to me because it reminds me of how far all of us have come since 1970.

We went to training for proficiency checks annually as First Officers and every 6 months as Captains. On more than one occasion I was paired with a kid who was as terrified by the checking process as I was. We got a day of ground school, a day of recurrent training in the simulator, and then the check ride. It was pretty easy to tell when my First Officer was scared to death because I was nervous too. So I’d relate to them the story of Deaton and my check-ride, and then I’d tell them that it was okay to be nervous, but it was against the rules to be stupid.

I was originally hired in December, 1972 by Western Airlines, headquartered in Los Angeles. I padded the hell out of my flight time on the application and when I got called in for my interview I noticed that my total time had been corrected to a figure more closely resembling what I really had. The chief pilot, Gordie Shields, asked me what I had flown and didn’t flinch when I said that most of my time was in an L-19. For some reason unbeknownst to me he said that I had everything that Western was looking for, and welcomed me aboard. You could have knocked me over with a feather, and in spite of my elation I couldn’t help thinking that these guys must be desperate.
The first three days of class at Western were made up of orientation. There were thirty-three of us in the class, and I was the fourth youngest. The class was roughly divided between Air Force and Navy, with two civilian pilots and me. An older man, Bill Heinbaugh, was conducting this portion of orientation and asked us how many had heavy, multi-engine time. Most of the Air Force guys were C-130 or KC-135 drivers, so about half the class raised their hands. “The rest of you guys flew fighters?” All but four of us answered yes. So he asked us about our experience. One of the civilian guys flew a corporate 737, the other civilian flew corporate turboprops. The next-to-last guy was a Navy “Stoof” driver. I have no idea what a “Stoof” is, but all the other Navy guys laughed. Finally Heinbaugh gets to me and says “what about you?” I told him I was an Army pilot and I flew 0-1 Bird-Dogs. Everyone laughed, and an F-4 driver said “you gotta be kidding”. Heinbaugh said “you’re going to have a tough time”. Between this remark and Deaton’s check-ride I had all the motivation I would ever need.

In 1997 I started commuting to Salt Lake City as a 767 Captain. Because I was on reserve I shared a “crash pad” with four other pilots, all of whom I’d known in the past. Not far from the apartment was a Vietnamese restaurant that served the traditional Pho soup that was eaten for breakfast, and I would go there every few days. The first time I went the woman that ran the place offered me a big spoon and fork. I pressed on with the little white ladle that is ubiquitous in Asian restaurants, and chopsticks. The next couple of times I went the lady offered me the spoon and fork, but I declined. She’d stand in the back of the restaurant and watch me put the hot chili oil and the fish sauce in the bowl, dump in the basil leaves, and start to eat. When she couldn’t stand it any longer she walked over and asked me not “if”, but “where” I was in Vietnam. I took one of my roommates, Jeff Lugar, a 727 Captain, to this restaurant one morning and he talked about Vietnam. When he told me he was a Headhunter in Ban Me Thout in 1971 (?) I almost fell off the chair. I had known Jeff for quite a few years but never knew that he was in the 219th.

In the cockpit the conversation occasionally turned to “where did you learn to fly”? It always amused me to look at the expressions on my first officers’ faces when I told them I flew 0-1’s in South East Asia. I was a brand-new Captain when a lot of “Mavericks” and “Ice Men” arrived on the airline scene. They flew very fast airplanes that went straight up for as long as they wanted; it was inconceivable to them that anyone in the industry flew something with a tail wheel. They were really hot pilots that knew everything about flying; with the academy guys being the worst know-it-alls. But they were curious and they’d probe a little about combat flying. The only stories I ever told was about the ARVNs diving into the Loach at Dak Seang, or about Bob Jackson and I capturing the guy in the rice paddy. No, that’s not true. I always told about Meyers and the M-79 grenade launcher. Meyers…all I have to do is say his name and I start to laugh. John’s wife has to be the most patient woman in the world. A saint on earth, really, and when God calls her to heaven all she has to do is walk outside, because she’s going straight up!

One beautiful afternoon I was coming from Dallas to Orlando in the 767 and the route took me right over Rucker. I got out the low-altitude airway chart for S.E. Alabama, found Cairns approach frequency, and called them on the radio. “Cairns approach, this is Delta …” “Delta … what can I do for you”? “Cairns, Delta … is approaching the Bird-Dog IP for landing”. A rather long pause, and then ATC came back with “Bird-Dog IP? Boy, you are old”.

I’ve had a chance to fly a lot of airplanes. Some like the 737 and the 767 I’ve loved. A few, like the DC-9-30 or the 727 I could have lived without. But the Bird-Dog was like my first big romance, like my beautiful Katie. I loved them first, best, and forever.

DEATON

Every now and then we come in contact with someone who profoundly affects our lives. And when I say “our lives”, I mean that our core values and beliefs, shaped by parents and educators, are further modified by an individual or event which causes us to either rethink or in some way refine those beliefs and values. My parents and my education established my value system and how I viewed both myself and the world. Arlie Deaton made me a better man. He started the process by giving me a check-ride.

Until I got to the Bird-Dog phase, flight school was a trial. I was having a really difficult time coming to grips with Vietnam and my conscience. And this internal struggle about the war and my participation in it was affecting everything I was doing, especially flying. I loved flying but had serious doubts about the war. I barely squeezed through the initial phase of pilot training at Stewart. When we started the second phase, which was upper air-work and coordination exercises like chandelles and lazy eights, I was assigned to an instructor who had just returned from Vietnam. During my first ride with this guy he told me that he “didn’t get killed in Vietnam and I’m not going to let you kill me here”. I’m not paraphrasing; that’s a direct quote and I will never forget it. In this phase of training we flew together exactly two more times and he taught me absolutely nothing. So when I practiced while solo I sort of flailed around with no clue as to what I was doing.

Check-ride day and enter Deaton. I meet him, salute, he returns my salute and he’s laughing. He’s got an unlit cigar stub in his mouth which he doesn’t remove while going through his briefing. Then we climb into the T41 and go flying, more or less. We do a couple of landings into the grass fields around Stewart, and some pylon turns, which, as I recall, were fine. But I had no earthly idea of what a chandelle looked like and even less of a clue as how to do one. Same thing with lazy eights. I think “flailing” would be too complimentary in describing my performance.

Deaton was sort of hanging over the yolk, squinting at me with the same smile. He asked me what I was doing and I told him the truth. I didn’t have the faintest idea. So he explained and demonstrated a chandelle, told me to do one, and I did. It wasn’t bad. Then Arlie explained how to do a lazy-eight, demonstrated it, and told me to do one. Not bad here either. He told me to do another chandelle and another lazy-eight, and then we flew back to Stewart.

We didn’t go into the building where we briefed. We sat outside, around the back of the building, on the steps. And Arlie told me that he was failing me. Yes, I had demonstrated that I could do the maneuvers when shown, that everything else was done to an OK standard, but that in check-rides you don’t teach. Then he told me that the real reason I had failed was because I didn’t try. Say what? Nope, I should have sought out help, taken some initiative, taken some responsibility. That was the key phrase. I should have taken some responsibility. It was my fault; I failed myself. He got up and walked away. I stayed there and started crying. I didn’t see him again until the early spring of 1970.

Life went on and so did I. I was recycled through this second phase of flight school and did the thing all over again. It was embarrassing but I survived. My instructor was a Dept. of the Army civilian named Weaver. His first name was Mister, he chain-smoked camels which stained his flight gloves orange, had iron-grey hair glued to the top of his head and a pencil-thin moustache. He looked just like “Smilin Jack”. And he never stopped looking around. For the two weeks or so that I flew with him I never saw the flight instruments; Mr. Weaver covered them up with discs. We flew by sound and attitude. His head was on a constant swivel, and when I couldn’t stand it any more I asked him what he was looking for. He looked at me and without a second’s hesitation he said “Messerschmitts kid, Messerschmitts.” You bet…right here in S.E. Georgia, from out of the sun we were going to be jumped by a couple of ME-109s. Weaver was a P-38 Lightening pilot in Italy during WW II, which explains his constant vigil. And that explains why he lived to show me how to fly by feel. Feel became very important later as a real airline pilot, and directly contributed to punitive alimony.

I don’t exactly remember why I was in Qui Nhon. I really didn’t want to hang around though because I didn’t want to run into that nurse I insulted who turned out to be the girlfriend of the CO of the 18th Aviation Company, Maj. Bloemsma. That’s how I came to be in the 219th. He kicked me out of the Otter unit and thought he was punishing me by sending me to the Central Highlands. Anyway, I was standing in the Battalion Ops office in Qui Nhon. The Ops officer informed me that I’d have a passenger, our new CO, to take back to Holloway. I turned around and there was Arlie. I could tell by the expression on his face that he remembered me, and he remembered why he remembered me. Same smart-ass smile on his face, but no cigar this time. And then, in front of everyone there, Deaton tells me that he’s “not so sure I want you to fly one of my airplanes”. I believe I told him to go screw himself, or I wished I did. We loaded his stuff in a Beaver and Arlie got in on the right side. As I climbed into the left seat he dug around in his helmet bag and pulled out a hood! We took off; I put the hood on, flew a GCA approach at Qui Nhon, and then flew VFR back to Holloway. Arlie chatted away the whole flight, but he never took his eyes off me. Another check-ride, but this time the result was a whole lot better.

I only saw Arlie occasionally in Kontum. Usually he showed up because somebody screwed up. But I can’t remember him ever raising his voice with any of us. He always had the same smart-ass grin on his face which to me meant that he had my number. And he very subtly let us know that whatever happened, that whatever we did, we had to take responsibility. The dog never really got to eat your homework. He knew you didn’t do it, and you knew that he knew.

When Phil got into his “argument” with the CCC S3, the upshot was that Phil was sent packing to the MACV compound. He still flew the mission, but “Grand Theft Auto” came from MACV to the flight line in his stolen jeep. Either Doug or I filled him in on what we were doing. The argument started after a very loud, beer-fueled party with some of the team leaders. If Glashauser was involved it was probably out of control. I must have been on R and R because I don’t remember the party or the argument. All I knew was that when I got back Phil was gone, Doug was getting ready to rotate home, and we were flying our butts off. The cause of the argument between Phil and the S3 remains a mystery to me. The only part I knew about was that Phil and the Major had a pretty intense exchange. When Phil described the argument it sounded like something out of “Dirty Harry”. The Major was one of those guys whose personality lacked one very basic element, a sense of humor. So there was no backing down, or “I was just kidding”, or a sincere “I’m sorry”. Phil says that he came about “that” close to being brought up on charges. Arlie showed up at the CCC compound one afternoon shortly after Phil’s exile. He and I met with Major Smith, the S3, and talked about the mission and the pilots needed to staff the mission. I told them that we were swamped but nothing changed. After talking to Phil it occurs to me now what probably conspired. Arlie came to Kontum to convince Major Smith not to bring charges against Phil. Apparently Arlie and Smith were classmates at OCS or something. I do know that they had a history. Arlie got Smith to back off, probably in exchange for allowing Smith to try to fly us to death. And Arlie had a “talk” with Phil. The “talk” was different than the “rug dance”. You stood at attention for the “rug dance”, while the “talk” was a seated discussion that took on the air of “confession”. The discussion was really a one-sided monologue delivered in a very soft and soothing tone that none-the-less let you know that there were two outs, you had a 0 and 2 count, and Arlie was throwing 98 mph heat. He had a pitch to waste and it was high, hard, and inside, a “purpose-pitch” which told you that he meant business. Phil says that there was no missing the message. Arlie kept Phil out of jail and Phil says that the “talk” helped him get back on track. Oh yeah…most crooked track I’ve ever seen.

Arlie wasn’t much for protocol. I mean he didn’t hold any parades. But you did have to wear your hat. Bush hat, baseball hat, it didn’t matter. As long as it was olive drab and on your head he was happy. I used to put my bush hat in a locker at the flight line in Kontum when I went flying. If I landed at Dak To the CCC guys could have cared less about hats. They were all running around in T-shirts and shower shoes so hats weren’t too big a deal. On the day that I landed at Holloway without a hat I strolled bare-headed up to the company office and was taught the Charlie Liffick two-step. No hat. The next time I went to Holloway I again forgot my hat. So I just kept my flight helmet on. Deaton looked at me and accused me of making fun of him. Don Shipp, our XO, had to cover his mouth and look away so he wouldn’t laugh out loud. I feigned innocence, a technique perfected at St. Ignatius Catholic School. I told him that this was better than no hat at all, and would he please buy lunch because I had no MPC with me and officers had to pay for meals. Don had an extra hat, so Deaton was spared the humiliation of my walking around in a flight helmet. As I think about it, we may have walked to the mess hall with Deaton hatless. That would have been something Arlie would have done. What was good for the goose was good for the gander, except sometimes when the goose didn’t feel like it.

Arlie flew to Kontum the day that Phil and I got shot up, and he stayed until late in the day, just making small talk. What he was really doing was making sure that we were okay. We were both pretty shaken up, and he brought us back down to earth. Over the years I’ve dreamt about some of the things that I saw or that happened to me during that tour, but never about that day. He had us write down what happened and what we did. And a few weeks later there was an awards and decorations ceremony. Arlie did that.

What Arlie really did was instill in all of us the belief that if we failed to live up to our responsibility as brothers, as officer-pilots, as American soldiers, as gentlemen (more of less) and as human beings we let our selves down. I was mistaken in thinking that I couldn’t let Arlie down. If I failed, I failed me, and I failed Arlie only by extension. Be true to your self, know who you are, overcome your limitations, stand by one another, and grow. Arlie didn’t ask this of us; he demanded it. All this from a guy without a college education or a degree in psychology; just an intrinsic belief in the ability of his pilots, the boys whose keep he was charged, to recognize and do the right thing. And so he continually pointed the way. He still does. Arlie Deaton, my commanding officer, has much more than my respect. Much more than just respect…