I wanted to be in the Air Force. The recruiter told me that the last Aviation Cadet Pilot slot was filled, but I could be trained as a Navigator or Electronics Warfare Officer and go to Pilot training in “a few years”. It turned out to be five when was accepted for Pilot Training. This stroke of fortune led to flying the F-100 during TET Offensive in Vietnam and later in Spain in new F-4E’s and A-7D’s.
I flew 292 combat missions in 1968. During the Tet Offensive February 11–17, 1968, 543 Americans were killed in action, and 2547 were wounded. Total US losses were 16,900, the worst yearly toll of the war. Almost all of our TET missions were Troops in Contact and I had less than 200 F-100 hours. I’ve reconstructed one mission with an accurate 50 caliber automatic that hit both of us!
In the late 1950’s and early 1960’s the Soviet Union had tried to match the US capacity for weapons…an impossible task, so in October 1962, as a Ist Lt, I found myself orbiting near the North Pole in a new B-52H with a crew of six. They were the best crew in the wing, just a joy to be with. These guys were geniuses and amazing people.
We carried four 1.1 megaton, drouge retarted nuclear weapons to be dropped in a 53-second trail on a target on our maps labeled “Government Control Center.” I was 23 years old but was trained in the highly classified countermeasures that could shut down the electronic spectrum, penetrate the soviet defenses around our target…. Moscow. We continued to orbit while awaiting a launch “GO” code. Each day, after 12 hours orbiting with no horizon, in a sky that was as bright white as the inside of a milk bottle, another B-52 relieved us to maintain this position in “white space”.
During the Cuban Missile Crisis, orbiting near the North Pole went on for 45 days. On one of these flights a US Senator who was visiting our Headquarters the Strategic Air Command (SAC) asked to speak to someone in an aircraft on airborne alert. I was voted to be the one to take the call on my 1000W HF radio and I was eager to do it. “How you boys doing?”, he asked in a Southern accent. The crew was urging me to tell him to go f*** himself and worse, so my answer probably stunned him…
“We just had turkey dinner, we’re doing great!”
I knew the enormity of what we were involved in. We were impervious and our crew understood that “we could evaporate a city of 20 million followed by a full-blown Nuclear War”. This was our only mission, and our Radar Navigator William R. Gilmore (USNA ‘59) could find a missile silo in a haystack. His pin-point bombing accuracy allowed many of his B-47 and later B-52 crews to get “spot promotions”. We had trinkets in our survival kits (including gold pieces) for bartering our way out in the event of capture. We were armed with a handgun and a silk “blood chit”* that read “I am an American Serviceman, help me and you will be rewarded.” Fortunately the “GO” code never came, the USSR had blinked and we stopped these 24 hour flights.
My last flying job was at Patrick AFB as Group Commander, training all Air Force Forward Air Controllers to fly the O-2 Skymaster and the 0V-10 Bronco.
My last military assignments were in the Pentagon as an Air Force Division Chief and later after Reagan was elected, as an Air Force spy in the “Office of Secretary of Defense” where I advised General Mike Loh of civilian micro-management initiatives. The Munitions budget programs I managed went from $1.5B to $11.7B in five years and it was my job to spend the money.
I left the USAF at age 46 and worked for LTV Aerospace, Control Data, and Northrop Grumman’s Washington, DC offices advocating LTV’s A-7F prototype, Control Data Cyber Computers, and Grumman and later Northrop Grumman’s Joint Stars, and F-15 EW programs until 1998.
I started a Political Action Committee, VetsPac PAC, lobbying the Armed Services Committes to better support combat injured Veterans. In 2004 we successfully sponsored Armed Services Committee Authorization language that increased Concurrent Retirement and Disability Pay.
Currently I assists SSS members suffering from Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF), a type of lung disease associated with flying the F-100.