Sunday, May 24, 2015

A Lament...

War cemetery at Deir el-Belah 1918, Gaza
To my knowledge, only one member of my family ever died in war. That was my great-great uncle, Robert Bain. I wrote of him here. That's his final resting place in that opening photo.

Such a long way from Scotland...

This weekend lies heavy on my heart.

In remembrance...

Great grandpa Joseph, 22nd New York Volunteer Infantry, Civil War

Great Great Uncle Pliny, 7th New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry, Civil War, WIA

Great Great Uncle Robert, Royal Scots Fusiliers, World War I, KIA

Grandpa Louis, United States Army, World War I

Uncle Louis, United States Army Air Forces, World War II

Uncle Charlie, United States Army, World War II

My Dad,  United States Army, Berlin Airlift

Uncle Pliny

My grandfather

My Dad

Miss you all...

Saturday, May 23, 2015


With measured tread, the soldier of the Old Guard, 3rd Infantry Regiment of the United States Army, marches exactly 21 paces, halts, executes a facing movement to the east (towards the tomb), pauses 21 seconds, performs another facing movement towards the mat, brings his weapon to his outside shoulder and steps off again.

21 paces.

21 seconds.

Always 21.

Matching, though in silence, the 21 gun salute.

But no cannon fire erupts in Arlington.

For this is the Tomb of the Unknowns, which bears the inscription...


The shells are screaming in faster now. The explosions are so many that it seems like one continuous roar. The Earth itself shakes, bouncing the soldiers in their trenches as each round slams into the frozen hillside.

The young private from Iowa is hunched down, trembling. He has been at the front for just a day. He is a replacement. He doesn't know his squad mates, they don't know him. He is thousands of miles from home. He is terrified.

He grips his rifle, praying that this ordeal will soon be over.

A shell explodes directly over his position. A moment of searing heat and pain.

Then nothing...

After the shelling stops, after another assault has been repulsed, the Lieutenant wants to know where the new guy is. No one can say.

He will be carried as "Missing In Action" - one of thousands who didn't go home.

The coxswain was straining to keep his boat pointed towards the beach. The surf was up and there was more of a current than expected.

As he conned the Higgins boat towards shore, he spared a glance at the Marines hunched down in front of him.

Poor bastards.

As they got closer to the beach, a streak of light caught the young sailor's attention. He moaned quietly as he realized, "That was a tracer. Sweet Jesus, they're shooting at us!"

Geysers began to erupt close to the boat. Artillery from the defenders. Damn, this is going to be dicey.

When the keel hit the beach, he dropped the ramp, watched as the Marines began to offload and head for what little cover the beach offered. Some of them dropped into the water and didn't move.

As he brought the ramp up and began to get his boat back out to the transport for another load, two men manning a Type 96 machine gun swung the barrel of their weapon slightly to the left and up.

The Higgins boat stalled and drifted back onto the shore.

The young coxswain had done his job. His war, his life, was over.

The two F-4B Phantoms have just gone "feet dry" over North Vietnam. They are headed in to attack a "suspected truck park." Lead is alert, keeping his scan going. One mission, this mission, and then he can go home.

So far it's been a milk run, just like Ops predicted. A lot more broken cloud than the weather-guessers predicted but we should be okay. Supposed to be fairly clear in the target area.

"Jumbo," he called out to his RIO over the intercom, "how far out are we?"

"I'm showing twenty miles out, Squirt. RHAW gear is quiet, knock on wood." Jumbo said, tapping his fist against his flight helmet.

Both crew members at that point heard a garbled transmission on the squadron frequency. The hair on the back of Squirt's neck stood up, he swore he heard the word "SAM."

"Eyes out Jumbo."

"Yeah, I thought I heard SAM in that last call." Jumbo replied from the back seat.

"Uh, Bullet Four, did you copy that last transmission." Squirt radioed to his wingman.

"Negative, Three. I'm getting a lot of static..."


The crew of Bullet Four could only stare in horror as what used to be Bullet Three was just a dirty smudge in the sky, raining debris...

World War One's Unknown Soldier comes home.

Hospitalman William R. Charette, who received the Medal of Honor for Korean War heroism, selects the Unknown Serviceman of World War II, during ceremonies on board USS Canberra (CAG-2), 26 May 1958. The other World War II Unknown Serviceman candidate's casket is at left, with the Unknown Serviceman of the Korean War in the middle. After completion of the selection ceremonies, the World War II and Korean War Unknown Servicemen were carried to Washington, D.C., for burial at Arlington National Cemetery. The other World War II Unknown was buried at sea.

Please enjoy this weekend. It's the unofficial start of summer. Time for picnics, trips to the beach, cookouts and baseball.

Yes, it's Memorial Day weekend.

It's a time to honor those who gave their lives in defense of our country. Our way of life.

Those who gave their lives for us, for you and me.

Spare a moment for them this weekend.

Just a moment.

If those who died for us could, they would be alongside us this weekend. Having a beer. Turning over a burger on the grill. Watching the ball game.

But they can't. So we need to remember them.

Honor their memories.

This weekend, as I always do, I shall raise a glass to the sky...

And salute those who gave the last full measure.

Quietly, I'll say "Cheers my brothers and sisters."

And I'll say, softly and with a tear in my eye, "Thank you."

The Old Guard transports the flag-draped casket of the second Sergeant Major of the Army George W. Dunaway who was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.
(U.S.Army photo by J.D. Leipold 2008)
A tugboat tows the decommissioned aircraft carrier Midway past Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery to San Diego Bay.
(U.S. Navy photo by Geoffrey Patrick,  Jan. 5, 2004)

Friday, May 22, 2015

Throw A Nickel On The Grass...

So the other day FRaVMotC taminator013 (or The Taminator as we call him, don't ask how I know he's a him, I just know, 'kay?) asked the question...
What did you mean when you said that you would bring a nickel when you visit Arlington? Is that an AF tradition?
For you see, in this post I said...
...I'll stop by next time I visit Arlington and I'll bring a nickel.
Hence The Taminator's question.

Now I answered the question in the comments but I wanted to address it further for the general edification, education and curiosity of the audience here at the Chant du Départ. For I know that you are a curious lot and are always seeking a wider knowledge of affaires militaires. (And foreign languages as well. You could do the same via Google Translate, though that is not always 100% accurate. I, with my sketchy background in foreign languages can keep Google somewhat honest. I do think I'm digressing, at least Bitching Betty keeps saying "Warning! Digression! Pull Up, Pull Up..." And yes, that's what it's called, Bitching Betty. I didn't name it. If it makes you fell better, a female voice was chosen because it's more noticeable. In theory, so... "Warning! Digression! Pull Up, Pull Up!")

Now where was I? Oh yeah, that whole nickel in the grass thing. I've had the Research Department look into this further and here's what I they found.

First stop Air Warriors.

Now the short version is that this phrase, which also has a song, comes from the Korean War.

There's a song?

Why yes, yes there is...

For the uninitiated, the mentions of the F-86 Sabre and the Yalu River put this song squarely in the Korean War. But is that where the saying started?

It may be a tradition from World War II fighter pilots. One story I've seen mentioned in a couple of places is that back in the days when they had pay phones (Google it youngsters, pre-cell phone stuff) a phone call required a nickel.

Pilots headed out on a machine would (so the story goes) "throw a nickel on the grass," the theory being that if you didn't make it home, your squadron mates could make the phone call to your folks on your nickel, not their own.

The theory being that it was akin to the theater saying "break a leg," it was not good to wish someone "good luck." That was tempting fate.

Interesting (perhaps only to me) side note: In the World War I German Air Force, the crews heading out told each other "Hals- und Beinbruck" - "break your neck and legs." Interesting Wikipedia article about all that.

Heck, if the Red Baron says it's so, then it must be.

But the nickel for a phone call thing is suspect, at least to me.

I'm sure there were pay phones available to the pilots in World War II, at least in England, but they would not have cost a nickel. That's not a British coin, Canadian yes, American yes. British, no.

Perhaps it was a symbolic gesture. Then again, a nickel in wartime Britain would not have been useful, so why carry them around? I don't know, that's just me, trying to be logical. (Fascinating, Captain...)

I suspect it was a Korean War thing and may have originated in training squadrons in the United States. But I am speculating here.

The story I like best is here. That story is accompanied by this picture...

One of my personal heroes, Brigadier General Robin Olds.

Now I have honored this tradition twice in my day.

Once for Ed Rasimus (whom I talked about here and again here) and then again for a fellow whom many of you may know.

Captain Carroll "Lex" LeFon.

The Cap'n is interred in the columbarium out at Fort Rosecrans in Sandy Eggo. There is no grass close by.

The last time I was out there, I realized there was a place where I could put a symbolic nickel, on the top of the Cap'n's marker. There's a small lip on the stone, almost perfect.

So while I didn't "throw a nickel on the grass" for Lex, I did leave one on his stone.

So that's what I know about the tradition. If anyone knows more, let me know.

Oh, one last thing. My son-in-law Big Time (Naval Aviator) and daughter, The WSO, didn't know of the "throw a nickel on the grass" tradition. So I didn't know if the Navy did such a thing. But over at Air Warriors there were a number of comments from Naval Aviators who flew in Vietnam who did know of the tradition.

Well, at least my kids know now.

If you visit a military cemetery.

Bring some nickels.

Just sayin'...

Another great tradition (and an awesome website).

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Just When You Think...

Okay, yesterday I was all melancholy and out of sorts.

Well, Monday was cloudy and rainy and the warmer weather apparently decided to take a day or two off. Tuesday's post reflected the weather and my mood.

Call me gloomy Gus.

The Nuke called, "Really Dad, a sad post? Snap out of it old man."

Well Wednesday, though cool, was pretty nice. A lot of haze out over the Atlantic but from where I was sitting the weather was sweet.

So I dragged the new camera out back after work, the gardens have undergone an amazing transition in the past month. Though the tulips and daffodils have gone, the bleeding hearts (the flower, not the you-know-whats), the lilacs, wisteria and phlox are dominating the color palette. It's pretty, smells good too.

So today things are good. I trust it's a trend!

We'll get back to the history lessons soon. (Stop groaning!)

No, Hank's Oyster Bar is not in my back yard. It's in Alexandria and a good place to eat.

I really need to get out there when the sun is higher.

Bleeding hearts, lilac and lupins.
Phlox by the pond. (Not by the pound... Sorry, I couldn't resist.)
As night falls, how about a song?

Or two?

Go Beatles!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

All Is Not What It Seems

Wood at Mount Vernon
There are days I think I know what I'm all about. I think I know what I'm doing and why I am here.

Yesterday was not one of those days.

Sure, it started out fine, then things began to go adrift.

Later it seemed as if nothing made sense anymore.

I think I've wrapped myself inside of...


There are days I feel caged.

But when you build your own cage, who do you blame?

There are days I want to just fly away, head downriver and see what is there.

But I know I'll stay on the bank, to try and flourish where I've been planted.

Perhaps I planted myself.

I think I have always drifted with the tide. I don't drive life, it drives me.

I think.

I tell myself that my spirit remains free.

But if you look closely, it's an illusion.

Still and all, I try to see the beauty.

It was a bad day, but this too shall pass.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Virgil's Cousin

Lieutenant General Carlos M. Talbott, USAF (Retired)
FRaVMotC Virgil Xenophon has mentioned his cousin, first cousin I might add, a coupla/few times in the comments. First time that I can recall, (Blogger's search engine was running pretty much like the U.S. Congress last night) was here, a Friday Flyby featuring the P-38. His comment there was:
Next, I should comment that when I spent the better part of the summer (age 13) of '56 staying with my first cousin (my Mother's age--she was 20 yrs younger than the rest of her siblings) Lt Gen Carlos M. Talbott (then an O-6) when he was Wing Co of an F-100 Fighter Day Group at Foster AFB, Victoria, TX, Maurice and his boss, then Maj Gen Henry Viccellio were invited to a Fourth of July BBQ at this Texas Senators ranch and I was in the Maurices' station-wagon (with the General driving) in the backseat with Maurice's kids -- the wives following in another car) taking in all the "shop-talk" during the several hour drive. Maj Gen Viccellio (a giant of a Texan, who still had pox-mark scars from the pre-depression era when small-pox vaccinations were not yet wide-spread) ) was the P-38 Wing Commander who planned the mission and hand-picked the pilots who shot Yamamoto down. Talk about being in the presence of history! And to further add to the history tale, the Senator whose ranch we were invited to was LBJ's ranch! Little did I know when I shook his hand as a 13-yr-old that he would be the President ordering me off to war a decade later!
Yeah, how cool is that? Virgil didn't just make history as a Phantom driver in Vietnam, he witnessed quite a bit as a lad as well!

So the other day Virgil's cousin popped up again in the comments:
That aerial refueling shot you are showing is of F-100s--one from each of the three squadrons--from my 1st cousins (Lt Gen Carlos M. Talbott, Lt Gen, USAF Ret, Vice-Cmdr of PACAF) 322nd Fighter Day Group when he was a 32 yr-old O-6 Commander at Foster AFB, Victoria, TX circa 55/56. (He won the Bendix Air Race in '55 flying good ole FW-777) He won the race (elapsed time--no air refueling then) deciding to land w.o deploying the chute (as repacking the chute took about 45 min) and risking burning up the breaks, putting him out of the race for good. His gamble & skill paid off and he not only won via elapsed time but was first over the field at Philadelphia.

PS: He was obviously then in such favor (later to fall out of favor--didn't get his first star until he took the 366th TFW to Vietnam in 65) that his unit was the FIRST in the Air Force to be equipped with the brand new Century series fighter.

He died 26 Feb 2015 at age 95.
So by now I realize that via the "power" of the web of world-wideness, I can look up Lt Gen Talbott. So I did.

What an impressive guy.

First of all, he flew missions in World War II, flying the P-47 "Jug" as a member of the 397th Fighter Squadron of the 368th Fighter Group in the European Theater of Operations (ETO).

From the 397th's website:

Distinguished Service Cross, Distinguished Flying Cross and the Purple Heart. Two Me-109 kills. A pretty impressive record. And that's just his early years!

In his official Air Force biography there is this:
He is a command pilot, has flown more than 4,500 hours, and during World War II flew 96 combat missions. His military decorations and awards include the Distinguished Service Cross; Distinguished Service Medal with two oak leaf clusters; Legion of Merit with oak leaf cluster; Distinguished Flying Cross with oak leaf cluster; Air Medal with 15 oak leaf clusters; Air Force Commendation Medal; Purple Heart; Golden Cross of the Royal Order of Phoenix (Greece); Korean Medal of Merit; from the Republic of Vietnam the National Order of Vietnam, 5th Class, Armed Forces Honor Medal, Air Force Distinguished Service Order, 2nd Class; Order of Cloud and Banner, Republic of China; and Air Force Wings of Turkey, China and Republic of Vietnam.
So make that two Distinguished Flying Crosses.

Oh and that F-100, FW-777, that Virgil mentioned? She's here...
52-5777 North American F-100A-5-NA Super Sabre 5777 (MSN 192-22) registration N1453 reserved 1972, NTU.  Noted in 1990 on display at Hill AFB Museum, Utah. (Source)
I actually found a picture of the old girl -

F-100A Super Sabre, S/N 52-5777, Buzz Number FW-777, at Ogden, Utah (S0urce)

Great website by the way, I need to spend more time there.

Sadly, Lt Gen Talbott passed away in February of this year. His obituary in the Washington Post started with:
Folded his wings, at 95 years of age, on Thursday, February 26, 2015 in Arlington, VA. (Source)
Now that's one of the men who built the Air Force that I served in.

God Speed Sir, I'll stop by next time I visit Arlington and I'll bring a nickel.

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Huns

Microsoft’s search engine Bing is well known for having some pretty spectacular photos on its home page.  Yesterday was no exception.  I hope you stopped by and saw it, because it was copyrighted and we’re not going to go there.  In any case it was of an F/A-18F going supersonic with an awesome shock cone just aft of the intakes obscuring the rest of the jet.  The details were phenomenal. 

As I was contemplating the photo, wishing hard I was in the jet, it occurred to me that I’d only seen that effect twice in real life.  Once was in the PI while I was in the Eagle.  Outbound from Botolan with plenty of gas, Bones and I are low and fast.  I’m checking his six as he is mine.  We’re not trying to save gas, just get out of Dodge quickly, so I’ve got the throttles somewhere past Mil power.  As I’m checking Bones’ six, something catches my eye in the vicinity of his jet (checking six means looking BEHIND his aircraft not AT his aircraft).  I glance over at him and he’s covered in white.  There’s a nanosecond pause as I try to figure out what’s wrong.  Nothing, we’re just supersonic at what I eyeball is 501 feet above sea level.
I chuckle and look in my mirrors, I also am pulling a cone.  That was actually the second time I’d seen the phenomenon.

The first time was way back in my youth.  My Daughter would say it was when the Dinosaurs roamed.  Yeah right, Pterodactyls couldn’t go supersonic, so there! 

But it was a while ago, back when the Air Force still had a soul and Fighter Pilots weren’t afraid to be fighter pilots.
Hmm, no runway. assymetric load, an aircraft that doesn't handle yaw well.  Let's give it a shot!

So,  There I was*

Dad was a T-38 IP at Webb AFB, lovely Big Spring (singular, not plural, you identify yourself as “not from around here” when you say Big Springs) TX.  The festivities in South East Asia are going full blast and the USAF is producing pilots as fast as it can.
UPT graduations back then were “Very Big Deals”.  I’m sure there were official events and the pinning on of wings, but I always went for the airplanes.  They always seemed to have one of everything.  From C-5s to C-47s (I remember seeing an AC-47 at one).  B-52s to B-17s (I don’t remember ever seeing a B-47 or B-58, they must have been in the boneyard by ’65). 

Those of you that know me know that I gave a look see at all the above, but made a beeline for the ones beginning with “F”.

I remember the Confederate Air Force (for such was its actual name at the time), showing up with P-51s, P-47s, P-38s, P-40s and F-4U's.  I was in hog heaven.

They always seemed to have F-84s, and F-86s from the Guard as well as the occasional F-89.

The Century Series was usually there en masse from the F-100 through the F-111 (including the F-110 otherwise known as the F-4C).  These were usually flown in by recent graduates of UPT who had gotten their wings and gone on the RTU and completed the checkout there.  The Wing always liked them to have them come back as they were usually known to the current crop of student pilots and demonstrated that “it could be done.”

The cool part for me was that because I went with my Dad, a lot of the time the pilot would ask me if I wanted to climb in.  Oh Yeah, Baby!!! I thought.  “Why yes sir, if it wouldn’t be inconvenient.” I said out loud.

I had a lot of pictures of me sitting in jets, unfortunately, I’ve never found them.  Ah well!

But, I digress.

It’s a Saturday morning, and the graduation festivities are wound down,  I’m walking from my house, rich as Croesus with my lawn mowing money.  (3 dollars to mow, edge and trim, I’ve never had that much money since). 

Anyhow, I’m walking to the BX to help the local economy by buying a model aircraft.  I’m leaning towards the F-105 I’d seen earlier in the week, but there was a Mosquito I also had my eye on. 

So I’m pondering these life altering events, when I get a flicker of motion out of the corner of my eye.  As I look towards the left (towards the runway which I’m perpendicular to), I see an F-100.  He’s going to pass a couple of thousand feet in front of me, and I don’t have to crank my neck back very much to see him.

He’s also got a strange white shape around his aircraft.

He passes by and shortly thereafter I find myself on the ground.  That wasn’t the first time I’d heard a sonic boom, but it certainly was the first time I felt one!

I wanted to be a F-100 pilot at that instant.

So, the Bing Photo got me reminiscing about that knockdown and how that phenomenon guided decisions and efforts and luck in my life to get me to where I wanted to be.  It also got me to wondering about the F-100, officially named the Super Sabre, but widely known as “The Hun”.

I did a little digging using the magic of the Internet, and found some interesting stuff I didn’t know about The Hun. 

North American Aviation sent the Air Force an unsolicited proposal for the aircraft in January 1951, the test model flew in October 1953, and even though there were some problems in the test program (putting it mildly, more to follow), the aircraft went operational in September of 54. 

From an idea to an operational fighter in 3 years 9 months.  Not bad.  Kinda like the F-35.  I was killing programs to pay for it in 96, is it operational yet?

Sorry, Digression

North American Aviation built the aircraft as a follow on to it F-86 Sabre (hence the name) as an Air to Air fighter, I’d never heard of any mission flown by the aircraft other than Air to Ground.  
Rockets were always fun to shoot!

In fact, the Air Force does not credit the F-100 officially with any kills.  The North Vietnamese however, disagree.  According to this article, the first Air to Air kill in the Vietnam War was by a F-100 over a Mig-17.  Evidently, the Pentagon didn’t want to publicize this as it might sway the public’s opinion about the war.  Puh Leeze!

The other thing I learned about the Hun, and I alluded to it earlier, was a problem it had aerodynamically.  Originally, the Hun was called the Sabre 45, based on its 45 degree wing sweep.  I’m sure there are Aero Engineers that can explain this better that this, but I’ll try. 
Look at the Angle of Attack on the Huns flying off this tanker.  I bet that was fun refueling!

Early models had yaw and roll issues which could cause the aircraft to go out of control and overstress to the point of disintegration.  Bad enough, but this was eventually worked out.  

The more common problem was the “Sabre Dance”.  This occurred when the aircraft was close to stall speed.  At that point, the wingtips would lose lift, because of the high angle of attack.  This would cause the aircraft to pitch up, exacerbating the stall.  If any yaw was induced at that point, one wing would gain lift by moving forward while the other would lose lift causing roll.  If this happened at altitude, the aircraft might be recoverable.  

However, one place where a fighter approaches stall speed is during landing.  There the pilot had three things working against him.  First, the engine on the F-100 was slow to spin up and, when AB was selected for a few seconds until it got fully lit, there actually was a decrease in thrust.  Second, obviously, during landing the pilot is close to the ground and probably doesn’t have altitude to recover.  Finally, ejection seats were not very effective back then.  The pilot either had to be in level flight or have a considerable altitude buffer to successfully eject.  During landing, he has neither.

All told, there were 2294 Huns produced.  It astounded me to read that 889 were lost in accidents killing 324 pilots.  In addition, 198 were destroyed in combat, a loss rate of 47%.

Yes, the Air Force was different back then.
I don't think Steppenwolf counts as "Cheesy" music.  If so, My apologies

In reflection, it’s probably a good thing that the Hun was retired in 1979 just as I got my wings and my F-110  F-4.

A gentler version of a Sabre Dance

All pictures are from Wikipedia as well as historical background