Touching the Face of God – meet pilot and aviation writer Ray Haas

Ray Haas at the John Gillespie Memorial

Touching greatness in aviation!

As a lover of aviation, one of my favorite poems is High Flight, by WWII pilot John Gillespie Magee, Jr.  How amazing that his beautiful words are spoken at almost every winging ceremony across the world?  That they are featured in Arlington National Cemetery.  The poem truly resonates with those who know the joy of flight.  I am very excited to share an interivew with Ray Haas, who is turning John’s story not only into a book, but a movie as well.  Can’t wait!

Ray Haas has written plenty in his life. However, it has all been in personal journals, small essays, and software. “Touching the Face of God” is his first official public offering, but certainly not the last. Aviation is certainly Ray’s passion, followed closely by speculative fiction. He is actively working on projects in both genres.

Ray currently lives in eastern North Carolina, having moved there from Portland, Oregon due to requirements of his day-job. He hopes to someday make it so that his writing eventually becomes his day-job!

Starting his professional career by washing windows, Ray enlisted in the Navy and became first an Electronics Technician, and then a Data Processing Technician. On a Navy research & development project, Ray worked on the first non-tactical shipboard-based computer. Getting his first email account in 1976, Ray started a career that lasts to the present day.

Also in 1976 Ray started taking flying lessons, first learning how to fly a sailplane. After earning his Private Pilot’s License (Gliders – aero-two), Ray went on to obtain his Single-Engine Land (SEL) and Instrument (IFR) ratings. Ray was the proud owner of a Piper Warrior for several years.

What sparked off the idea of your book?

I have always been interested in aircraft and flying. Growing up in the late 50s and 60s, I was entranced with the space program, and really wanted to become an astronaut. That dream was dashed when I found out that my extreme near-sightedness would prevent me from becoming a military pilot, which at that time was the only ticket to flying into space.

Another interest I had early on is in WWII, particularly the early part. Linked with my interest in aircraft and flying, the models I build tended to be of those used in WWII; both fighters and bombers. Of particular interest was the Battle of Britain, which occurred during the summer of 1940.

I had also wanted to be a writer of books and screenplays. I had always thought that there should be a “reboot” of the classic 1969 movie, “The Battle of Britain.” I started doing research about that period of time, and came across the poem, “High Flight.” I had heard the poem recited during the TV sign-off films during the 60s and 70s, and had read it several times while becoming a glider pilot in the 70s. While doing my research, I thought I would track down the exact wording of the poem as well as the story of its author, since there seemed to be a considerable amount of discrepancy in both.

Even with the somewhat limited Internet search capabilities of the time, I was able to start finding out many details about John Gillespie Magee, Jr. and his famous poem. The further I dug, the more fascinating a story it became. And though there had been a couple of books and articles published about Magee, I thought that these barely covered the surface story.

And so, the Battle of Britain story was moved to the back burner, and the Magee/High Flight story became paramount. I started research in earnest in 1990, and it took 24 years to finally feel that I could release the results of a tremendous amount of work! I will eventually get back to the Battle of Britain project, since I believe that that particular battle was the single most important battle of WWII.

Which character, if any, most resembles your personality?

Frankly, I identify (not surprisingly, I suppose) with John Magee. We’re both pretty smart, both pilots, both very stubborn, and both of us were in the military. I have always been somewhat of a rebel, and know what it’s like to be a “peacock among pigeons” (a phrase used to describe Magee). I can learn things quite quickly, as did Magee. I’m not nearly as smart as he was, and don’t have his gift of expression, but I do feel a certain kinship with him. I would’ve like to have known him.

Which character was the hardest to write and why?

I guess I had a bit of difficulty writing about Magee’s relationship with Elinor Lyon. Elinor was the Headmaster’s daughter that John fell in love with. But it was a case of unrequited love. I was actually able to communicate with Elinor and learned the true story from her directly. So it was hard to say that, on the one hand, John laboured long and hard to return to England and Elinor, but on the other hand, Elinor was not too receptive of his advances. Although… I truly think that given more time, Magee might have been able to win her over.

How do you plan/research your books?Touching the Face of God

There was never any real plan; the book really grew organically. At first I was going to write a screenplay, and then an A&E style documentary. I finally accumulated so much data that I thought that it would be a shame not to make it into a book, with the added advantage that the book could be used as a “bible” for the eventual making of a feature film and/or documentary. Only in the last year or so did I truly began to put everything else aside and concentrate of getting the book done.

Research also evolved over the years. I started with an article published in the EAA (Experimental Aircraft Association) magazine, which lead me to Hermann Hagedorn’s 1942 Magee biography (“Sunward I’ve Climbed”), which lead me to an entire range of research leads. I have worked with computers since 1976, so using the Internet & email was a natural thing for me. In the beginning the great search tool was AltaVista, eventually supplanted by Google. I found that more content was added to the Internet every day… so research became a daily practice (what is here today might not have been here yesterday, still true to this day). Simply put, the book would not have been possible without the Internet & email.

Another tool I used extensively was GoogleMaps. I was able to see detailed maps of areas, and also use StreetView to take a look at some of these places.

The final element that brought everything together was the discovery (through the Internet!) of the John Gillespie Magee Family Papers collection at the Yale Divinity Library. It was truly the “mother lode.” I spent five days scanning over 1,800 documents there, and goodness knows how long I spent in organizing all that data. I think it really “made” the book, as I was able to include photographs, quote letters, and so many other things that would have not been possible before. True source data.

 What are you working on at the moment?

I self-published the book, so I had to take off my author’s hat and put on the marketing hat. There’s so much to learn about this stuff!

I am also working on getting the book made into a feature film. It is such a great story that I strongly feel that it will attract some interest. And that is another area I need to learn about: how to get the work in front of those who make decisions about such things.

The Battle of Britain project has come off the back burner; not completely, but enough for the moment. I’ve got two books I would like to adapt for film, plus a couple of original screenplays.

Do you write for any websites?

Just my own:

Do you prefer to read paperbacks or ebooks? Why?

These days I prefer ebooks on my Kindle. I tend to read a bunch of books simultaneously, and it’s nice to have them all in my Kindle. But I still love paper books… there’s something about them that is in my blood. Powell’s City of Books in Portland, Oregon remains one of my favourite places… just going through the stacks and leafing through books remains a wonderful experience.

Favorite book as a child and as an adult?

Well… I’ve read hundreds and hundreds of books. Hard to pick out a favourite… Let’s see… as a child, I think “Dune” by Frank Herbert (which I read mostly under the covers by flashlight, no wonder I was extremely near-sighted!).

As an adult? Yikes… I’m tempted to break it down into fiction/non-fiction… but I’ll just say “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” by Robert Heinlein.

 Whom do you admire and why?

  • James Cameron, for being a genius, an innovator and being always true to himself. My dream is to work with Cameron and turn my favourite adult book (shown above) into a movie… filmed, of course, on location (the Moon).
  • Anthony Robbins, for his audacity, compassion, and gift of being able to communicate what he has learned to the rest of us.
  • Robert Heinlein, one of my spiritual fathers, for taking me to worlds in my imagination, but also giving me some extremely good advice for day-to-day living.
  • Richard Bach, another of my spiritual guides. There are few people I have felt quite as connected to as Richard.

 Name three people, dead or alive, you would invite to dinner. Why?

  • John Gillespie Magee, Jr. I think that John Magee had to have been a very interesting person to know. He was extraordinarily intelligent, well-travelled, and had a curiosity about the world that he lived in.
  • Robert Heinlein, for reasons detailed above.
  • I’d say Richard Bach, but I’ve actually had dinner with Richard, so that doesn’t count…
  • Tom Hanks. Another very intelligent and talented individual. He and I have quite a bit in common.

Now, enjoy a couple of excerpts from this amazing book! 

In the first excerpt, John is trying to decide whether or not he should attend Yale, or travel to Canada and join the Royal Canadian Air Force. John has been granted a generous scholarship to Yale, based on his record high scores in the Classics admission examination. And although he had, for all practical purposes, already made up his mind, it was felt that John should meet with Yale President Charles Seymour, if only to explain why John would not be attending Yale that year.

The indented & italicized sections are from a letter that President Seymour wrote to John’s father after the meeting.
John did indeed meet with President Seymour. In a letter written to John’s father, Seymour explains what happened during the meeting:

He [John Jr.] came in this morning and again this afternoon after lunch. He told me that he had practically reached the decision last night in his own mind, but that he did not want to make it final until he had talked to me. He was extremely courteous in expressing the hope that I did not feel that he was belittling the opportunity offered by Yale in admitting him. He said that the decision would have to be his own but that he would be grateful if I could throw any new light on his problem which might lead him to alter the decision he had reached.

Charles Seymour himself had been educated in England and might have had a good grasp of what John was struggling with.

In all honesty I had to tell him that this was a personal problem which he would have to decide himself, that in general I thought that young men in his position, or in positions similar to his, would do greater service if they accepted the educational opportunity offered, but that if his inclination against college at this time was so strong that he count not concentrate happily upon his work here, I on my side could not urge him to undertake it. He said that after balancing all the factors, he was quite clear that he would not be happy this year in New Haven and that the only peace of mind he could find would be by seeking his commission in Canada…

John seems to have decided to hedge his bet, and try to leave the door to Yale open:

He went on to say that he had also decided that it would be better for him to ultimately come to Yale rather than to go to Oxford, and he asked what arrangements could be made for admission in a later year. I advised him that if he had definitely made up his mind he should inform the Chairman of the Board of Admissions that he wished to defer matriculation and that later, when the opportunity offered, he should apply again for admission. In the circumstances such admission would be certain to be granted.

President Seymour then presented his final analysis of the conversation, as well as an apology to John Sr. for not making a more concerted effort to persuade John Jr. to attend Yale:

I was so taken with him and his approach to his problem that I am deeply disappointed in a personal sense that apparently he is not to be with us, but there can be no question of the depth of his feeling. I think that it is entirely likely that he would be unhappy here under present conditions…

I can understand your own feelings with regard to the immediate future of your boy. I hope that you will not feel that I let you down in not bringing the strongest sort of pressure to bear upon him, but in all conscience I believe that this is the kind of problem which can only be settled by the man himself.

Amidst all this conflicted opinion and in the pressure of seeing his adopted homeland viciously attacked, John made up his mind suddenly and finally: he had to return to England.

John had decided to give up a generous scholarship to Yale, give up the relative safety of his family and of the United States, and to go into harm’s way.

John Gillespie Magee, Jr., age 18, was going to war.

Get your copy of “Touching the Face of God” today!

 

 

 

Boomer Lit Blog Hop Features Solo Vietnam

It’s another Boomer Lit Friday!  What is #Boomerlit you say?    A new boom for us baby boomers and that boom is Boomer LIt.   Books that relate to those of us 50 and beyond.   Great stories about our times.  There are blogs about it.  Goodreads sites.  Facebook pages.   Us Babyboomers are a force to be reckoned with.

As a part of this blog hop, you are invited to a short preview of SOLO VIETNAM.   The sequel to FLYING SOLO.  Now available from AgeView Press or Amazon.

books available from jeanette vaughan flying solo and solo vietnam

Boomer Lit Books Available from Jeanette Vaughan

So here we go, your Boomer Lit Friday blog hop!  Enjoy!

Your personally chosend excerpt from 5 star rated SOLO VIETNAM!

A French cajun aviatrix.  An A-4 Skyhawk pilot.  Vietnam.

Charlene listened as she put out the large shrimp she had boiled up and then chilled for shrimp cocktail.   In true Charlene form, the table was set with china and tall parfait glasses for the shrimp.  She filled each glass with the spicy, red cocktail sauce and arranged the large shrimp all the way around.  Placing each glass over a large Romaine lettuce leaf on the plate.  Hostess with the most-est, Charlene Hebert.

“One night, after getting off at the club, I met this navy pilot,” Nora told her of her encounter.  “He had just finished his cruise in Vietnams and was on leave.  His stories.  What he had seen was horrific,”  Nora said taking a big bite of her shrimp.

“I’ve taken care of some of those Vietnam vets at Touro,” Charlene relayed.

“Oh, yeah?”

“Yeah.  I had some trouble relating to some of their emotional tales.    My instructors told me it was because they had anxiety disorder.   It really messed some of them up bad.”

“What the heck is that?”

“Some post war thing.  They just can’t cope.  It’s bad.”

“It doesn’t help that people treat them like crap when they come home.   I just don’t understand that.”

“Some of the nurses told me it was like no other war they’d ever heard about.  Whatever’s going on over there sounds pretty wicked.”

Near the end of lunch, Nora told Charlene about her visit to the USO and the job they offered.  Charlene was a bit taken aback.

“You aren’t considering going are you?”   Again, Nora managed to shock her.

“I’m seriously thinking about it, Charlene.   I can’t shake it.   There is just something calling me.  Some force.”

“I just can’t see how you could do it.  Your kids are still at home.  Well, at least three of them.   How would they manage?”

“They are teens.  Doing their own thing.  Nellie is about to retire.    She could move in and watch over them.  It would only be for eighteen months,” Nora explained.

“That over a year!  Oh, Nora.  I dunno.  It’s so far away.  Texas was one thing.  But Vietnam?   Are you going to fly?”

“Heck no.  They don’t allow women to fly into combat zones.    In fact, it’s a big controversy at the moment.   Jackie Cochran is causing all kinds of heck about it.  Women were used in World War II all the time, as transporters and test pilots.  But the service won’t have anything to do with them now.  Which is really hacking off legions of women pilots.”

“Well, then.  As what?”

“Don’t’ laugh, but I’d be managing a USO club.  Basically I’ll be going as a den mother to a bunch of young USO girls.  But at least I’d be going.”

Hope you enjoyed the preview.  Check back each and every Friday for the Boomer Lit blog hop!

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!!!!!