If you are reading this little essay then I must have croaked and now my journey is complete. Few read these bio’s until the author has passed.
Mine was a great journey with many twists and turns, some good, some sad, some scary, but God was with me and I was gifted with a long journey. I was fortunate to find the love of my life, my dear Sandy. We had two children, Sam and Samantha and they both went to the AF Academy. Samantha became an EC-130 AC and Sam became an A-10 AC; what more could an AF Father ask for. I was gifted with a wonderful and supportive family -I love and treasure them all.
I grew up in Bluefield, West Virginia with loving, hard working, and righteous parents who struggled to put me through engineering school and my twin brother though medical school. My father worked well into his 70’s to make this happen. We lived in a Sears Kit house, about 800-square feet, and it was comfortable. My mother walked my brother and I to church every Sunday. I delivered 200-papers each morning after working in the newspaper mail room most every day. My mother and father sacrificed greatly to ensure our future.
I wanted to be a fighter pilot since a Grad buzzed my high school in a T-33. I was in the Civil Air Patrol, hung out in the Princeton and Charleston airports, and headed for Va Tech ROTC. I saw Major Chuck Yeager come into the Charleston airport acting like he owned the place and I knew that was for me.
As a fighter pilot, I worked to be fearless in battle but sometimes it was a bit scary. When the big missile came under me and hit the guy next to me I was awed at the size of the fireball. When I was making a supersonic gun pass on the guns at Gia Lahm Airfield and the gun gasses compressor stalled the engine, failed the ATM along with Utility Hydraulics and AC Electrics, and blew out the burner, I near had a heart attack but all systems came back after I settled down.
When the MIGs blew into the formation shooting down an F-4, an F-105, and killed the backseater in the lead Weasel, I kicked the bird up to 760 KCAS and headed for the deck. When I pulled up for the pop I could see hundreds of muzzle flashes and I knew I was the only target in the sky. The bombs were dropped at Mach 1.0 and 6,000 feet and the bomb run was like flying through a tunnel of fire due to the tracers. On the pull the bird was hit hard in the left wing which rolled it hard enough to tumble all of the gyros. It turned out my wingman was still with me and we went back into Laos, refueled, and then trolled Thud Ridge til dark. My wingman was Neil Graham and it was his first mission into Pack VI. He died a week or so later of a heart attack and we never got the chance to talk of this mission.
I remember turning the Elephant’s Ear heading for the Kep Air Field and seeing the flak so heavy you could not see through it. We used burners to climb the 16-birds over the flak then rolled in through it. Thirteen of the birds were hit and one went down. As we turned the Elephant’s Ear and I saw what was ahead, I quietly said, “God, I am going to need a little help on this one”.
I think of the time Bart and I took out the power lines in Korea with an F-100F. And of the time I came over the top in a pop and sensed I wasn’t going to make it. The F-105 hit hard and blew through the trees but I made it back for a landing. Of all of the birds that survived the war, my crashed bird, 62-4318 survived and sits on a pedestal in Centralia, IL. I think of punching out of a T-33 and how things became instantly quiet. I think of the great men I knew – Bart, Redmond, Rynear, Bowman, Peters, Beall, Van Etten, McInelly, McKnight, Torson, McCance, Allen, Martin, Merkling, Revers, Ellis, Cherry, Shay, and a multitude of others.
I have known the anguish of seeing a friend blown out of the sky, of seeing another pilot crash in front of me, of packing the belongings of comrade KIA, of going to the door of young girl to tell her she was now a widow, of kneeling to present the flag of a grateful nation. I have seen a man point a rifle at me, fire, tense for the hit, and sense the miss. I have stood on the banks of a canal firing a Thompson and heard the sound of rounds going by. I carried a dying toddler out from a grenade blast and dragged the corpse of a young man out of a rice paddy. As I said, sometimes the journey was sad and sometimes scary.
But, it was a great journey and I was blessed by God every step of the way. Now I am with Jesus and we are both waiting for Sandy. Also, I found out Jesus loves bourbon so we are pleasantly passing the time.
(Editor’s Note: As of today 3/2/2020, Sam’s still with us)