5 December 1956 – A Northrop XSM-62 Snark, 53-8172, N-69D test model, fitted with a new 24-hour stellar inertial guidance system, launches from Cape Canaveral Missile Test Annex, Florida. It wanders off-course, ignores destruct command, disappears over Brazil. It is found by a farmer in January 1983. The Day They Lost the Snark By J.
Gary Allen Ball
Gary Ball’s information has been provided by his best friend, Mac Staples:
CAPTAIN GARY BALL, (USAF, RET)
I will record as many facts as I know about Gary. He was a truly unique individual; highly intelligent, an unbelievable memory and terrific insight into life and duty.
Gary was born October 5, 1938, in Nebraska (I am unsure of the town, but it was a small town in a rural area). Shortly after graduation from high school, he enlisted in the Air Force. He showed some facility for languages, (always did: he and his wife Nori often communicate in Latvian) and was sent to language schools to learn Albanian. As he was about to graduate from language school, he realized his assignment would be to Brindisi, Italy, listening to Albanian radio for hours a day. That future holding no appeal for him, he went to his commander and announced he was getting married. Commander: “You’re marrying a U.S. citizen, right.” Gary: “No.” Commander: “She’s not from a communist country is she?” Gary: “Yes.” As you can imagine, Gary’s projected assignment disappeared. He then and served some time as a base ops kind of guy.
Encouraged to go to Officer Training by his commander, he applied for, and was accepted, as a cadet in Navigator training. Upon graduation and commissioning, he was assigned to a RB-57F (long wing) squadron at Albuquerque, NM, and spent many deployments to bases worldwide. Here is a picture of Gary’s RB-57F taken by his wingman as they were doing air sampling after a nuclear test at Frenchman’s Flat, Nevada.
After a few years of this, Gary applied for Air Force pilot training (he had been a civilian pilot for years). He graduated from pilot training in May, 1967 and was assigned to the F-100.
I met Gary at Cannon AFB, NM, in the Summer of 1967. We did not immediately become fast friends, but we both were assigned to Phan Rang AB, Viet Nam where we were roommates. Over the year there, our friendship was cemented and we became dear, lifelong friends. I think next, I should relate a few or the stories of that tour.
Gary arrived in Viet Nam a few weeks before I did, and during Tet of ’68, so the first tale is as I recall his narration. He had a very short combat checkout, and one of his first combat sorties entailed bombing high-rise buildings in downtown Saigon at night. Sort of a scary mission for that early in your tour.
Next is one of my favorite stories about Gary: We were scheduled to go on alert together, but when I awoke about an hour before we were to be on duty, there was nobody in the upper bunk. I went ahead and showered and shaved and as I was zipping up my flight suit, Gary walked in the room in civvies. When I asked where the hell he had been, he said, “Playing poker.” When I reminded him that we were supposed to be on alert in half an hour, he said that was no problem, that no-one had been scrambled off alert in several days, and he was going to bunk out for the day. Well, as we rode to the squadron to get our gear and go on alert, we flipped a coin to see who would be flight lead—Gary won. As I was moving a little faster than Gary, I completed my preflight and was just walking in the alert shack when we were scrambled. I began running toward my airplane while Gary was just walking in from his preflight. When he saw me his eyes, which had been at half-mast, became suddenly huge, and he said, “You gotta be shittin’ me!” When I assured him that I was not, he turned around and began running toward his own airplane. After about ten steps he stopped, turned back around, and said, “Mac, you got the lead.” Well to make a long story much shorter, when we got back from that mission, we already had planes loaded for another, then the same thing happened again. We had three combat missions (the Wing limit) by about noon. I didn’t see Gary until the next morning!
Very late in his tour, Gary was on a mission which entailed dropping napalm into the setting sun in a smoky combat environment. Gary always did have a penchant for flying low, and in the situation, he happened to find a tree down in that smoke. He didn’t do much damage to the airplane, but he did rip open a napalm can. He was concerned about setting himself on fire if he fired the release cartridge, so he landed with the nape (at Bien Hoa). I saw a picture of the airplane; it looked like it had 750 pounds of jelly smeared in the gear well, the underside of the wing, and the stabilizer.
As a result of this incident, the Wing powers allowed that they would let Gary fly one more (fini) flight, but it had to be in an F-model with an IP in the back seat, and he couldn’t go below 3,000 feet.
At this time Gary had nearly every certificate awarded by the FAA (except perhaps Balloon Instructor). but he didn’t have a helicopter license. Since he still had a couple of weeks on his tour, and he knew some Army guys at Phan Thiet, he decided he would go down there and log enough helicopter time to get an FAA ticket. Took him less than 24 hours to get shot down! He actually saw the guy who was shooting at them with an AK-47, but they were able to get safely away before their forced landing.
Okay, Gary ended his tour in Viet Nam, and was assigned to Woodbridge, England. He (the squadron) continued to fly the Hun for a year or so, although the last several months consisted of no mission, just go get flying time (Fly for fun! I could stand some of that!), One incident occurred during this time that bears relating: Gary took off from Woodbridge, got to about 10.000 feet, and his engine quit. Everybody who has flown over England when the weather allows, know that there are literally thousands of WWII runways all over the island. Gary picked one and dead-sticked on it, only to find it was being used by local farmers to store barrels of something. The airplane was pretty beat up, but he still got a “Well Done” from USAFE.
Next was F-111 school in Vegas, then a move to Upper Heyford and an F-111 squadron. One quick story from there: there was a heavy tax on Scotch Whiskey in the UK, so Gary asked me to bring him a case from the Class 6 store in Spain, where that tax didn’t exist. I bought a case, but at the last minute, dropped out of the planned cross-country. I entrusted the case to a friend whose plans included a stop in Bentwaters, then log some time and end up at Upper Heyford. Well, he got a BLC light departing Bentwaters, and immediately landed. He left the case in Base Ops, and took off for London. I notified Gary, who drove over to Bentwaters. Standing over his case of whiskey was a British Customs Officer. Gary paid the tax, and saved no money on my favor!
Gary was then assigned to Mountain Home AFB, Idaho. For some reason, he was appointed to be in charge of Saylor Creek Range, which is south of Mt. Home in northern Nevada. One day his crew collected all the unexpended ordnance and burned it. Unfortunately, the wind that day was strong, and they burned up half of northern Nevada. I think Gary took a real hit from this incident, and was passed over for major more than once.
He ended his Air Force career as the base Ops Officer at Mt Home. He finally came out on the major’s list, but he had already made the decision to retire, and turned down the promotion.
He moved back to Nebraska, and flew for several years for a company whose name I do not recall but they made seats for Ford automobiles. At some time he moved to Couer De Alene, Idaho. After a few years, he sold his home in Couer De Alene and moved to the small mining town of Wallace, where he bought a home which was on the list of historic homes. As always, he made many improvements on his home, but after a few years, he was on vacation in Nebraska when Nori was stricken with some medical emergency. While she was still hospitalized he returned to Idaho, sold his home, and moved to Nebraska. He was there ever since.
Bottom line: Gary was an unusual character and a dear friend.