Fire Cloud...
An irregular marking on the exterior of Native American pottery: usually resulting from burning fuel coming in direct contact with the vessel during firing

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Veteran's Day

"Only the dead have seen the end of war." - Santayana

I was 19. It was 1963. I just wrecked the 6th car that my father bought for me. Somehow I ended up in an orange grove with a bottle of vodka and the '55 Ford station wagon seemed to have done battle with the grove. My father wanted me to join the military.

I go to Jacksonville for induction and testing and get the duty of sheparding 10 recruits to San Antonio. They say something about intelligence tests. We arrive at 1AM and they put on a show with a guy who "talks back". They take him outside and pretend to beat the shit out of him in a noisy fashion. Some 19 year olds will believe anything.

I request some testing and score a 98 percentile on the Air Force Officer's Emotional Stability test. I pretend I am Captain Jack Armstong. I get an assignment to the Air Cadet Program...That would make me a navigator, but the program is killed off after I get my slot.

My Drill Insrtuctor tells me, "Dougherty, You want to be an officer? You wouldn't make a good pimple on an Airman's ass."

I go instead to radio relay school. I spit shine the sole of my boots and a West Point Lieutenant becomes extremely impressed and takes visiting Congressmen to see my boots. I get promoted to being a student leader of a wing of 900 airmem. I don't have to march anymore, I just give commands.

I am in the latrine with a loser lifer four-striper. We discuss cleaning the urinals and I offer an opinion. He points at his stripes and tells me that they don't pay me to think. The next day I get my promotion and watch him burn that I am the same rank after 9 months that he has attained after 20 years.

After 18 months of college on the Air Force's tab to complete my degree I go back to San Antonio for Officer Training School. My 1st wife writes to the four-star general and calls me a communist sex-pervert.

I give my statement to the OSI (Office of Special Investigation) and offer my ex-wife $10,000 to go away.  During the investigation, the Colonel in charge of OTS creates a special rank for me. He makes me an OT General. My insignia is blank shoulder boards. The lower classmen with chickenstripes on their boards think that I am their lowerclassmen, just arrived early. I have to sneak down to the chowhall to eat at odd hours to avoid any misunderstanding. I feel ike Major Major Major in "Catch 22".

Eventually they clear me and give me the choice of pilot training or navigator training. It's 1965 and they only want aircrews. I note the number of F-105s going down in VietNam, so I volunteer for Navigator training. It was a good year. I played poker with my classmates and visit Mrs. Phred in San Francisco. LSD is in. The next three years are spent navigating the Pacific. I Loved Navigator school. Generally I eat braunswagger, mayonaisse, onion and tomato sandwiches and play poker with my classmates. One night I come home from poker at 6AM and find Mrs. Phred in tears. That teaches me something about women or at least about Mrs. Phred. We spend two hours a day on physical training and self defense skills. I still think about smashing nose bones into brain cavities and crushing rib cages with my knees.

In 2003 my Cousin Danny was on vacation and we're going fishing in the morning. We see each other more often now for fly-in family funerals and less often for fun. We sit on the front porch in the warm February evening in our rockers, drinking beer, and talking about the impending Iraq invasion and tomorrow's fishing trip. We swat mosquitoes and trade stories. Danny was a SeaBee. SeaBees are extremely competent military construction specialists.

Danny listens to my Qui Nhon story.

The Qui Nhon airfield is on the coast. It runs north and south with a big mountain on the west side and the South China Sea to the east. We land at twilight during the 2nd Tet offensive to deliver cargo. We were the only airplane on the field. Tracer bullets from .50 calibre machine guns are going over our heads from the east up into the hills. We walk to a command tent in the dark. There are spent bullet cartridges on the ground and runway.

Inside the tent a lot of soldiers are sitting on the dirt floor and listening to rock music on a boom box. We go in to get someone to sign for the helicopters we are dropping off. When we go back to the airplane an Army Major climbs on board with a rifle. He is very excited and he wants us to take all his broken helicopters with us because he thinks they are attracting the wrong kind of attention. That makes me consider the fact that we are in a huge silver airplane sitting there in the moonlight wasting time talking to this fool.

The Major keeps putting the barrel of his rifle in the stomach of the aircraft commander to emphasize his argument, which I think is rude. Eventually the AC gets the Major on the HF radio to Saigon and they convince the Major that we actually have something else to do that is important. The Major gives up and leaves just before we do. We make a night flight out and the night sky is filled with flares and tongues of flame from 'spooky' C-47s.

Danny is really surprised by this:
"Bobby, I was there in Qui Nhon that night. The power and lights went out and a magnesium flare landed on one of our sheds. There was a lot of sniping going on. Bullets were rattling around everywhere. The Lieutenant ordered me up on the roof to put out the fire. I told him to go fuck himself, I'd build him a new shed in the morning if that one burns. We had lots of plywood."

Danny was a New York union electrician before he joined the SeaBees so his response seems about right. What is strange is that we have seen each other frequently for the last forty years and never discussed the war before the eve of the Iraq invasion.
Danny gives me his impression of Viet Nam:

"It was Murder...Murder...Murder...I saw a cook pull out a .38 and shoot a sergeant in the head after a really stupid argument. I had to stand guard on the cook for twelve hours before they took him away. It happened all the time."

Danny tells me more about bullets whizzing by and rattling around and how that made him feel. Our grandfather was gassed in the 'Great War' and died after a couple of years so we never knew him. We discuss our fathers. Uncle Bruce was in the 101st Airborne and crashed his glider in Normandy on D-Day. One Waco glider is still on display in a museum near Bayeaux in Normandy. My dad drove a half-track in France and Germany. I tell Danny about the bus loads of young French children that still come to place roses on the graves at the Normandy American cemetery each June.

I share more stories with Danny in the moonlight as we rock and drink more beer. Our verb tenses and memories get a little jumbled by time and beer. Then and now get mixed up.

When I graduated from Navigator school, Carol wore white gloves and a pillbox hat for the graduation ceremony like the one Jackie Kennedy had in Dallas. My standing in the class is near the top. The students with the best scores are always sent to the Strategic Air Command. Later I approached the squadron commander in the Officer's Club and asked him if he could arrange to get me into B-52s because I have always been fascinated by large nuclear weapons. My assignment to unarmed C-124 cargo planes came through the following week.

Once I landed in Saigon on a sunny day. The crew left me on the plane alone and they all went to fill out paperwork. Helicopters landed and left bodies on the grass in front of the airplane. The soldiers must have been dead because they were bloody, still and unattended. I went for a walk. There was a warehouse with a tin roof and no walls. It is 100 yards long, 50 feet wide and 10 feet high. The open warehouse is filled with aluminium coffins stacked five high. I thought about the procurement process and the casualty estimates going into this warehouse. There were big profits for a coffin company somewhere back in the mid-west. I estimated that the shed had 6,000 coffins waiting for occupants, about a five month supply at 400 a week.

The bright moon is coming up. We discuss moon phases and guess the Iraq invasion date. We discuss the number of mothers who will receive bad news and a coffin. We're way off on both issues. He asks if we lost any men. I told him about the accidents and how glad I was that the C-141s hauled back all the coffins and the badly wounded because they were jets and could make the 12,000 mile trip to the States in a day instead of a week. Meat in the tropics goes bad quickly, but temperatures drop two degrees per thousand feet so at 35,000 feet the cargo bay temperature of a jet transport can be regulated to prevent further deterioration on the trip home before the coffins are delivered to the family.

The Da Nang accident happened in March, 1967. The C-141 taxied across a runway 18-right and was impacted by a fully loaded fighter-bomber. The fighter pilot ejected and was OK. The C-141 crew all died and burned a big hole in the runway. The control tower tapes were 'being changed' and the tower personnel claimed the taxi instructions were misunderstood and that our crew made a mistake.

The Cam Rahn Bay accident happened a month later. The pilot involved earned a medal for landing a C-124 in Adak. The wing on his C-124 broke off between the 3rd and 4th engine and he brought it in anyway. He was transitioned to C-141s. This time he took off from Cam Rahn Bay and crashed into the bay at the end of the runway. Everyone died except the co-pilot who had no memory. Analysis revealed that the newly deployed C-141 has an 'autoland' system which sensed an airspeed of 120 and reverses the engines and deploys the flaps. This system works great on landings, but you don't want to leave it engaged on take-off just because you are too excited to follow the check-list in a war zone.

Danny asks if I got any R & R in Bangkok. I told him not exactly but gave him one Thai story.

One morning we got a briefing in Da Nang. The intelligence guy shows us where the other guys have located radar controlled anti-aircraft gun in the Laos jungle. We went around the ones they knew about. It's a long flight across Viet Nam to Laos and then though Laos, along the Northern border of Cambodia, then down to the heart of Thailand. Cambodia is unfriendly. Cambodia doesn't want to get involved with our craziness by taking sides for some reason. It's one of those inscrutable oriental things, I guess.

In Thailand we were in the clouds with no visibility at 8,000 feet. As we got within VHF range of Bangkok (about 125 miles) the pilot talks to the approach control guy whose native language is pretty obviously not English. I hear the approach control guy erroneously acknowledge us as being 25 miles out as he gives the pilot instructions to descend to 2,000 feet. The pilot cuts the engines and begins to descend. Being a constantly frightened navigator makes me acutely aware of my surroundings at all times. I check the map and notify the pilot that he will be hitting a pile of rocks that are at 5,000 feet elevation in approximately three minutes. The old grizzled flight engineer across the crew compartment gave me a very toothy smile and the thumbs up sign.

Whenever we get to Bangkok the enlisted men find a way to disable the plane for a week or so. Some of them are very creative. I enjoyed the company of the young enlisted loadmasters and the old flight engineer master sergeants more than the old pilot officers. Once, I'm counselled about 'fraternization', which seems to be typical old officer 'chickenshit', worth ignoring.

In Bangkok an old woman on the canal threw me a mild narcotic, Betel nut. Her teeth were orange and her smile is genuine. Later I bought a fishhead dinner for the equivalent of five cents from a man in a canoe on the canal. He had one plate and he washed it in the canal between customers.

I met a man in a bar very late at night who I suspect is an agent for someone. He pumps me for information. I tell him, What I am transporting is very secret, so don't tell anyone but, we are stockpiling hundreds of 24-megaton hydrogen bombs for use in the next Tet offensive as a big surprise.I sometimes wonder if he filed a report about that and where he filed it. Moscow? Whitehall? Langley? Sydney?

Danny tells me a murder story about a 'fragged' officer in Qui Nhon. We discuss draft dodgers and privileged sons that are elected President and then order invasions and cruise missile strikes. I tell him the story about 'Thuds'.

The F-105 'Thud' is a huge, obsolete fighter-bomber that we appear to be trying to use up in raids on North Viet Nam. The in-joke is that 'thud' is the sound that the F-105 makes when it is shot down and hits the ground. Nearly 400 of the 700 built are shot down. They were built as nuclear bombers and lack self-sealing fuel tanks so even small ground fire causes a leak and a fire. The dual hydraulic lines are close together so a single hit takes out both lines and the elevators lock in the up position causing them to dive into the ground. They are no match for the old nimble MiGs and can only escape by dumping bombs and external tanks and going supersonic on the deck, leaving behind a trail of half-burned kerosene.

We land on a metal strip runway in U Dorn in northern Thailand to deliver cargo. I pop my head out of the C-124 top hatch to wave at a line of ten F-105s leaving for a raid on North Viet Nam. The first nine pilots wave back, but the last one gives me the finger. Most of my graduating class in Officer Training School became F-105 pilots. I saw navigator school as a better long-term career choice.

Danny takes another sip and is silent so I launch into my China story.
The approach to the capital of Taiwan is down a very narrow canyon. The old Major in the left seat has been flying a desk for a long time. He tries to handle the approach down the canyon. He keeps throttling back and the airplane starts to shudder in an impending stall. The stall warning horn goes off. The Aircraft Commander, flying right seat, keeps yelling MAX power!!! The old major throttles up for a minute and then backs off again into another stall configuration. We are about 200 feet off the ground. This happens about ten times.

When we got off the airplane an older navigator on board tells me, We cheated death again. This make me feel my nervousness and fears were warranted. We cross the runway to the crew bus and duck as a flight of vampire bats swoop close by. When we get ready to leave, a Chinese Nationalist Army guy aims his huge M-1 Garand rifle at the flight engineer in the top hatch as a clear sign that he wants us to stop on the Taxiway. The flight engineer drops like a rock out of the open top hatch to get his head out of sight. These wonderful and friendly Chinese are our friends. We leave and enter the South China Sea again. We hear the 'real' Chinese HF radio service talking in English, sort of. They repeat the phrase yellow running capitalist lackey imperialist dog bandits at least once in every sentence. They have a script of approved sentences. Each sentence contains this phrase at least once.

We make the short flight from Taipei to Okinawa and arrive at Kadena AFB at dawn. A startling futuristic airplane painted black lands and taxis to a hangar. They close the hangar doors very quickly.What was that?, I ask.What was what?, is the answer. You didn't see anything, I'm told.The SR-71 airplane I didn't see has been taking pictures in wonder the Chinese are obsessed about dogs.

Danny asks if I was afraid since I had a safe job shuttling cargo back and forth. I tell him a few more stories that stay in my head and come back often.

We take off from Guam heading 1800 miles west to Clark Air Force base in the Philippines. We are doing 200 nautical miles an hour (a nautical mile is about 1.15 real miles). It's another nice day to cross the Philippines Sea. I hum and update my fuel consumption chart. I'm dead reckoning but I can get a sun line every 45 minutes. As the day passes the sun line changes from a speed line to a course line. There is a wall of black clouds ahead. I turn the weather radar up to its maximum range of 100 miles. I see a solid wall 75 miles ahead. The pilot asks if we have enough gas to go back. I tell him no. He wants to know if we can divert North to Taipei. I tell him no way we have enough gas. We are at 8,000 feet. Nobody predicted a typhoon. We press ahead. Night is falling.

As we enter the wall we hit a severe updraft. The altimeter looks like a clock gone crazy. We are climbing thousands of feet a minute. We pass 16,000 feet and put on our oxygen masks. It's really turbulent. The pilot noses us over into a dive. The airspeed goes from 200 to 450 and hangs there. We're diving and still going up. Blood boils above 30,000 feet without a pressure suit...we hit 22,000 feet, still diving, still going up. It's pitch black except for red instrument lights.

The pilots talk to each other. Holy shit these controls are stiff, one says. Then comes the first downdraft. The combined effects of the downdraft and dive are spectacular. The pilots stop worrying about boiling blood and start to worry about hitting the ocean. They put the plane into a climb. The flight engineer kicks in the superchargers. We go to MAX power. The engines start to overheat and are approaching red lines for heat and RPM. The airspeed drops to 130 and the stall warning klaxon sounds continuously. Still we plummet. We pass 3,000 feet.

This aircraft was old. The wings fall off sometimes in just moderate turbulence. The airplane is climbing and falling and bouncing and shuddering on the thin edge of stalling. The stall warning horn keeps droning. The pilots talk again on the intercom. One says, Don't lose it. The other grunts. Oh. Here's another updraft in the nick of time. The cycle repeats again and again.

Eventually we make it to Clark AFB. We go to the officers club and listen to the 1940s style Phillipino big band. We go home to our crew trailer. We look at the sky for vampire bats. The trailer entrance smells intensely of very rancid sweat. Cousin Rex, was at Clark AFB for medical treatment. He had just been wounded for the third time, shot though both lungs. I didn't get to see him.

What happened to Rex?, I ask Danny

"I see him now and then, he's a truck driver", is Danny's response. I tell him the gooney bird story.

Midway Island is about half way between Japan and Hawaii. The birds of Midway have evolved on the island with no fear of predators. Gooney Birds are fun to watch. They are great fliers but have mid-air collisions. The also have to run to take off and often stumble and crash on both take-off and landing. During mating season they dance for days with heads thrown back, chests out, bills clacking and singing. Later the baby birds are huge balls of fluff. If you approach the nests they get excited and throw up on your shoes. They fly away for years and come back to nest in exactly the same spot. This can be inconvenient if a runway has been constructed since they then nest on the runway. They're also known as albatross.

We take off from Midway at 0400 local time. The Aircraft Commander has ordered the empty airplane loaded with fuel at 10% over the maximum allowable gross take-off weight because he wants to make Washington State in one giant 2,800 mile flight. He's got a new Toyota in the back and wants to miss Hawaii Customs. Our airplane lumbers down the runway and shudders up to an altitude of about 5 feet at the end of the runway. It hangs there for an small eternity kicking up prop-wash in the Pacific. I'm hoping we don't turn and put a wing in the water or lose an engine. I'm reminded of Earhart's last take-off from Lae City, overloaded with gas. An overcast Pacific is very dark at 0400. Eventually, we burn off fuel and begin to slowly climb out to 8,000 feet for the long trip home.

The return trip is 14 hours. We're in the clouds all the way with nothing except dead reckoning. As we approach the Pacific coast and pick up TACAN signals it becomes obvious that I missed my estimate of crossing the the ADIZ (Air Defense Identification Zone) by ten minutes rather than the allowable five minutes. My 'check ride' navigator begins to scream at me, turns red and blows spittle in my direction. I find this behaviour curious considering the available navigation aids and stared at him without response. Then he makes some notes and tells me I passed my 'stress test'.

I'm sure by now that Danny feels like I do about the war, so I tell him about my rubber stamp.

I had a rubber stamp made at a Tacoma office supply store. It said Kill a Commie for Christ. I kept the stamp and an ink pad in one pocket of my flight suit along with a .38 calibre revolver. I began to use the stamp on the walls of officer club rest-rooms throughout the Pacific. It was my sneaky way of protesting the war.

Danny asks, Do you still have the stamp?

I find it and show it to him. The ink pad is dry. It's in the box with my tarnished wings and unheroic medals and ribbons.

"When did you get out?", he asks.

About when Dr. Martin Luther King was killed. Remember the inner city riots? Hundreds were killed, mostly black people shot by police with shotguns. The cities burned. I was briefed on a massive plan to transport troops to trouble spots to maintain order at the point of machine guns. We were ready.

I got out after five years. After the 3,000 mile drive back to Tampa I watched Bobby Kennedy being shot on live television.

Danny yawns again after all these old stories...and the beer is gone. We dump the bottles and go to bed.

The next day we catch and cook grey snapper and grouper. A man on the boat tells us a story about catching 2,000-pound halibut in Alaska and I file it for future reference. I think of reeling up soft gray Volkswagens. Danny decides to stay another day and we do it again. Danny's middle son, Bruce, left last week for Iraq as an young Army officer. I hope Danny has talked to him about leading and protecting his men.

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." - Santayana

Friday, 10 November 2017

H.M.S. Diamond Rock


H.M.S. Diamond Rock is 600 feet high. It looks like a the top half of a large green granite cabbage off the Martinique coast. The rock was once occupied by the British who hauled cannons to the top. Admiral Hood commissioned it as a sloop in an impressive display of non-linear thinking. Strangely, the small island is still registered by the Admiralty as a British warship. The French defeated the British forces by floating a wreck with a number of barrels of rum up to the rock. They then proceeded to liberate the island fortress in a bloodless victory 12 hours later.

My wife and son went there with me for the diving. They both passed on the big trip to the rock. Our modern American gear didn't mate up with the French air tanks so I had to use their primitive equipment with no depth gauges, compasses or spare regulators.

In spite of my American Dive master certification, I had to learn and demonstrate French diving hand signals to be permitted to sign up for the dive. They told us that we would be going into a beautiful cavern. One rule they had that was "special" was that were were not permitted to surface if we ran out of air. Instead, we were required to swim to the group leader who had extra regulators and two tanks and ask him for permission to breath his spare air.

We departed to dive the H.M.S. Diamond Rock on an old Chris Craft. A young Frenchman was the Captain. He lived on the boat with his wife and his baby.

The Diamond Rock cavern is shaped like an acute triangle with the apex only about 15 degrees, the floor is about ten feet across and the walls generally are about 30-40 feet high. Prolific sea fans and corals make the cavern itself beautiful and interesting.

A cavern is generally defined in the diving world as an enclosed space where you can always see at least a little daylight no matter how far in you go. A cave, by contrast, allows a diver to go deep enough to encounter complete darkness on sunny days with good water visibility conditions. There is a cavern in Florida, spring-fed, where you can go in 300 feet, turn off your flashlight and still see the entrance glow. I don't do caves and have no interest in becoming cave-qualified.

Cave divers are a strange bunch. They lay down line to find their way out, carry three lights and are trained to begin their exits after using 1/3 of their air. In spite of that a number of divers drown in Florida caves every young man took his last minutes to scratch "love you mom and dad" on his tanks...what a waste.

I get a little antsy even in caverns because you can't just go straight up in an emergency swimming ascent when things go wrong.

The cavern was very spectacular. It was formed when a huge slab of granite rock fell down millions of years ago (or at least a while back). The cavern walls were covered with beautiful corals and sea fans. The current blew us in quite smartly for about 75 yards. Then we turned around. Progress back was very difficult and slow because of the apparently unanticipated strong current blowing into the cavern. I pulled myself hand-by-hand along the floor of the cavern because it was impossible to make progress swimming. This hard work and the strong current caused me to nearly deplete my air supply before entire dive party left me behind in a frenzy of panicky swimming activity and they all ran out of air in the cavern and then attached themselves to the "dive leader" who had two tanks. Because I pulled myself along the floor in addition to gently kicking, I emerged later with precious little air to spare and nowhere to go but up. It was my favourite dive out of the maybe 1500 I've done.

When I came out of the cavern and could again see the blue sky overhead, the two other divers with me had both run out of air in the cavern and were breathing off the group leader's two regulators. The group leader was actually breathing from his buoyancy control exhaust hose (a trick I never learned in my advanced courses). I swam over and showed him that I only had 200 pounds of air left and made the proper American signal (the bye-bye fluttery wave) for "I'm getting the hell out of here, you idiot!". I swam slowly to the surface to avoid embolisms without asking for any further permission, in complete violation of the dive rules.

On the way back, the young French Captain blew what appeared to be about two bottles of fine red French wine in the most perfect display of projectile vomiting I have ever seen. A colourful end to a perfect dive.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Turkey Lives Matter

Yellville, Arkansas

 I'm here with hundreds of people who have gathered to witness what has been described as perhaps the greatest turkey event in Turkey Drop Day history. 

All I know for sure is that in a very few moments there are going to be a lot of happy people out here. Now the crowd is... ... the crowd is uh... curious but well behaved. And I think I hear something now. Uh... The crowd is moving out into the parking area. And... oh yes! I can see it now. It's a... it's an... airplane and it's coming this way! 

 It's flying something behind it and I can't quite make it out. It's a large banner and it says H A P P Y... T URKEY DROP... What a sight, ladies and gentlemen. What a sight. The 'plane seems to circling the parking area now. I guess it's looking for a place to land. No! Something just came out of the back of the plane. It's a dark object, perhaps a skydiver plummeting to the earth from only two thousand feet in the air... There's a third... No parachutes yet... Those can't be skydivers. I can't tell just yet what they are but... Oh my God! They're turkeys! 

Oh no! can you get this? Oh, they're crashing to the earth right in front of our eyes! One just went through the windshield of a parked car! This is terrible! Everyone's running around pushing each other. Oh my goodness! Oh, the humanity! People are running about. The turkeys are hitting the ground like sacks of wet cement! 

Folks, I don't know how much longer... The crowd is running for their lives. I think I'm going to step inside. I can't stand here and watch this anymore. No, I can't go in there. Children are searching for their mothers and oh, not since the Hindenberg tragedy has there been anything like this. I don't know how much longer I can hold my position here, Johnny. The crowd... 

Dr. Johnny Fever: Phred...Phred, are you there? Phred isn't there. Thanks for that on-the-spot report, Phred. For those of you who've just tuned in, Yellvile Arkansas has just been bombed with live turkeys. Film at eleven. 

Saturday, 14 October 2017

A Thousand Slimy Things Lived On...and So Did I

Midway Atoll has changed from a source of guano., to a 1930s Pan-Am refueling stop, to a WWII critical battle site, to a Vietnam refueling stop for old military aircraft and then to a U.S bird sanctuary.

There are currently 400,000 nesting pairs of Gooney birds (Albatross) on Midway, about 70% of the world population. The birds arrive in August and stay until late Fall. The mating ritual involves throwing back the head, flapping wings and yodeling in perfect synchronization for days on end. They are graceful in flight but ofter suffer midair collisions.  They frequently crash and tumble on takeoff rolls and on landing. They won't move from the nest if approached by humans or vehicles.

 Overhead the albatross
Hangs motionless upon the air
And deep beneath the rolling waves
In labyrinths of coral caves
An echo of a distant time
Comes willowing across the sand
And everything is green and submarine. 
-Pink Floyd

I stayed in this barracks a number of times after a 10 hour, 2,300 mile, flight from Japan. The Navy was our host and we showered and brushed our teeth in salt water. I often had diarhea here and first thought it was the water until someone told me that it came from eating raw snakes and eels days earlier in Okinawa.

The birds have to be in synch because they take turns shielding the nest from the sun, which kills many of the baby chicks every year. Up to 1,000 a day die in the hot sun and are hauled off to the is survival of the fittest...mother nature takes her toll.

Midway was the turning point in the Pacific war. The U.S. sank four Japanese heavy carriers here with great losses of their best pilots and airplanes. Japan never recovered from these losses. U.S. Navy code breakers allowed the Navy to learn the exact date (June 2, 1942) of the attack on Midway and position an inferior force to lie in wait.

For reasons not entirely understood the wandering albatross have a deferred mating pattern and do not return to Midway to mate until they are 8 or nine years old. Recently, a bird tagged in 1958 returned to mate which says something about lifespan..

The Breaking of JN-25
Breaking the Japanese code known to Americans as JN-25 was daunting. It consisted of approximately 45,000 five-digit numbers, each number representing a word or phrase. For transmission, the five-digit numbers were super-enciphered using an additive table. Breaking the code meant using mathematical analysis to strip off the additive, then analyzing usage patterns over time, determining the meaning of the five-digit numbers. T

AF Is Short of Water
In the spring of 1942, Japanese intercepts began to make references to a pending operation in which the objective was designated as "AF." In an effort to alleviate any doubt, in mid-May the commanding officer of the Midway installation was instructed to send a message in the clear indicating that the installation's water distillation plant had suffered serious damage and that fresh water was needed immediately. Shortly after the transmission, an intercepted Japanese intelligence report indicated that "AF is short of water." Armed with this information, Nimitz began to draw up plans to move his carriers to a point northeast of Midway.

The Gooney Bird's long wings are ill-suited to powered flight and most species lack the muscles and energy to undertake sustained flapping flight. Albatrosses in calm seas are forced to rest on the ocean's surface until the wind picks up again. 

I logged 2,800 hours of flying time at this C-124 navigator's station.  There is a lot of primitive WWII era gear here, including the APN-9 Loran A oscilloscope and a crappy radar. The best navigation aid was dead reckoning, followed by the bubble sextant.

The maximum takeoff weight of a C-124 is 197,000 pounds. Once, one of my pilots, wanting to fly 3,300 miles to Tacoma, had the empty airplane refueled to 110 percent of the allowable maximum weight.. We took off in the pre-dawn darkness, lumbering slowly to the very end of the runway and lifting off into the darkest night I can remember about five feet above the ocean. It took what seemed forever to get high enough that dipping a wing into the water was no longer a possibility.

 When taking off, albatrosses need to take a run up to allow enough air to move under the wing to provide lift.

The C-124 was designed for 5,000 hours of flight time, but often hit 50,000. It had the largest piston driven engines ever mounted on an airplane. The wings developed cracks and sometimes broke off in heavy turbulence. The last one was retired from the National Guard in 1974.

Gooney birds have been recorded flying non-stop over 4,000 miles to find food for the chicks. It's possible that the strenuous mating dance, which lasts for days, is a survival mechanism. The birds have to each be fit enough to share gathering food and sheltering the nest for months.

Above is a picture of Midway on December 7, 1941  after a sneak attack..

The picture below is the flight engineer's station on the C-124. They would do things like throws the levers to kick in the superchargers if we had to climb above 8,000 feet to get over a mountain range.

When a bird first returns to the colony it will dance with many partners, but after a number of years the number of birds an individual will interact with drops, until one partner is chosen and a pair is formed. They then continue to perfect an individual dance language that will eventually be unique to that one pair and last for life.

Young Phred Firecloud, the navigator.

Midway Atoll is about 1,200 miles from Hawaii. The atoll was formed about 28 million years ago by a volcano. The atoll is over the same hot spot that formed the Hawaiian Islands. The volcano gradually sank under its own weight, but the coral growth kept the atoll above water. This subsidence process is called isotonic adjustment.The atoll was claimed by a Captain Middleton for the U.S. in 1859 under the 1856 Uninhabited Island Guano Act.

Things change fast on the human scale of time, from the Battle of Midway to a bird sanctuary in my lifetime.

And I had done a hellish thing,
And it would work 'em woe:
For all averred, I had killed the bird
That made the breeze to blow.
Ah wretch! said they, the bird to slay,
That made the breeze to blow!

The many men, so beautiful!
And they all dead did lie:
And a thousand thousand slimy things
Lived on; and so did I. 
Rime of the Ancient Mariner
Samuel Coleridge

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

The Buddha Tree

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Phnom Penh is the capital city of Cambodia. There are construction cranes and big buildings on both sides of the river. Investment is finding a way.I landed here once in 1967. I only remember a really muddy airstrip with metal grating. At the time I had no idea it was the Capital of Cambodia. Some of these pictures show a more rural way of life. The rice paddies stretch back about a half mile from the Mekong, then you hit a treeline. There's no sign of roads or electrical wires until you approach the big city.

We'll be spending our 45th anniversary in Siem Reap. So far we see no mosquitoes and we're eating and drinking all the local stuff with no adverse results.

Bennett says the "strange fruit" i put in the last blog is called  rambutan,.  In Thai it's called "ngoh".  That word is also used pejoratively to describe people like Mrs. Phred that have kinky hair and darker skin.

We get a cyclo ride to the Palace of the Cambodian King and a museum of antiquities.

These flowers grow on the trunk of the Buddha tree. Our guide tells us that Buddha was born, achieved enlightenment and died under a tree like this.

I don't have time to wait for enlightenment so I'll just take a few pictures and keep moving....

Our guide was seven when Pol Pot emptied out the city and sent all the people to the country to become rice farmers. The guide lost 12 members of his family and only has one relative left. We run the numbers and figure he is about the same age as our son.

A third of the population of Cambodia was exterminated during the four years after 1975 that Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge rant the country. We go to Security Centre 21, which was one of several hundred torture centres where confessions were extracted before those millions who confessed to being CIA or KGB were  sent to the killing fields.

Each person who confessed after brutal torture turned in everyone he knew and they, in turn, did the same until over 1.75 to 2.5 million were killed and buried in mass graves. They dunked peoples heads into barrels of excrement and urine. They put fencing on the second floors of the interrogation centers because so many detainees were taking headers onto the concrete below to escape torture.

Our guide was seven. He says that anyone younger was killed because they were too young to be useful and those older than 12 were also killed because their brains were too set in their ways. He is a little bald guy. Somehow he has acquired a laptop and I spend several hours with him showing him how to make bookmarks and download pictures about the Mekong for his tourist lectures. He took ammunition boxes for of excrement out of prisoners cells...

The suspects were tortured 16 hours a day until they confessed and implicated everyone they ever knew. Some tried to commit suicide by taking a header from the third floor or hanging themselves in the bathroom. To prevent this barbed wire was installed over the balconies and the prisoners were given ammunition boxes to defecate and urinate into.

Our guide had the job of emptying the boxes at age seven. He says the the solids were used in the garden and the "smelly" liquids were emptied into a large urn. When prisoners fainted from the torture they were revived by being dunked into the urn.

Cambodian now has fried chicken and free WiFI.

Pol Pot was reported to be a nice Buddhist boy who would never hurt a fly. However, the nature of man can be strangely plastic regardless of which, if any, religion is involved  Pol Pot was either insane or operating under the insane delusion that reducing the population from 8 million to 5 million and making the remainers all farmers would be a good thing.

This is Security Center 21, where skulls were stored and confessions were extracted.

These are farmers near the memorial at one of the Killing Fields.We find lots of human teeth on the ground as we walk around the trails at the memorial.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Black Buffalo Woman

Little Big Horn River, Montana

All of my heroes are pathetic losers.  You have G. Gordon Liddy, General Robert E. Lee, Field Marshall Erwin Rommel and Jim Morrison.....not to mention Sonny Bono....General George Custer makes the list without breaking a sweat.

Custer made Major General during the Civil War at the age of 25. He had eleven horses shot out from under him during the Battle of Culpepper Courthouse. He was 37 on June 25, 1876 when his career came to an abrupt end in Montana.

I'm not one to criticise a great military leader, but it seems odd that Custer would divide his forces into three prongs at the banks of the little Big Horn River and then subdivide his remaining third into two wings.

He asked his second in command, Major Reno, to attack the Lakota camp from the South.  Reno's men were routed as the Lakota boiled out of camp like hornets.

Custer's own 209 men, after attacking from the North,  moved to a hilltop, shot their horses in the head and used their carcasses for what has been described as well-organized breastworks and last ditch bid for survival.

The whole thing was the result of a rather shameful land grab by American authorities who had reneged on a previous treaty because of the discovery of gold in the Black Hills.

The slaughter of the buffalo  upon which the Lakota depended for food was just another shameful chapter in the history of the American expansion....but we may feel collectively no more responsible for those outrages than today's Germans are responsible for the excesses of the 1930s and 40s....all those old krauts are dead too...maybe we should try harder to be a force for good?

 The Bighorn Mountains were off to our left as we moved up though Buffalo and Sheridan...antelope and deer browse the grassland with no apparent fear...

 They've placed dead soldier markers all over the battlefield where Custer's last command was wiped out. A CSI type investigation of firing pin marks on cartridge cases and arrowhead types and broken finger bones and crushed skulls was also all jives very closely with contemporaneous Indian accounts of the battle...and they were the only ones talking...

There is a National Cemetery here. The first 200-300 graves are for Custer's soldiers, civilians and Crow Indian scouts ...

after that you start seeing old Indian Scouts, Spanish American war vets, WWI soldiers and eventually WWII, Korea, Viet Nam, Iraq and Afghanistan...totally cool...I could be here someday...or not...LOL...My outfit was the 7th Military Airlift Squadron running cross-Pacific missions in and around Viet Nam...we used to joke that we were the offspring of Custer's 7th Cavalry.

This is a shot of The Little Big Horn River today....The Lakota and Cheyenne had established a large camp on the river in search of antelope when Custer decided to try to force them into a smaller reservation...

Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse were two of the best known Indian leaders. They engineered Custer's ignominious defeat. Below is an actual photo of sitting bull....Sitting Bull fled to Canada after Little Big Horn. He returned five years later and in 1890 was killed by Lieutenant Henry Bull Head. Sitting Bull's death coincided with the massacre at Wounded Knee and may explain the Ghost Dance movement that spread widely at the time.

This is an artists rendition of Crazy Horse. A gigantic statue of Crazy Horse is being carved out of a granite mountain  in the Black Hills. The project has been underway for 70 years and may take another 500 to complete. The effort makes Gaudi's church in Barcelona seem fast-paced by comparison. Here is a link to my Blog about the Crazy Horse project. When finished it will be the largest statue in the world....bigger than the pyramids...carved from the hardest rock in America...

Wiki has this story about Crazy Horse.....
""In the fall of 1867, Crazy Horse invited Black Buffalo Woman to accompany him on a buffalo hunt in the Slim Buttes area of present-day northwestern South Dakota. She was the wife of No Water, who had a reputation for drinking too much. It was Lakota custom to allow a woman to divorce her husband at any time. She did so by moving in with relatives or with another man, or by placing the husband's belongings outside their lodge. Although some compensation might be required to smooth over hurt feelings, the rejected husband was expected to accept his wife's decision. No Water was away from camp when Crazy Horse and Black Buffalo Woman left for the buffalo hunt.

No Water tracked down Crazy Horse and Black Buffalo Woman in the Slim Buttes area. When he found them in a tipi, he called Crazy Horse's name from outside. When Crazy Horse answered, No Water stuck a pistol into the tipi and aimed for Crazy Horse. Touch the Clouds, Crazy Horse's first cousin and son of Lone Horn, was sitting in the tipi nearest the entry. He knocked the pistol upward as No Water fired, deflecting the bullet to Crazy Horse's upper jaw. No Water left, with Crazy Horse's relatives in hot pursuit. No Water ran his horse until it died and continued on foot until he reached the safety of his own village".

A bronze statue by James Ford imagines Black Buffalo she might have been...I took a long walk along a dirt road this morning just after's beautiful country...a herd of about 20 mares and colts stared at me strangely on the road...they were "paints"...the creek here is named after Major Reno....After Custer asked him to attack from the South he led his men in a mad scramble to run away from the Lakota camp and lived to fight another day and bury Custer...

Reno was later charged with public drunkenness and with making unwanted advances toward another officer's wife. He was also charged with cowardice and drunkenness for his behavior at Little Big Horn and also indicted for peeking though the bathroom window of the daughter of his commanding officer...

 the hilltop of Custer's last stand....the last 50 or so of his 209 men fell here at the spots indicated by markers...after shooting their horses....

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Rainy day in Florence

Florence, Italy

It's raining in the morning so we break out the umbrellas and plastic raincoats and head for the market. Our hotel is centrally located a block from the market, train station and three historic churches. The Nerbone in the market sells Staccatto (slow-cooked beef stew), Lampredotto (stewed intestines) and Panino con Bollito (sliced beef on a roll)...

The Duomo has a line of umbrellas about four blocks long waiting to get in so we go to plan B and walk the back alleys to the Pitti castle...Luca Pitti (not to be confused with Luca Brasi) built this palace should read about Luca, Machiavelli and the Medici clan...somewhere in here they came up with double entry accounting...

 Same deal...long Dad told me never to stand in line so we go to plan C and walk up the hill to the Pazzalle Michelangelo which has a super view of Florence and the Arno River bridges...

 Later I wash my sneakers and jeans in a was one wash too many for the sneaks and the soles separate from the tops...too bad but they were stinking too much to wear in public anyway...

 We buy a bottle of Chianti to drink in the room...

 Maybe a train ride to Pisa in the morning?

 A nice day for a white wedding...

Hey little sister, what have you done?
Hey little sister, who's the only one?
Hey little sister, who's your Superman?
Hey little sister, who's the one you want?
Hey little sister, shotgun!

It's a nice day to start again
It's a nice day for a white wedding
It's a nice day to start again