Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Just good ol’ boys. Never meanin’ no harm . . .

As all you regular readers will no doubt remember, way back in the dark ages (Vietnam era) I used to fly F-4 Phantom jets off the USS Forrestal.

For a long time I didn’t really keep up with any of the other pilots from my squadron, but more recently contacts have been reestablished. You know how older men love to reminisce about the good old days. So now I exchange emails occasionally with some of the guys.

Probably my all-time favorite was my squadron Commanding Officer (CDR Ron Miller) during my second cruise to the Mediterranean. This was back during the old cold war, and the primary role of the sixth fleet in the Med was one of “showing the flag” and serving as an armed presence to deter any possible aggression by . . . whoever.

Why was Ron my favorite? As the skipper, he could choose any pilot he wanted to be his wingman, and he wanted me. Now each one of us thought KNEW we were personally the best pilot in the squadron. The ultimate measure (as in the movie “Top Gun”) was which pair of pilots could whip other pilots in dogfighting.

Oh, excuse me. We didn’t call it “dogfighting.” We called it “ACM,” an acronym for “Air Combat Maneuvering.” EVERY phrase had its acronym in those days, but it was still dogfighting.

Well, Ron and I just seemed to intuitively know what the other was going to do in advance. We worked so well as a team that the two of us in two-plane formation almost never lost a dogfight. Truth be told, I probably wasn’t a better pilot than any of the rest of them (although I’d have fought you if you said that in public back then). It was just one of those synergies where the two of us together were better than any other two, and even better than either one of us when paired with a different wingman.

Kinda like Simon and Garfunkel. Each was good, but together they were special and unlike any other duo.

Okay, all that to say this:

Last week Ron Miller cc’ed me on an email he sent to another of his friends who had served in the US Air Force on Crete during the time we were in the med. I am the “wingie” John he refers to. And yes, I remember the incident very well.

Here's a little story about one of my days on Crete. I was the CO of VF-11, the "World Famous Red Rippers" (oldest continuous fighter squadron in the Navy.) We were on USS Forrestal for a 7 month Med cruise. Ship dropped anchor on the W. end, S. side of the island late in the afternoon. We had sent about 6 of our birds (F4s) to the airfield just above us there on the West end.

The Greeks flew F-84s from there. My wingman and I were scheduled to fly first thing the next morning. So, early on, we gathered our flight gear and were hauled ashore in one of the ship's boats. I had a really good young pilot as my "wingie" so decided to act up a bit, and we planned it all out.

We were taking off to the South, which would take us nearly over the ship. I rolled first, to be followed by John just seconds later. It was gear up, leave her in afterburner, nose over crossing the bluff, then pull up into the first half of a huge loop. John intercepted me near the top, and joined up as we rolled out on heading. I don't remember, but I suspect that we were over 10,000 feet.

On return an hour or so later, we came into the "break" at 450 knots in tight formation, etc. Great fun.

Just after landing, my Ops officer found me and said: "Better lay low because the CAG (Commander, Air Group) is looking for you." The aircrew briefing on the ship (which we missed) said the Greeks had pretty strict air rules, so don't do anything out of the ordinary -- no aerobatics, no high speeds, etc.

So, what happened to me? Nothing at all. You see, the CAG was a bit of a cutup himself (but that's another story.)

Yep, that was us back in the glory days. Spending the taxpayers money having fun.

Just Good Ol’ Boys. Never Meanin’ No Harm.


Hale McKay said...

Like the movie "Top Gun," do naval pilots actually have names like "Maverick"?

If so, what was yours?

kenju said...

Your experiences must be similar to mr. kenju's when he played ball. He had guys whom he could read so well he knew what they were going to do before they did it.

Duke_of_Earle said...


Yes, just like in the movie. My "call sign" and thus nickname was . . . (can't you guess?) . . . DUKE. All in reference to the old Gene Chandler song "Duke of Earl."

Maybe not very original, but back then everybody "got" it.

Zinnia said...

Wow! A pilot! I can only imagine what that must be like.

Duke_of_Earle said...


Just watch Tom Cruise in "Top Gun." That is actually very much the way it was. Fly hard, play hard, act macho, and strive to be "the best of the best."

But as for the physical sensations and emotional thrill of being shot off a catapult, or traveling at mach 1.2 while only a few dozen feet off the ground -- well, those are very hard to describe and do justice to.


Jack K. said...

I remember those days quite well. In fact, there are a bunch of us "Old Bastards" who meet regularly at the Ft. Leavenworth golf course snack bar Friday mornings to tell war stories. There is a blog where such stories can be posted. I would like to invite you to share some of yours. If you would send me an email an invitation will be forthcoming.