Gold Star Mother’s and Family Day falls on September 26 this year and is traditionally observed on the last Sunday in September. The day is for honoring families of those who have received The Gold Star – the military award no one wants. The award commemorates the tragic death of a military member who has perished while in the line of duty and hopes to provide a level of comfort to the parents and families that are left behind. Since World War 1, a “Gold Star Family” has signified a family that has lost one of its members in combat. The family can display a Gold Star Service Flag for any military family members who have died from any honorable cause – each gold star on the flag signifies a death. Though today only around 1% of the country is involved in military service, as compared to the 12% during other times of war, like World War 2, there are still a significant number of surviving Gold Star families – not to mention, a Gold Star lives on in a family’s legacy.
HISTORY OF GOLD STAR MOTHER’S AND FAMILY DAY
Though the exact roots of the tradition aren’t totally known, it was during World War 1 that the gold star came to symbolize that a family member had fallen in battle. Around that time, the term “Gold Star Family” came to mean that you were a surviving family of a person who died in service and families hung banners with a gold star outside their homes. The tradition has since been authorized and seeks to ease the grief of mothers and families while reminding that no one truly serves alone.
Gradually, there came to be many ways for grieving family members to honor their loved ones with symbols worn or places outside the home. In 1918, President Wilson allowed grieving military mothers to wear a traditional black armband featuring a gold star. Soon after, it was approved for families to cover the blue star on the service flag outside of their home with a gold one. As of 1947, Gold Star family members can also display the Gold Star Lapel.
The American Gold Star Mothers Inc. first got its start in 1917, when Grace Siebold’s son was killed during World War 1. Wanting to create a support system for grieving mothers in similar circumstances, Grace gathered what would become the American Gold Star Mothers to grieve together and tend to hospitalized veterans in local hospitals. The organization was formalized as a non-profit in 1928, with a mission of remembrance, education, and patriotism. Still today, they support Gold Star mothers in their grief, hold an annual conference, and organize events with supporting groups.
Though Gold Star Mother’s and Family Day isn’t observed as a National, federal holiday like Memorial Day, it was declared by Congress in 1936 to be the last Sunday in September – though, at the time, it was only known as “Gold Star Mother’s Day.” It was in 2011 that President Obama amended the declaration, declaring the day to include families as well as mothers. Today, the holiday includes any immediate family member and authorizes that person to display the Gold Star Service Flag.
Today, America is not embroiled in any kind of conflict like World War 1 or 2, and far fewer individuals consider Gold Star heroes and their families – oftentimes, people may think that they don’t know anyone in a Gold Star Family. However, there are many more Gold Star families from previous wars than you may think, and since over 1.3 million people are involved in the military today, it’s possible you know a family that still grieves a recent fallen soldier. Understanding the sacrifice and acknowledging the holiday are the best ways to support the families and honor the soldiers.
GOLD STAR MOTHER’S AND FAMILY DAY TIMELINE
1918 Armbands Authorized
President Wilson authorized mothers who had lost a child in the war to wear a traditional black mourning armband featuring a gold star.
1929 American Gold Star Mothers
Started in Washington, DC, The American Gold Star Mothers Inc. quickly spread across the country. In 1929, the organization obtained a federal charter to support mothers who were often separated from their ailing or dead children.
June 23, 1936 Gold Star Mother’s Day Recognized
Since this date, Gold Star Mother’s Day has always fallen on the last Sunday of September.
1947 Gold Star Lapel
The Gold Star Service Lapel, in addition to the Gold Star Service Flag, is authorized to be displayed by surviving family members.September 23, 2011.
President Obama amended “Gold Star Mother’s Day” to include families as “Gold Star Mother’s and Family Day” on September 23, 2011.
Pondering this past year and our new normal, I realized lessons learned from ancient and modern battlefields can be used in so many areas of our lives. Sitting down one night, hundreds of stories and lessons learned flowed onto the notebook pages. Three close friends told me “Share these with the rest of us!” The Lessons from the Cockpit podcast was born.
Flying is described as long periods of boredom interrupted by short intermittent periods of extreme terror.
On the Lessons from the Cockpit show, we debrief the most intriguing pilots, aircrew members, maintainers, and aviation enthusiasts, investigating their tactics, techniques, and procedures cultivated during extraordinary military, commercial, and private flight operations.
Our exploration gives practical advice on how the aviation world works and expands critical thinking skills in the air and on the ground.
Many of our guests were involved in front-page headline news, others in events taking great pains to ensure they didn’t end up in the news.
From Code 7700:
[AC 120-100, ¶7.]
Figure: Window of circadian low, from Duty/Rest Guidelines for Business Aviation, §1.0.
[Duty/Rest Guidelines for Business Aviation, §1.0]
1.2 Recovery Periods
Time-of-Day and Circadian Physiology
1.4 Continuous Waking Hours
1.5 Individual Differences
Sources of Pilot Fatigue
[Caldwell, pg. 6] Both long-haul and short-haul pilots commonly associate fatigue with scheduling issues
Symptoms of Pilot Fatigue
[Caldwell, pg. 9]
Effects of Pilot Fatigue
Figure: In-cockpit nodding off episodes, from Caldwell, pg. 16.
[Caldwell, pg. 16.]
[Caldwell, pg. 18.]
Robert DeLaurentis, “Zen Pilot,” is a successful author, speaker, pilot, real estate entrepreneur, philanthropist and Navy Gulf War Veteran. His books include the best-selling Zen Pilot: Flight of the Passion and the Journey Within; Flying Thru Life: How to Grow Your Business and Relationships Through Applied Spirituality; and the forthcoming, Citizen of the World: To the Ends of the Earth and Beyond.
In 2019, Robert will undertake his second circumnavigation, this time from the North Pole to the South Pole in the “Citizen of the World,” a 1983 Turbine Commander 900 aircraft with the powerful global mission of “One Planet, One People, One Plane: Oneness for Humanity.” This trip is a real-time example of going after the seemingly impossible, not giving up while “Flying Thru Life” and making the dream of connecting our humanity through flight a reality.
Founder and president of the inspirational publishing company Flying Thru Life and the charitable organization, DeLaurentis Foundation, Robert’s mission is to inspire people and organizations to live their impossibly big dreams through the wonder of aviation and the power of courageous action.
A notable pilot listed in Wikipedia, Robert has flown his single engine Piper Malibu Mirage to 53 countries and territories in three years, including Europe, Central America, Southern Africa, Asia, Siberia, Mexico and the Caribbean. Flying solo, Robert has crossed the Polar Ice Cap, the North Atlantic Ocean, Bering Sea and Gulf of Mexico.
In 2015, Robert successfully completed an equatorial circumnavigation, single plane, single engine, single pilot, across the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans to 23 countries in his Piper Malibu Mirage named “Spirit of San Diego.” He survived an engine-out at 14,000 feet over the Strait of Malacca and dead sticked 19.6 nautical miles into Kuala Lumpur International with 600 pounds of fuel in the cabin and oil spraying on the 1500 degree exhaust. He lived to tell the story in his best-selling book, Zen Pilot.
In recognition of his courage, resourcefulness and contribution to the San Diego community, the San Diego Mayor’s Office and City Council awarded Robert the “Spirit of San Diego Day” Proclamation.
An AOPA (Aircraft Owners and Pilot Association) Opinion Leader Blogger with 400,000 followers and more than 100 media interviews, Robert is a recognized social media influencer. In addition to his media and speaking appearances and books, he has recorded the video, Overcoming the Fear of Flying, Unleashing Potential, to be released to 26,000 high schools across the US and created the Citizen of the World Pole to Pole Flight Coloring and Activity Book for children of all ages.
Robert’s real estate business, Innorev Enterprises, Inc., includes over 300 real estate units, acquired over twenty-eight years. Starting with one condo in 1990, his road to success, much like flying, was not a straight path. The lessons he learned and the success he experienced along the way funded his dream of becoming a pilot and owning a plane, and is the basis of his book, Flying Thru Life.
Robert has an undergraduate degree in Accounting from USC, and an advanced degree in graduate studies in Spiritual Psychology, a three year program with an emphasis in Consciousness, Health, and Healing from the University of Santa Monica.
Robert was in the Navy for 14 years – four years active duty and 10 years reserves, leaving in 2003 as a Lieutenant Commander.
Born in Salamanca, New York, Robert grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area until he was 10 years old, followed by three years in Indonesia. His family returned back to the Bay Area, where Robert lived until attending college at USC. After his initial tour with the Navy, he settled in San Diego where he currently resides. However, watch his Google Map to find out where he is flying to today!
POW/MIA Recognition Day is observed on the third Friday of September, on September 17 this year, to recommit to full accountability to the families of the more than 80,000 veterans captured or still missing from wars that the United States has participated in. According to accounts, during the first ceremony of POW/MIA Day at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., fighter airplanes from the military base in Virginia flew in the ‘missing man formation’ in their honor.
HISTORY OF NATIONAL POW/MIA RECOGNITION DAY
National POW/MIA Recognition Day is observed annually in September around a central theme to show commitment to full accountability to the families of captured service members and missing war heroes.
The term POW and MIA mean prisoner of war and military personnel who went missing in action.
Many service members suffered as prisoners during the several wars that have happened throughout the history of the U.S. National POW/MIA Recognition Day was initiated as the day to commemorate with the family of many of the tens of thousands of service members who never made it home.
The day was first observed in 1979 after Congress and the president passed a resolution to make it official following the demands of the families of 2,500 Vietnam War POW/MIAs who asked for accountability in finding their loved ones.it is also mostly associated with service members who were prisoners of war during the Vietnam War.
Regardless of where they are held in the country, National POW/MIA Recognition Day ceremonies share the common purpose of honoring those who were held captive and returned, as well as the memory of those who remain missing in service to the United States.
Until 1979, there was no formal day set aside for these important men and women and the first observance of POW/MIA day included a remembrance ceremony at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. Since then, the Pentagon is where the official observance happens, with other celebrations happening at military bases around the country and elsewhere.
On the Ready For Takeoff Podcast, we've had the honor of speaking to the following POWs:
The term The Greatest Generation was popularized by the title of a 1998 book by American journalist Tom Brokaw. In the book, Brokaw profiled American members of this generation who came of age during the Great Depression and went on to fight in World War II, as well as those who contributed to the war effort on the home front. Brokaw wrote that these men and women fought not for fame or recognition, but because it was the "right thing to do."
I have had the honor of interviewing numerous members of this generation, pilots who bravely served in World War Two. Many people are not aware that casualties in the war were higher among aircrews than among Marines.
The people who served during World War II were from a different generation, at a time when patriotism was the order of the day and national service was expected and respected. Major movie stars put their careers on hold to serve their country. Athletes like Ted Williams continued to serve in Korea.
Today, the environment is different. There is no longer a draft. Military service is totally voluntary. As a result, only 1 percent of Americans new serve in the military.
I believe that the military members of today are truly the greatest generation. A perfect example of this is Pat Tilman, who gave up his four million dollar salary to serve his country.
I recently worked with a retired Marine pilot who had served two years in Iraq and five years in Afghanistan.
Attempting to crash an aircraft into a building was not an entirely new
paradigm. Despite Secretary Rice stating, “I don't think anybody could have
predicted that they would try to use an airplane as a missile” (Brush, 2002, para.
24), there had been numerous prior attempts to utilize aircraft in this manner
(CNN, 2001). In addition, there had been a significant number of warnings
suicide hijackings posed a serious threat.
In 1972, hijackers of Southern Airways Flight 49 threatened to crash the
airliner into Oak Ridge National Laboratory if a $10 million ransom was not paid
(CNN, 2001). Copilot Johnson reported, “The demands at Knoxville were that if
we didn't have the money by 1:00 that we'd crash into the nuclear reactor there”
(CNN Transcripts, 2001, para. 151). The hijacked airliner was placed in a dive
toward Oak Ridge, and was only pulled out of the dive at the last minute when
Southern Airways agreed to pay $2 million to the hijackers (Allison, 2004).
In 1974, S. Byck attempted to hijack a Delta Airlines DC-9 aircraft to
crash it into the White House (Cohen, 2009). During the hijacking, Byck killed a
security guard and the copilot before committing suicide after being wounded by
police. Also in 1974, Private R. Preston stole an Army helicopter and flew over
the White House and hovered for six minutes over the lawn outside the West
Wing, raising concerns about a suicide attack (White House Security Review,
Following the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, Jenkins and
Edwards-Winslow (2003) conducted an exhaustive threat analysis for the World
Trade Center. They concluded that an aerial attack by crashing an aircraft into the
Center was a remote possibility which must be considered. Reports indicated Iran
was training pilots to hijack airplanes and fly them into buildings: “Trained
aircrews from among the terrorists would crash the airliner into a selected
objective” (Bodansky, 1993, p. 15). Senator S. Nunn was concerned terrorists
would attempt to crash a radio-controlled airplane into the Capitol during a State
of the Union address, possibly killing the President, Vice President, and all of
Congress (Nelan, 1995).
In 1994, four Algerian terrorists attempted to hijack Air France Flight
8969 (Air Safety Week, 1995). The group, identified as Phalange of the Signers
in Blood, killed one of the passengers, planted explosives on the plane, and
planned to crash the aircraft into the Eiffel Tower (Bazerman & Watkins, 2005).
French police stormed the aircraft and stopped the hijacking. R. Yousef, the
architect of the first World Trade Center attack, was associated with these
Algerian terrorists (Lance, 2003).
Another attempted airliner suicide hijacking occurred in 1994. Flight
Engineer A. Calloway boarded Federal Express Flight 705 as an additional jump
seat crewmember, intending to overpower the crew and crash the DC-10 aircraft
into the Federal Express corporate headquarters in Memphis (CVR Database,
1994). Calloway attacked the flight deck crew with a hammer, inflicting serious,
permanent disabling injuries to all three pilots (Wald, 2001).
On September 11, 1994, F. Corder attempted to crash an aircraft into the
White House (Wald, 2001). Experts had been concerned the White House was
highly vulnerable to an attack from the air (Duffy, 1994). Former CIA director R.
Helms expressed concern a suicidal pilot could easily divert from an approach to
Washington to crash into the White House (Duffy, 1994).
In 1995, FBI informant E. Salem revealed a Sudanese Air Force pilot’s
plot to bomb the Egyptian President’s home and then crash an aircraft into the
U.S. Embassy (Berger, 2004). Salem also testified about Project Bojinka, which,
in addition to the aforementioned bombing of 11 American aircraft, included
crashing an airplane into CIA headquarters. In addition to CIA headquarters, this
second Bojinka wave was planned to target the Pentagon, an unidentified nuclear
power plant, the Transamerica Building in San Francisco, the Sears Tower in
Chicago, the World Trade Center, John Hancock Tower in Boston, U.S. Congress,
and the White House (Brzenzinski, 2001).
McNeil (1996) noted in 1996, Ethiopian Airlines flight 961 was hijacked
and an attempt was made to crash into a resort in the Comoros Islands. At the last
moment, the pilot overpowered the hijacker and ditched the fuel-starved airplane
into the Indian Ocean near the coast. Of the 175 passengers, 123 died (AirSafe
Journal, 2001). Also in 1996, M. Udugov, a Chechen leader, threatened to hijack
a Russian airliner and crash it into the Kremlin (Cohen, 2002).
In 1998, White House Terrorism Chief R. Clarke conducted a training
exercise to simulate a Learjet intentionally crashing into a government building
(Kaplan, 2004). Clarke considered the exercise unsatisfactory (Kaplan, 2002). In
a 1998 briefing to the FAA, three terrorism experts were concerned terrorists
would hijack airliners and crash into buildings in the United States (Fainaru,
In 1998 the Kaplancilar terrorist organization had planned to crash an
explosives-laden plane into the tomb of M. Ataturk, Turkey’s founder (Anadolu
Agency, 2006). The entire Turkish government was gathered at the mausoleum
for a ceremony on the day scheduled for the attack. The plot was foiled and the
conspirators were arrested shortly before execution of the plan (Anadolu Agency,
In addition to actual aircraft suicide attacks, there were numerous
predictions of these types of attacks. One such prediction was the script which
showed an airliner crashing into New York in the 1980s movie Escape from New
York (“Kamikaze Jet Hijacking,” n.d.). Another prediction was in the March 2001
pilot episode of the Fox series The Lone Gunmen, featuring a hijacked Boeing 727
used as a missile to crash into the World Trade Center (Killtown, 2009).
In 1999, the British Secret Service MI6 provided the U.S. Embassy in
London with a secret report on al Qaeda activities (Rufford, 2002). The report
indicated al Qaeda was planning to use commercial aircraft to attack the United
States. The report stated the aircraft would be used in “unconventional ways”
(Rufford, 2006, para. 1).
In a report prepared for the Federal Research Division of the Library of
Congress, Hudson (1999) noted numerous terrorist threats, and specifically named
bin Laden and al Qaeda: “Suicide bomber(s) belonging to al-Qaida’s Martyrdom
Battalion could crash-land an aircraft packed with high explosives (C-4 and
semtex) into the Pentagon, the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency
(CIA), or the White House” (p. 7). A 1999 keynote address at the National
Defense University warned terrorists might attempt to use unmanned aerial
vehicles (UAVs) to attack buildings (Hoffman, 2001). Security consultant C.
Schnabolk had remarked, in 2000, the most serious threat to the World Trade
Center was someone flying a plane into it (Reeves, 2001).
This is a special Labor Day and Rosh Hashanah gift for our listeners.
This is a fictional account, taken from Hamfist Down!, the sequel to Hamfist Over the Trail. Available soon as an audiobook.
December 21, 1969
I was scheduled for my Champagne Flight – my final mission – in the morning. Things had been uncharacteristically quiet on the trail for several days, and I wanted to get some target photos for Intel to find out what was going on. Also, I wanted some photos of the AO as a memento of my Vietnam tour.
The O-2 actually had the provision for a belly-mounted KB-18 aerial camera, but we didn't have any KB-18s at DaNang. So, if we wanted to take photos, we relied on hand-held cameras. There were a bunch of beat up old Nikon Fs at the squadron, but they were really heavy and difficult to use with one hand. It was really tough to fly and take pictures at the same time.
Then, about two weeks earlier, we got new cameras, Pentax Spotmatics with motor drives. Each camera had a pistol-grip mount with a trigger to activate the shutter, and the focus was set at “infinity”, so there would be no problem with single-hand operation. I was really looking forward to giving them a try. I signed one out on a hand receipt and carried it to the plane.
Task Force Alpha had provided Igloo White information from the seismic sensors that indicated a lot of truck activity along highway 165, near Chavane. I headed directly to the Chavane area to see if I could find anything.
Chavane was an old abandoned grass airfield. Reflectors still lined the edges of the runway, and it almost looked like it could support aircraft operations at any moment. I'd heard that it was an old Japanese airfield from World War II.
There was a dead truck parked out in the open, off to the south side of the east end of the runway. About a year ago, it had been used as a flak trap for unsuspecting FACs, but the word had been out for a long time and nobody paid any attention to it any more. There were no longer active guns, that we knew of, in the area.
I followed highway 165 away from the airfield, and kept my camera on the seat next to me, ready to use if I found anything of interest. I put the highway on the left side of the airplane, and made gentle turns right and left. It was during the left turns that I would be able to see gomer activity, if there was any. The gomers thought we always looked ahead of the airplane, and they would frequently conduct their movements after we passed, thinking we couldn't see them once they were behind the wing.
Sure enough, back at my seven o'clock, I saw a truck cross the road, from the cover of the jungle on one side of the road to the cover of the jungle on the other side. I kept my eyes on the exact location and began a steeper turn back toward that area.
I picked out a distinctive landmark, a small bend in the road, and then looked further away to see if there were any other landmarks that could point my eyes back to the target. I used the runway at Chavane for a yardstick. The target was exactly one runway length north of the east end of the runway. The bend in the road sort of pointed to the target. Okay, now I could leave the immediate target area and find my way back.
I flew off to the east and set up an orbit over an area a few klicks away, to make the gomers think I was interested in something else. I turned on the gyro-stabilized binoculars, locked onto the target area, and zoomed in to the highest setting.
Sure enough, I saw some vehicle tracks in the dirt alongside the road that indicated truck activity. I was pretty sure there was a truck park there, I just couldn't determine which side of the road it was on. I flew back to the target area and made a wide sweeping circle, taking pictures from every angle. If I couldn't get any air assets, I would at least have photos to give to Intel.
I switched my transmitter over to VHF and called Hillsboro.
“Hillsboro, Covey 218, vicinity Delta 33. I have a truck park and need air.”
“Roger, Covey 218, we're sending Sharkbait 41 to you, flight of two fox fours, CBU-24s and mark-82s. ETA 10 minutes. Strike frequency Echo.”
“Roger, thank you.”
I looked forward to working with Sharkbait Flight. Sharkbait was the callsign of the F-4s from Cam Ranh Air Base. When I was at the Cam Ranh hospital, I went by the F-4 squadron a few times, just to visit with the jocks. I got to know a few of them, and they showed me around one of the airplanes in the maintenance hangar. Sitting in the cockpit convinced me that I really ought to request an F-4 for my follow-on assignment. That really worked out well!
I switched my UHF to strike frequency Echo and waited. After a few minutes, the F-4s arrived at the rendezvous.
“Hello, Covey 218, Sharkbait 41, flight of two fox fours at the rendezvous point. Mark-82s and CBU-24s. Angels twenty-two. Twenty minutes playtime.”
“Roger Sharkbait. Look due south, at angels seven. I'm giving you a wing flash now.”
I rocked my wings several times and performed a quick aileron roll. The O-2 wasn't really an acrobatic aircraft, but an aileron roll wasn't all that much different than the maneuver we needed to perform a rocket pass. And I wanted to get my rocks off one last time.
“We have you in sight, Covey.”
“Roger, the target area is off my left wing. Truck park. Negative reaction so far. I'm in for the mark.”
I rolled into a 120-degree bank to the left and pulled the nose of my aircraft through into a 30-degree dive. When the pipper in my gun sight tracked up to the target, I fired off a willie pete. I pulled off hard to the right, then banked left to see where my mark hit. It was a perfect mark, right on the road adjacent to my target.
“Sharkbait has your mark in sight.”
“Okay, Sharkbait, the target is a truck park on both sides of the road, alongside my mark. I want you to run in with mark-82s from north to south, with a break to the west. Lead, put your bombs in the trees next to my mark. Either side of the road. Two, I want you to take the other side of the road. I'll be holding off to the east.”
“Sharkbait lead is in.”
Sharkbait lead put his bombs exactly where I wanted, and we immediately got huge secondary explosions. As lead pulled off target, there was heavy fire at his aircraft from a ZSU 23-4, located about a klick to the west of the target.
I transmitted, “Number two, hold high and dry. I want to put you in on that gun. Do you have the location, or do you want me to mark?”
Before number two could answer, lead came back on the radio.
“Sharkbait lead's been hit.”
I immediately got on the radio again, “Lead, head south, I repeat, head south. Number two, hold high and dry.”
Sharkbait two acknowledged.
Sharkbait lead had apparently heard me, he was heading south. I could see flames trailing from lead's aircraft, and they were moving forward, gradually engulfing the entire aircraft.
I was fairly sure lead knew he was on fire, but I didn't want to take any chances. “Sharkbait lead, you're on fire!”
Now burning pieces were separating from lead's aircraft.
Lead came on the radio one last time.
“Sharkbait lead bailing out.”
Sharkbait lead's aircraft was in a slight bank to the right, at about 5000 feet. The rear canopy separated, followed immediately by the ejection of the rear seat pilot. About a half-second later, the front canopy separated and the front seat pilot ejected.
I was able to keep both ejection seats in sight, and watched in horror as the back seat pilot separated from his seat, his parachute automatically deployed, and the parachute didn't open – it was a streamer. He plummeted down into the jungle. There was no beeper.
I looked at the front pilot's seat and watched him separate. As his chute opened, I heard his high-to-low-sweep beeper on Guard. The front-seater had a good chute. I set up an orbit to the east and watched him descend, as I selected VHF and called Hillsboro.
“Mayday, mayday, mayday. Hillsboro, this is Covey 218, we have Sharkbait lead down in the area of Delta 33. Need immediate SAR.”
“Roger, Covey 218, we are notifying King.”
I switched back to UHF.
“Sharkbait two, say playtime remaining.”
“I can give you 30 minutes, then I need to RTB. Listen, Covey, we need to get a SAR for lead.”
“I'm working on it.”
“I mean,” he responded, “we really need to get lead picked up.”
“Roger, hold high and dry off to the east, over me. Climb to your best endurance altitude and let me know your angels when you get there. Left hand orbit. We're going to need to use you to go after that gun when SAR gets here.”
I watched the front-seat pilot descend to the ground. He landed in an open meadow. At least he wasn't hung up in the trees. I saw him release from his parachute harness and head south to find cover. Right after he disappeared into the tree line, the beeper went silent and he came up on Guard, using his survival radio.
“This is Sharkbait 41 Alpha. I'm on the move heading south. Unhurt.”
I saw about twenty gomers entering the meadow from the north. I went to Guard frequency.
“Sharkbait 41 Alpha, Covey 218, you need to keep moving. There are gomers north of you heading to where you came down.”
Back to strike frequency Echo.
“Sharkbait 42, Covey 218. I need to put you in with your CBU on the meadow. I'm in for the mark.”
I rolled in and put a willie pete dead center in the meadow. The gomers had flooded in and were now everywhere.
“Hit my mark. Cleared in hot with one CBU from any direction. I'll be off to the east.”
I watched Sharkbait 42 release his CBU, saw the spark that indicated the canister opened, then saw the donut-shaped sparkling pattern, right on target. I put the gyro-stabilized binoculars on the target area and saw a bunch of dead bodies. But I saw some gomers still moving through the meadow, headed south. And more were entering the meadow.
“Okay two, I need you to keep making passes on that target until you're winchester CBU.”
Sharkbait 42 made three more passes on the meadow, all right on target. There were a bunch of dead gomers. But there were still more coming in from the north.
Just then the ZSU 23-4 opened up again, this time targeting me. I jinked out of the way without too much trouble. I was getting good at dodge ball.
If I had to, I'd put Sharkbait 42 in on the gun now, but I wanted to reserve his mark-82s for the SAR. I went over to VHF.
“Hillsboro, Covey 218, what's the status of the SAR?”
“Covey 218, Jolly 22 is departing NKP now with Spad 11 Flight. ETA 30 minutes.”
“Roger, I need more air for the cap right now. I don't care what ordnance. I want them ASAP.”
“We're scrambling Dingus Flight from Ubon. They should be there in fifteen to twenty minutes.”
Shit. It looked like the gomers would be on top of Alpha before my air arrived.
Over to Guard.
“Four-one Alpha, say your position.”
“I'm still moving south. I hear automatic weapons fire coming from where I landed. I'm at the edge of a tree line now, alongside what looks like an old grass strip.”
“Okay Alpha, Covey 218. Cross the strip and hide in the tree line on the other side, the south side.”
Strike Frequency Echo.
“Sharkbait 42, I need to put your mark-82s on the tree line, north side of the midfield of that grass strip. Do you have the strip in sight?”
“Okay, hold high and dry until I call you in. Be ready to roll in on short notice.”
I checked out the tree line on the north side of the runway. No gomers yet. I kept checking, and after a few minutes the gomers appeared. I could see flashes. They were firing at Alpha.
“Sharkbait 42 roll in now, parallel to the runway, in the tree line, midfield, north side. North side only.”
His bombs were right on target. He held for a few more minutes, then made another run. And another.
“Sharkbait two is winchester.”
“Any chance you have twenty mike-mike?” I was hoping he had a cannon, but I already knew what the answer would be.
“Negative. Sharkbait 42 is bingo.”
“Roger, Sharkbait, cleared RTB. I'll pass BDA over the landline.”
Back to VHF.
“Hillsboro, I need those fighters and SAR, NOW”
There was a short pause. My guess was that Hillsboro was contacting Jolly and Dingus.
“Ten more minutes.”
Fuck! We didn't have ten minutes. The gomers were everywhere in the north tree line, muzzle flashes everywhere. I still had 12 willie petes left. Time to become an attack aircraft.
I rolled in on a rocket pass down the runway, angling in slightly toward the north. I fired off one willie pete at a time, and made 12 passes.
I was now a war criminal.
The Geneva Convention prohibited the use of white phosphorous weapons. The willie pete rocket explodes with the lethal radius of a hand grenade, and the phosphorous sticks to the skin and burns at a temperature of five thousand degrees. It's terrible. It's illegal.
So is skinning a helpless captive. Or shooting at someone descending in a parachute. Or setting up a flak trap. Or shooting rockets at helpless South Vietnamese civilians.
And besides, we were fighting a fucking war in Laos, where our government didn't even acknowledge our presence. Every fucking mission got logged as “South Vietnam”. We weren't even there, so the Geneva Convention wouldn't apply. And if it did, I didn't give a fuck. I wasn't going to let those bastards get Alpha.
I was out of willie petes, and SAR was still eight or nine minutes away.
Over to Guard.
“How are you doing, Alpha?”
“The gomers have me pinned down on the south side of the runway. They're shooting at me from across the runway and also from somewhere south of me.”
I had to do something. I climbed to 5000 feet and feathered my rear prop. Then I released my lap belt and moved to the passenger seat, opened the passenger door, and pulled the red door release handle. With the rear prop feathered, I didn't need to worry about the door hitting the rear prop as I jettisoned it. As soon as the door was gone, I unfeathered the rear prop, and the engine started right up.
I opened the karabiner that attached my AR-15 to my survival vest, put the rifle in full auto, and pushed the throttles to the firewall to fly down the runway at max airspeed. I went down to about five feet, screaming down the runway, firing my AR-15 out the open door at the north tree line. I emptied the 20-round clip in about a second. Shit! I should have used short bursts.
I pulled up into a chandelle, put another magazine in the AR-15, and made another run,. This time I was shooting out the left window. It was a smaller opening to shoot through, but it would have to do. Ejected shell casings hammered against the instrument panel. The glass on the Vertical Speed Indicator cracked. I didn't care.
Over to VHF.
“Status on the SAR.”
“Five more minutes.”
“We don't have five fucking minutes!”
If I didn't get Alpha out of there right now, there would be no use having a SAR.
Over to Guard.
“Alpha, how high is the grass on the runway?”
“Not very high. Maybe eight, ten inches.”
“Okay, get ready to go for an airplane ride.”
I jettisoned my rocket pods and dove for the ground. I needed to get as low as I could as I approached the runway, so they wouldn't see me coming. I unsynchronized my propellers, so that the engines would make a beat frequency sound, making it more difficult to determine my location by ear.
I came in from the west. As I crossed over the end of the strip, I put down the landing gear and pulled the throttles to idle. I touched down a third of the way down the runway, and rapidly slowed to a crawl right at midfield. I suppose the gomers were totally surprised, because there was no ground fire. None. Alpha came running from the tree line and leaped through the open door into the passenger seat while the plane was still moving.
I firewalled the throttles and hoped I still knew how to perform a soft-field takeoff. I got airborne and stayed in ground effect, trying to accelerate.
The gomers quickly caught on to what I was doing, and opened up from the tree lines, both left and right, with massive automatic weapons fire. I could hear our aircraft taking a few hits, but it was still flying. I think the gomers hadn't gotten the hang of leading a moving target. They'd probably never gone quail hunting.
I handed the AR-15 to Alpha and tried to tell him to kill those bastards. The sound of the engines, the open door, and the ground fire drowned out what I was saying, but he caught on and started shooting out the door. I could see gomers firing back, and some were falling down as he fired.
I climbed up to 5000 feet and tried to figure out which way to head. The front engine was starting to run rough, and my fuel gauges showed a huge discrepancy between the left and right tanks. I must have taken a hit in the right wing. I headed toward Lima 44, about 50 miles due west.
I still had work to do. I didn't want the SAR forces coming anywhere near that ZSU 23-4. I got on VHF.
“Hillsboro, cancel the SAR. Keep the SAR airplanes away from Delta 33. There's an active 23 mike-mike in the area. I have Sharkbait 41 Alpha in my aircraft. We've taken numerous hits, and we're recovering at Lima 44. Send Jolly 22 to Lima 44 for our pickup.”
“Roger. We'll pass the info.”
The front engine quit about two miles on final approach to Lima 44. Now I would need to pump the gear down, since the hydraulic pump was on the front engine. I feathered the front prop, put down the gear handle, reached down, extended the manual hydraulic pump handle, and started pumping. Then it occurred to me: I had a helper. I made a pumping motion with my right hand.
“Here. Pump this,” I said. He probably didn't hear me, but he figured out what to do.
The gear came down about a half-mile on final, and we had an uneventful landing. I followed a beat-up follow-me truck, probably the same one as last time, and shut down the airplane. When we got out, Alpha gave me a big hug. He didn't want to release me, and he was shaking.
I knew how he felt. I hugged him back, and then we both started crying.
“I, I don't know how to thank you. I'm Herb McCall.”
“I'm Hamfist Hancock. No problem, Herb. I've been in your situation, and I understand completely.”
Just like last time, Jolly 22 landed in the parking spot next to our airplane. I reached into my plane and grabbed the AR-15 and the Pentax, and then we climbed aboard the chopper. I went up to the cockpit and saw Vince.
“Hey, Vince, we've got to stop meeting this way! I'm on my Champagne Flight”
“You got that right, Hamfist. So am I.”
Alpha took off his survival vest and guzzled down the water the PJ handed to him.
When his vest was off, I saw the rank insignia on his shoulders. Alpha was a Brigadier General!
This advice is my opinion only!
Goal: avoid being infected, and avoid being placed on No-Fly list!
Now more than ever, preparation is key.
If you are in the high-risk group (over 65, asthma, heart disease, other underlying disease) don’t fly.
Avoid Low Cost Carriers (LCCs)
Get vaccinated and take a photo of your vaccination card.
Enhance your immunity with zinc lozenges and IGg.
Don’t fly if you have a cold.
If traveling overseas, check with State Department (www.travel.state.gov).
Check with Centers for Disease Control (www.cdc.gov) for latest risk information, including quarantine requirements, at your destination.
Consider travel medical insurance policy, including medevac. May be included in your platinum card.
Keep all prescriptions with you, not checked bags. Use national pharmacy chain.
Conditions changing day by day. Reminds me of how we improvised securing the cockpit post 9/11.
no shorts or flip-flops!
I recommend long pants for women as well as men, and no high-heel shoes for women
I will discuss evacuation shortly
Face mask - actually TWO face masks (in case head band breaks) carbon filter n95
aerotoxic syndrome - only B787 does not use bleed air from pneumatic system
Bring empty water bottle - fill at filing station, not water fountain
Hand sanitizer - Bring up to 12 ounces of sanitizer - possibly screening delay
Take your temperature before leaving home
If it’s above 100 you may not be allowed on the airplane
Get COVID test before/after trip
Put ALL medications into hand-carried bags
fanny pack even better
Check in kiosk - use smart phone vs touch screen
TSA bins probably filthy
Wash hands after TSA screening
Consider taking disposable gloves
airline cabins have very low humidity
low humidity makes it harder for your body to fight off viruses
some aircraft, such as A350 and B787, have humidification systems.
Don’t drink alcohol - many airlines no longer serve alcohol
cabin typically at 8000 feet
already party hypoxic
being drunk is a type of hypoxia
easier to get drunk at altitude
Bring reading material, computer or kindle - DO NOT touch inflight magazine (if it exists)
Disinfect ALL seat surroundings
seat belt buckle
safety information card
You may be sitting next to a total stranger - not all airlines block middle seats.
Direct air vent onto yourself
Pay attention to FA safety briefing
DO NOT argue with FA, even if they're wrong!
Lavatories - disinfect EVERYTHING you touch!
faucet will not give you 20 seconds to wash hands AND water may not be safe! - use hand sanitizer instead
disinfect everything again when you return to seat, including hands
Evac - Keep your shoes on for takeoff and landing
All occupants must be able to evacuate thru half exits in 90 seconds
One FA per 50 pax, more if needed to pass evac test
Luggage claim - sanitize luggage surfaces