Military stories from past to present, both wars.

Call a Spade a Spade

July 26th, 2006 Posted in The SandGram v1.0

The Marine KC-130 was flying over the chilly North Atlantic at twenty-five thousand feet taking my crew to Keflavik, Iceland. There was a layer of clouds about ten thousand feet below us hiding the cold water and howling winds. This was a milk run from Mildenhall, England, to drop supplies to the Marines there in Kef. It was my first trip in the plane as a T3P (third copilot) and the aircraft commander (AC) was in the back taking a nap while I sat in his seat on the left side of the cockpit. My buddy from flight school, Bruce Lee, sat next to me while a crusty old Gunny sat in the flight engineers chair in the middle.

Gunny was having a conversation with the Navigator, a young Sergeant, about the virtues of Hustler magazine versus Playboy. Gunny “The Don” Garcia, because he carried himself like the father figure in the “The Godfather,” was on the verge of retirement after 20 years on active duty in the Marines. He also was a proud contributor to Hustler and had been published numerous times. This, of course, would come out when he handed you a well-worn copy to peruse and you started to read the goofy letters sent in.

His letter started with the typical, “I couldn’t believe this would ever happen to me,” as he went on to describe a wild night in the Philippines with ten hard-bodied prostitutes. If you asked him if this was true, he’d say, “Of course, Lieutenant, I never have to make up stuff like that, chicks dig me.” I’m sure that it was probably the reason for his first of many divorces too!!

Bruce Lee Jr. was Korean, but everyone called him “Wang” because of some funky middle name that was too long to pronounce, and he looked like the Chinese exchange student in the movie, “Sixteen candles.” Wang was reading a book on the Civil War which he studied constantly. I had the Gunny’s Hustler and the chatter over the headset was a combination of one conversation with every other person’s input on the subject.

The AC came up and tapped me on the shoulder, and motioned for me to move out of his seat. His name was Captain Burns, but we called him “Pyro” after he ran around the Charleston O’Club, drunk as hell, butt-naked with a rolled-up newspaper stuck in the crack of his rear, on fire, and a green tee shirt over his head with two eye’s cut out. He made quite the impression on the Air Farce gang there that night…

“Pyro” leaned over to me yelling over the roar of the Allison Turbo props out on the wing, “How are we doing?” I yelled back, “Great Sir, only three hundred miles to go and plenty of gas with this tailwind!” He nodded and proceeded to strap into the seat. I moved back to the rear of the cockpit to inspect what food I had left in my airfarce box lunch. A half-eaten piece of fried chicken and some carrot sticks. HHMMMMM.
It was two bites later, over the chatter on the radio, that I heard the cry for help. “Marine Tanker, Marine Tanker, Spade 16 on guard, how copy?????” I looked around at the others, how could they miss that call? It came again; only “Wang” put his book down and his left hand up in the “stop” motion. All conversation ceased in the cockpit.

“Pyro” looked over at “Wang” and asked, “What’s the matter?” Wang, with a puzzled look on his face replied, “Sir, I think I heard a mayday, someone calling for us, not sure!” We all leaned forward on our seats pressing the headsets closer to our ears. “Marine Tanker, Spade 16 on guard, how copy?” Wang jumped on the toggle to radio them back, “Spade 16, you have Otis 10 go ahead.”

Pyro looked at Wang with a hand gesture as if saying, “Relax, I’ve got this one.” “Spade 16, come up my freq 344.0.” A few seconds later, the other voice replied in a muffled voice, “Spade 16, Roger that.” It didn’t take long before the Darth Vader voice, muffled and deep, came back on line. “Hey Guys, (heavy breathing in the O2 mask) are we glad to run into you guys!! Our INS (navigation system) died and we’re low on gas. Can you guys give us some gas and point us back to Iceland???”

Pyro responded with a fast “Standby.” He turned to his right and said to the Gunny, “Don, Don, work it out with the Nav and figure out how much go juice we can part with to this guy. Also, Nav, I want to be over head Iceland with five thousand pounds of gas.” He then looked at Wang, “I want you to get ready for the tanking, and you’ll run it for me O.K.?” Wang nodded his head and pulled out the proper checklist for Air to Air tanking with a Jet.

I was excited to think that on my very first hop in the KC-130, I would be privy to a real life no-shit emergency. Wang radioed to the jet, “Spade 16, say squawk, altitude, and type Jet.” The other pilot replied in a deep voice, “We’re squawking 2525 and currently at angels 350, F-14 Tomcat.” “Roger that,” replied Wang. The Nav and Gunny were huddled together for a few minutes and then broke up. “Sir, we have the gas to give the guy, but we have a problem. The right hose is inop and the left basket is also written up as being bad. We didn’t expect to tank anyone, so that’s why we took this plane.”

Pyro thought about this for a minute, and then made the command decision. “Gunny, go ahead and prep the left hose, it’s the only chance this guy has.” Turning to Wang in the right seat, “I want you to guide him to the left Stabilized position with the heading that the Nav gives you.” The Nav handed Wang a note that said, “Sir, tell him to steer a 310 course, that should line him up.” Wang passed on the instructions to our guest while Pyro briefed the guys in the back on what to do. The left hose came out; caught in the air stream as the twenty-seven inch diameter basket extended the hose out some eighty feet. The KC 130 pulled to the left as the parasitic drag from the hose slowed the plane down a bit.

A call from the back of the plane, “Sir, I see the F-14, he’s in a high Port-Stabilized position.” Pyro nodded his head at Wang, and then looked out the left cockpit window. Wang toggled the radio switch, “Spade 16, you are cleared down to the Stabilized position, report nose cold and weapons safe.” The jet was instructed to turn off his radar and ensure his missiles weren’t armed. He reported “ready” and was cleared into the basket. It seemed fine for a second, then the Mech in the back yelled out, “Sir!!! He has a bad seal and the gas is coming out of basket!” Just then the heavy breathing came back over our headsets “I got a bad plug, going back in again.”

The Gunny jumped up over the left side of the AC’s chair looking out the window and exclaimed, “Captain, I don’t like this one bit, I think he should back out and let me reset the hose.” Pyro was just about to answer him when all hell broke loose!! The kid in the back cried out, “Sir, the seal broke again and gas is shooting all over the front of the Jet!!” This is a serious thing, 300 gallons of JP-5 pumping a minute onto your jet is not good. Wang shouted on the radio, “Spade 16, breakaway, BREAKAWAY!!!” But it was too late. The Jet fuel went straight down his jet intakes and into the engine causing a massive fireball out of the back of the jet and covering the entire thing in flames. The Gunny had shut the fuel off before the fireball reached the end of the hose. The F-14, exploded right after we heard the words “Fire, Eject!!!!!”

Both “Don Don” and “Pyro” tore their glasses off as they looked out the left side of the plane. Wang was straining in his seat harness straps, trying desperately to see the falling Jet, but unabl
e from the right seat.

Stay tuned for the rest of the story