You survived Vietnam, but what about its aftermath?

Four decades after the Vietnam War, many veterans are still questioning why me? Some still suffer form post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. For many honorable service men and women, it is a condition that just won’t go away.  According to one veteran, “we all came back with some form of PTSD, some were just more affected than others.”

As a trauma nurse, I have seen this over and over in my patients. As a writer, I have heard this over and over from my military colleagues, whether they were in the air or on the ground. This issue was called shell shock in WWII. It was worse after Korea and continued it’s increase post-Vietnam. And now is horrific according the number of cases from our Iraq and Afghanistan vets.  In fact, the type of PTSD being seen in many of our current combat veterans is so bad, it is called moral bankruptcy. Our military are being asked to do and see such horrific things, going against the very fiber of their being for what they know to be just and right, the consequences are catastrophic.

Captain Robert “Gene” Lathrop was a USMC pilot who believes he went to Vietnam with a form of PTSD. He arrived there in 1968, interestingly enough, during the TET offensive. During fifteen months, he flew over 275 missions. While in Vietnam, his squadron VMA-311 flew 54,625 sorties dropping over 9 million tons of bombs. That record will never be broken.

picture of pilot Robert Gene Lathrop

Captain Robert “Gene” Lathrop, USMC

Lathrop returned seemingly unscathed until ten years after the fact. That delay in the onset of PTSD is common in vets. What started as nightmares and cold sweats, quickly progressed to anxiety and hallucinations involving the flames of napalm. Desperate to hold onto his second marriage, he and his wife initially sought counseling. Luckily,  a female psychotherapist up on the latest research broached the touchy subject – she suggested that Gene was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Initially he balked at the thought of treatment. But further conflict with family and an incident as work provocated his admission for in-patient treatment at American Lakes VA center.

During the 1980s, therapist and psychologists were treating the disorder the best way they knew how.  Oftentimes opening up a damn of emotion which release a hurricane of feelings for which the patient was not prepared.  Sessions were intense with profound rage, grief, tears, and sorrow as veterans were encouraged to bring out long repressed memories.  When the emotions became unmanageable, the answer was medication.  Heavy sedatives, anti-psychotics, and anti-anxiety drugs were the fixers. Or so they thought.

Through the love and support of his wife, Gene endured this therapy, its aftermath, and finally experienced an evolved standard of care for those with PTSD. In the research for the completion of his memoir ETERNALLY AT WAR, I came across many veterans who told a similar story. Much of this material came from the Vietnam Center and Archive at Texas Tech University, the largest national repository of oral histories, photography, film and literature that has been converted by the graduate students into digital format such that the memories of those involved in Vietnam, from doughnut dollies to pilots can be preserved.eternally-at-war-ecoversmall

According to Dr. Richard Verrone, previous Director of the Oral History Project, “The archive is invaluable for many reasons but especially for preserving the history of the Vietnam War and, in the process of doing so, honoring those who served.  We tried to make sure our work was thorough, accurate, personal, and beneficial to future researchers. And, of course, our work was a way to honor those people we interviewed. It was incredibly rewarding to me to be able to help veterans with their PTSD issues as we did the interviews, if that was a possibility.  I certainly made the effort to broach the subject if they were willing, and I wanted to get it out there, to remove any layers that were there, to help those who would research in the interviews better understand this terrible condition.  As an instructor here at Texas Tech in the Department of History, I have had in my classes over the years many veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Their PTSD issues mirror almost exactly those in the Vietnam interviews.”

Some veterans had coped by simply forgetting the past and moving on. Even talking about the war, brought heavy emotions back to the surface. Many of those interviewed for my research could not complete the process. Although some veterans find comfort in hanging out with their peers in the form of reunions or gatherings at a local VFW,  Lathrop found comfort in dealing with the aftermath of Vietnam through the written word. His powerful and frank poetry in THE DARK SIDE OF HEAVEN and now his brutally honest memoir are a brilliant window into the atrocities of a controversial war and the survival of its aftermath. He believed that society has a responsibility to care for all veterans when they return to peacetime and aid them to recovery after their sacrifices. “We owe it to the Vietnam generation, it’s an amazing sacrifice that they made. But it’s also the path ahead for the Iraq and Afghanistan generation. We have to do better than we did for Vietnam,” according to Dr. Charles Marmar, Director of The Steven & Alexandra Cohen Veterans Center at NYU Langone Medical Center. AgeView Press agrees and therefore is honored to produce Lathrop’s works.

 

 

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The Dark Side of Heaven – one Vietnam pilot’s perspective on the atrocities of war

What does it take to erase memories of the atrocities of war? Many a veteran of conflict struggle with this question. Through withdrawal, social faux paux, story telling or even failed self-medication with mind altering substances they attempt to numb the horrific images, sounds, nightmares, panic attacks, moral questioning paranoia and psychoses as survivors of war.  Welcome to the world of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Our Vietnam veterans attempt to cope with this each and every day. They celebrate their successes in reunions and camaraderie, but for some, when they return home and are alone in their private thoughts, the negative thoughts return. Like an incessant, never-ending trauma.

A-4 Skyhawk

Marine A-4 Skyhawk

In 2012, I had the fortuitous luck to come upon a pilot’s manuscript called ETERNALLY AT WAR while researching the Vietnam Center and Archives at Texas Tech University.  From its first pages, I was captivated. Captain Robert “Gene” Lathrop was a Marine pilot for VMA 311 out of Chu Lai. He was writing about the base and USO club I wanted to feature, Chu Lai and was also writing about the air war in Vietnam.  He flew the McDonnell Douglas A-4 Skyhawk. The plane I wanted to write about. What luck!

Who knew that graduate students had taken scads of oral histories recorded, photographs, manuscripts, and memorabilia and converted them to digital medium for preservation. The Vietnam Center at TTU was a goldmine! How awesome that the intimate details of this controversial war were being preserved! As a Red Raider alum, I had no idea this even existed! Way to go Big Red!!

Using some sleuth techniques, I was able to track down Gene’s address in Washington. After thoroughly devouring his manuscript, I was anxious to speak to him about its content. I reached his wife who informed that sadly, Gene had passed away only months before. I was heartbroken. I explained that I was a writer and what I wished to do with the material. After some thought, she graciously granted me the rights to utilize some of his stories for my historical fiction novel SOLO VIETNAM.

As I was crafting SOLO VIETNAM, I propped Gene’s picture up next to the computer. It was like we were penning it together. I felt honored to be in his world and indeed his presence. SOLO VIETNAM featured many of Gene’s missions which were weaved into my feature character, a Navy pilot with VA 153 off the USS Coral Sea CVA-43 WestPac cruise of 1967-68.  SOLO VIETNAM was awarded the silver medal by the Military Writer’s Association, featured at Tailhook 2014 by the A-4 Skyhawk Association, and won fourth place in the Readers’ Favorite 2014 book awards. Gene would have been so proud.

picture of pilot Robert Gene Lathrop

Captain Robert “Gene” Lathrop

After reviewing the books, his wife asked if I would turn his entire manuscript into a memoir. I was honored and said “YES!!”  During the research for ETERNALLY AT WAR’s production, we discussed including how post-traumatic stress disorder greatly affected many of the veterans returning from Vietnam. She revealed how it had impacted Gene some ten years after his return. How initially, no one knew what it was. Gene’s sister related how many family members and friends would politely smile, yet roll their eyes, tired of his repeated stories. She requested that I cover that in the book, as a message to others. Again, I was humbled to be challenged with the task.

But Gene sent me an internal message from above. He had a better idea. Going back into the archive, I discovered that the graduate students had been very busy beavers indeed. There now were several documents in the archive, including a manuscript of Gene’s poems and an oral transcript. His family was thrilled. It was amazing to hear his voice.

Although I continue to work on ETERNALLY AT WAR, I am pleased to announce that Gene’s other book, a collection of poems written about his experiences flying in Vietnam, the conflict, and the aftermath will be released in time for Christmas 2015!!!!  It is called THE DARK SIDE OF HEAVEN. So make your plans now to reserve a copy of the beautiful collection of prose, photography, and pen and ink drawings depicting the Vietnam conflict and its aftermath to be published by AgeView Press.

pastel portrait of Robert Gene Lathrop

Gene Lathrop, USMC retired pastel painting by Susan Hirst

I feel strongly that Gene is dancing a jig to know that his words will find meaning in the comrades, friends, and families of Vietnam veterans affected by the perils of PTSD. He believed the required acts delegated to servicemen during war inflicted a moral bankruptcy which threatened their psyche and well being upon their return.  Thus provoking PTSD.

Enjoy an excerpt, indeed the title poem from the upcoming release THE DARK SIDE OF HEAVEN.

THE DARK SIDE OF HEAVEN

It’s two in the morning here comes the fire.

They’re still shooting low, but they’ll walk it up higher.

I’m on bearing to target, ten thousand to go.

“Roger, I copy, turning left three five oh.”

Out to the east, orange balls of flame

Are bursting right now, from where we just came

I’m approaching the target, five thousand to go

“Roger, I copy, fifteen knots slow.”

Only three thousand meters, and I’ll be headin’ back

For a shot of French cognac, and some time in the rack.

I feel a big buck and six eggs for free,

I’m clearing the target, heading east to the sea.”

Once clear of the target, I’ll fly just offshore

Heading south to recovery and just watch the war.

I’m totally drained and this planes not the best.

“This is Hellborne, Vice Squad; keep me clear to the nest.”

Look, there is a Spooky, a spittin’ out lead

to the west of Dong Ha, the ground will be red.

There’s a fire near that Base, it’s at three o’clock

“I see it, Vice Squad, it’s that big floating dock.

I’m coming up on the lights of the city of Hue

‘Twas overrun during Tet; taken back during May

That big flash at twelve, is the Jersey at play

“I’ve got her, Vice Squad, her salvo’s away

All those lights off to starboard are at Danang

Where the bomb dumps went up with a helluva bang

Those tracers at one are at little Ho’ An

“Chu Lai’s under fire; we’ll land if we can.”

I get so damned tired, flying three hops a day

I just get numb, that’s all I can say

The base is secure; no more enemy fire

“I’m coming in approach, and takin’ a wire.

There’s flares on final, but I’ve made the decision

 I’ll be going in hook down, without my night vision.

 If Hades was the earth and with firepits in the sky

 The center of Hell would be at Chu Lai.

I’ve got three down & locked, and dropping the hook

 I’ll be takin’ the wire, just like in a book.

The arrest was just perfect, I’m so good it’s a sin.

“What the hell do you mean? You got rockets comin in.”

The rockets are comin like a spew from a fount

But on the Dark Side of Heaven such matters don’t count.

 I’m back in the deck and out of the sky

It’s a hell of a home, but it’s ours at Chu Lai.

Written by Captain Robert “Gene” Lathrop, UMSC during treatment for PTSD on Ward 7A, VAMC American Lake, 1987

 

Lady Jessie Beck and the Navy Ghostriders – Belle of Steel #12

It isn’t any secret that the ultimate gift is giving without expecting anything in return.   As the first woman to own a casino in Nevada, for rootin’ tootin’ Jesse Beck, it was second nature.   Jessie was a colorful, spirited woman with an independent streak.  But to VA – 164, a group of Navy attack pilots who flew the A-4 Skyhawk, she was a woman with a heart of gold.

A patriot with the gift of giving.

A patriot with the gift of giving, Jessie Beck.

While on a holiday in Texas, “Pappy” Harold Smith, who owned Harold’s Club in Nevada during the late 1930s, offered Beck a job as a roulette dealer.  He noted her quick mathematical skills while she was working as a cashier, post two divorces.  Never afraid of a new adventure, Jessie packed her bags and relocated to Reno.  She quickly rose through the casino ranks, building a reputation for friendliness and good business sense.  This did not go unnoticed by Fred Beck, who owned and operated the keno, poker, pan and horse race booking concessions at Harold’s Club.  Not able to resist Jessie’s charm, Fred became Jessie’s third husband.  When Fred died in 1954, Jessie, now a widow, took over the operations.

She spent most of her time at the casino roaming the floors, and serving her customers, sometimes staying until three in the morning.  It was not unlike her to take over a 21 game and deal for hours, which is how she met a young future Navy pilot, Richard Perry who worked part time as a dealer.  His dream was to fly jets.  Jessie was moved by his story, and took him under her wing.  She befriended and encouraged him,often bringing him home for homemade meals.  Dick became Jessie’s pseudo-adopted son.  It was a proud moment for Jessie when Richard Perry was commissioned in 1957 and winged circa 1958.   Part of Naval aviation training took place out at Naval Air Station Fallon, just east of Reno.   Jessie would give out baskets of goodies, including playing cards and such from the casino to the young, love-starved pilots.

Lt. Commander Dick Perry, VA-164

LCDR Dick Perry, VA-164

But good times were not to last.  Dick was assigned to VA-164, the Ghostriders who flew the A-4 Skyhawk and was deployed to the Western Pacific to conduct bombing missions in Vietnam.  During his cruise time, Jessie continued sending the care packages.  In no time, the entire squadron came to know and love the generous gifts sent over from Lady Jessie, as they deemed her.   As homage to Beck, Perry had his A-4 painted with Lady Jessie on its side.

Unfortunately, while flying his Lady Jessie, tragedy stuck during Perry’s second WestPac cruise.  During the summer of 1967, Perry, now a Lieutenant Commander, served as VA-164’s division lead and led a strike into Haiphong off the USS Oriskany, CVA-34.  A surface to air missile struck the underbelly of Dick’s Skyhawk. Watching fuel stream out of his plane, Perry turned toward the Tonkin Gulf, speaking calmly to his wingman watching the disaster in horror.  As they reached the coastline, Dick became silent, his A-4 engulfed in flames.  As the plane rolled out of control, he ejected about a mile from the shoreline.  His chute deployed, but due to massive chest wounds received on impact, Perry remained lifeless in the water.  The helo attempting to rescue him came under heavy fire, and it became impossible to retrieve Dick’s body.LadyJessie A-4

As can be expected, upon hearing the news, Jessie was heartbroken.  But she forged on, spent hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars sending care packages to Vietnam servicemen, especially, VA-164.  The squadron honored the gracious lady from Reno even after LCDR Dick Perry’s death by displaying her name on each commanding officer’s aircraft.  This continued until the squadron was disestablished in 1975.

In 1967, the Nevada Gaming Commission revoked the gaming license of a casino named the Riverside over a dice-cheating scandal, shutting it down in 1968.  Shortly after, Beck lost the lease to the concessions at Harold’s in 1970 when the club was sold to the Hughes Corporation, who subsequently terminated most of the club’s staff.  Jessie was irate, but was not going to take this latest blow without a fight.  In 1971, Beck scraped up the money and bought the Riverside Casino for three million dollars.  To the delight of many, she rehired the majority of the former Harold’s Club employees.

Jessie's Riverside Casino

Jessie’s Riverside Casino

Now known as the Gambling Grandmother of Reno, Lady Jessie continued to give back, sharing her good fortunes to support military personnel all over the world.  She was bestowed with the Award of Merit, the highest honor the Defense Department can give a civilian, in 1968.  In 1969, the governor of Nevada named her a Distinguished Nevadan.  She was honored at a reunion of VA-164 and VA -163 pilots in the late 1970s.  A lifetime member of the St. Mary’s Hospital Guild, the Washoe County Medical Center League and the VFW Auxilliary, staunch Republican and pro-defense Lady Jessie continued to serve the military she loved.

In 1978, Harrah’s bought out the Riverside Casino which allowed Jessie to finally retire.  In 1987, LCDR Richard Perry’s  remains were returned, having been recovered previously by native fisherman when washed ashore from the Tonkin Gulf. Twenty years had passed since Lady Jessie had endured his loss.  A building had since been dedicated to Dick at the NAS Fallon. Fittingly, this loving warrior was buried in Arlington National Cemetery with our country’s heroes.  Family, Ghostriders, and other fellow officers, many by then of flag rank as Dick surely would have been, gathered from far and near, including his adopted mother, Lady Jessie.

Pilots of VA-164 and VA-163 with Lady Jessie

Pilots of VA-164 and VA-163 with Lady Jessie

On July 17th, 1987, Jessie Beck died at the age of eighty-three.  All that knew her described her as a not only a credit to the gaming industry and to the state of Nevada, but a great business woman.   However for VA-164, Jessie Beck was honored and remembered as a loving, caring, and generous person.  “We all held her in the highest regard.  More than anything else, Jessie was a lady.”The Navy’s ideals are honor, courage and committment.  Lady Jessie Beck lived out these ideals and became the darling to many of our military.  In honor of her service to our country, through her patronage of the  mighty Ghostriders of VA-64, AgeView Press is honored to posthumously name Lady Jessie Beck, Belle of Steel #12.

Did John McCain have the “Right stuff?”

This wonderful post is a bit long, but worth the read! Great spin and take on fighter pilots vs. attack squadron pilots. It was written by my dear friend and colleague, the iconic Zalin Grant, whose book Over the Beach is considered the book about the airwar in Vietnam.  Enjoy and please post a comment!   He would love to read them.

The Day John McCain Got Shot Down   Zalin Grant War Tales

Did He Show the Right Stuff?

By Zalin Grant

John McCain received mixed reviews from fellow pilots when he arrived on the USS Oriskany in 1967, a month before he was shot down and captured. Cal Swanson, commander of fighter squadron VF-162, was enthusiastic.  Swanson thought McCain proved he had the right stuff by getting himself assigned to the Oriskany, an aircraft carrier sailing off the coast of North Vietnam in the South China Sea.  The Oriskany had seen more combat and suffered heavier casualties than any ship in the Vietnam War. McCain’s own aircraft carrier, the USS Forrestal, had been put out of action by a horrific fire two months earlier.

 After the Forrestal fire, McCain was assigned to Saigon as a navy PR aide.  He was perfect for the job—handsome, charming, witty.  He had met R.W. (Johnny) Apple, a well-known reporter for the New York Times, and Apple had smoothed his way in Saigon by introducing him to journalists and to the U.S. military and civilian command. 

 John McCain could have served out his tour flacking for the navy and having a lot of fun doing it—dining at Saigon’s French restaurants and hitting the bars full of pretty Vietnamese girls.  But McCain wanted to get back into combat.  He had completed only five missions before the Forrestal fire.  Cal Swanson thought McCain’s attitude reflected well on his courage and patriotism.

Navy pilot John McCain

Navy pilot John McCain

 McCain would not be joining VF-162, Swanson’s fighter squadron, however.  McCain was not a fighter pilot, although in later years the media would perpetuate the mistaken belief that he was. Trained as an A-4 bomber pilot, he was assigned to attack squadron VA-163, which had an illustrious history.  James Stockdale, a legend in the war, had commanded the squadron—and the air wing—before he was shot down and captured.

 Still, a lot of pilots on the ship were not as enthusiastic as Swanson about McCain.  They were not really convinced that he had the right stuff. Naval aviation was a small, tightly-knit community made up of highly-trained men with large egos and a fiercely competitive nature. Even if they did not know each other personally, everybody was linked together via the gossip hotline, and McCain’s reputation had preceded him to the Oriskany.

 Some of the negativity was not his fault. His family background was bound to stir skepticism and jealousy.  McCain’s grandfather had been a highly-decorated admiral in World War Two. His father, John S. McCain II, also an admiral, would soon become commander-in-chief of all forces in the Pacific, making him the highest ranking officer in the Vietnam War.

 In military terms, John Sidney McCain III was born with two silver spoons in his mouth.  It was something he evidently considered later in life to be both a blessing and a curse.

 Nevertheless, McCain had acted as though he was determined to show all those who were inclined to think the worst of him that they were right.  As he wrote in his book Faith of My Fathers, “I did not enjoy the reputation of a serious pilot or an up-and-coming junior officer.” His record as a midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy was dismal. He piled up demerits left and right for breaking the rules, and barely passed his schoolwork, graduating 894th in a class of 899.

 That might have been checked off to youthful rebellion.  Plenty of kids spent their college years partying but then sobered up after they were slapped in the face by the reality of making it in the outside world. But after he left Annapolis, McCain continued to show the same attitude that had almost got him kicked out of the naval academy.  He barely passed flight school. And then he crashed two airplanes and damaged a third.

 The first crash took place during advanced flight training at Corpus Christi, Texas. According to McCain, the engine stalled while he was practicing landings. The plane fell into the water of the bay just off the airfield and knocked him unconscious. McCain woke up and somehow managed to get out of the cockpit and escaped serious injury. Investigators reported that they started the recovered engine without any problem, and their report left open the possibility of pilot error.

Worst naval accident since WWII.  McCain's plane was struck by a missile aboard the USS Forrestal.

Worst naval accident since WWII. McCain’s plane was struck by a missile aboard the USS Forrestal.

The next accident took place in Spain while McCain was assigned to an aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean Sea. He tried to fly his propeller-driven A-1 fighter-bomber under a row of pylon-supported electric power lines.  This was a “hotdogging” stunt by U.S. pilots in Europe that had caused outrage.  McCain’s plane hit and damaged the lines so badly that thousands of people lost power.

 “My daredevil clowning had cut off electricity to a great many Spanish homes,” McCain wrote later, “and created a small international incident.”

 In 1965, McCain flew a navy airplane to Philadelphia to attend the Army-Navy football game. On the way back to his base in Norfolk, Virginia, the plane’s engine quit, he said, so he bailed out.  The plane crashed and was destroyed.

 In the U.S. Navy, for a pilot to crash one plane was pushing it.  To crash two often resulted in an official investigation to determine if he should be taken off flight status.  How McCain got away with crashing two airplanes and smashing power lines in Spain was a mystery, although other pilots thought it had to do with his family connections.

 McCain volunteered for Vietnam and was assigned to an A-4 bomber squadron on the USS Forrestal.  He was soon to be 31 years old and held the rank of lieutenant commander, equal to that of army major.  On the morning of July 29, 1967, McCain was sitting in the cockpit of his Skyhawk waiting to be launched by the ship’s catapult. Another plane accidentally set off a Zuni missile that hit the fuel tank of McCain’s A-4, touching off a fire that spread rapidly across the ship. McCain managed to escape injury, but 134 sailors died and many others were badly burned.

 It was the worst U.S. Navy accident since World War Two and the fourth serious accident McCain had been involved in since becoming a pilot.  His reputation for being a “hotdog”—a show-off pilot who broke the rules—led to rumors that McCain had caused the fire by trying to scare the pilot behind him by suddenly shooting flames out of his tail exhaust.  There was no evidence McCain was at fault and the fire was ruled accidental. But the rumors persisted.

 The USS Forrestal fire was the worst naval accident since World War II. It started after a rocket hit John McCain’s plane.

 McCain also developed a reputation for volatility. He was a fun-guy and made friends easily.  But he lost friends easily, too. He had a quick temper and was prone to flare up over minor incidents. As his best friend from the early years said, “John could piss people off.” 

 McCain’s squadron on the Oriskany was composed of 15 alpha males who spent most of their time when they weren’t flying or sleeping in a ready room no bigger than a medium-sized living room at home. Above all, they admired officers who remained cool and calm under all circumstances. McCain’s squadron commander, Bryan Compton, was considered the ideal officer, though no one wanted to sit near him in the ready room because the flight suit of “Magnolia,” as the squadron called him, usually smelled to high heaven.

 “I would have followed Bryan Compton anywhere,” said Dick Wyman, a pilot in Swanson’s squadron.  “He was the kind of guy the worse things got, the better he was.  He was the ugliest s.o.b. you ever saw.  But he was our shining star.”

 McCain called Compton “one of the bravest, most resourceful squadron commanders, one of the best A-4 pilots in the war.”

 In any case, Oriskany pilots did not have time to pay much attention to the admiral’s son, because the ship was running bombing operations against North Vietnam on a 24-hour schedule.  The Oriskany was a small and undistinguished carrier, commissioned at the end of World War Two.  Nobody could explain why the ship had turned into the leading combat carrier of the Vietnam War. It was as though the runt of the litter had grown into a pit bull.

 The squadrons on the Oriskany were front-loaded with lieutenant commanders like McCain and it was do-or-die time for them in terms of promotions.  This doubtless accounted, at least partly, for the carrier’s aggressiveness.  These were seasoned professional officers and only the best and bravest would be promoted to the next higher rank of commander (lieutenant colonel) and very few to captain (colonel).

 The pilots watched each other like hawks, trying to stay even in the number of missions flown over North Vietnam.  Always ready to take the risks, they developed tactics to survive the surface-to-air missiles and antiaircraft fire they faced every time they went on a mission.  In a war, of course, there was always the factor of luck. Sometimes you just couldn’t avoid getting shot down.

 But their tactics worked surprisingly well. To evade SA-2 missiles (SAMs), the pilots used a maneuver to confuse the missile’s guidance system.  An American electronics plane was flying off the coast during the attacks.  When it intercepted the missile’s guidance signals, the plane alerted the pilot as to whether a SA-2 was headed toward him by sounding a tone in his headset.

 “If we thought the SA-2 was homing in on us, we would try to keep our speed up until the missile was several seconds away and then barrel roll on our backs and pull vertically down,” said Roger Duter, a bomber pilot on the Oriskany with McCain. “At that time the missile was moving too fast to follow us down and we would recover and resume our course to the target.”

 Since the SAM maneuver always worked if executed properly, the biggest danger came from the fire of antiaircraft artillery (AAA). The pilots used the tactic of weave and zigzag to keep from flying into the path of the exploding flak.

 “We lost more aircraft to AAA than SAMs, though the SA-2 seemed more threatening from a personal point of view,” Duter said.

 All pilots were taught the tactics to keep from getting shot down.  To the American public, every pilot brought down by enemy fire was a hero. But carrier pilots made a sharp distinction between someone who was unavoidably shot down and a pilot who simply made a mistake.

******************************************************

Compliments to Zalin Grant.  Some fine writing there.   Reprinted from Pythia Press with permission.  Copyright 2008.  For more of his War Tales, follow him on Pythia Press. Find out what happens next . . . in Part II of Did John McCain have the “Right stuff?”  next week’s post!  

 

Solo Vietnam coming April 2012

Alright readers . . . you have asked for it, salivated over it. . . here is an excerpt of the upcoming release of SOLO VIETNAM, sequel to FLYING SOLO.   Coming in just days!   Release should be around the first week of April 2013.   Please enjoy!   Would love your comments, RTs, reblogs and invitations to your friends.   Already getting great advanced reviews!    Thanks so much for your readership and support.

Chapter 28

∞ Tonkin Gulf ∞

 Steve packed his B-4 bag in silence.  He expected that like the rest of the crew on board the Coral Sea, that he had only a few weeks before they set sail toward home.   He wasn’t the only A-4 pilot being reassigned to the USS Bon Homme Richard.  Because of a fire on the Bonnie Dick back in the fall, they were short of pilots. There were several others scheduled to serve in the Tonkin Gulf until October.  Once on deck to await his COD helo, Steve ran into Pete Watterman, the helo pilot he had met before.

“Lt. Commander,”  Pete saluted.

“Lt.” Steve saluted back.  “At ease.”

“Hey man, how’s it going?”  Pete asked.

“Being relo’d.   To the Bonnie Dick,” Steve replied.

“Yep, I’m taking some of the pilots over now.  COD.”

“Aren’t I included on that manifest?”

“No, man.  You’re orders must have changed again.  Sorry.”

“What?” For a moment, Steve was confused.

Before Pete turned to make his way to his helo he offered, “Hey Lt. Commander Novak.   You’re an alright guy.  Nice to have met another man from Dixie land.  Good luck out there.”

“Same to you,” Steve responded.

About three other pilots and their bags were loaded.   Pete geared up his propellers, kicking up some salty mist. About that time, Steve was approached by Commander Woolcock, the skipper from his squadron.

“Sir,” Steve saluted.

“Sorry to jerk you around, buddy.  But there’s been a change in plans.  You’re to bingo off to Chu Lai, taking one of our scooters for hand-off to VMA-311.    She’s seen her days on the decks of the Coral Sea.   Commander Nelson from Air Ops is fazing her out.”

“Gotcha,” Steve acknowledged.  Chu Lai?  How lucky could he get?

“But that’s not all.  Your recent service bought you some R and R.  After you hand off the plane,  you’ve got three days before you report to the Bon Homme.  Here’s your pay advance.”

Steve was handed an envelope containing the customary $200 given to pilots for spending money during their brief time off.   He couldn’t believe his luck.   Chu Lai, Nora and R and R.  It couldn’t possibly get better.

Often, when the navy felt an A-4 had seen its days on the carrier, they would send the plane to one of the marine VMA stations for repair and refit.   The marines would patch it up, repaint their own VMA call signs and the plane would be used for another hundred missions or so.   Second hand.

After pre-flighting the Skyhawk, Steve was given signal from the LSO to cat.  One last look at the deck of the Coral Sea.  She had been good to him.  As he gained altitude, he saw the lights on the deck become a small line of white, amidst a black sea.

He would be flying under night cover to transport the plane.   Another chance to see the war in action at night, from 10,000 feet.   By now, he knew the coast well.  He could see stars out everywhere on this clear night.

Despite flying over a war zone, it was relaxing in a way, to be flying a plane for delivery instead of a mission.  On shore, he intermittently caught site of flares being dropped.  There were white hot lights of anti-aircraft fire launched skyward.   It was a short flight from the deck of the carrier to Chu Lai, a mere ninety miles.  Before long, he saw the lights at Danang.  The moonlight was shining on the pristine, yellow-white sands of China Beach.

Soon, he visualized the river at Chu Lai.  As he descended, he saw the sampans out in the water.  No attacks for tonight.  He radioed Chu Lai ground and got clearance to land.

“Chu Lai tower, this is Blue Tail NL-317 requesting to land, over.”

“Bingo in, NL-317.  Keep your eye on the meatball.  Clear to ground.”

The runway at Chu Lai was fairly short.  He positioned the plane such that his slope would contact the arresting gear.  Lowering his speed and putting down his landing gear, with a small bump and scrape, Steve touched down at Chu Lai at 1930 hours.

There was no one to meet him on the tarmac.  For a moment, he wasn’t sure where to go.  But then, a marine flight crew approached.  Haggard and cover in dust in grease, they were a site.  One of them radioed for a jeep.   Steve took a moment to take the flight line in.  It was sure a far cry from the organized symmetry of the Coral Sea.    There were bunkers and razor-edged barbed wire everywhere.  It looked like the tarmac as well as the flight line had taken some substantial mortar attacks. Airplane parts, partially burned out made it a metallic graveyard.

A six by six jeep transport pulled up with three other pilots in it.   “Where to, Lt. Commander?” beckoned the driver.

“The USO club.  I hear they’ve got a great singer there,” Steve said.

“Yeah.  Righto.  Tonight’s a Mardi Gras party.   But you’ve only got about twenty minutes to curfew.”

“Then step on it,” Steve chided as he threw his bag in the back.

“Right on, Sir,” the jeep took off and sped toward the beach and the club.  As it neared, Steve could hear the sounds of jazz emanating from inside.  He could hardly contain himself and nearly jumped out of the jeep before it pulled adjacent to the make-shift arched bridge over a trench to the entrance.

Homesick for New Orleans, Nora arranged through her black market connections with Woody, to get the adornments for a Mardi Gras celebration.  Doubloons, beads, and plenty of seafood.   She booked a Vietnamese band that could play some jazz.  One more way to bring a little bit of the U.S. to Vietnam.

They place was packed.   Bar and restaurant were almost standing room only.   GIs were bedecked in vibrant Mardi Gras beads.  Some had on colorful masks.  The distinctive spicy smell of Zartaran’s filled the air from boiled shrimp and “bugs,” a crustacean native to the South China Sea.  Steve traced the sounds of jazz to the porch along the backside.   Sure enough, Nora was crooning out one of her favorites, Moon River.   He stood in the breezeway out of her sight.

She looked amazing, as always.   Radiant smile.  Bright pink lipstick.   Long, sensuous legs and high heels.  Her skirt had to be at least eight inches above her knees.  Damn, she was hot.

The crowd cheered as Nora wrapped up her song.  “Thank you all for coming tonight.  Les bon temp roulles.”  The GIs hooted and hollered.   As she finished replacing the mike in its stand, Steve came up from behind her.

“Say gorgeous, I’d know that voice anywhere,” he whispered in her ear.  Nora felt her knees grow weak hearing his voice.

Whipping around, she exclaimed, “What the heck?  Steve, where the devil did you come from?”

“About a hundred miles north of here.  Just to see my gal,” he couldn’t resist and in front of everyone grabbed her and planted a big kiss on her lips.   Catcalls erupted from every corner of the bar.

Nora was a mass of emotion.  Joy, tears, and pent up libido just  hearing his voice.  Taken aback at first, she quickly recovered.   “I can’t.  Not here.  Let me wrap things up and make sure everyone clears curfew.  Then,” she pulled him close and whispered in her sultry voice, “I’m all yours.”

Directing her cook, dishwasher and one of her girls running the bar, she quickly wrapped things up for the evening.  The books and tabs could wait till the morning.  She thanked everyone for the great job they did.  Within a few minutes, due to curfew, it was just Steve and herself left in the bar.

“What on earth are you doing in Chu Lai?”

“Had to deliver a Skyhawk for refurb to VMA-311.  How’s that for luck?”

“Brilliant,” she said throwing her arms around him.  “I’m just tickled pink you are here.”

“Nice place you got going,” he said referring to the club.

“The girls and I have really worked it over.  It was a dump.  But I’ve learned to make, uh, well, let’s just say connections.”

“That’s the navy way.  Way to go girl,” he could hardly keep his hands off of her.  “I’m about as randy as ever.  But where can we go?”

“I’ve been thinking about that,” she had a gleam in her eye.

“Certainly not to your hooch,”

“Nope.  The girls are there and curfew’s on.  But we might be able to sneak out back under the decks.  There’s a small, unused, elevated tent.  It was the original officer’s mess, near the beach.”

“Sounds great, doll.  Let’s go,” he said taking her hand.   Nora locked the place up and they quietly snuck out down the back steps of the club.  They walked close to the jungle line of trees, so as not to be seen by the sentry guards.  Clearing through some brush, they came to a clearing with the tent.  It was dank, dark, and sandy, but they didn’t care.  They were finally alone.

The flap of the tent barely went down before he had his hands all over her.  The fact that there was dust everywhere and cob webs didn’t bother them. They finally had a secluded, stolen moment alone.  He kissed her passionately, relinquishing the pent up sexual tension between them.  She darted her tongue in around his mouth, long, slow and ardent.

Pulling her close into him, she felt his desire for her.  He was rock hard.  He stopped kissing her for a moment and looked deeply into her eyes.   Without saying a word, he unzipped the back of dress, exposing her shoulders.    He lowered his head and began kissing along her collar bone, starting on her left.

And. . . . you will have to just purchase the upcoming copy to see the rest!!!!!