SO STARK THE MIND SPINS

Foz and I had our monthly tactics confab (coffee and war stories) yesterday. Exactly half-a-century ago and half-a-world away, on the shore of the south China Sea, we were hot stuff fighter jocks living our dreams—the best the US military aviation training program could turn out.  Badass, as the current cool talkers like to say SOT-for-homepage-Xmas-11.jpgwithout knowledge! I flew on his wing and literally trusted him with my life through some of the darkest nights and double dog doo weather we’ve seen before or since. Our joint ventures saved many American mothers’ sons from violent death while visiting same upon the enemy. Not least, we survived to tell about it. I was flying his wing and took this picture of him—Bob Fosnot—leading us home at dawn from one tough scramble off the alert pad. He may not fit your fighter pilot image now, but that night he was lean and mean and hirsute, the conditions were nightmarish, and we were kickin’ butt—100 or so grateful Special Forces grunts survived to celebrate that same spectacular sunup.

The contrast between life then and now is so stark the mind spins. Today we’re just two doddering old toads drooling in our coffee cups, laughing ourselves silly, and struggling to understand a world we don’t recognize. But we’re still here on the preferred side of the grass and loving it, and grateful to God for every minute of our uncommon lives and loves, and living proof that Grace is truly Amazing.

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*Son of Thunder is a novel based on my experience in the 309th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 31st Tactical Fighter Wing, Tuy Hoa AB, Republic of Vietnam from June 1968 to May 1969. It is historical fiction, and as such the places and names and world events are non-fiction and the plot is fiction. Most of the flying experiences were mine with varying degrees of embellishment, and some were made up of whole cloth.

I came across a blurb from a blog I wrote a few years ago that still seems to be a pretty good thumbnail of the American fighter pilot culture in combat in the mid-20th century.  “At Dusty’s Pub, the junior officers’ hangout on the beach of the South China Sea, where humility was an unknown attribute, we never credited our killed-by-air and busted enemy asset tallies to anything other than superior skill and cunning, and in a single-seat jet no one else would know what panic and pandemonium may have taken place in that mini-mobile office in the heat of battle. Now, well into codgerhood, Foz and I readily agreed it was by God’s grace alone that we survived not only the best the enemy could throw at us, but also our own adrenaline addiction.  Nothing fed that addiction like laying napalm down at 50 feet above the ground and 400 knots, walking 20-millimeter exploding bullets through an enemy force coming through the concertina wire of a friendly base camp, or jinking in the crosshairs of enemy AAA. Gen. Robert E. Lee was a kindred spirit in this regard: ‘It is well that war is so terrible, otherwise we should grow too fond of it.’”

As I mentioned earlier, the contrast between life then and now is so stark the mind spins.

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