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This page has some was stories that help tell us what it was like to fly and maintain the aircraft of our greatest generation. If you have something to share please send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I will gladly build a web page for any veteran who wants to share their story and photos. All I ask is that any photos and text be sent to me electronically, via e-mail, so I can just copy and paste it to the web page. I will put a page together for you along with your pictures for everyone else to enjoy. This is my little way at helping to preserve the stories of the men and women of our greatest generation. Even if you think your contribution was small or insignificant please write it down so future generations can understand what things were like for you. Every little bit helps to piece the puzzle together. Please don't let your story go untold. Please don't let your letters, orders, uniforms and equipment get lost. Donate them to a museum or organization that can preserve and appreciate it. So many treasures are lost every day. Please share your story.
Thank you for what you did for our country.
This is from a posting on a B-29 web site from a B-17 engineer. From Jim.
...I flew 27 missions from Italy as a B-17 Flight
gunner, and I can assure you that the bombs we carried were the same as
those carried by the B-29s.
In my BG we flew VERY close formations. sometimes overlapping wings, and as
we flew in the lead in the second element, I have seen the tail guns of the
lead ship, look to be about the size of a silver dollar. some 15-20 ft away,
and directly behind the lead ship.
In addition, my bombardier or togglier, opened our
bomb bay door when the lead ship opened his, and when the lead ship dropped,
we did the same.
The bombs (500 or 1000 lbs) were heavy enough,
that they dropped straight down.
Formation flying causes the throttle to be constantly
jockeyed...I don't think there was much chance of overrunning the aircraft
I think you will get the same answer from pilots.
To answer your question. did it take me back ? Yes,
although I was not a
pilot, if not in my turret, I monitored the instruments and I was between
the two pilots, straddling the hatch to the nose.
My pilots took turns flying, at a 1/2 hour stretch at a time. In formation,
they really worked. The backs of their summer flying suits were soaked, with
sweat, along with their underarms. I was bundled up, with my heavy clothing,
heated suit, at -60F.
It was a peculiar feeling, with the sun pouring in the clear dome of the top
turret, (when I was in the turret); I
was sweating from the sun, and at the same time, very cold.
The side windows of the cockpit were frosted over with hoar frost, and the
windshield was the only clear panel.
I think all B-17 FEs would recall the same thing.
As to fatigue, just the flying at altitude on oxygen was tiring in itself,
plus the strain of wondering if you were going to get through the flak,
After we successfully exited the target, a feeling of exhaustion would
amplify the sensations.
I had to crank the bomb doors closed twice at an altitude of 27,000 ft with
my butt over an open bomb bay. After they were closed, the radio operator
asked if I recalled that anoxia, (the medical term for lack of O2) turned
the fingernails and lips blue....I told him, yes, and he informed me that
my entire face was blue.
I turned the O2 regulator to 100% which gave me pure O2, and it took
several minutes to get my breathing back to normal. The O2 regulator
normally increased the O2 in the
mixture automatically as the altitude increased.
Now, our crew came through the war unscathed, except for our bombardier who
was hit by a piece of Plexiglas from a spent cartridge or link, when the
lead ship tail gunner tested his guns..( the spent cartridges and links were
jettisoned over board)...we had just crossed a line that denoted the combat
zone, although we were still a couple of hours from the target....his
bombardier buddies put him in for a Purple Heart and he was awarded it....we
called him derisively Purple Heart Hannigan for the rest of the time.
Here is a link to a touching song to our WWII veterans:
This is a good link about one of our most recent heroes: Marine Corps Captain, Brian Chontosh
Thanks Carl Scholl for forwarding this.
This is a great story by Gen McPeak, when he was a Thunderbird pilot. Enjoy.
Center Del Rio could be the movie set of a West Texas border town.
It's windy, and the weather tends toward seasonal extremes.
A large U.S. Air Force Base 6 miles east of town is named after Jack T. Laughlin, a B-17 pilot and Del Rio native killed over Java within a few weeks of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Our Thunderbirds Team flies into Laughlin on Oct. 20, 1967, for an air show the next day, honoring 60 or so lieutenants graduating from pilot training. We go through the standard pre-show routine. Lead and 5 do their show-line survey, while the rest of us make the rounds of hospital and school visits and give interviews. Next day, proud parents watch as new pilots pin on wings.
At noon, we brief at Base Ops. As usual, an "inspection team" comprising base and local dignitaries joins us for a photo session before we step to the jets. The film "Bandolero" is in production near the base, and its stars, Jimmy Stewart and Raquel Welch, show up in the inspection team. Jimmy Stewart is a USAF Reserve brigadier general, a founder of the Air
Force Association and a big hero to all of us. Raquel Welch is . . well, she's Raquel Welch.
We're wearing white show suits, my least-favorite outfit. Lead can choose from among gray, blue, black or white, but today, we look like Good Humor men. Plus, I work hard during the demonstration and sweat soaks my collar.
This wouldn't matter much, except we do a lot of taxiing in-trail. With only 6 ft. between the end of my pitot boom and No. 5's afterburner, I take
a load of engine exhaust in my cockpit. Soot clings to the dampness, leaving a noticeable "ring around the collar" when I wear white. At Del Rio, I follow my usual routine and roll the collar under once we have taxied away from the crowd. After the show, I'll roll it back out again, the chimney-black still there, but now underneath, out of sight.
We taxi short of the runway for a "quick check" pre-takeoff inspection by a couple of our maintenance troops. As No. 6, I'm flying F-100D serial number 55-3520.
We take the runway, the four-aircraft Diamond in fingertip and Bobby Beckel and I in Element . . 500 ft back. The Diamond releases brakes at
precisely 1430. Bobby and I run up engines, my stomach tightening against the surge of isolation and exhilaration that comes before every air show takeoff.
By this time in the season, the Team is really clicking. We have a lot of shows under our belt and know what we are doing. Twenty-one minutes into the event, it's going well--a nice cadence and rhythm. We approach the climax, the signature Bomb Burst. My job is to put "pigtails" through the separating formation, doing unloaded, Max-rate vertical rolls.
Even a few vertical rolls require establishing a perfect up-line; more than a few also requires starting the rolls with a ton of airspeed. I grab
for altitude as the Diamond pirouettes into the entry for the Bomb Burst, and at just the right moment, dive after them, hiding behind their smoke.
Airspeed builds rapidly. The Thunderbirds switched to the F-100 in 1956, making us the world's first supersonic flying team. I have to be
mindful of a hard-and-fast rule : don't go super-sonic during the airshow. No booming the crowd. So, I want to be subsonic, but just barely--say, Mach 0.99.
The biggest mistake I can make is to be early. The Diamond is about to break in all four directions, so if I get there too soon, I don't have an exit strategy. Today, my timing looks good, so I light the ' burner and start a pull into the vertical. We don't have a solo pilot's handbook (on board) , but if we did, it would say this is a 6.5 G pull.
If I get it right, I'll hit the apex of the Bomb Burst 5 sec after the Diamond separates, snap the throttle out of 'burner' to get the smoke
going, be perfectly vertical and very fast. As the Diamond pilots track away from one another to the four points of the compass, I'll put on those
lazy, lovely pigtails. Then I'll get the smoke off and figure out how to do a slow-speed vertical recovery.
But at Del Rio, it doesn't turn out right. I start the aggressive pull into the vertical--and the aircraft explodes.
Now, F-100 pilots are accustomed to loud noises. Even in the best of circumstances, the afterburner can ' bang ' pretty hard when it lights off. It's also fairly common for the engine compressor to stall, sometimes forcing a violent cough of rejected air back up the intake. Flame belches out the oval nose--which will definitely wake you up at night--and the shock can kick your feet off the rudder pedals. Any F-100 pilot who hears a loud "BANG " automatically thinks, "compressor stall," and unloads the jet to get air traveling down the intake in the right direction.
SO, INSTINCTIVELY, the explosion causes me to relax stick-pressure to unload the airplane. By now, I'm fully into one of those fast-forward
mental exercises where seasons compress into seconds, the leaves changing color while you watch. I move the stick forward lethargically, even having time to think, "That's no compressor stall !!
In retrospect, the airplane had already unloaded itself, making my remedy superfluous, but there was some pilot lore at work here. No matter what else happens . . fly the airplane. Forget all that stuff about lift and drag and thrust and gravity, just fly the damn airplane until the last
piece stops moving. Good old 55-3520 has quit flying. But I have not.
Now there's fire, and I don't mean just a little smoke. Flames fill the cockpit. I have to eject. I grab the seat handles and tug them up, firing
the canopy and exposing ejection triggers on each side of the handles. I yank the triggers and immediately feel the seat catapult into the slipstream.
Seat-separation is automatic and too fast to track, the seat disappearing as I curl into a semi-fetal posture to absorb the parachute's opening shock. Jump school helps here; and I congratulate myself on perfect body position.
Then the chute snaps open--much too quickly--jolting me back to real time and short-circuiting the transition from stark terror to giddy elation,
the evil Siamese twins of parachute jumping. My helmet is missing. Where did it go? I look up and see a couple of chute panels are torn, several
shroud lines broken, and there's one large rip in the crown of the canopy. I'll come down a bit quicker than necessary . . but there's not much altitude left anyway.
Going to land in the infield, near show-center. Have to figure out the wind, get the chute collapsed fast so as not to be dragged. Heck! On the ground and being dragged already. Get the damn chute collapsed! Finally, I stand up, thinking I'm in one piece. And here comes a blue van with some of our guys in it.
Then it begins to sink in. In 14 years and 1,000-plus air shows, the Team has been clever enough to do all its metal-bending in training, out of sight. This is our first accident in front of a crowd. And the honor is mine.
I gather my gear and climb into the van. Somebody wants to take me immediately to the base hospital, but I say, "Let's go over and tell the ground crew I'm OK." So we stop, I get out of the van, shake hands, toss the crew chiefs an insincere thumbs-up. Jimmy Stewart is still there and comes over to say nice things, but Raquel hasn't stayed for the show, so no air- kiss. I'd given our narrator, Mike Miller, some ad-libbing lines to do in the middle of his presentation, and he stops to say maybe we should leave "that thing, whatever it is," out of the show sequence.!
That's when I learn I'd pulled the wings off the airplane.
On most modern fighters, the wings are well behind the pilot. You can see them in the rear view mirror or if you look back, but otherwise they're not in your field of view. Of course, I had been watching the Diamond, ahead and well above me. I hadn't seen the wings come off. All I knew was the airplane blew up.
The F-100 has a large fuel tank in the fuselage, on top of the wing center section and forward of the engine. When the wings folded, a large
quantity of raw fuel from that tank dumped into the engine, which exploded. The shock wave from the blast propagated up the air intake and blew the nose off, removing the first 6 feet of the airplane. The tail of the jet also was badly damaged, liberating the drag chute. As it came fluttering down, some in the crowd thought my personal parachute had failed.
After it exploded, the engine started pumping flames through the cockpit-pressurization lines. Conditioned air enters the cockpit at the
pilot's feet and behind his head. My flying boots, ordinarily pretty shiny for an ROTC grad, were charred beyond repair. I never wore them again.
Where I had rolled my collar underneath to protect show-suit appearance, my neck got toasted.
I have no idea how fast I was traveling at ejection. I was certainly barely subsonic when the wings failed. But with the nose blown off, the F-100 is a fairly blunt object and would have slowed quickly. On the other hand, I
remained with the aircraft no more than a second or two after it exploded, so there wasn't time to decelerate much.
When I came out of the jet, wind blast caught my helmet, rotated it 90 degrees and ripped it off my head. It was found on the ground with the visor down, oxygen mask hooked up and chin strap still fastened. As the helmet rotated, a neck strap at the back rubbed the burned part of my neck, causing some blee! ding.
The Team keeps a zero-delay parachute lanyard hooked up during the air show, giving us the quickest possible chute deployment. That explained why my chute opened fast--too fast, as it turned out. I didn't get enough separation from the seat, which somehow contacted my parachute canopy, causing the large tear. The immediate, high-speed opening was certainly
harsher than normal, and as my torso whipped around to align with the chute risers, the
heavy straps did further damage to the back of my neck, the body part apparently singled out for retribution.
Walking into the base hospital, I'm startled by my image in a full- length mirror. Above, a sign says: " Check Your Military Appearance." Mine looks
like I've crawled into a burlap bag with a mountain lion. The white show suit is a goner, the cockpit fire having given it a base-coat of charcoal gray accented by blood and a final dressing of dirt, grass and sagebrush stain.
Being dragged along the ground accounts for the camouflage, but I hadn't realized my neck was bleeding so much. I look like the main course in a slasher movie--' The Solo Pilot From Hell.'
They keep me in the hospital overnight. The Team visits, and Mike Miller smuggles in a dry martini in a half-pint milk carton. Everybody's leaving for Nellis AFB the next morning. I tell the hospital staff I'm leaving, too, and ask our slotman, Jack Dickey, to pack my stuff at the motel. The 1967 show season is over.
After I jumped out, my aircraft continued on a ballistic trajectory, scattering parts and equipment along the extended flight path. Most of the engine and the main fuselage section impacted about 2 miles downrange from my initial pull-up spot. All the bits and pieces landed on government soil, and there was no injury or property damage. My aircraft was destroyed--I signed a hand-receipt for $696,989--but if there is a good kind of accident, this was it. Nobody was hurt, and all the scrap metal was collected for post-game analysis.
The F-100's wings mate into a box at the center of the fuselage, the strongest part of the airplane. When my aircraft's wing center box was inspected, it was found to have failed. North American Rockwell, the manufacturer, tested the box on a bend-and-stretch machine, and it broke again at an equivalent load of 6.5 G for the flight condition I was at when the wings departed.
It shouldn't have happened, since the F-100's positive load limit is 7.33 G, but my F-100's wing center box broke along a fatigue crack . . and
there were about 30 more cracks in the vicinity.
Some then-recent F-100 losses in Vietnam looked suspiciously similar. The recovery from a dive-bomb pass is a lot like my high-speed, high-G pull-up into the Bomb Burst. In the Vietnam accidents, the pieces had not been
recovered, and the aircraft were written off as combat losses.
Later, specialists discovered considerable fatigue damage in the wing center boxes of other Thunderbird aircraft. USAF immediately put a 4 G limit on the F-100 and initiated a program to run all the aircraft through depot modification to beef up the wing center box. My accident almost certainly saved lives by revealing a serious problem in the F-100 fleet.
Merrill A. (Tony) McPeak
Note : USAF General Merrill A. McPeak flew F-100, F-104, F-4, F-111, F-15 and F-16 fighters, participated in nearly 200 airshows as a solo pilot for the Thunderbirds and flew 269 combat missions in Vietnam as an attack
pilot and high-speed forward air controller (FAC).
He commanded the Misty FACs, 20th Fighter Wing, Twelfth Air Force and Pacific Air Command, and completed his career as the 14th USAF Chief of Staff.
It was my last scheduled training flight at Pensacola in June, 1944, a three leg, navigation flight. The three cadets arrived at the flight line to pre-light the airplane. During the preflight, I noticed that the right Oleo shock absorber seemed higher than the left one.
While I didn't get overseas until after WW II, I had some fun with the PBJ (Marine Corps' B-25) flying out of Marine Corps Air Station Edenton and later Cherry Point, N.C. Some have asked if PBJ stood for Peanut Butter and Jelly?
Click here to read an account of the training and combat experiences of one of our countries greatest generation heroes: Bentley Weitzman, Bombardier, 5th Air Force, 380th Bomb Group, 530th Bomb Squadron
Click here about how to find a book by Bud Farrell about his experiences as a B-29 gunner in Korea.
This is a funny story particularly if you lust over mixed metaphors. This is
from a colorful writer from the 1st Marine Air Wing based at MCAS Miramar.
There I was at six thousand feet over central Iraq, two hundred eighty knots and we're dropping faster than Paris Hilton's panties. It's a typical September evening in the Persian Gulf; hotter than a rectal thermometer and I'm sweating like a priest at a Cub Scout meeting. But that's neither here nor there. The night is moonless over Baghdad tonight, and blacker than a Steven King novel. But it's 2006, folks, and I'm sporting the latest in night-combat technology - namely, hand-me-down night vision goggles (NVGs) thrown out by the fighter boys. Additionally, my 1962 Lockheed C-130E Hercules is equipped with an obsolete, yet, semi-effective missile warning system (MWS). The MWS conveniently makes a nice soothing tone in your headset just before the missile explodes into your airplane. Who says you can't polish a turd?
At any rate, the NVGs are illuminating Baghdad International Airport like the Las Vegas Strip during a Mike Tyson fight. These NVGs are the cat's ass. But I've digressed. The preferred method of approach tonight is the random shallow. This tactical maneuver allows the pilot to ingress the landing zone in an unpredictable manner, thus exploiting the supposedly secured perimeter of the airfield in an attempt to avoid enemy surface-to- air-missiles and small arms fire.
Personally, I wouldn't bet my pink ass on that theory but the approach is fun as hell and that's the real reason we fly it. We get a visual on the runway at three miles out, drop down to one thousand feet above the ground, still maintaining two hundred eighty Knots. Now the fun starts. It's pilot appreciation time as I descend the mighty Herc to six hundred feet and smoothly, yet very deliberately, yank into a sixty degree left bank, turning the aircraft ninety degrees offset from runway heading. As soon as we roll out of the turn, I reverse turn to the right a full two hundred seventy degrees in order to roll out aligned with the runway. Some aeronautical genius coined this maneuver the "Ninety/Two- Seventy."
Chopping the power during the turn, I pull back on the yoke just to the point my nether regions start to sag, bleeding off energy in order to configure the pig for landing.
"Flaps Fifty!, landing Gear Down!, Before Landing Checklist!" I look over at the copilot and he's shaking like a cat shitting on a sheet of ice. Looking further back at the navigator, and even through the Nags, I can clearly see the wet spot spreading around his crotch. Finally, I glance at my steely-eyed flight engineer. His eyebrows rise in unison as a grin forms on his face. I can tell he's thinking the same thing I am .... "Where do we find such fine young men?"
"Flaps One Hundred!" I bark at the shaking cat. Now it's all aim-point and airspeed. Aviation 101, with the exception there' are no lights, I'm on NVGs, it's Baghdad, and now tracers are starting to crisscross the black sky. Naturally, and not at all surprisingly, I gease the Goodyear's on brick-one of runway 33 left, bring the throttles to ground idle and then force the props to full reverse pitch. Tonight, the sound of freedom is my four Hamilton Standard propellers chewing through the thick, putrid, Baghdad air. The huge, One hundred thirty thousand pound, lumbering whisper pig comes to a lurching stop in less than two thousand feet.
Let's see a Viper do that!
We exit the runway to a welcoming committee of government issued Army grunts. It's time to download their beans and bullets and letters from their sweethearts, look for war booty, and of course, urinate on Saddam's home. Walking down the crew entry steps with my lowest-bidder, Beretta 92F, 9 millimeter strapped smartly to my side, look around and thank God, not Allah, I'm an American and I'm on the winning team.
Then I thank God I'm not in the Army.
Knowing once again I've cheated death, I ask myself, "What in the hell am I doing in this mess?" Is it Duty, Honor, and Country?
You bet your ass.
Or could it possibly be for the glory, the swag, and not to mention, chicks dig the Air Medal. There's probably some truth there too. But now is not the time to derive the complexities of the superior, cerebral properties of the human portion of the aviator-man-machine model. It is however, time to get out of this shit-hole. Hey copilot , clean yourself up! And how's 'bout the 'Before Starting Engines Checklist."
God, I love this job!"
This is an e-mail note from a Marine
Intelligence officer in Fallujah, Iraq. He is on his second one year tour
there. This is the sort of job where you check in any sibilance of a life at the
door and deal only in information about the bad guys. A very tough job but one
that can make a huge difference in saving American lives. Long, but
All: I haven't written very much from Iraq. There's really not much to write about. More exactly, there's not much I can write about because practically everything I do, read or hear is classified military information or is depressing to the point that I'd rather just forget about it, never mind write about it. The gaps in between all of that are filled with the pure tedium of daily life in an armed camp. So it's a bit of a struggle to think of anything to put into a letter that's worth reading. Worse, this place just consumes you. I work 18-20-hour days, every day. The quest to draw a clear picture of what the insurgents are up to never ends. Problems and frictions crop up faster than solutions. Every challenge demands a response. It's like this every day. Before I know it, I can't see straight, because it's 0400 and I've been at work for twenty hours straight, somehow missing dinner again in the process. And once again I haven't written to anyone. It starts all over again four hours later. It's not really like Ground Hog Day, it's more like a level from Dante's Inferno.
Rather than attempting to sum up the last seven months, I figured I'd just hit the record setting highlights of 2006 in Iraq. These are among the events and experiences I'll remember best.
Worst Case of Déjà Vu - I thought I was familiar with the feeling of déjà vu until I arrived back here in Fallujah in February. The moment I stepped off of the helicopter, just as dawn broke, and saw the camp just as I had left it ten months before - that was déjà vu. Kind of unnerving. It was as if I had never left. Same work area, same busted desk, same chair, same computer, same room, same creaky rack, same . . . everything. Same everything for the next year. It was like entering a parallel universe. Home wasn't 10,000 miles away, it was a different lifetime.
Most Surreal Moment - Watching Marines arrive at my detention facility and unload a truck load of flex-cuffed midgets. 26 to be exact. I had put the word out earlier in the day to the Marines in Fallujah that we were looking for Bad Guy X, who was described as a midget. Little did I know that Fallujah was home to a small community of midgets, who banded together for support since they were considered as social outcasts. The Marines were anxious to get back to the midget colony to bring in the rest of the midget suspects, but I called off the search, figuring Bad Guy X was long gone on his short legs after seeing his companions rounded up by the giant infidels.
Most Profound Man in Iraq - an unidentified farmer in a fairly remote area who, after being asked by Reconnaissance Marines (searching for Syrians) if he had seen any foreign fighters in the area replied "Yes, you."
Worst City in al-Anbar Province - Ramadi, hands down. The provincial capital of 400,000 people. Killed over 1,000 insurgents in there since we arrived in February. Every day is a nasty gun battle. They blast us with giant bombs in the road, snipers, mortars and small arms. We blast them with tanks, attack helicopters, artillery, our snipers (much better than theirs), and every weapon that an infantryman can carry. Every day. Incredibly, I rarely see Ramadi in the news. We have as many attacks out here in the west as Baghdad. Yet, Baghdad has 7 million people, we have just 1.2 million. Per capita, al-Anbar province is the most violent place in Iraq by several orders of magnitude. I suppose it was no accident that the Marines were assigned this area in 2003.
Bravest Guy in al-Anbar Province - Any Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician (EOD Tech). How'd you like a job that required you to defuse bombs in a hole in the middle of the road that very likely are booby-trapped or connected by wire to a bad guy who's just waiting for you to get close to the bomb before he clicks the detonator? Every day. Sanitation workers in New York City get paid more than these guys. Talk about courage and commitment.
Second Bravest Guy in al-Anbar Province - It's a 20,000 way tie among all the Marines and Soldiers who venture out on the highways and through the towns of al-Anbar every day, not knowing if it will be their last - and for a couple of them, it will be.
Best Piece of U.S. Gear - new, bullet-proof flak jackets. O.K., they weigh 40 lbs and aren't exactly comfortable in 120 degree heat, but they've saved countless lives out here.
Best Piece of Bad Guy Gear - Armor Piercing ammunition that goes right through the new flak jackets and the Marines inside them.
Worst E-Mail Message - "The Walking Blood Bank is Activated. We need blood type A+ stat." I always head down to the surgical unit as soon as I get these messages, but I never give blood - there's always about 80 Marines in line, night or day.
Biggest Surprise - Iraqi Police. All local guys. I never figured that we'd get a police force established in the cities in al-Anbar. I estimated that insurgents would kill the first few, scaring off the rest. Well, insurgents did kill the first few, but the cops kept on coming. The insurgents continue to target the police, killing them in their homes and on the streets, but the cops won't give up. Absolutely incredible tenacity. The insurgents know that the police are far better at finding them than we are. - and they are finding them. Now, if we could just get them out of the habit of beating prisoners to a pulp . . .
Greatest Vindication - Stocking up on outrageous quantities of Diet Coke from the chow hall in spite of the derision from my men on such hoarding, then having a 122mm rocket blast apart the giant shipping container that held all of the soda for the chow hall. Yep, you can't buy experience.
Biggest Mystery - How some people can gain weight out here. I'm down to 165 lbs. Who has time to eat?
Second Biggest Mystery - if there's no atheists in foxholes, then why aren't there more people at Mass every Sunday?
Favorite Iraqi TV Show - Oprah. I have no idea. They all have satellite TV.
Coolest Insurgent Act - Stealing almost $7 million from the main bank in Ramadi in broad daylight, then, upon exiting, waving to the Marines in the combat outpost right next to the bank, who had no clue of what was going on. The Marines waved back. Too cool.
Most Memorable Scene - In the middle of the night, on a dusty airfield, watching the better part of a battalion of Marines packed up and ready to go home after six months in al-Anbar, the relief etched in their young faces even in the moonlight. Then watching these same Marines exchange glances with a similar number of grunts loaded down with gear file past - their replacements. Nothing was said. Nothing needed to be said.
Highest Unit Re-enlistment Rate - Any outfit that has been in Iraq recently. All the danger, all the hardship, all the time away from home, all the horror, all the frustrations with the fight here - all are outweighed by the desire for young men to be part of a 'Band of Brothers' who will die for one another. They found what they were looking for when they enlisted out of high school. Man for man, they now have more combat experience than any Marines in the history of our Corps.
Most Surprising Thing I Don't Miss - Beer. Perhaps being half-stunned by lack of sleep makes up for it.
Worst Smell - Porta-johns in 120 degree heat - and that's 120 degrees outside of the porta-john.
Highest Temperature - I don't know exactly, but it was in the porta-johns. Needed to re-hydrate after each trip to the loo.
Biggest Hassle - High-ranking visitors. More disruptive to work than a rocket attack. VIPs demand briefs and "battlefield" tours (we take them to quiet sections of Fallujah, which is plenty scary for them). Our briefs and commentary seem to have no affect on their preconceived notions of what's going on in Iraq. Their trips allow them to say that they've been to Fallujah, which gives them an unfortunate degree of credibility in perpetuating their fantasies about the insurgency here.
Biggest Outrage - Practically anything said by talking heads on TV about the war in Iraq, not that I get to watch much TV. Their thoughts are consistently both grossly simplistic and politically slanted. Biggest offender - Bill O'Reilly - what a buffoon.
Best Intel Work - Finding Jill Carroll's kidnappers - all of them. I was mighty proud of my guys that day. I figured we'd all get the Christian Science Monitor for free after this, but none have showed up yet. Talk about ingratitude.
Saddest Moment - Having the battalion commander from 1st Battalion, 1st Marines hand me the dog tags of one of my Marines who had just been killed while on a mission with his unit. Hit by a 60mm mortar. Cpl Bachar was a great Marine. I felt crushed for a long time afterward. His picture now hangs at the entrance to the Intelligence Section. We'll carry it home with us when we leave in February.
Biggest Ass-Chewing - 10 July immediately following a visit by the Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister, Dr. Zobai. The Deputy Prime Minister brought along an American security contractor (read mercenary), who told my Commanding General that he was there to act as a mediator between us and the Bad Guys. I immediately told him what I thought of him and his asinine ideas in terms that made clear my disgust and which, unfortunately, are unrepeatable here. I thought my boss was going to have a heart attack. Fortunately, the translator couldn't figure out the best Arabic words to convey my meaning for the Deputy Prime Minister. Later, the boss had no difficulty in conveying his meaning to me in English regarding my Irish temper, even though he agreed with me. At least the guy from the State Department thought it was hilarious. We never saw the mercenary again.
Best Chuck Norris Moment - 13 May. Bad Guys arrived at the government center in the small town of Kubaysah to kidnap the town mayor, since they have a problem with any form of government that does not include regular beheadings and women wearing burqahs. There were seven of them. As they brought the mayor out to put him in a pick-up truck to take him off to be beheaded (on video, as usual), one of the bad Guys put down his machinegun so that he could tie the mayor's hands. The mayor took the opportunity to pick up the machinegun and drill five of the Bad Guys. The other two ran away. One of the dead Bad Guys was on our top twenty wanted list. Like they say, you can't fight City Hall.
Worst Sound - That crack-boom off in the distance that means an IED or mine just went off. You just wonder who got it, hoping that it was a near miss rather than a direct hit. Hear it every day.
Second Worst Sound - Our artillery firing without warning. The howitzers are pretty close to where I work. Believe me, outgoing sounds a lot like incoming when our guns are firing right over our heads. They'd about knock the fillings out of your teeth.
Only Thing Better in Iraq Than in the U.S. - Sunsets. Spectacular. It's from all the dust in the air.
Proudest Moment - It's a tie every day, watching my Marines produce phenomenal intelligence products that go pretty far in teasing apart Bad Guy operations in al-Anbar. Every night Marines and Soldiers are kicking in doors and grabbing Bad Guys based on intelligence developed by my guys. We rarely lose a Marine during these raids, they are so well-informed of the objective. A bunch of kids right out of high school shouldn't be able to work so well, but they do.
Happiest Moment - Well, it wasn't in Iraq. There are no truly happy moments here. It was back in California when I was able to hold my family again while home on leave during July.
Most Common Thought - Home. Always thinking of home, of Kathleen and the kids. Wondering how everyone else is getting along. Regretting that I don't write more. Yep, always thinking of home.
I hope you all are doing well. If you want to do something for me, kiss a cop, flush a toilet, and drink a beer. I'll try to write again before too long - I promise.
TO ALL OF OUR COUNTRY'S VETERANS, WE HERE AT VINTAGE AIRCRAFT WOULD LIKE TO SAY:
THANK YOU FOR WHAT YOU DID FOR OUR COUNTRY!
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